June 9, 2017

Tannat

There is a handful of grape varieties that are great contenders on the title of the world's most tannic variety, but none of them are as aptly titled for such a nomination as Tannat, that red and fiercely tannic variety originating from the Southwest France.

This dark variety is first mentioned in the late 18th century as a variety grown in Madiran, the wine region in Southwest France, which still is considered the spiritual home of Tannat and one of the few regions which cultivate this rather unapproachable variety extensively. The name of the variety means "tanned" in the local dialect, but it could also refer to the ridiculously high tannin content of the variety as well. This very deeply colored variety produces usually rather small grapes in which the skin-to-pulp-ratio is rather high, meaning that the amount of grape skins (one of the main sources of tannins) is noticeably high in relation to the juice. Normally Tannat produces wines that are not only remarkably tannic, but also very high in acidity as well. This means that traditional Tannat wines can be extremely ageworthy – the key components in the cellaring potential of wines are high acidity, prominent tannins, high sugar content and high alcohol content – but also very unapproachable (even undrinkable) in their youth.

The old school Madiran wines were made with moderately long maceration times resulting in wines often so tough and tannic it could take even more than decade to soften the wines enough to get them drinkable – something not unlike traditional wines of Barolo and Barbaresco region. However, as wine drinkers at some point started to favor softer wines suitable for early consumption, Madiran producers started to look for ways to make their wines softer and more approachable – aging the wine bottles for decades in the cellars of the wineries was not a viable option nor was aging for years in large oak foudres.

The classic method to reduce the tough character of Madiran and other wines based on Tannat has always been blending the variety with some other local varieties, like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Fér Servadou – all quite tannic varieties in their own right, which only serves to show how tannic Tannat is. After all, normally, in other parts of the world, other softer varieties are blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to soften its tannic character!

At some point wine producers realized that oxygen promotes polymerization of the tannins, meaning they bind together, forming larger (thus less astringent) molecules and even falling out of the solution, reducing the total tannin content of the wine. The logical method for introducing oxygen more effectively to the wine was to change the large oak foudres, often containing even thousands of liter of wine, to smaller barrique barrels of only 225 liters, thus increasing the "breathing" surface in relation to the wine. Furthermore, by using only new oak barrels, whose pores weren't yet clogged by wine deposit and crystallized acid, even more oxygen could be introduced to the wines, resulting even softer and rounder wines. The downside of this oak treatment is that the wines would also be often full of sweet and spicy new oak flavors and aromas. By keeping the barrel aging time short, the wines could keep the fruity characteristics of Tannat pretty much in the front. However, as many of the wines often required prolonged oak aging to let the oxygen have some softening effect, keeping the wine 2 years or even more in new oak barrels often resulted in wines that were quite dominated by new oak characteristics up to the point that the varietal characteristics were masked away and only the firm tannins would be what was left of the variety.

A more recent method to reduce the astringency from the tannins is microbullage, better known as "micro-oxygenation", developed (quite unsurprisingly) in Madiran by Patrick DuCournau of Château Aydie. This process uses a very small vent at the bottom of a wine tank, through which oxygen is introduced at very high pressure. This way the oxygen is introduced into the wine as very fine, minuscule and easily soluble bubbles that mimic the oxygenation that happens in small oak barrels. However, instead of taking several months, this process takes only some minutes. Furthermore, this process does not impart any new oak aromatics to the wine, so after the micro-oxygenation, it is possible to move the wine into old, large oak casks – or even keep the wine in the stainless steel tanks – while still reaping the softening benefits of oxygenation one would normally acquire only through aging the wine in new, small oak barrels. This process hasn't came about without controversies, however. Although adapted widely through the winemaking world, especially in Bordeaux, some people still regard micro-oxygenation as too manipulative a method and steer well away from it. For example Alain Brumont of Madiran Châteaux Montus and Bouscassé, the man who is widely recognized as bringing Madiran into wider recognition, never uses micro-oxygenation with his wines, but instead favors long oak aging periods in small oak barrels to soften his wines.

