Talkin’ about Tannat
By Doug Fabbioli
Here in the Mid Atlantic, the wine grape growers have been fortunate to find a number of grape varieties that grow well here in our soil and climate, and that the winemakers can process into interesting and drinkable wines. Some of these varieties, like Chardonnay and Merlot, are well known and grown across the world in a variety of climates. Others, like Albariño or Petit Verdot, are not as widely known but have found a home here in the Virginia countryside and the surrounding areas. A grape variety that may be known a bit better and which continues to gain respect among both the producers and the customers is Tannat.
A large-clustered grape that creates a bold and rich wine, Tannat is gaining more fans the more we work with it. Originally from the Madiran region in South West France where it is used to make a robust red wine, Tannat is embraced as the national grape of Uruguay. It has been used to make rosés, soft reds, full-bodied reds, and even dessert wines, but it is best known as a deep, tannic red wine. Here in our region, most of us focus on making full, bold reds. With its higher acids and firm tannins, it is also an important blending wine used to finish off other red wines.
I was first introduced to this grape through the work of Dennis Horton at Horton Cellars. He was a maverick in our industry and his ambition to try different grapes gave those of us coming along behind him a knowledge base we could use to make choices. My other big influence for this variety was Dr. Tony Wolf from Virginia Tech. Tony was more conservative about plantings than others but he had ventured into Tannat and, although he would not call himself a winemaker, made some solid wines with the fruit. These two gave me the confidence not only to plant Tannat on my site but to recommend it to clients as well. We added these vines to our vineyard in 2005, and planted more in 2007.
In the winter of 2013, we had a strong polar vortex move through our region killing off the majority of our Tannat vines. I’ve lessened my efforts on the grape since then because I didn’t have the fruit to work with. We’ve since replanted and will be bringing in Tannat from three different vineyards in this fall’s harvest. I’m excited about working further with this grape.
At a recent discussion with other winemakers in the region the consensus was that adding Tannat to our local Bordeaux-style blends seems to elevate the quality of those wines. I have done this in years past, and I love hearing others get behind the idea. We will need to promote this more, first among the winemakers, but also with the public so you understand what we are doing and why.
Wine takes time to grow, make, age, and sell. This is a long-term effort but we are building the foundation now. Keep your eyes open for wines with a Tannat component and ask your local winery if they are using it. We can help propel our region up another notch in quality recognition!
About the Author: Farmer, winemaker, entrepreneur, educator, and leader, Doug Fabbioli has been accelerating the growth and quality of Virginia’s wine industry since 1997. With his wife Colleen, Doug is the owner/operator of Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg, VA. He is the founder and director of The New Ag School, which focuses on teaching the next generation of farmers and agriculture-related leaders. No wonder they call Doug Fabbioli the Godfather of DC’s Wine Country.