More than 10,000 km from its origin in France, the red grape with a reputation for being hard and “difficult” has become a success that has put Uruguay on the world wine list.
In the land of gauchos and barbecue, tannat has found the perfect host in the mild and humid region of this South American region and its foraging population.
With more seeds than other grapes, tannat is high in astringent tannins, the dominant property that gave it its name and has long been considered bad.
But it turns out to be a perfect drink with beef, a symbol of local gastronomy.
Tannat wine “pairs very well with meat,” winemaker Eduardo Boido, from the Bouza winery in Montevideo, told AFP.
“Eat the food, take tannat to cleanse the mouth and eat again…” he says between the fresh harvests of the vines.
– From the peasant to the noble -.
While it is now the national grape of Uruguay, tannat is native to southwestern France.
It was launched in the 1870s, when Uruguay was relatively a wine-producing country, by the Franco-Batavian Pascual Harriague.
“Tannat was known for a long time with Harriague and they were mostly country wines,” Nicolas Cappellini, owner of the Montevideo Wine Experience wine bar, told AFP. In the 1980s the focus shifted to fine wine.
Today, the region produces a variety of styles with different prices, and its Tannat wines are among the best.
“Through 150 years of making Tannat, Uruguayan producers have learned to manage the grape’s naturally high tannins,” he says on the Wine of Uruguay website.
Uruguay “made a difficult variety of champion Tannat.”
About a third of the world’s Tannat wine is produced in this region of 3.5 million people.
This puts it second “behind only France”, which produces 45%, said Kym Anderson of the University of Adelaide’s Wine Economics Research Centre. It is followed by Argentina with 15% and the United States with 4%.
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– Sea breeze vines –
Uruguay has more than a thousand hundred vineyards, mostly small and family, located between parallels 30 and 35 south, as are the main producers in Chile, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
A few kilometers from the Río de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean, the sea breeze cools all year round. Uvor, Boido points out, makes the tannins in the Uruguayan Tannat “quite finer.”
“What sets Uruguayan Tannat apart is its freshness, which is due to the climate,” adds London-based wine teacher Julia Harding.
Uruguayan wine is exported by those consumed by beef, milk and soybeans, but still a significant number: 4.8 million bottles of wine, mostly red, worth $ 18.5 million in 2022, according to data from the National Institute of Viticulture (INAVI).
Tannat, explains the speaker Karina Spremolla, was “the most exported variety.”
– “Something strong” –
Uruguay had 1,575 hectares of Tannat vineyards in 2022, while France had fewer than 2,733 in 2019, according to the location of the South Western vineyards.
But while in France tannat represents less than 1% of the total plantation, in Uruguay it is the main one, with 27%.
“In Uruguay, the Tannat grape is mainly used to make monovarietal wines,” Eduardo Félix, technical director of INAVI, told AFP.
Cappellini noted that Tannat Wine is especially “definitely” for travelers wanting to try the flagship variety.
Uruguayans perceive Tannat as a “bit strong, rustic” wine.
Tasting aside, a 2006 study published in the journal Nature noted that traditionally Tannat has become the “healthiest” wine because of its high levels of polyphenols, an antioxidant compound believed to improve brain health and protect against heart disease.
Proud of its emblem, Uruguay also dedicates a “day” to Tannat every April 14, the day of Harriague’s death.