Although Madiran is the wine region best known for Tannat, it is not the only region where this variety can be found. Tannat is quite well-spread throughout the Southwest France, covering some 2,900 ha (7,250 acres) in total and is a key component in the neighboring regions of Tursan (reds can be up to 40% Tannat) and Saint-Mont as well in the Basque wine regions of Béarn and Irouléguy. From the Southwest France the variety has spread throughout the winemaking world, often with Basque migrants. The variety has found its spiritual new world home in Uruguay, where it was introduced back in the 1870's and is known by its local name, Harriague. Currently the variety covers approximately 1,800 ha (4,400 acres) of vineyards there, which is over 1/5 of the whole vineyard area in Uruguay! The variety is also relatively popular in Argentina (550 ha / 1,350 acres), Brazil (420 ha / 1,050 acres) and USA (100 ha / 250 acres).

Here is a rather large and diverse selection of different Tannat wines that I have tasted through these years, in the order of tasting:

Domaine Labranche-Laffont Madiran 2008
AOC Madiran
  • Domaine Labranche-Laffont
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (60%), Cabernet Franc (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%)
  • Price: 7,00€ / 0,12
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2013

The wine is produced by Domaine Labranche-Laffont a small family winery owning 19 hectares in the northern parts of the Madiran region. The hand-picked grapes that are partly from centenarian pre-phylloxera vines go through 18 days of maceration. After the malolactic fermentation the wine is aged for 18 months (1/3 in oak barrels, 2/3 in vats).

Opaque black-red color that reminds me more of blackcurrant juice concentrate than anything vinous!

The nose is quite rich and expressive with aromas of blackcurrants, some leather, a little ripe red fruit and integrated hints of vanilla and spicy oak character.

On the palate the wine feels very fresh, youthful and concentrated with flavors of blackcurrant, dark cherry, black forest fruits and some tannic astringency with toasty hints of oak looming in the background. Acidity is quite modest here, but instead the tannins are very prominent, aggressive even, keeping the wine very tightly-knit, structured and dry-tasting.

The astringent, tightly-wound finish is quite long with long-lingering flavors of toasted spicy oak, tannic bitterness, some bright minerality and hints of savory forest fruits.

This is a classic, tannin-driven Madiran that feels very tight and structured despite its modest acidity. Probably not the best choice for a wine bar wine, because this feels still very primary and even with more bottle age, you'd need something hearty to go along with this.

89/100
Summary: This is definitely stuff I'd leave in a cellar for a decade or more. Not recommended for people who are afraid of tannins. Very good value at 7€ for a 12 cl glass.

***

Plaimont Rosé d'Enfer 2012
AOC Saint-Mont
  • Plaimont Producteurs
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Saint-Mont
  • Grape(s): Tannat (60%), Fér Servadou (25%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%)
  • Price: 7,50€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 15th of October, 2013


Although the Southwest France is pretty much a red wine region (with some white wine appellations here and there, like Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Jurançon), there are some regions with considerable rosé wine output – like Saint-Mont over here. This wine is made by Plaimont, a noticeably large co-operative of 800 members and 5,300 ha (13,750 acres) of plantings. They produce approximately half of the total output of Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and almost 98% of the small appellation of Saint-Mont. It must be noted, that even though Plaimont is a big co-op, they are generally considered a very good one and also one of the saviors of the forgotten wine regions of the Southwest France.

Pale, pink color.

Juicy and somewhat meaty nose with a pretty straightforward, fruity character with mainly aromas of ripe red berries and yellow plums.

Contrasting the juicy nose, the wine is surprisingly light and even quite thin on the palate with vague, nondescript flavors of red currants and other red berries along with a little bitterness. The taste is rather bland and even boring. Moderate acidity.

The finish is somewhat bitter and rather short with flavors of steely minerality, some herbal notes, a little thin red fruit character and a bit of alcohol warmth. There seems to be a hint of tannic grip to the aftertaste.

Overall Rosé d'Enfer proves that you can also make rosé wines out of Tannat, but at least this wine wasn't so impressive that I would recommend anyone to change their Tannat wine production from red to rosé.

