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Interested in expanding your wine horizons? Why not try Tannat?

I’ve been writing about wine for more than a decade and have been drinking it for thrice that long. I’ve sipped Merlot in Malta, Primitivo in Sicily, Assyrtiko on the Greek island of Santorini, and Grenache in France’s iconic Chateauneuf du Pape wine region. 

But when I happened upon something called Tannat while assessing a basket of wines that I took home from a recent charity auction, I professed my ignorance and pledged to get acquainted with this mysterious varietal. 

High Lonesome Vineyard, located 20 miles southeast of Tombstone, has been growing Tannat grapes since 2015, and their 2017 vintage was awarded “Best in Class” at last year’s AZCentral Wine Competition. So, who better to learn from than their winemaker who agreed to uncork some stories about her beloved Tannat with me last week. 

“Tannat is an interesting grape that produces a big, full-throttle, high-acid, powerful, spicy, and elevated-alcohol wine,” said Edie Gustason, co-owner and winemaker at High Lonesome Vineyard in the small town of McNeal. “You really can’t compare it to better known grapes because it’s truly in a class of its own.”

Though the varietal has earned celebrity status in several parts of the world, including being named Uruguay’s national grape, Gustason tells me that it originated in a small region in Southwest France. I’ve also learned that a disproportionate number of centenarians, people reaching 100 years of age, reside in or near that same region.

I’ll obviously side with science over coincidence on that one.

Climate-wise, Gustason believes that her vineyard provides the perfect setting for the Tannat to thrive. She says the grape “absolutely loves a dry climate” and does particularly well when there are great fluctuations between daytime and evening temperatures. 

“Where we are, at an elevation of 4,300 feet, we get that 25-degree swing in a single day during the summer and the grapes really love that,” she said. “We call it the ‘sweet spot’ where we are because you can watch the monsoons come in over the mountains and sort of separate and go around us. Our vines get exactly what they need to do really well.”

Gustason describes her Tannat as deep red and purple in color, a warm raspberry jam on the nose, flavors of dark fruit, black licorice, smoke, vanilla and dark chocolate on the palate, and notes of leather and spice on the long finish. She says its versatility is newsworthy as well, from pairing with aged cheeses on one end to confidently standing up to a dry-aged and roasted ribeye on the other.

Another local Tannat enthusiast is Pete Snell, co-owner of the Arizona Wine Collective, 4280 N. Campbell Avenue in St. Philip’s Plaza. He first brought High Lonesome Vineyard’s Tannat to his wine bar, bottle shop, and tasting room two weeks ago and his initial two-case inventory disappeared in less than a week.

“That was a record for us if you don’t count our special tasting events,” said Snell. “Most people haven’t heard of Tannat, but those who have are really excited when they see it.”

Needless to say, he quickly re-stocked. And he’d be well-advised to procure a third case now that the Tannat secret is out.

You can learn more about Tannat and other High Lonesome Vineyard wines by visiting highlonesomevineyard.com. To learn what the Snell family is doing these days at Arizona Wine Collective, visit azwinecollective.com.

Now go raise a glass and toast some Tannat.  

 

Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.