Wines Of Uruguay

Tannat - the signature grape of Uruguay

Blog post   •   Mar 06, 2012 16:06 GMT

Now the Tannat varietal is one that many of you may not have heard of. It is originally a French varietal (like the vast majority) and gets its name from its high tannin content. It is actually the most tannic grape out there. Ok, so a tangent on tannins: Tannins are one of the 4 main components of wine, the other 3 being sugar, acid and alcohol. When a wine is said to be “well balanced”, this means that those 4 components are in harmony, making the wine pleasant.

What makes tannat tough is that it already comes basically out of balance, with too much tannin. What does it mean to have a tannic wine? Well the easiest way for me has always been to think of the skins or seeds of grapes themselves, and think about the roughness that you feel in your mouth, the astringency, when chewing the skins. That is tannin. In tannat, the tannin can be so strong that it overpowers other aspects of the wine and leaves you feeling as if your mouth has been wiped out with steel wool. Yikes!

In a good Tannat, of which there are many, the terroir of where the grape is grown and the winemaking practices will calm this aspect down. The technique of micro-oxygenation was actually developed using the Tannat varietal because of the high tannin level. Micro-oxygenation aims to soften “hard tannin” and make wines that are smoother and suppler. Basically, tannins start out as harsher and more rough and astringent and over time, through the natural process of oxygenation in tiny amounts through aging, become softer. This process is called polymerization in chemistry, which is when a single unit (a single tannin in this case) hooks up with many more (“poly”) units of the same time to form a very long repeating unit.

While French Tannat is typically blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to lessen the high levels of tannins (in fact, the tannins lead the grape to be named "Tannat"), Uruguayan Tannat is less tannic and contains less alcohol, making for an all-around more enjoyable experience.

With its thick skins, it is also one of the highest in oligomeric procyanidins, which give red wines their health benefits. Residents in the Madiran region have double the French average of 90 plus year olds, despite a diet of cassoulet, foie gras and numerous cheeses.

Red wines made from Tannat are the healthiest wines available due the high content of procyanidins, about 3-4 times more than a good Cabernet Sauvignon, as explained in more detail in Roger Corder’s book The Wine Diet.

Uruguayan Tannats:

  • Are rich and robust in taste
  • Are powerful without overpowering
  • Are dark in colour
  • Are lighter-bodied than their French predecessors
  • Often have notes of chocolate, black pepper, spice, and blackberry
  • Are high in Polyphenols, which are believed to reduce the risk of coronary disease

For a wine enthusiast, a food and wine pairing of a Tannat wine bottle is ideal with grilled and broiled beef red meats, lamb, chicken, roast duck, game meats and goulashes. In the wine and cheese area, the Tannat wine charm goes with strong, well matured and blue cheeses, like Veined, Parmesan and Blooming Rind Cheese.