79/100
Summary: It's a rather bland and mediocre rosé wine lacking body and character. Definitely nothing special to write home about.

***

Plaimont Maestria Madiran 2011
AOC Madiran
  • Plaimont Producteurs
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (70%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Cabernet Franc (5%)
  • Price: 8,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 15th of October, 2013


A red wine made by Plaimont, the same co-op behind the rosé wine above. This is a classic, mainly Tannat-based Madiran that is mainly fermented and aged for 8–12 months in stainless steel (80%) with only a small portion (20%) seeing old oak barrels. The idea is to preserve the vibrant fruit flavors, not to overwhelm them with oak.

The wine is quite opaque red with a noticeable, youthful purple hue.

The nose is somewhat restrained with aromas of ripe dark fruits and sweet berries, some smoked meat notes and a hint of earthiness.

The wine is medium-bodied and very structured on the palate with moderately firm tannins and high acidity. The rather spicy flavors are pure, well-delineated and youthful with notes of tart dark berries, ripe dark fruits, exotic spices, some earthiness and quite noticeable bitterness.

The finish is medium-long and very grippy with quite angular tannins and savory flavors of dark berries, aromatic herbal bitterness and roasted spices. The wine finishes on a light, slightly sappy vegetal hint.

This wine is a rather by-the-book modern Madiran with a lot of emphasis on the bright fruit flavors of Tannat. The variety's tightly-knit structure is obviously there, but not in as hard and forbidding shape as it could be.

87/100
Summary: For a young Madiran, this is a relatively "soft" and approachable effort, although still quite tannic and astringent, like a good Tannat should be. Stylistically this is pretty straightforward effort, so most likely this wine will never be a big and impressive one, but I can imagine it will develop nicely over the following 3–5 years and keep for a decade. Superb value at only 8€.

***

Garzón Varietales Tannat 2012
  • Bodega Garzón
  • Country: Uruguay
  • Region: Garzón
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 13,48€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 4th of November, 2014
Bodega Garzón, founded in 1999, is a Uruguayan winery located in the small village of Garzón. According to their home pages, the winery prefers natural yeasts over commercial ones and cement tanks or untoasted oak barrels over more aromatic, toasted ones. I really couldn't find any information on this wine, because it couldn't be found on the winery's home pages.

The wine's opaque color is very dark, youthful plummy purple.

The nose is dark-toned and very sweet with ripe aromas of cooked plums, some bilberries and hints of ripe strawberries.

The wine is rich, ripe and full-bodied on the palate with intense and somewhat sweet flavors of bilberries, blackcurrant jam, cooked strawberries, some iron, a little vanilla, a bit of balancing bitterness and a hint of milk chocolate. The wine is medium in acidity, making it come across rather mellow and plump, but its moderately firm tannins give it some welcome structure. Alcohol gives the palate a bit of warmth.

The wine finishes with a warm and chewy aftertaste with quite robust flavors of ripe cassis, stewed plums, some rough spiciness and a bit of earth. The wine ends on a quite bitter, astringent and pretty mouthdrying note.

Although a moderately firm and structured effort for a South-American red wine, I find it rather hard to believe this was made with natural yeasts or neutral oak; the oak characteristics of vanilla and other sweet spices are noticeable and there is also an obvious streak of sweet blackcurrant – a tell-tale sign I associate with South-American reds and assume is coming from a locally popular commercial yeast strain.

83/100
Summary: Overall this is a mildly positive example of South-American wine, but I still find it too sweet and plump to suit my taste. Perhaps a good choice for a fan of South-American wines who needs some tannins? Priced according to its quality at 13,48€.

***

Château Montus La Tyre 2001
AOC Madiran
  • Vignobles Alain Brumont, Château Montus
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 100,30€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 1st of December, 2014
As I wrote above, Alain Brumont, the man behind Châteaux Montus and Bouscassé, is the man who is considered to be the one who brought Madiran into wider recognition. He does not believe in the micro-oxidation, otherwise so prevalent throughout Madiran, but instead prefers to use new, small oak barrels to soften the tannins of his wine.

