They may have seemed vaguely exotic a decade ago, but these days we take for granted the presence of Chilean and Argentine wines on supermarket shelves. Can any other South American wine-producing country achieve that level of international acceptance, and if so, which one? The answer may
Historically, Tannat has not been held in great esteem. Its extremely high tannin levels (from which it gets its name) mean that it can usually be drunk only after extensive aging or mixing with other, softer varietals. But Tannat grapes grow easily on Uruguay's small hills and nutrient-rich plains, and that has encouraged the country's winemakers to find ways of reducing Tannat's harshness besides leaving it in the barrel for years. Such a development would allow them to get their wines to market quicker.
Two techniques have shown particular promise when it comes to fulfilling this goal. The first is known as micro-oxygenation the slow release of small amounts of oxygen into the wine during fermentation, giving it a rounded quality (the same thing happens when wine is decanted or left to breathe). The other is speeding up the removal of grape pips during the fermentation process. Tannat grapes tend to have more pips than others the characteristic that accounts for the high tannin content. The less exposure the fermenting juices have to the pips, the softer the end product.
The end result is a wine that is marvelously complex, beautifully structured and rich with the flavors of spice and chocolate. The thick skins of Tannat grapes also lead to superb coloring. Try the 2004 Tannat A6 Parcela Unica from the Bouza winery (a very balanced wine that goes well with grilled meats) or the 2002 Tannat del Museo from Bodegas Carrau (redolent with the aromas of stone fruits and cedar). The 2005 Vieja Parcela Tannat from Castillo Viejo has a concentrated, mineral nose due to the vineyard's clay soils and, though dry in the mouth, has a long, sweet finish the perfect exemplar of the new style of Tannat the world will be seeing more of before too long.