Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Underdog Grapes: Tannat

Are you up to a challenge? This is what I propose you to do, next weekend, leave your cabernet,  merlot and shiraz that you like so much, and try a different red, like a wine made from Tannat.

Tannat is often considered an underdog red grape, mostly because very few people know about it, yet it has plenty to say.  Tannat makes some of the most powerful wines in the world, wines that are rich, flavorful, and tannic. Wines that thrive at all price ranges, with some very affordable samples starting at only $18, but also super premium quality at $30 and above.

Originally from Southwest France, Tannat is a main component of AOC Madiran wines. By law, traditional Madiran is usually a blend made from 60 to 80 % Tannat, complemented  by either Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Fer.  Stylistically, Madiran wines were once known for being very powerful and rustic, requiring years in the cellar to soften their grippy tannins, but nowadays and thanks to destemming and to micro-oxygenation, Madiran wines are approachable sooner.  
Besides Madiran, Tannat does very well in another place in the world, and this is where I want you to focus today, in a tiny South American country called Uruguay. Uruguay, located to the south of Brazil and to the east of Argentina, has over 180 wine producers, and over 6,000 hectares of vineyards, 27% of which are dedicated exclusively to Tannat. 

Without a doubt, Tannat is the varietal flagship of all Uruguayan reds. Tannat is also known in Uruguay as Harriague, to honor Pascal Harriague, the Basque country pioneer, who was the first person to import cuttings of Tannat to Uruguay, in the late 1800s. Uruguayan vineyards, like those in Madiran, enjoy a similar mild maritime climate; though technically  located at the same latitude as Mendoza in Argentina or Maipo in Chile, Uruguay has a completely different terroir. For starters, there is very little altitude in their vineyards, with most of them planted on rather flat valleys, with some small hills that can reach up to 500 meters above sea level on their highest peaks. There are 6 distinctive wine regions in Uruguay but the two most important are located near the city of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.  

Map courtesy of Wines of Uruguay (Inavi).

Canelones is considered the very heart of all Uruguayan viticulture,  producing almost 73% of all Uruguayan wine, followed by nearby Maldonado that produces about 7%. These side to side areas are very much influenced by the Atlantic ocean and by two opposite currents: the Malvinas current that comes from the South and the Brazilian current that comes from the north, which bring plenty of rain (about 1000 mm a year). Uruguay’s climate is  warmer and very humid and very different from the almost desertic and dry Mendoza or cooler Casablanca valley in Chile. This maritime influence will leave a mark on the final wines that are more fruit-forward with balanced acidity and less aggressive tannins than their European counterparts. Like in Madiran, Uruguayan Tannat is also planted on soils rich in clay and granite with some patches of calcium carbonate compounds from sea shells. Most Uruguayan Tannat is sold as a single varietal, but it can be blended with other grapes, such as Pinot Noir or Merlot, I was surprised to receive a sample with some Viognier in the blend too!

Stylistically, Tannat yields a natural powerbomb wine: with a big body, plenty of acidity and structure from tannins, and these tannins you will surely feel on your palate, even when the wines have not been aged in oak at all. Tannat wines are almost black in color and display ripe black fruit flavors of black cherries, blackberries, black plums, licorice and tobacco. With aging they will show notes of leather, smoke, espresso, chocolate and cigar box. Their muscular structure will allow them to develop in your cellars  for 10 years or more.  

My Wine recommendations:
Before I dive into the wines I tasted recently, allow me to thank Global Vineyard,  the Inavi (Uruguay wine institute) and Creative Palate, for inviting me to a very informative Zoom seminar about Uruguay wines and for sending these wonderful samples.

Gimenez Mendez Alta Reserva Tannat 2020, $18
Made from 100 % Tannat, it shows delicious blackberry and plum notes complemented by milk chocolate hints. With very smooth tannins and lively acidity, this wine was aged for 9 months in a blend of both American and French oak.  

Marichal Reserve Collection 2019
, $20
Made from 100% Tannat grapes, from 25 year old vineyards. This seductive red reveals layers of jammy black cherry, prune and leather notes. Velvety, round and ample with a touch of spice from spending 12 months in oak.

Montes Toscanini Gran Tannat Premium 2019, $59

Super classic 100 % Tannat that yields rich blackberry marmalade,  spicy clove and  roasted coffee notes.  A nice integration of ripe fruit, acidity and tannins. Very elegant and structured, it was aged for 18 months in oak. Wonderful now, but has plenty of cellar potential and will only get better with time.

Alto de La Ballena Tannat, 2018, $24
A singular blend of 85% Tannat and 15%  Viognier (something that is done only in Uruguay). It delivers charming red fruits: raspberry and cherry with powdery cocoa and chalky tannins from aging in American oak for 9 months. Very yummy!

