Tannat is a red wine grape that originated in Madiran, a village in Southwest France, and spread into the Basque region of Spain. French and Spanish immigrants brought Tannat to South America, where it was grown in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, and most prominently in Uruguay, where it is considered the national grape. There are also vineyards in Australia, South Africa, and the Italian region of Apulia, as well as in California, Oregon, Arizona, Maryland, and Virginia in the US.

Although Tannat is grown in a considerable number of countries, it is generally not common outside of France, Spain, and South America. Throughout the US, it is not particularly prevalent in wine shops, but is generally obtainable. Our winery, Papa Joe’s Wine Cellar in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, is the only Pennsylvania winery that produces Tannat. Our Tannat is grown by Heringer Estates in Clarksburg, CA in the Sacramento Valley. To be honest, 3 years ago we had never heard of Tannat, until a friend went to South America, drank some, loved it, and told Katie and Beth that we had to try it. We found some from Uruguay and were sold on the first sip. It wasn’t easy to find, but we found Heringer’s and contracted 1 ton per year for 3 years. Our great friend and grape supplier Ron Casertano at CFP Winemakers shipped it for us.

Tannat can best be described as a “big red,” very dark, almost black, with high tannins. Ours is a bigger red than those from Uruguay, where most are a little lighter bodied and lower in tannins, and is similar to the Madiran Tannat. Tannat is not for everyone, but those who like a big red really love it.

Depending on where it’s grown, the flavors vary appreciably. Ours has an unmistakable blackberry flavor, with more subtle notes of clove, plum, and leather. The oak aging does soften the tannins, but the boldness remains. In spite of its relative obscurity, Tannat is among our best sellers. Like the Madiran Tannat, some winemakers opt to blend it with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Pinot Noir to soften the bold tannins, but others, like us, love it and would never think of diluting the character of this unique wine; it is awesome just as it is.

Tannat pairs well with fatty meats like sausage and brisket, a thick steak, lamb, or preserved meats like soppressata and prosciutto. Strong aged cheeses like sharp provolone, gorgonzola, and havarti are good choices, as well as Italian red sauces. Vegetable pairings include asparagus and artichokes. Many believe that artichokes don’t pair well with many wines, because the cynarin in artichoke makes the wine taste sweet, flabby, and boring. The boldness of Tannat more than overcomes that tendency.

Tannat is a hidden gem that we consider ourselves very fortunate to have found, and Papa Joe’s is proud to serve it by the glass with our family recipes at Piazza Talarico, by the bottle to go, or often both. Tannat leaves an unmistakable impression on lovers of big reds like us.