The Unsung Hero of Uruguayan Tannat


These Uruguayan wines are superb discoveries. Journalists who report them seldom mention that the entire Uraguayan nation's progress with this varietal is a product of the genius of Patrick Ducournau of Madiran, perhaps the most important and certainly the least appreciated and understood winemaker of our time. I have knelt at Patrick’s knee for a decade during which he has transformed my access to winemaking technique and provided me an understanding of wine’s true nature which is the source of my credibility to over a thousand winery clients.

Though Nossiter's film (Mondovino) had important virtues in its call for appreciation of wines of distinct terroir and its cautions regarding globalization, the film's most flagrant goof was its failure to recognize the peasant-born technique of microbüllage, which saved Madiran from globalization and preserved its centuries-old tannat tradition in the wake of the wave of post WWII modernization -- the stainless steel/inert gas/sterile filtration winemaking formula -- which gave rise to beautiful new styles like off-dry rieslings in Germany but also the disastrous French red wine stylistic crisis that its winemakers are only now beginning to comprehend and deal with.

The planting and vinification/élevage procedures of Uraguayan tannat are entirely a result of Ducournau, his vision and his techniques. Ducournau was asked by the Uraguayans in the ‘90’s to assist in the implantation of unique varietals and establishment of practical winemaking techniques to create a distinctive wine style for which this tiny, remote and obscure winegrowing nation could become world-renowned. Ducournau's work was a slam-dunk; impeccable in its precision.

So here is a perfect example of the manipulation some “purists” might demonize. At the same time, one can scarcely name a more deserving, distinctive new region worthy of the attention of the geek squad's passionate attention. It only turns out that the demonization of oxygen structuring techniques by some self-proclaimed "natural wine" fundamentalists will oblige them to ignore an entire country's accomplishment, or, alternatively, to wake up and smell the Tannat.




Craig Young:

Could not agree more. I have had the opportunity to try several excellent Tannats from Uruguay and was very surprised by them. With the explosive growth we are seeing in North America in Chile and Argentina wine – it is only a matter of time before these wines hit the mainstream shelves. I can’t wait!