Make Way for Tannat

07/30/2015 10:45 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Unless you've spent a long time studying wine, you may not even have heard of the grape called tannat. It comes from southwest France, and it's most popular in, of all places, Uruguay. But the tannats coming out of Argentina - particularly Salta in the north - are nothing like their acrid, Uruguayan cousins.

Tannat has a long history in Argentina, and some of the oldest and highest-altitude vines in Salta are tannat. As its name suggests, tannat can have a stronger concentration of tannins than other reds. It's known mostly as a blending grape, a role it often takes in Cahors, which is appropriately the epicenter of malbec in France.

Malbec-tannat is a popular blend in Uruguay, but the astringency of Uruguayan grapes can be offputting for unaccustomed drinkers. Fortunately, it's not a problem in the Argentine strains. In fact, Argentine tannat varietals are among the juiciest wines we've tasted.

Our first experience with a pure tannat from Salta was with Diego Valsecchi (pictured above), a young boutique winemaker who's been exploring the province's ancient vines. He brought us an unlabeled bottle of 100% tannat from a recent small-batch vintage last year in Buenos Aires, and it was nothing short of exquisite: as inky as the inkiest Cornas, with only a touch of bitterness along the edges of its deep, rich fruit - like imbibing the pure, concentrated essence of dark berries. His wines, which also include tannat blends, are available only in very limited quantities, though.

So it's good news that El Porvenir is bringing two great tannats to these shores. The Amauto Absoluto 2014 is a great introduction to tannat's richness and power, bursting with sweet aromas and fruit. And the Laborum Single Vineyard 2013 adds structure and just the right amount of acid for a balanced wine that can stand up to the heaviest slow-roasted, glazed meats. These wines add a whole new dimension to Argentina's profile in the United States, because tannat is so different from anything else on the market. Try one and be amazed. Salud!