His flagship wine is La Tyre, a single-vineyard Tannat made from a steep, stony plot Brumont discovered in 1990. The grapes for La Tyre were harvested for the first time in 2000, when the vines were 10 years old, so this is the second vintage of this wine. The wine undergoes 3–6 weeks of maceration with the grape skins, depending on the variety, parcel and vintage. After the fermentation the wine is aged for 14–16 months in barriques, of which 100% are new. Bottled with a minimal dose of sulfites.

The age of wine is betrayed by the concentrated, dense black color with a hint of deposit and a slightly orange burnt clay rim.

The wine shows somewhat developed and quite oak-heavy nose with powerful aromas of smoke, tar, dry wood, sweet milk chocolate, dried prunes and some ripe blackcurrant.

On the palate the wine is extremely concentrated, mouthfilling and chewy with massive, mouth-coating, grainy tannins. There are monolithic and rich flavors of smoke, tar, milk chocolate, wood spice, some blackcurrant, maraschino cherry, a hint of licorice and nuances of prunes. Acidity can't really cut through the massive midpalate. The structure is, simply put, immense.

There are no discernible fruit flavors in the long, oaky, extracted and slightly bitter finish, but instead lingering flavors of dark chocolate, cocoa and sweet wood spice. The tannins leave your mouth bone-dry and gritty.

Holy Hannah this wine is full of oak and extraction – this must be one of the most massive wines I've ever tasted! It has impeccable structure to go with the mouthfilling flavors, but unfortunately there is very little left of the original Tannat flavors, as they are replaced by swathes of anonymous sweet wood characteristics. Nose- and flavor-wise this is like any new world super red wine; the dense tannic structure remaining is the only thing that points out to the direction of Madiran.

88/100
Summary: I have no idea whether this wine will ever reach a nice plateau of maturity where the tannins are smoother and more approachable and the fruit flavors and the oak characteristics might be in balance. I have no problems with the black-hole-esque density of the wine that much, more instead with the overdone, obfuscating oakiness. This is a good wine for those who enjoy extremely big and oaky reds, but definitely not for me. I probably need to revisit this in (or after) 15-20 years. Definitely not worth the 100,30€.

***

Château Montus 2010
AOC Madiran
  • Vignobles Alain Brumont, Château Montus
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Price: 33,85€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 4th of November, 2015
This is the standard Madiran of the Montus winery – the "calling card" wine of the winery, in a sense –one that is composed mainly of Tannat but with some Cabernet Sauvignon to soften up the structure (I know that sounds silly, but that's just the way Tannat is). The grapes undergo 3–6 weeks of maceration with the skins, depending on the variety, parcel and vintage. The wine is aged for 12–14 months in barriques, of which 60–80% are new.

Opaque, deep black ruby color with a slightly blueish hue.

Quite dry, savory and not particularly "big" nose with aromas of dark plums, blackcurrant, bloody meat, dark grapey fruit, some iron, a little milk chocolate oak, light dried herbal hints and a hint of dry, savory wood.

The wine is very full-bodied and extracted on the palate with balanced acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow tannins. Well, sure, there are a lot of tannins, giving the wine a very textural feel, but they are not grippy or aggressive one little bit. The flavors are very ripe and quite sweet with notes of dark cherries, plummy fruit, blackcurrant-driven forest fruits, moderately noticeable, sweet milk chocolate oak and a bit of spicy oak bitterness.

The finish is quite long, slightly warm and rather spicy with chewy, extracted flavors of cocoa-driven oak spice, red cherries, ripe plums, some bloody iron and bit of tannic bitterness. For a Tannat, the aftertaste is surprisingly mellow and easy, lacking the mouth-drying astringency typical for the variety.

Overall this is quite oak-driven and modern Madiran with great balance and a somewhat crowd-pleasing, easy-to-drink character. Although the wine is drinking very nicely now and is definitely not in need of any cellaring, I personally would age the wine for 7–10 more years in the hopes the excessive oak character would get integrated with the fruit better.

