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Marichal Uruguay Gran Reserve A Tannat 2011
Considered one of the most environmentally sustainable countries in the world, Uruguay is also the fourth largest wine producing country in South America. But in contrast to its neighbors (Chile, Argentina and even Brazil) Uruguay keeps more in step with its European progenitors where land small holdings are most common. Most Uruguayan farms are tiny (averaging only about five hectares) and family-run, many dating back multiple generations. At this size, growers either make small amounts of wine for local consumption or sell grapes to a nearby winery. In all of Uruguay there are close to 3,500 growers but fewer than 300 wineries.
On these small plots of land, manual tending and harvesting, as well as low yields are favored; this small agricultural country has never had a need for large-scale chemical fertilizers or insecticides. Their thriving meat industry also follows the same standards: hormones have been banned since 1968 and today all Uruguayan beef is organic and grass-fed.
Uruguay’s best vineyards are on the Atlantic coast, in Canelones and Maldonado (where cooling breezes lessen humidity) or found hugging its border with Argentina. With a climate similar to Bordeaux and soils clay-rich and calcareous, Uruguay is perfect for Tannat, a thick-skinned, red variety native to Southwest, France. A great Tannat from Uruguay will have no lack of rich red and black fruit, lots of sweet spice and a hefty structure. Sometimes winemakers blend Merlot or Pinot noir with Tannat to soften up its rough edges.
A brooding, rustic, and dark red originating from the Madiran region in Southwest, France, Tannat is named for its naturally high level of tannins.
The vines ended up in the hands of Basque settlers who are responsible for bringing the variety to Uruguay in the early 19th century—similar to Malbec’s journey to Argentina, which actually happened after Tannat’s trans-Atlantic journey, and by a Frenchman. Today the grape has become much more important in Uruguay, where it thrives in its warmer South American climate, making a wine still deep in color and bold in tannins but with riper, more forward fruit complemented by sweet autumn spice and roasting coffee aromas. Producers have more freedom here to blend with softer varieties like Pinot noir or Merlot, and often do in order to soften up Tannat’s firm character.
From its home in Madiran, Tannat produces bold, inky and granular wines, concentrated in black and blue fruit with aromas of wet earth, dried herbs and graphite. They’re often composed of 100% Tannat but the law allows no less than 60%; the remainder of the blend can include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and an indigenous grape called Fer.
Try Tannat with a big juicy steak, a rich Pasta Bolognese or any strong cheese.