The first time I tasted tannat was quite memorable:
it was at the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, and our neighbors above us were from Uruguay and they’d brought some wine with them.
… you should know that in Uruguay what’s most important is sharing.
And share they did! With us and everyone els until either the wine ran out — or the party got shut out!
But that is just a small personal story — and it tells you how I was first introduced not only to Tannat but to the culture of Uruguay.
With so many immigrants from European countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany and Britain, the cuisine of Uruguay is as varied as its people: a bit of the best from Europe with little indigenous influence (rumor has it the immigrants didn’t trust the local foods). The food is linked to that of their neighbor Argentina, but it’s similar to Italy says those from Italy…
One of the big influences, according to a new video series on Amazon Prime It Starts with Wine that’s written and directed by Colin West, are the gauchos which sound a lot like the buckaroos of the American West: men who roamed the land with the livestock but maintained a certain sense of pride in their appearance and cuisine, particularly cooking out in nature with a live fire and emphasizing fresh flavors with a grill element.
I try to sit in silence and hear what they have to say, a chef says in the video referring to the gauchos; what can they teach us?
In the video, I was inspired by the roasting of butternut squash leaned up against the coals which butts up against the idea that the cuisine of Uruguay is all meat all the time. Freshly gathered herbs play an important role too.
“There is a heart,” says Alberto Antonini, “Uruguay has been discovered in a humble way but there is a heart with many more things to show. There is a great future.”
In addition to showcasing the wild lands of Uruguay, the video shows a beach BBQ with lots of fresh grilled seafood.
I love how they chill the white wines in the sand by digging a hole and adding ice!
In terms of terroir, the video points out that there’s a range of soils and climates, and the combination of different elements like soil, elevation, climate, closeness to the ocean and biodiversity gives the wines from Uruguay their distinct character. However, it is the loamy soil that allows the Tannat to shine.
Be respectful of the original taste, the video advises.
Cooking with fire, the video explains, is a national language and related to the roots of the Uruguayan people.
Many consider the national grape of Uruguay to be Tannat,a rustic and little known grape that’s thick skinned. Tannat came to Uruguay from the south of France brought by the Basque who came to the New World to work with the livestock. Much of the American West has been influenced by them, and you can find their mark in trees where they gathered with their livestock.
- Many of today’s winemakers are descendants of Basque immigrants who brought the tradition of wine cultivation to Uruguay.
Tannat offers a lot of structure with a beautiful spice, and it has adapted well: it needs well drained soil and a managed canopy to avoid producing harsh tannins.
While a classic pairing with tannat would be a grilled steak, traditionally, meats such as beef, lamb, and fish were grilled on a cross which is how the natives cooked their meats over a fire.
As a major cattle region, the cuisine is beef dominant — and one of the most popular ways to enjoy it is from the grill paired with Tannat which usually needs a nice fatty meat to take the edge off. In addition to beef, you’ll find lamb, pork, chicken, sausages, and everything else you might cook on the grill with the food enjoyed as it comes off and not all at once like we typically do in the US.
With miles of coastal shoreline, the cuisine of Uruguay also features seafood typically paired with locally grown Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, half of the country is surrounded by Atlantic beaches! Plentiful streams and reservoirs inland make for ideal grape cultivation.
With a bottle of Tannat and a bottle of a Tannat/Pinot Noir blend from Bodega Marichal, our challenge this month with the Wine Pairing weekend crew hosted by Jill Barth is to sample and pair these wines. While not required to do Uruguayan food, if we’ve learned anything about pairing wine with food, we found that
what grows together goes together …
Over and over we have found that pairing traditional foods from a region with the wines from a region yield new culinary experiences but also often something magical: the chemistry between them is stronger together than the foods are alone. Following Sue’s research, she suggested we do a typical Uruguayan barbecue, with Marshall on the grill.
On reflection, I realized that cooking up a lot of beef, with some lamb, pork, sausages, and chicken for just the four of us did not make any sense… especially when Sue and my family only want a few bites of meat! This is really the kind of meal that calls for a cadre of carnivores!
This reflects one of the most key points in the video: “What is most important in our country is sharing.”
Since we didn’t have whole cadre of carnivores to feed and who would drink up both bottles, I was able to test out the wines with a few different meals. With all of the tannins in the Tannat, it stayed vibrant and evolved for the week that I sampled from it.
And what was it we tasted? Wines from Marichal, just north of the capital Montevideo; refer to the map above.
Below are seven more fun facts about wines from Uruguay, and Bodega Marichal:
- Uruguay is located on the east coast of South America.
- Uruguay is bordered by Brazil to the north, Argentina to the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east.
- Uruguay is smaller than Washington State and has a population of over 3 million.
- Uruguay has close to 300 wineries and bodegas across the country located in 16-19 wine regions or “de- partments.” In the south, 60% of Uruguay’s wine growing happens in the department of Canalones, home to Marichal.
- One of Uruguay’s top family-owned artisan wine producers, Marichal is a third-generation winery.
- Uruguay’s Bodega Marichal is headed by winemakers Juan Andrés and Alejandro Marichal.
- Established in 1938, Marichal’s vineyards are located at an ideal latitude where warm weather, cool Atlantic breezes, and deep clay soil allow grape varieties like Tannat to thrive and achieve unique character.
We found these wines to be complicated and there is something about the finish that seems to be edgy and unique.
If Tannat was a musical style, it would be punk rock — maybe like the Clash.