87/100
There is a distinctively Bordelais / Southwest French quality to the wine, giving it nice sense of sophistication and elegance, but it is also so polished, modern and round in style I really can't get grips with the wine. It is good and, in its own sense, pretty tasty, but I look for more rustic and unpolished character in Madiran. A wine this polished feels just too dull and predictable for me – and too expensive for its quality at 33,85€.

***

Capmartin Vieilles Vignes 2012
AOC Madiran
  • Domaine Capmartin
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%)
  • Price: ~10,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
Capmartin is a Madiran-based winery founded by Guy Capmartin in 1985, focusing on more terroir-oriented, traditional examples of the regional style. In 2007 the winery started adopting organic and biodynamic practices and in 2010 the winery obtained an organic AB certification.

Capmartin Vieilles Vignes is made from very old vines: the youngest vines are approximately 60 years old, whereas the oldest ones are pre-phylloxera – centenarian vines with their own, original rootstocks. The wine is first fermented in 7,000-liter open-top cement fermenters, after which the wine is transferred into oak barrels for 12 months of aging. Then the wines are blended into stainless steel for further 6 months of aging before light filtration and bottling.

Very dark, opaque black-red color.

There is a sense of weight and density in the nose that is somewhat very cool and savory – not suggesting much sweetness – with aromas of somewhat ripe dark, plummy fruits, red forest fruits, some chokeberries and a hint of understated complexity.

The wine is full-bodied, concentrated and chewy on the palate with moderately acidity and firm, ample tannins that grip the insides of your mouth quite eagerly. The flavor department offers licorice, ripe dark berries, some more savory chokeberry character, a little bit of raspberry and a faint spicy streak of old woody oak. The wine feels quite weighty and structured, but surprisingly gentle for a Madiran this young.

The finish is dense and concentrated with ripe yet mouthdrying and grippy tannins and long, intense flavors of blackberries, crowberries, some licorice and hints of fresh, almost tart blackcurrants.

This is a classic, pure and well-delineated Madiran with wonderful, chewy texture and grippy tannins, yet surprisingly gentle and easily approachable character.

92/100
Summary: Although the wine is surprisingly drinkable right now, the acidity and the ample tannins especially give it good potential for further cellaring. I can imagine the wine will mellow out and lose some of its baby fat with some 10 years of cellar age in favor of elegance and complexity – characteristics, which the wine is still lacking a bit in its current state. At only 10€, this wine shows simply stunning value.

***

Capmartin Cuvée du Couvent 2011
AOC Madiran
  • Domaine Capmartin
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 12,90€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
Couvée du Couvent is the top red wine of the aforementioned Capmartin and composed completely of organically grown Tannat. The long fermentation period is carried out in 70hl open-top cement fermenters, after which the wine is moved into new barrique for MLF. The wine is first aged in these oak barrels for 12 months, after which the wine is aged for further 6 months in stainless steel. The wine is very light filtered before bottling.

Very dark and concentrated purple-red color that is opaque up to the rim.

The nose is quite restrained with some bloody iron notes on the fore, supported by notes of concentrated dark berries, dark plummy fruit and a light hint of leather.

The wine is remarkably full-bodied, concentrated and weighty on the palate with chewy texture, moderately high acidity and ripe but tightly-knit, firm and grippy tannins. There are intense flavors of bitter spices, licorice root, blood, dark plummy fruit and tart dark-skinned berries. The wine feels ripe, yet very dry instead of sweetishly ripe. The concentrated fruit masks the oak aging characteristics remarkably well, wood peeking through in the light, slightly bitter spiciness underneath.

The finish is mouth-drying and meaty with pronounced spicy bitterness, some salty dried beef notes and remarkably crunchy flavors of crowberries and chokeberries with hints of sweet licorice and ripe plummy fruit bringing in some balancing richness.

Cuvée du Couvent is overall a rich, intense and very impressive red wine with remarkable structure and gravitas without being one bit too imposing or forbiddingly tannic – although the wine is still very tannic to say the very least. The key word here is impeccable balance between the concentration, structure and intensity – the wine has heaps of these components, yet nothing in excess.

