What does well feminized masculine wines mean you might ask?
In a search to reveal answers we were thrilled to attend Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein's massively successful Taste of Tannat Tour at the Hotel Mondrian on the still fabulous Sunset Strip. Mr. Goldstein introduced us to a formidable contingent of 18 mostly 4th generation Uruguayan grape growers and vinters.
The smallest country in South America about the size of Washington state, its grassy shoreline and inward canyons creates an ecosystem well suited to ride out global warming. Goldstein's description of Uruguay's egalitarian democratic government with high literacy rates and access to technology sounded utopian. By the post-class reception where we socialized with the winemakers and tasted more unique wines in a splendid setting, I was eager to visit this progressive stunning place.
France the Old World in South America the New World
As Evan informed us, few would argue that Tannat is one of the biggest of all red vinifera grapes, capable of producing brooding, 'massive' wines. The original vines were transplanted from the Basque region of France 150 years ago. The wine produced for the first 100 years are quite different from the more civilized version of Tannat today.
Uruguay's cutting edge approach is often referred to as the best kept secret in plain sight. 'Feminized' is the term vintners - men and women alike - have no problem saying about their wines' transformations. Zinfandels will be coming down the pike next, according to Goldstein.
Leslie Fellows, of Artesana, is proud of the feminine nomenclature and the fact that this generation of winemakers is a majority of women. As a U.S. citizen she has realized a life-long dream which is the point of middle essence transformation. Artesana is a joint venture with her Uruguyan uncle. Che Pena, manager of Pace Restaurant the only fine dining establishment in the heart of Laurel Canyon, singled out their wines along with Marsanne from De Lucca and the blend Estival from Vinedo de los Vientos.
William Cantera, sommelier/wine director of the Buffalo Club, in Santa Monica, approves of this softer tannat now on his radar. Likewise, Mario Leal Cruz, manager of the Front Yard, the restaurant inside the boutique Garland Hotel, North Hollywood did not know about the wines of Uruguay until now. He too was pleasantly surprised. According to an article in the UK's Telegraph Uruguay is, 'taking the world of viticulture by storm,' and was called out as one of the wine world's rising stars.
For the lecture I was seated next to Laurie Dedden, the beverage honcho for the flagship WeHo Pavillons market. Should her advocacy of Uruguayan wines be successful you will see them on her shelves soon. We pondered together why soda is regularly mixed with wine to form a spritzer, as she experienced on a recent visit. I suggested and she agreed, perhaps it is a way to pace oneself and reduce alcohol consumption throughout a day and/or evening.
Uruguay is a Slice of Heaven
These 4th generation inheritors of a 150 years progress are rock stars to me, living half the year on the road promoting their wines except for February and March to be home for the harvest. These innovators are an impressive band of heart-felt citizens of the world. In addition to a preponderance of women winemakers, I met another woman, a lawyer Paula Pivel from Alto de la Ballena travelling with her vitner husband Alvaro Lorenzo. As first generation winemakers they are the exception to the rule it seems.
The prevailing vibe here is a nice balance of a post-machismo shedding of stereotypes. The men appear as manly as they are cultured and the women strong and confident. The zeitgeist is folks who do not separate making a living from their way of life. They and their ancestors have been friends and family inside and outside of the wine business for a century and a half.
Fabiana Bracco of Finca Narbona is secure enough to admit her wines have a big nose like herself. She also has a fantastic looking agro-tourism estancia, meaning a lodge and restaurant. On the road as much as this group is, you have to keep it light, even when life is tough, she confides in me.
Who Liked What?
Too many to mention, I liked Montes Toscanini's EOLO and their dessert wines. So did Joel Caruso, Amaro Guy, with Pizzeria Ortico, Costa Mesa. He also gave a thumbs up to Juan Toscanini's offerings. Notice the same last name? Ron Ziff, publisher of the Beverage Bulletin, agreed with us and also gave a shout out to Bodegas Carrau.
Teddy Panos, wine director of Stake Chophouse and Bar in San Diego summed it up nicely, "The new tannat is approachable to a broader palate. Big, bold and masculine has been feminized since 2011." Panos's faves are the houses of Juanco Familia Deica, Pizzorino and Narbona. He carries 3 vertical vintages to prove it. When Francisco Pizzorino passionately talks about his family's vineyard with his gastroenterologist mother and father the steward of wine back home - seriously - I almost shed a tear.
For a few hours we were allowed to go behind the scenes and interact with people given a platform in the vineyard from before they could walk. They represent the newest chapter in a long and evolving story. No matter what advantages one is given, the lesson is you must also show up and perform in your own time.
Thank you for the opportunity to meet those who shape Uruguay's new wines, tasting the results of the refinements they are adding along the way in a different era with different challenges. We hope to see you again sometime soon on your own soil, in your own backyards.