Posted by: tomciocco | January 30, 2014

THE FLOWERING OF A WINE REGION – TANNAT FROM URUGUAY’S LAS VIOLETAS

The lion’s share of South America’s wine output comes from close to its Pacific coast: from the various regions in Chile, and then moving a bit east, into the foothills of the Andes mountains, and into Argentina and its many (and predominately high altitude) wine growing regions. But on the Atlantic coast, there’s another, albeit smaller and less celebrated cluster of wine regions contained within the borders of the smallish country of Uruguay, a place that possesses a viticultural tradition quite apart from the “big guys” on South America’s “left coast”.

Argentina’s signature red grape variety is the fairly well known variety Malbec, and Chile’s is the semi-obscure Carmenere. And Ururguay, despite its lack of international reputation as a viticultural region, also has its own adopted grape variety that goes by the name of Tannat. For reasons as yet incompletely explored, all three of these transplanted onto the edges of South America have their origins in southwestern France. And though all of these countries have their fair share of Gascogne and Aquitanian immigrants, Uruguay in particular has an even greater share of Basque, Italian and Catalan populations, and for what it’s worth, this wine comes out of the wine-making tradition of the Catalan Carrau family that arrived in Uruguay in the early 1930s.

The Tannat grape, as one might infer from its name, is an exceptionally tannic variety, deeply colored, and with a rustic elegance, at least in its southwestern French homeland. But in Uruguay’s deep, fertile soils and hot and humid climate, Tannat is at least partially tamed when compared to the often tough and jagged wines that come from southwestern France’s poor soils and much colder climate, and because Las Violetas is less than 30 miles from the sea just north of Uruguay’s capital Montevideo, Tannat’s gruffer nature is further softened by the warm and gentle maritime winds that pervade its vineyards. All that said, Tannat’s fundamental rugged character is never completely lost, so if the really hard-hitting Tannat-based wines from France like Madiran are just a bit too much for you, you owe it to yourself to try one from Uruguay.

I took this smoothly muscular wine to the table with an appetizer of potato, leek, and black olive-stuffed fried empanadas followed by a main course of grilled skirt steak with a piquant avocado, pepper, tomato, onion and herb sauce with a side of black beans cooked with oregano, cumin and fennel seed.

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Bodegas Carrau Castel Pujol Las Violetas Tannat Reserva 2011

Very deep purple/garnet color with dark pink at the rim. Pungent nose of myrtle, blackberry, and dried black cherry in alcohol with strong secondary notes of sap, burning suet candle, dried red flowers and mocha. The palate is medium full-bodied with a big and chewy texture, dry and subtly stubbly tannins and flavors of dried cranberry, plum, blood orange juice and zest, and earthy black currant flavors. Long, minerally and pleasantly austere finish.

 

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