93/100
I'm surprised how well this wine carries its oak – and by that I mean it is barely noticeable by the concentrated yet still very well-proportioned and structured fruit. Although drinking surprisingly nicely already, this wine is still a baby and I can imagine 10 years in a cellar will only benefit it. Lovely stuff and a steal at only 12,90€.

***

Pisano Tannat / Petit Verdot 2008
  • Bodegas Pisano
  • Country: Uruguay
  • Region: Progreso
  • Grape(s): Tannat, Petit Verdot
  • Price: 12,89€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
Pisano is a winery located in Progreso, some 30 kilometers north from Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. It was founded in 1914 by an Italian family who moved from Italy to Uruguay in the start of the 20th century. The winery is still owned by the Pisano family and they aim to produce wines expressing the local terroir and style with as natural winemaking practices as possible.

I really couldn't find much information on this wine, because it wasn't featured on the Pisano website. From its name one can quite easily guess it is a blend of the local favorite, Tannat, with Petit Verdot – a variety equally notorious for its deep color and tannins.

Very dense dark ruby color with only a hint of translucency and, despite its 8 years of age, faint highlights of youthful purple hue.

The nose is fruity and opulent with intense aromas of almost overripe plums and blackcurrant jam with sweet oak spice, some alcohol and a hint of acetone VA.

The wine is full-bodied and quite soft and supple on the palate with moderately ample yet ripe and soft tannins and quite modest acidity. Although not that concentrated, the wine comes across as pretty big, easy and juicy with relatively soft structure. There are flavors of ripe plummy fruit, savory spice, blackberry-driven sweet dark berry notes, some slightly bitter wood spice and a slightest hint of acetone.

The spicy medium-long finish is slightly mouth-drying and a bit coarse with flavors of sweet dark fruit, roasted spice, some oak bitterness and a hint of sour plums.

Though there is a wild edge to this wine, giving it some welcome character to set it apart from many sweetishly ripe South American reds, this still doesn't really manage to impress me. The wine is just too ripe, sweet and straightforward with too mellow and easy tannins to give the wine the structure its big fruit calls for.

84/100
Summary: Although a relatively well-made effort for a Uruguay red, the wine still leaves much to be hoped for. With more emphasis on structure and less on oak, the wine could show more finesse and potential. I suppose the wine could hold – even develop a little – in a cellar for some years, but I doubt there's room for much development. Priced according to its quality at 12,89€.

***

Miolo Tannat Reserva 2012
  • Miolo
  • Country: Brazil
  • Region: Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha Gaúcha
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 8,90€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
Miolo is a young Brazilian winery with a long history: although the company was founded only in 1990, the people behind it had been cultivating vines since 1897 – almost for a hundred years – and supplying the local producers with fruit. Currently the company cultivates 450 ha (1125 acres) of vineyards, of which the company owns 120 hectares (300 acres) and the rest are cultivated through contract growers. World-famous winemaker Michel Rolland works as a viticultural and oenological consultant with Miolo.

Quite opaque and moderately purple-tinted black-red color.

At first the nose of the wine feels somewhat odd with restrained aromas of bloody meat, dark-skinned forest fruits, some lactic blueberry yoghurt character and herbaceous green hints. With air, however, the nose turns much more anonymous with sweet aromas of cooked red fruits and strawberry jam.

Surprisingly for a Tannat, the wine feels more medium- than full-bodied with lively acidity with rather light and easy tannins. The taste department is full of rich, extracted flavors of youthful red fruits, forest strawberries, ripe raspberries, some meaty notes and blood, a little bit of alcohol and a hint of strawberry jam. Especially after some breathing the wine starts to taste quite much like a generic, inexpensive Aussie red.

The long aftertaste is spicy, quite bitter and somewhat green with flavors of tart lingonberries, ripe blackberries, some coarse peppery character, a little bit of odd, candied raspberry candy flavor and a slightly vegetal sappy hint.

I'm really confused by this wine. At first it felt surprisingly interesting, lighter and more refreshing take on Tannat with some odd – but not fully negative – aromas and flavors. However, with air, the wine lost most of its exciting character and transformed into a regular, thirteen-in-a-dozen red wine, not quite plonk but not far from it.

