Tannin. It is something that is mentioned in the write-up of almost every red wine, but I often find customers are confused about what tannin is and why it is important in some wines. This month, the selections look at two wines and how tannin affects the structure of the wine and potential aging. My first pick is a variety that is known for a savage level of tannins, but masterfully crafted by expatriate Frenchman Yannic Rousseau. The second selection is a Merlot, which is often considered a low tannin variety, but when grown in the right conditions, this is not the case. The Truchard’s excellent example will prove just how structured this variety can be when properly farmed. Hopefully after enjoying both wines, you will have a much better idea about what tannin is and the role it plays in the structure of wine.
2019 Yannick Rousseau Tannat – $35
Tannat is a variety that is rarely found in the vineyards of California but is famous as the base of the wines from the Madiran region in Southwest France. By coincidence, Yannick was born and raised in the nearby Gascogny region and is quite familiar with the variety. His first job was working for Chateau Montus, the premier winery in the region.
After finishing his masters degree in oenology in France, Yannick was recruited to come to Napa Valley by Newton Vineyards. They were just launching their “unfiltered” program, which was the subject of Yannick’s thesis paper. He then moved on to Chateau Potelle and was head winemaker there for a few years. When that winery was sold to the Jackson family, he decided it was time to launch his own label. We have also featured his Son of a Butcher wine in this club a couple of times. Recently, I helped facilitate Yannick finding a new distributor in Florida, and as a thank you he extended a nice discount to us so we could feature his Tannat in the club.
For those of you who drink wine for the health benefits, you are going to love Tannat. The variety is often described as the “healthiest” wine grape, due to the high level of tannins and anthocyanins, or antioxidants. Tannat has been planted in California since the 1940s, but has only recently become popular. As of 2018, there were 637 acres planted, with almost half going in the ground in the last five years. The most visible advocate for the variety is Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, which successfully lobbied for wines to be labeled Tannat in 2005. The grapes for Yannick’s bottling come from a certified sustainable vineyard in the Clarksburg area.
Many producers who make wine in Madiran soften the tannins of Tannat using a technique called micro-oxygenation. Without getting too technical, this is basically a process where oxygen is bubbled through the wine during and just after fermentation, which has the effect of making the wine taste less tannic. I should note that Yannick feels that micro-oxygenation is a gimmick and prefers to soften the tannins in Tannat using classic methods of extended skin contact, barrel aging and racking.
When you are ready to serve this wine, I would encourage you to decant it for up to an hour. Then when you pour the first glass, it reveals a brooding nose of Luxardo cherries, cooked cranberries, dark chocolate fudge, tangerine peels and cloves. The feel on the palate is firm, with a deep sense of fruit framed by a muscular tannins that stretch this wine into a long finish. There are 235 cases of this wine made. Drink from 2021 to 2031.
2017 Truchard Merlot – $25
While the Truchards may be pioneers in the Carneros region, grape growing and farming run deeper through their veins than establishing this vineyard in 1972. In 1887, Jean Marie Truchard and his brother, Father Jean Marie Truchard, emigrated from Lyon, France. Together, they established a vineyard on a 500-acre plot of land in Southeast Texas and even launched a winery. The speculation in the family is that they were fleeing the outbreak of phylloxera in Europe. Unfortunately, the vines succumbed to the relentless Texas heat and by the time of prohibition, the brothers had converted most of their land to cattle grazing. Lucky for us, the desire to live off the land was passed through the generations, with Jean Marie’s grandson, Tony Truchard, always longing to grow something on his parcel of Texas heaven.
The story takes a detour in 1972, when Tony, now a medical doctor in the Army, was stationed at the Presidio, with his wife Jo Ann and their young family. While taking a country drive with the family, Tony discovered an abandoned prune orchard in an area south of the Napa Valley. It is hard to imagine now, but in those days Napa was just starting to re-emerge as a wine growing region after the economic devastation of prohibition. No one was planting grape vines in the area now known as Carneros, because at the time most felt the cool climate and high clay content in the soil were not hospitable to grapes. After purchasing the 20-acre parcel, Tony hired an agricultural consultant and set about establishing a vineyard.
The first thing they determined, with the site’s close proximity to San Francisco Bay, was that the ground water in the area was too saline to use for irrigation. Tony capitalized on the high clay content to develop retention ponds and capture rain water and run-off. Since that meant water was at a premium, they implemented some of the first drip irrigation on the vines in California. They also planted more vines per acre than the norm at the time, believing that high density planting would create more competition among the roots of the vines, limiting the yield of grapes. Over time, their success allowed Tony to purchase neighboring properties, and now they farm 280 acres of vines on 400 acres of land. Most of their grapes are sold to some of the top names in Napa and Sonoma, but in 1989, they also established their own winery and brand. They produce over a dozen wines, many labeled as varietal bottlings and a few blends. Overall their wines are elegant, cool climate examples that always have great varietal clarity. I chose their Merlot for this month because it is so atypical of what is the standard Napa Valley, and really California, style.
With over 400 planted acres, the Truchard’s have a diverse collection of vineyards to draw from. The Merlot is harvested from five different blocks, each with different exposures and soil types, and vines that range from 20 to 42 years old. This gives longtime Truchard winemaker Sal de Ianni a diverse palette to work with in order to craft this incredible wine. For this vintage, they also blend 25% Cabernet Franc into the wine and it was aged in 35% new French oak for 20 months, both of which are factors that reinforce the tannin structure of the wine. They produced 781 cases of this vintage.
You will want to decant this wine for a half hour before serving. Then the nose delivers a complex combination of fresh red cherries, red currants, cedar, bay leaf, and dried basil. On the palate it has surprisingly obvious but integrated tannins, a solid core of fruit and nice length. Drink 2021 to 2026 with grilled pork chops, meatloaf or a New York strip steak.Download Full Club Write-up
This classic dish of the Basque country works wonderfully with any moderate wine with moderate tannins. I found this recipe from Anthony Bourdain on the Food & Wine website and it works great. Many versions of this dish also include a few slices of cured ham as well, sliced and added while building the sauce.
- 1 whole chicken, about 4 lb, cut into 8 pieces
- Salt Pepper Pinch of cayenne pepper or piment d’Espelètte
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 red bell peppers, cut into fine julienne
- 2 green bell peppers, cut into fine julienne
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 16 ounces canned Italian plum tomatoes
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup light chicken stock or broth
- 3 sprigs of flat parsley, finely chopped
- Rice pilaf
Season the chicken all over with salt, pepper, and cayenne.
Heat the large pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the butter. When the butter has foamed and subsided, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown on that side only. Remove the chicken and set aside on the plate. Add the peppers and onion to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the wine, scraping, scraping—as always—to get the good stuff up.
Cook until the wine is reduced by half, then add the water and the bouillon. Return the chicken to the pot, making sure to add all the juice on the plate. Cover the pot and cook on low heat for about 25 minutes. Remove the chicken to the platter. Crank up the heat to high and reduce the sauce for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the parsley. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with rice pilaf.