Summer vineyard with a sign post reading Tannat 20 to show the vineyard block

On the Hunt: Tannat

There’s something going on in Clarksburg…

Roughly two or three years back (memory escapes us at this point for the exact timing), we stumbled on a producer in Clarksburg that has somehow miraculously become a bit of a showstopper for us.  European oddities, in CA soil, just outside of Sacramento – probably one of the last places you’d look for varietally correct, European leaning expressions from an honestly wide array (to maintain the source’s secret identity, we can’t divulge the full run of their offerings) of vitis vinifera.

This was a very odd occurance, as we usually spend weeks hunting for a great anything, encountering all sorts of duds along the way.  Not here.  Here, we were presented with a run of roughly a dozen wines, all incredibly stellar.  So what to do when everything is a greatest hit?  Well, you try not to gush over the winemaker first and foremost, then you sit back and count your blessings and try your damndest to make the best choices from a literal goldmine.

Thus we settled on an Aglianico and a Nebbiolo.  Considering our ongoing Italian tour, we thought it best to have a few top-tier small quantity offerings of similar grapes from CA to show our guests a compare and contrast, and showcase how under the right grower and conditions, excellent European-styled wines were very possible in CA (basically, it’s still not all over extracted jam bombs out here on the west coast).

Everyone has been shopping before, and we’re sure everyone has had an instance or another where a store has miraculously had more than you were looking for.  In the spirit of staying focused, or frugality, or any other reason, you just get what you came for, but once you return home, you realize, “Gosh darnit, I really ought to have gotten the [X] as well…” And, back in the car, back to the store, to get that one extra item you kept thinking about after you left hoping there’s still some there when you return.

In this case, it was a Tannat.

A, Ta-what!?

Tannat is a native southwestern French grape that has actually made quite an impact on plantings in Uruguay of all places, but is still scattered in plantings around the globe.  The kicker is it’s kind of like Malbec.  French Malbec from its Bordelaise home of Cahors AOC is a deeply dense, extracted, tannic showcase, offering a look into the blending opportunities it offers in other Bordelaise red blends.  However, the more famous Argentine expressions are medium bodied, lighter in extraction, and have more manageable tannin.  Tannat is much the same.  The French southwestern Madrian AOC produces a darker, aggressively tannic Tannat wine (that led to the development of the modern winemaking flourish called micro-oxygenation, or more commonly, micro-ox, in an effort to tame this wild tannic nature), while Uruguay produces a lighter version with much, much softer tannin.  In fact, Tannat is considered the national grape of Uruguay – they take lots of pride in their expression.

All that said, here we were with a Tannat, from outside of Sacramento nonetheless (still continues to shock us to this day), that was varietally correct to the origin expressions of the Madrian AOC, and the tannin, while very much there, was so perfectly interwoven – brooding, but no beast.  Blind tasting you’d be hard pressed to call it from CA (however, keep your sniffer in the glass long enough, it has ways of giving itself away as New World fruit), but a trained nose would ultimately suss it out, most likely to exclaim, “Wow! I was almost sure this was Old World!”

So what does all this waxing poetic about Tannat actually mean for what’s in the glass?

Tannat is defined (in its best expressions) by a definitive note of black licorice and cardamom.  Our Clarksburg find?  Check.  The French version is known for being plush and tannic when produced to a high level.  Our Clarksburg find?  Check.  Uruguay prides itself on an expression of plums and blackberries.  Clarksburg?  Check (and mind you, this is the giveaway that it’s not Old World in a blind tasting).  It was the perfect expression of the grape, all the Old World structure with a welcome dose of new world fruit expression.  Just textbook perfect.

So, yeah, we initially left without it and came back because we lost sleep over this one.  Again, a testament to the skill of this winemaker outside of Sacramento, of all places.

Just goes to show, you’ll never know what you’ll find, and you can’t judge a wine solely on its AVA.  Ah, the thrill of the hunt continues….

Tannat, coming soon!



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