Today is #Tannatday I discovered thanks to the internet and some prolific blogging friends. It seemed a perfect day to write about an amazing seminar I attended back in 2019 at the last Society of Wine Educators conference that I attended in person. Lucia Volk, PhD & CWE, gave a great presentation on Uruguay Wine. We tasted through 9 wines from among the many varieties that grow in this South American country. I am only going to write about the six tannat based wines I tasted. I have never visited Uruguay. The closest I have come is Southern Brazil, Buenos Aires and hanging around with my friend Charlie Arturaola who hails from that country.
Uruguay lies between the 30th and 35th parallel, the same location as the best parts of Australia, Chile, South Africa and Australia. They describe themselves as a country exposed to the “benign” impact of the Atlantic Ocean which provides respite from the summer heat. The River Plata is also a large influence. It has plains and low hills. As in many other parts of South America, Europeans founded the wineries in Uruguay, many are more than a century old. The wineries tend to stay in family hands and therefore there are fourth and fifth generation winery owners running the organizations today.
There are five zones of production, South Zone, East Zone, Southwest Zone, Central North Zone, and the Western Riverside Zone. Tannat as we know which comes from France, specifically from Madiran and Irouleguy was brought to Uruguay in the 1970s by Basque immigrants. It has taken better to the climate and the soils in Uruguay than almost any other variety. It therefore became their signature variety and today, more Tannat grows in Uruguay than anywhere else.
They also grow a host of other varieties some of which I got to try back in 2019 during the tasting. I remember our presenter speaking happily about all of the beef dishes she had in Uruguay while we did the tasting and I remember thinking how hungry I was and how wonderful it would have been to drink those wines with food.
I tried five Tannat wines, some blends and some monovarietals. It gave me a feeling for happy varied this grape could be. The first was Familia Deicas Single Vineyard Tannat Valle De Los Manantiales 2016. This was a 100% Tannat made from a single vineyard. It had lovely black and red fruit, spice and earthy notes to it both on the nose and the palate. It was also quite polished, not rustic at all which is what I had remembered from my previous experiences with Tannat. Apparently the vineyard has granite soils with some calcareous subsoils as well. The winemaker is Santiago Deicas from the family but he also has the help of some expert consultants such as Paul Hobbs.
The second tannat that I tried during the seminar was from Bodega Bouza and it was the Tannat Parcela Unica B6 2017. Again 100% Tannat. SRP $44.99. This showed loads of black fruit and forest floor. It was very jammy and chewy in terms of the mouthfeel and texture. The alcohol was also quite present, at 15.5% ABV and this structured wine called out for a large steak. This winery is also family run and they have a passion for classic cars. As part of their winery, they have a location with all kinds of parked classic cars where you can also sit and tasted wines and admire these beauties.
The next wine I tried was from Artesana Winery and it was a blend of 50% Tannat, 10% Zinfandel and 40% Merlot. The SRP for this wine was $19. I found it to be a big bold wine that also needed food. It had a lot of pepper and spice and some red fruits. It had decidedly less alcohol than the previous wine but also a shorter length. The winery is located in the Canelones region where most of the wineries in the country are located. This winery has a unique story and is according to the website, “the only American-owned winery in Uruguay and is partnered with two award-winning Uruguayan women winemakers.” They have an 80 acre estate, dry farm and believe in minimal intervention. Ocean breezes and lots of sun help them to have ripe but healthy grapes. In fact this wine had more lively fresh fruit than many I have tasted.
My next wine was a Pizzorno Primo 2015, also a blend, this time of Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The SRP on this one was $90. It was a beautiful wine with big bold fruit and earthy tones, with loads of minerality, spice and a long finish. It had real aging potential and they only make about 200 cases. The family has owned the winery since 1910 and reading their website I learned of their attention to sustainability and the environment. I found that at Artesana and the wineries that I have been reading about while writing this post. It’s great to see this attention all over the globe. The winery is run by Carlos Pizzorno who is also an oenologist together with his wife and their children. They also have other members of their team and even a picture of their dog – Braulio – on the website, which is quite a lovely touch.
I then tried a blend of Tannat and Viognier called Alto De La Ballena Tannat- Viognier 2015. It’s 85% Tannat – 15% Viognier. The SRP is $23. Red fruits on the wine are complimented by the strong floral notes that come from the viognier. I got a lot of lift from this wine and I am sure that it came from the Viognier. The wine expressed a lot of freshness and fruit, redder fruit than on some of the other wines. This is a smaller winery with 8 hectares planted of a 20 hectare property, they are located quite close to the sea. They are in Sierra de la Ballena.
I also had the good fortune to try a 100% Tannat that was a fortified sweet version of this grape. Made with some raisined grapes, the acidity in the wine actually offset the sweetness level and the wine was not as unctious as I might have expected with 86g/l of sugar. The wine spends about six months in French oak. It was unlike most other sweet and fortified wines I have tasted but could maybe be compared with a VDN from the Southwest. The Pisano family made it as an homage to the Basques who immigrated to Uruguay. They say also that they are making a local version of wine in the styles of Port, Recioto and/or Amarone.