This red wine grape is mainly used for blending, and originated in the Basque country, on the border between France and Spain. Today Tannat is most associated with the wines produced in the Madiran appellation in the south west of France. It has also become one of the most prominent grapes grown in Uruguay, where it is often known as Harriage and considered the national grape.
In the Madiran AOC Tannat must form between 40 and 60% of the final blend, with it being blended with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Fer Servadou. The wines produced tend to be very concentrated, with high tannins that require several years of aging to reach their potential. Recent times have seen winemakers here using techniques such as micro-oxygenation, to produce softer wines that are more approachable in their youth. These winemakers are also increasing the use of oak aging, which helps deliver wines with more complexity and a subtle vanilla-laden sweetness.
Winemakers in Uruguay are using a slightly different approach to the French, and have taken to blending it with softer grape varieties such as Pinot Noir and Merlot, whose soft, rounded fruit character help tame the rustic bold flavors of Tannat. This results in a spectrum of possible styles comparable to anything from Beaujolais to Port, depending on the winemaking technique.
Tannat has been growing in southwest France for many centuries, where it gained recognition for its use in the production of the wines in the Madiran region. In 1870 the grape was transported to Uruguay by Pascual Harriague. Tannat flourished in the hot humid conditions found there, becoming the countries national grape variety. Because Uruguay avoided the Phylloxera crisis that devastated much of Europe, descendants of the original cuttings can still be found there. These vines are highly prized and the grapes produced by them are known as “Harriague”.
From Uruguay Tannat spread to Argentina and arrived in the United States in the late 19th century. The grape was planted in The University of California's vineyard, where it plodded quietly along until the late 20th century, when interest in the variety rose with the international acclaim being received by the South American varietals of this grape. The grape spread to Arizona, Oregon, Virginia and California, and is now used in the production of many wines including the Meritage blends. As of 2005 California plantings of this grape had grown to 140 acres (57ha).
The main growing region for Tannat in France is Madiran. The teroirs in this region are of two clear types. The hills contain flinty sedimentary rock which becomes hot and dry in summer. While the low lying valley areas tend to be more clay soiled, which retains moisture. Due to its location between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean the region can have a slight maritime climate, but in the south west and north east of the appellation can experience continental effects. The average annual temperature in this region is 55F (12C), with yearly average rainfall of 39 inches (1000mm), most of which occurs in fall.
In Uruguay the plantings of this grape have, and continue to, grow as the wine industry in this country grows. Since its introduction to Uruguay in 1870 the grape has thrived due to the countries primarily clay-loam soils and temperate maritime climate.
Tannat produces deep inky purple, almost black wines that are bold in taste and structure, with dark berry and earth flavors and firm tannins. Because it is a heavy wine, high in tannins, Tannat pairs well with grilled red meat, game, and bitter vegetables like rapini.