Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Okanagan's first Tannat is released

British Columbia’s first red wine from the old French varietal, Tannat, has just been released by Twisted Tree Estate Winery in Osoyoos.

Chances are that you have never head of Tannat unless you follow the wines of Uruguay. It is the flagship red variety there. The Uruguayans are just gaining recognition for variety and that is probably a good thing for Twisted Tree. Pioneering an unfamiliar variety could be a lonely experience otherwise.

Twisted Tree has released 260 cases, reasonably priced at $27.90. The wine is not yet up for purchase on the winery’s website as this is being written. Direct from the winery is the easiest way to get this unique Okanagan wine. I expect that some will be released through private wine stores (also listed on the winery website). It is a wine worth buying.

As you could find out yourself by consulting Wikipedia (let me save you the time), Tannat is cultivated in the Madiran appellation in southwestern France – the French Basque country. Because the wines can be rather tannic, it has traditionally been used by the French in red and rosé blends. In 1990, a winemaker in Madiran applied a new technique called micro-oxygenation during fermentation, successfully softening the hard tannins.

(Micro-ox, as the winemakers term it, involves bubbling fine streams of oxygen through the fermenting wine. The technique is fairly common now.)

Wines from the Madiran appellation are not well known outside France. And until recently, that was also true of wines from Uruguay. The vine was introduced to Uruguay in 1870 by a Basque French immigrant, Pascual Harriague. The variety is also known in Uruguay as Harriague.

The Uruguayan wine industry is only three times the size of the British Columbia industry. Neither are giants in volume terms but Uruguay has perhaps a tighter varietal focus. Today, Tannat accounts for 40% of that country’s wine production. One Uruguayan winemaker was quoted in a recent news article as saying that Tannat “is opening doors for us.”

Tannat vines have also been planted in Argentina, Brazil, Australia, and Italy. Recently, it has taken hold in the United States, notably Virginia and California (more tan 140 acres), the source of the cuttings for the acre now growing at Twisted Tree.

The owners of Twisted Tree, Chris and Beata Tolley, replaced an old cherry orchard at the eastern edge of Osoyoos with vines in 2005. Deliberately, they decided against planting the mainstream varieties already growing in the Okanagan, reasoning that they could buy those varieties. Instead, they planted relatively obscure varieties (Tannat, Tempranillo, Carmenère, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier). That has allowed them to produce novel wines, hand-selling many of them directly from the winery. Subsequently, they also put in the Okanagan’s first planting of Corvino, an Italian red used to make Amarone.

Twisted Tree 2008 Tannat is a dark wine with a bold 14.9% alcohol but with so much fruit that one never notices the alcohol. It has an aroma that is smoky, meaty and redolent with red berries. As my companion put it, it is a nose like a good cigar. On the palate, there are flavours of currants, cherries, mocha, leather and spice. The flavours are vibrant and the finish is lingering. The tannins are firm enough (but not hard) that the wine benefits from resting in a decanter for a time; it was still tasting very good the next day. 91.