There are plenty of reasons to get excited about Uruguayan Tannat as the country celebrates its Tannat Day on 14th April, throughout a whole week of tastings and events.
Pure, undressed Tannat
As one of the world’s most tannic varieties, taming Tannat’s structure through long oak ageing has long been the most usual approach. But there are several winemakers in Uruguay making unoaked, lighter-handed Tannat and these can offer some of the most exciting expressions for the variety.
Pablo Fallabrino was one to introduce this fresher approach with his Anarkia Tannat, a feisty yet juicy natural wine with no added sulphites. But there’s a growing tribe of producers, including Viña Edén, Viña Progresso, De Lucca, Bracco Bosca and Garzón, who all make Tannat wines with no oak influence. Santiago Deicas’ Bizarra Tannat Amphora, fermented and aged in old amphora, as well as Nakkal’s Tinaja Tannat blend, aged in old tinajas, are other excellent examples of this ‘naked Tannat’ movement as well as of the growing trend for less interventionist winemaking styles.
Top Tannat vintages
Another reason why Uruguay deserves a moment in the spotlight is its string of great vintages. Indeed, it is the hardier Tannat variety that thrives best in this sometimes challenging climate, where rainfall is usually 1,100 mm a year. It is the warm, dry even years, however, that winemakers are really rather excited about: 2016, 2020 and most especially 2018 which is touted as ‘the vintage of the decade.’ Recent odd years — 2017, 2019 and 2021 — are actually not considered ‘odd’ at all, but rather classic vintages also worth seeking.
With a winemaking history stretching back over 150 years, it is perhaps no surprise that Uruguay is where you see the greatest innovation with its champion variety, Tannat, where it has become a focus and specialism. I’ve long been a fan of Pisano’s sparkling red Tannat and Pizzorno’s carbonic maceration iterations. Recently I’ve been delighted to discover lots more innovation happening. There are a host of new blends coming to the fore, including Antigua Bodega’s solera-style co-ferment of several varieties, and a Tannat fermented on the skins of Petit Manseng produced by Cerro Chapeu. But the perhaps most fascinating example of out-of-the-box winemaking in recent years goes to Bodega Oceánica José Ignacio. Taking their name very literally they are ageing their Tannat wines in a submarine cellar, 14 metres deep underwater!
There are few limits to the innovative attitude of producers and the styles of new Tannat wines of Uruguay, making it a perfect time to get inspired, explore these fascinating wines and celebrate Tannat Day!