When it comes to classic red wines, the tried-and-true varietals are celebrated for their history – and propelled by marketing savvy. Whether the grapes are from old vines or famed terroir, world-renowned red fruit such as Cabernet and Merlot is always positioned for plaudits from key influencers.
There is good reason for this, of course. The Judgment of Paris and the resulting hullaballoo focused on these high-profile grapes – especially how they fared in the New World. But many red varietals that are merely considered “mixing grapes” in France make great wines on their own, or as the dominant fruit in red blends.
An overlooked red grape (not necessarily by vintners, but by name recognition) is the Tannat. Although grown in France (with lukewarm reviews handicapping its reputation there a bit) Tannat has become in Uruguay what Malbec is in Argentina and Grüner Veltliner in Austria. And, while many wine drinkers have dismissed it as harsh and rough, its softer side is slowly emerging.
“In the past, many Tannats were highly tannic, extracted and quite green,” says Scott Tyree, an award-winning, Chicago-based sommelier. Tyree is a former wine director at the acclaimed West Loop restaurant, Sepia.
But Tannat is changing, especially because of the new address of its plantings. One example of Tannat’s development as a respected grape is the Domaine Monte de Luz 2007, which sells for around $8 per bottle.
“The red fruit is juicy, and it has earthy, dusty notes,” says JB Ballard of Chicago’s Wine Discount Center. “It’s a lighter, smoother version of Tannat than what’s usually on the market.”
This Atlantic-influenced Uruguayan wine pairs with charbroiled meats – such as a well-marbled, highly seasoned skirt steak or beef tri-tip. It also goes with strong, imported cheeses. It’s best when decanted, as this diminishes the cedar-like tannins a bit; most Tannats are not really pure quaffers… yet.
However, it is autumn, and it’s a great time of year to experiment with full-bodied, dry reds. Tannat certainly fits that description. Give the vines some time to be nurtured by the Uruguayan soil and locals’ intent to institute a national treasure. Perhaps Argentine Malbec is hearing some footsteps?
(Note, to read more about the Judgment of Paris, click here.)