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20 May 2005

Tannat: Madiran v Uruguay

In fact, more than just Madiran v Uruguay: there are also some very good reds from the lesser known Côtes de St-Mont appellation, also in southwest France. All the Uruguayan wines tasted are 100% Tannat (although many do blends as well), whereas the south-western French ranged from 60% upwards. My top three were: 1er Cru Garage Tannat from Familia Deicas, Cuvée Charles de Baatz from Domaine Berthoumieu, and Château Bouscassé/Alain Brumont's Madiran Vieilles Vignes. Read on...
But first, I'll subject you to just a bit of background on the Tannat variety. André Dubosq of les Producteurs Plaimont said they work 2000 hectares (nearly 5000 acres) of Tannat out of 4000 total. DNA testing has shed some light on its origins, and it's certainly one of the oldest varieties in France. They thought the Phoenicians originally brought it, but it seems likely to be related to wild vines of the Pyrenees and was named Tannat in perhaps the 16th or 17th Centuries. It later resisted well to the phylloxera pest and produced good yields so became favoured. At low yields it can make superb quality, and is a more even performer than the Cabernets in the Madiran area. Merlot is a relatively recent introduction for blending. Most of the people and vines in Uruguay "are of European stock," Daniel Pisano jested (for example Basque and Italian), "and Tannat chose us!" His ancestors started with Italian varieties but switched to Tannat, foreseeing a great match with climate and soil. He believes there's about the same surface area of the variety in Uruguay; exact figures weren't then available because of fast-increasing plantings.
As for the different vintages, I didn't find any of the French 2002s recommendable; this was a difficult cooler vintage across the south of France. In contrast, 2002 was described as a very concentrated year in Uruguay, and their 2004s show uniform potential, apart from any over-oaked wines (a consistent criticism I'm afraid). There were no older Tannats from Uruguay in this tasting so I can't comment on ageing ability, although I have tried before one or two lovely mature reds from the leading producers (e.g. Pisano Family). Back in France, obviously 2001 and 1998 were star quality vintages in this region, and we were told 2004 was much more balanced than very hot 2003. Climatically, there are similarities with about the same rainfall (and no irrigation), although Madiran is usually hotter in the summer; in Uruguay it rarely goes over 30 degrees centigrade with even temps of 25-ish into March/April (that's late summer/early autumn remember) yet 12-14 at night.
Daniel Pisano neatly summed up the event (held in May 2005) and their philosophy of international co-operation: "We feel like brothers, even if we're competing for a place in your stomachs!"


2004 Don Prospero Tannat, Pizzorno - nice cherry and raspberry flavours lead to firm yet fruity textured mouthfeel; needs 6-12 months to express itself better, should be good. 85-87
2004 Tannat, Varela Zarranz - unusual meaty v black cherry nose, savoury tangy palate, pretty firm and chunky but has good length and a touch of elegance too. 87
2004 Rio de los Pajaros Tannat, Pisano - strong spicy chocolate oak aromas continue onto the mouth, shows good depth of lively peppery black fruits though, quite concentrated v grippy with rounded texture; pity about the overly toasty finish, would be better if the oak was toned down. 87
2004 Inicio Tannat, Omar Perco - ripe red / blackcurrant notes set the scene for a 'sweet' v savoury palate, solid tannins yet attractive fruit and style. 85-87
2004 Reserva Tannat, Bouza - closed nose, new oak; lots of choco oak on the palate, shame as it shows nice concentration and ripeness, big yet well textured tannins; time will tell whether the oak merges together. 87
2004 1er Cru Garage Tannat, Familia Deicas - also not revealing much on the meaty edged nose, very concentrated and firm with attractive savoury v blackberry fruit; powerful finish needing time to integrate, although the oak is much better handled. 92
2002 Casa Filgueira Tannat Roble, Filgueira - lovely ripe black cherry nose with meat juice undertones, very grippy and extracted, but this has good depth of fruit and rounder sweeter then savoury finish. 90
2002 Solar del Paso Tannat, Vinicola Aurora - maturing colour and aromas with interesting mint, leather and liquorice notes; ripe berry fruit with background vanilla oak, soft with quite light tannins v tangier bite, elegant and straightforward; drink now. 85


2003 Madiran, Maestria - vibrant purple, more 'modern' spicy black cherry fruit, upfront and attractive; darker plum and soy sauce palate, quite firm but has nice fruit, medium body and length. 85
2001 Côtes de St-Mont, Château Sabazan - complex roast meat v black cherry notes with background oak, very solid tannins but shows lovely concentration, might v elegance and long finish. 90
2001 Cuvée Charles de Baatz Madiran, Domaine Berthoumieu - intriguingly sexy nose offering similar savoury black fruits with smoky complexity; very, very firm supported by chunky fruit and a touch of oak, adding attractive texture and fine length. 92-94
2001 Côtes de St-Mont, Le Faite (top site, oldest vines) - nice mix of concentrated fruit - black cherry and liquorice - and a layer of oak; tight structure and bite sweetened by the fruit and oak, well balanced despite the dry tannins and power. 90
2001 Madiran, Château Mascaras (70% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cab Sauvignon) - more elegant and restrained style, firm tannins with soft liquorice fruit and long dry finish; definitely a roast duck wine. 89
2000 Madiran Plénitude, Producteurs Plaimont
- maturing rustic notes v lightly stalky v rich black fruits; big structured tannins with appealing textured savoury fruit carrying through onto the finish. 87
1999 Madiran, Château Viella-Village - lightly rustic/sulphide aromas, brooding nose; rigid and concentrated, slightly stalky yet rich mouthful at the same time; probably won't develop much more v that extraction. 87
1998 Madiran Vieilles Vignes, Château Bouscassé (Alain Brumont) - smoky intricate ominous nose; displays delicious balance of maturing fruit, chunky tannins and elegant length, leather and ripe black plums. 93-95
1996 Côtes de St-Mont, Château Sabazan - a tad dusty perhaps, smoky earthy mint & liquorice aromas, 'sweet v savoury' black fruits; mature fruit and dry tannins on the palate, attractive drinking, at its peak. 87
1993 Madiran, Château Crouseilles - old and meaty v liquorice and leather, dry tannins but nice mature 'sweet' fruit too; at its peak, needs food. 89-90

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.