Tannat is a black grape from Madiran, an AOC of South West France. However, it is most commonly grown in Uruguay. The variety is known for being one of the darkest and most tannic grapes in the world. These wines are almost always aged in oak as a deliberate way to mix in oxygen over time and soften the tannins. Today, Tannat is also grown in the United States, Brazil, Bolivia, South Africa, Italy and Peru.
This grape has high acidity, high alcohol, and of course, high tannin. Its primary flavors are black plum, black cherry, blackberry, raspberry, and a hint of licorice. Heavily oaked Tannat wines have secondary flavors of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, and smoke. These flavors can be quite notable, as long-term oxidation in barrels increases these sweet and spicy characteristics. Bottle-aged expressions go on to develop tertiary notes of tobacco, espresso, cigar box, and dark chocolate.
Tannat is one of the most tannic grapes on earth. Tannins are not a flavor. Rather, they are polyphenols (astringent chemical compounds) found in grape skins. They are also found in fruits, veggies, wood, seeds, stems, leaves, bark, and a plethora of other livings plants. The compound results in a cottony mouthfeel when we eat grapes or drink wine. A young Tannat’s tannins are so astringent that it could be very hard to drink. As a result, Tannat usually undergoes extensive oak-aging to make the wine more drinkable.
Although barrels are tightly sealed, they are not 100% air-proof. Placing wine in barrels is a form of deliberate oxidation. As the oxygen seeps in the tiny barrel openings and crevices over time, it will slowly interact with wine and begin to soften the tannin astringency. When the tannins are softer and balanced the wine is more enjoyable. The long-term barrel aging also creates the noted flavors of chocolate and espresso.
Tannat is one of the most popular red wine grapes in Uruguay and has been named the country’s “National Grape.” Introduced to the region in the 19th century, it began to thrive and became a local favorite. It is made as both a single varietal, or commonly blended with Pinot Noir and Merlot. Here, the wines tend to be a bit lighter than French Tannat. Because Tannat can take so long to soften its tannin in barrels, winemakers often speed up the process by increasing the amount of oxygen they allow to enter the barrels (micro-oxygenation).
Tannat pairs well with an array of different meats, including BBQ ribs, sausages, duck, chicken, beef, roasted lamb and grilled game. It notably compliments fatty foods, such as french fries, garlic mashed potatoes, and other buttery, rich entrees. It is also paired with roasted vegetables, hard cheeses, and Asian cuisines.
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