An Adventurous Interpretation of Old World Wines
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Researchers from the Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry in London have determined that Tannat grapes contain a high concentration of procyanidin tannin.
Source: Nature Magazine, November 10, 2006
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Don's Gillette's Weekly Wine Blog
Weekly musings from our store's resident wine guru

Don has over thirty years experience in the wine industry. For the last eighteen years his attention has been focused on the growing local industry. Don has a large following of customers who search out his opinions (never in short supply!) on new releases and on what's currently most distinctive on our shelves. Others seek his insights on wineries and trends that are still under the radar. Check back here each week for Don's latest thoughts on various wine-related topics.

The Pioneer Spirit

What would possess a person, with years of cellaring and marketplace experience, to apparently abandon logic (some might say common sense) and build a new winery dedicated to producing Albariņo and Tannat? Is he nuts? Is he channeling Daniel Boone?

Albariņo is a fine white wine, very appealing and quite handy for both sipping and appetizer service. It is Spain's most popular white and half a dozen California wineries are producing one. At least two are making fine Albarinos regularly. No one however, is beating a path to their door.

Tannat is another story. Tannat is difficult. Native to the French/Spanish border and the Pyrenees Mountains, its wines are little known in the American marketplace. What they are known for is the difficulty vintners have in taming the grape's significant tannin. If generous in flavor and texture and cellar-worthy, the grape can be tough stuff in its youth.

Since practically no one in the US knows the varietal, it seems to me the California Tannat producer faces two basic challenges: how to make the stuff appealing at first sip, and how to get someone to try it. Cambiata Winery, located in the hills above the Santa Lucia Highlands, has managed to achieve the former. I hope to help them accomplish the later.

Their Tannat is a deeply colored, vividly ripe, darkly-scented and aromatic wine that greets the nose with blackberries, forest floor scents, coffee and a melange of sweet and savory spice. It is as generous on the palate as many $50-75 dollar-range Reserve Cabernets, and at $24.95 is certainly cheaper.

Cambiata's 2004 version, if clearly very youthful, is already generous enough to be appealing without any support from food. Within the context of its finishing richness, the tannins are only mildly bracing, and the overall impression is of a juicy, semi-rustic red that desperately wants pairing with a Chateaubriand, or any roast that is comfortably served beside a Yorkshire pudding.

Clearly I think the wine is a huge success, but back to the original question: why do it? After chatting with owner/winemaker Eric Laumann, my impression is that he just simply "wanted to," and since a Paso Robles nursery had imported the clonal material (aka - the vines), he could.

Since releasing his Tannat, Eric has learned something: he is not alone. In fact, his most curious customers have been other wineries with an interest in experimental plantings of Tannat. He has shared with or sold bottles to Pine Ridge, Niebaum Coppola and others. Will these outfits market their own versions? Will they use Tannat to "beef-up" their blends? Most likely they will just wait and see how Daniel Boone does.