82/100
Summary: If the wine had remained how it was first, it would've easily scored a handful of extra points. However, in the end there was very little to set this wine apart from any inexpensive new world red and even less to suggest that the wine in question was made from Tannat. So I guess the wine was priced more or less according to its quality at 8,90€ and one shouldn't really expect more.

***

Don David Finca Las Mercedes #6 Tannat 2011
  • Michel Torino / Bodega El Esteco
  • Country: Argentina
  • Region: Salta, Cafayate
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 17,12€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
This wine is made by the old Argentinian wine company Bodega El Esteco / Michel Torino (founded already in 1892) and it represents the single vineyard end of their popular Don David range – named after the company's founder, David Michel. Normally the winery produces only Don David Reserve series wines, but occasionally they release single vineyard wines showing the potential of their finest plots. The plot #6, called Las Mercedes was planted in 1997 with Tannat and from that single plot are all grapes sourced for this wine.

Pitch-black, opaque color with slightly purple highlights in the rim.

The dark-toned nose feels very rich, concentrated and powerful with really intense aromas of almost overripe plummy fruit, juicy blackberry notes, rather dominant aromas of coffee chocolate, some spicy and savory wood and hints of vanilla.

On the palate the wine is really full-bodied, rich and textural with grainy tannins that are both chewy and grippy. The wine is dominated by powerful, sweet oak notes with some fruity notes of blackberry and crowberry jam and juicy dark plums, supported with a light, sweet hint of licorice. Although there most likely isn't much (or at all) residual sugar in the wine, it comes across quite sweet and really ripe – a characteristic further emphasized by the sweet vanilla and chocolate notes of oak. Although the tannins are ample, the wine feels pretty soft, thanks to its rather modest acidity.

The finish is long, powerful and somewhat warm with a little tannic astringency and persistent, sweet flavors of ripe blackberries, plums, mocha, some bitter wood notes, a little bit of dark chocolate and a hint of dried figs.

Well this was a disappointment. Apparently the winery had set out to produce a modern masterpiece with a lot of extraction, more alcohol and even more oak, but to me, they resulted only in a wine showing sloppy (yet expensive) winemaking that masks away all the fruit. I really can't say anything about the quality of the Las Mercedes vineyard, because all I can taste here is oak and fruit preserves.

86/100
Summary: I really do hope that long cellaring can integrate the oak underneath the fruit – there is a lot of fruit, but also a lot of oak to hide. The wine at least shows some cellaring potential with its concentrated fruit and ample tannins, so I guess the wine might show better at 10–15 of age. However, I guess this wine will never be one to suit my tastes. Priced more or less according to its quality at 17,12€.

***

Odé d'Aydie Madiran 2012
AOC Madiran
  • Vignobles Laplace, Château Aydie
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 10,20€ / 0,12
  • Tasted on: 21st of August, 2016
Not having an Aydie wine on an article about Tannat would be blasphemy. That's because it was Château Aydie where the now-so-prevalent micro-oxygenation was originally invented and the winery employs it quite systematically with their red wines. The winery was founded in 1927 by Frédéric Laplace and now it is run by the 3rd generation of the Laplace family. The Laplaces own some 58 hectares (145 acres) of vines, of which 49 ha (120 acres) are planted with red varieties for Madiran and 9 ha (22 acres) with white varieties for Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.

Odé is the second wine of the estate, made completely from Tannat. The grapes are macerated with the fermenting wine for 30 days, after which the wine is aged for 12–15 months in oak tuns and vats. Then the wine is blended together and finally bottled after 20 months of aging.

The wine is dark-cherry colored with a bit of translucency.

The nose is rich and expressive with opulent and rather sweet aromas of freshly picked, ripe forest fruits, some cocoa oak, a little bit of plum jam and a hint of milk chocolate.

The wine is full-bodied and quite textural with moderately high acidity and very ample, yet surprisingly soft and friendly tannins. Although obviously quite ripe, the wine is surprisingly savory and bitter with flavors of bloody iron, sappy greenness, astringent berry skin notes, some tangy chokeberry and crowberry notes and a bit of woody bitterness, counterpointed by sweeter oak notes of milk chocolate and cocoa.

