When founding his winery 10 years ago, Dr. Bob Young of Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas, wanted to make a big, bold red wine. “I did a lot of research comparing grapes with a spreadsheet of all the characteristics I was looking for, and tannat was a good fit,” says Young. “I had a hunch it was going to do well here.”
Originally from Madiran in Southwest France, tannat is not one of France’s best-known varietals. The wines of Madiran were not historically sold widely on the international market, overshadowed by the more famous region of Bordeaux just a few hours north. In the 1800s, French immigrants took the tannat vine with them to Uruguay, where it has thrived, becoming the country’s most planted grape. The success of the grape in South America piqued the interest of American winemakers like Young.
But the grape can require a deft hand. While tannat produces intense, inky red wines with high tannins that can help the wines age, the tannins can also give the wine a harsh astringency when it’s young. In Madiran, it is common to age the wines for eight to 10 years using oak barrels or to speed up the aging process with the micro-oxygenation method to mellow out the taste of the wines before releasing the vintages.
“Tannat has more tannins than almost any other grape, and tannins really provide the backbone and structure of the wine,” says Young. “Where winemakers used to have to age the wines for long periods of time, now we have the winemaking techniques to keep the tannins but smooth them out.”
Young’s bet on tannat has paid off. Bending Branch Winery has won more than 50 awards for their tannat-based wines since their first vintage in 2008. Each year, they have significantly increased their production, with the 2019 harvest coming in at 70 tons from nine different vineyards.
In addition to their dry red wines, Bending Branch produces other styles using tannat, including a port-style dessert wine, a cabernet sauvignon and tannat red blend and an award-winning
rosé. “Tannat rosé is trending up in France a little bit, so we thought, ‘Why not?’” says Young. “This year we are going to triple the production because we can't keep the rosé in stock.”
While Bending Branch has been the champion of tannat in Texas, other winemakers are adding the varietal to their portfolios. Westcave Cellars won Bronze at the 2019 TexSom International Wine Awards for their 2016 tannat, and several other wineries are producing stellar wines from this grape that seems to be tailor-made for Texas.
The deep red and black fruit flavors of tannat perfectly complement the wild game, steak and fatty meats that are so popular on Texas grills. The French traditionally pair the wines with cassoulet, a rich casserole of beans and sausage, but a sizzling plate of fajitas with a side of charro beans would be a nice Lone Star substitute.
Where to Find Texas Tannat
|1851 Vineyards||2016 LOC Red Blend
2016 Reddy Tannat
|Bending Branch Winery||
2012 Tannat, Bending Branch Estate Vineyard
|Pedernales Cellars||2016 Texas GSM Mélange|
|Rancho Loma Vineyards||2016 The Tempest Reserve Blend|
|Westcave Cellars||2016 Estate Tannat|
By Kristi Willis • Photography by Jenna Northcutt