Pisano RPF Tannat 2018, $24
This 100% Tannat features savory plum, cassis and bitter chocolate notes that open up to a delicious and very powerful red. Robust with very balanced tannins and a beautiful and concentrated finish. It smells and tastes more expensive than its price tag!

Marichal Grand Reserve “A”Tannat 2018, $65
Massive and spectacular! This hearty red is made from 100% Tannat grapes from 40 year old vineyards. Grand Reserve “A” features cocoa, blackberry and prune notes with espresso hints. Very expressive and extracted, a Wow me Tannat for sure!


 Cheers! Silvina.

#thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday #drinkupamerica #tannat

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Time to drink local, Time to drink Long Island Wines!

Only 85 miles separate New York from Long Island, making this wine region the closest one to home. I still remember one Memorial Day weekend, not long ago, when I decided to go over there to visit some of the wineries. I was impressed by the variety of grapes planted,  and especially with samples made from Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay.

So, what is special about Long Island? It's a relatively young wine appellation and small. Vinifera varieties were first planted here by John Wickham in the 1960s, but the first commercial wines, made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, were produced 10 years later by the owners of Castello di Borghese: Louisa and Alex Hargrave.  
There are only three AVAs here, two were set up in the 1980s, the North Fork AVA, and the Hamptons AVA. The third and newest AVA, Long Island was set up in 2001. There are over 57 wine producers to visit, most of them, located in the northern fork, alongside route 25.

As we may see in the map above (courtesy of Long Island wines), both forks are surrounded by bodies of water, enjoying a similar tempered maritime climate like in Bordeaux. This is the main reason why we find many Bordelais vinifera varieties, including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot & Merlot. The cool breezes from the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean have also proven fantastic to grow whites too, my favorites are Chardonnay (used to make sparkling and table wines), Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.

Of course and due to its northerly location, at the beginning I had my doubts, but soon I discovered that these areas receive plenty of sun during the growing season, which allows most red grapes to attain full maturity.  Soils here are mostly sandy loam, haven loam and silty loam, with excellent drainage. Now, if I have to describe Long Island’s wine style, I will describe them as a cool climate, meaning very focused wines, with medium to medium + bodies, crisp acidity and very nice aromatics. Note that the reds tend to be more elegant and for sure less alcoholic than wines from warmer regions.  
Most wineries produce all styles of wines from whites, reds, rosés and sparkling, here is a delicious selection (thanks to Maria Calvert), that showcase their ample versatility:

Sparkling Pointe Vineyards Topaz Imperial 2019, North Fork Long Island ($44)
I love this winery’s slogan, if it’s not Sparkling what is the Pointe? This method Champenoise sparkling is a blend of 50 % Chardonnay with 34% Pinot Noir  and 16%  Pinot Meunier. It spends two years aging sur lie.
 A refreshing and vibrant nose opens up to strawberry shortcake and ripe yellow peach notes. Pastry aromas, crisp acidity and a touch of minerality makes this a very flavorful bubbly.
Paumanok Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2021, North Fork Long Island ($29)
Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, this wine is completely fermented in stainless steel vats. Very expressive on the nose, showing a tropical bouquet of ripe pineapple and white peach, with citrusy lime on the palate. Medium bodied with lively acidity and an exotic finish.

RGNY Viognier 2020,
North Fork Long Island ($35)
Made from 100 % Viognier, this full bodied white reveals notes of apricots, mango and vanilla from aging in oak. Creamy and textured with balanced acidity. 20% of this wine was aged in second hand oak for 2 months.

McCall Wines Estate Pinot Noir 2015, North Fork Long Island ($30)
Made from sustainable grown 100% Pinot Noir. This elegant light-bodied red shows  aromas of red cherry, strawberry preserves, forest floor and clove. Juicy acidity is complemented very nicely by smooth and supple tannins.

Sannino Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2019, North Fork Long Island ($35)
If there’s one grape in the world that thrives in Long Island’s terroir, that is Cabernet Franc, so do explore them!. This medium bodied red meshes raspberry, savory dry herbs and pencil shaving notes. A very easy red to drink every night of the week.

Suhru Wines Shiraz 2021, North Fork Long Island ($25)
Last but not least, a blend of 77% Shiraz, 12% Teroldelgo and 11% Petit Verdot.
This almost full bodied red features blackberry and ripe plums notes with spicy black pepper and milk chocolate hints. This beauty was aged for 7 months in American oak. Savory!

Isn't it time we go local and drink some of these? If so, let me know your favorites. Until the next one! Cheers, Silvina.

#thoughtsoflawina #longislandwines #liwines #newsyorkwines #newyork

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