The finish is as coarse and bitter as the midpalate with flavors of chokeberries, quite rich, complex and somewhat sweet oak character, a bit of bitter milk chocolate, a little bit of ripe dark plums and a hint of sappy greenness.

Obviously Odé d'Aydie is a modern Madiran, with its very noticeable, sweet oak characteristics and surprisingly mellow and easy tannins. Yet the wine is very true to the Madiran style with its noticeably bitter flavor profile – most likely due to the sheer volume of tannins in the wine. Normally you really don't taste tannins – they just show some level of mouth-drying astringency – but if there is enough of tannins in the wine, you start to taste them as a bitter flavor. What's remarkable here is how the tannins have been cleaned out into the background, yet they obviously are there.

88/100
Summary: In conclusion, this is really not my style of wine – I like my Madirans more tannic and less oaky, thank you very much – but for a relatively easy-drinking Tannat this was a decent effort. Nothing groundbreaking, but a decent wine for a modern Southwesterner. The winery promises 8–10 of aging potential for the wine, maybe that kind of cellar time could help the oak integrate a little bit. Priced according to its quality at 10,20€ for a 12 cl glass in a restaurant.

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Château Bouscassé Madiran 1995
AOC Madiran
  • Vignobles Alain Brumont, Château Bouscassé
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tasted on: 14th of April, 2017
Finally, a wine from Château Bouscassé, the original family winery of Alain Brumont of Château Montus fame. This +20 years old wine is here to show how Madiran is capable of aging in a cellar.

Based on the tech sheet of more recent Bouscassé wines, this wine has probably undergone 3–6 weeks of maceration, depending on the variety, parcel and vintage and then aged for 12–14 months in barriques, of which 30–50% were new.

The wine's color is still quite opaque, but obviously developed with a slightly maroon hue and noticeable bricking in the rim.

The nose is quite robust with powerful rustic notes of barnyard and manure, ripe blackcurrants, brambly black berries and a hint of sweaty leather saddle.

On the palate the wine feels medium-bodied, textural and very structured with lively acidity and generous, still very grippy tannins. The flavors are quite developed and savory with dry, tertiary notes of wizened dark berries, leather, some manure and a bit of umami. The sheer amount of tannins give the taste a slightly bitter edge.

The long aftertaste is very lively but also mouthdryingly astringent with firm, grippy tannins. The finish leaves persistent flavors of dried dark berries, wizened plums, some leather, a little barnyard and a delicate hint of bitterness in the mouth.

Now this is what Madiran is all about! I have no idea how much (or if at all) new oak the wine has seen, but at this age there is none to be noticed. The wine is all about very nicely developed Tannat fruit with really captivating tertiary characteristics and lovely textural feel.

95/100
Summary: I don't know if Brumont's wines have been less "modern" back in the 1990's or if the wines just need 20 years in a cellar to show their best. Whatever the case is, this is a truly wonderful Madiran with tremendous character that speaks volumes of the region's wines' aging potential. Very highly recommended.

***

Having tasted a bunch of Tannat wines through these years has taught me something: although the variety itself is quite tannic, the wines surprisingly often aren't. Sure, you can notice that there might be quite a lot of tannins in the wines (giving them this tell-tale bitterness), but more often than not the winemaking has made sure the tannins are very smooth, mellow and unobtrusive. Especially in the new world the wines can be remarkably silky with barely noticeable tannic grip.

In Madiran things are a bit different. Quite often you encounter wines that have their tannins manicured to some extent, but often leaving the wines with firmness and chewy texture. However, it is also possible to find more rustic old-school Tannat wines in the Southwest France where they don't try to mellow down the forbiddingly tannic nature of the wine, but instead embrace it with open arms. These are the wines I usually love the most – after all, if the variety is known to be really tannic and structured, that is also what I expect of the wine! If I wanted something soft and easy, I'd grab a bottle of new world Merlot.

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