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Tannat – The Big Daddy Wine

By Doug Fabbioli

Tannat – The Big Daddy Wine

Photo by Matt Fitzsimmons

So Tannat seems to be on my calendar a bit more than usual this month. Recently I participated in a tasting of Tannat’s from across the world with a few other winemakers. Also, I have been asked to present our 2015 Tannat at The Eastern Wine Exposition in Lancaster, PA. So, as these events have come together, it only makes sense that I write a bit more about this rising grape varietal.

Tannat is a red grape varietal that has its roots in the Southwestern region of France, the Basque region. It is well known for its thick skins on the vine that translates to firmly structured tannins and deep color in the glass. Uruguay has adopted this grape as its national varietal, using it to make Rosé, light styled reds, full bodied reds as well as port styled wines. Its roots in Virginia can be traced back to our maverick, Dennis Horton and his wife Sharon, who planted well over 150 different varietals to help decide which would be best for our climate. Dr. Tony Wolf of Virginia Tech had his hand in the mix as well through longer term experiments, trials and studies. Over the years, Tannat wines from a number of Virginia wineries have had great showings in our statewide competitions as well as on the west coast.

Personally, I have leaned on Tannat over the years to be the big daddy wine in the lineup. With a little blending and some judicious choices of barrels, I am able to build layers of flavors as well as flesh out the aromatics and finish of the wine. Tannat tends to have a very firm middle and finish that stops rather abruptly, so the blending and barrel choices can really help the wine finish up.

My friend Mark Malick from Maggie Malick Wine Cave and grape grower from way back has always been impressed with Tannat. He invited a number of us over to his home to taste a wide variety of Tannats. I was only able to stay through about 2/3’s of the wines, but I felt Virginia showed quite well among these wines. Some wines were of a softer style, while others showed the weight and structure that Tannat has been known for.

In Lancaster, I will be presenting Tannat to grape growers, winemakers and other industry folks attending my session at the Exposition. This will be a significantly more “formal” tasting than what Mark put together. I am finishing up my PowerPoint presentation now. I am suggesting that on the right site, Tannat can be an important player in a functioning and sustainable vineyard and winery operation. Some years it produces more fruit than others, but overall this is a grape that will survive our challenging years and thrive in our average years. It can also be a great blender for other red wines that need a little shot of color and body. So you may seriously consider Tannat to plant or consume, but it doesn’t need to be that serious.

Fabbioli is the proprietor and winemaker at Fabbioli Vineyards and Winery in Loudoun County, VA.

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