The wine producing countries of South America’s southern cone have settled on their signature varietals in the past decade or so. In Argentina, it is Malbec. In Chile, it is Carmenere. In Uruguay, Tannat has assumed the banner. This not very well known, nor is the grape for that matter, as Uruguay exports a fraction of wines that its larger neighbors do.
Like Malbec and Carmenere, Tannat is a red grape of southwestern French origin that never quite starred as a solo act in its home country. The grape produces wines that are generally robust, potentially very tannic and featuring plum and spice notes. I have not tasted too many, but it is a distinct grape that is rather unlike the other popular South American varietals like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Its rich tannins can make for a long-lasting wine, and the first Tannat I tried at Saldivia’s was in a rustic Old World style that could have passed for a bottle from Spain.
There is more than just that style, though. Another one, seemingly destined for the American market, was much more fruit-laden in a straightforward manner was a little simpler and with somewhat harsher tannins. A third was inky and smooth with nicely integrated tannins and hints of plum that seemed much more like a food wine than most New World wines. That food-friendliness might be a signature for Tannat. Uruguay, like next door Argentina, is cattle country and that readily accompanying food is usually beef.
Saldivia’s carries about ten Tannats on their wine list. Since the owners are from Uruguay, there is probably more attention paid to it than elsewhere in the city. And, Tannat can enjoyable to explore, especially when paired with one of Saldvia’s terrific steaks.
10234 Westheimer (at Seagler), 77042, (713) 782-9494