July 22, 2017

Devín

Slovakia (NB: not Slovenia – that is further down south) is not particularly well-known as a wine country. Or, to put it more accurately; Slovakia is definitely one of the least known wine countries in Europe, mainly its wines known only in the neighboring countries. But unlike in the other unknown European wine countries, winemaking in Slovakia is not a recent trend: grapes have been grown in Slovakia for centuries, if not millennia, and – believe it or not – the historical wine region of Tokaj is partly located in Slovakia!

Historically the Slovak wine has been made from varieties that are also cultivated in the neighboring countries; the most widely grown variety is Grüner Veltliner of Austrian fame (known locally as Veltlínské Zelené), while some other popular varieties are Welschriesling (Rizling Vlašský), Blaufränkisch (Frankovka Modrá), Müller-Thurgau, St. Laurent (Svätovavrinecké), Pinot Blanc (Rulandské Biele and Riesling (Rizling Rýnsky). Also Cabernet Sauvignon has been gaining fame, but as Slovakia is a rather northerly country (latitudes comparable to Alsace, Baden or Wien), the variety often fails to ripen fully – rather than attempting to make thin and unimpressive red wine, the variety is usually vinified here into a dry or off-dry rosé wine that is light, refreshing and often exhibiting those vegetal bell pepper note of pyrazines found in Cabernet Sauvignon wines that have been picked very (or even too) early.

One thing that is a more recent trend in Slovakia is the emergence of grape crossings. And not just any crossings, but instead new ones that have been crossed in viticultural research centers in Slovakia during the past 50 or so years (although there are also a handful of crossings from other Eastern European countries in cultivation). In Slovakia, one can come across such varieties as Alibernet (a crossing of Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon), Neronet ((St. Laurent x Portugieser) x Alibernet)and Rimava (Abouriou x Castets). Some of the most popular Slovak crossings are red Dunaj ((Muscat Bouschet x Blaufränkisch) x St. Laurent) and white Devín (Gewürztraminer x Roter Veltliner), the latter of which we will look more into detail in this post.

Although the Slovak crossings currently contribute to only some 3% of the cultivated vine area in Slovakia, they are steadily becoming more popular. This is mainly because they have been specifically crossed from varieties that have been cultivated in Slovakia for long and thus are known to be well-suited for the local climate. However, their recent upsurge has most likely stemmed for the recent wine trend of interest in lesser-known varieties; people around the world don't want another Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay anymore, but instead something with a local flair – a trend many Slovak wine growers are now trying to capitalize on. One should also remember that unlike those German crossings that are falling out of favor (like Dornfelder or Müller-Thurgau), these Slovak varieties have not been crossed to make incredibly high yields of uninteresting plonk, but instead wines of high quality and unique character.

The aforementioned Devín is currently the most popular white variety among these new Slovak crossings. This variety was crossed in 1958 in Modra, Slovakia, but cultivated on the Czech side of Czechoslovakia under the name Ryvola. Later on, the variety was renamed Devín, after the Devín castle, which is one of the oldest castles in Slovakia, located in Bratislava, close to the Austrian border. The variety became officially authorized in Slovakia in 1997 and in Czech Republic in 1998. As a cross of Gewürztraminer and Roter Veltliner, this variety normally reveals many characteristics of its parentage; the wines often sport those floral terpene notes from which Gewürztraminer is so well-known of, and it can get as weighty and bold as Roter Veltliners. Normally the wines show moderate to relatively high acidity, although they are prone to producing flabby, low-acid wines if harvested overripe. Currently there approximately 150 ha (375 acres) of Devín grown in Slovakia (less than 1% of the 19,600 ha (49,000 acres) of the total vineyard area) and only 20 ha (50 acres) in Czech Republic, but these number are predicted to grow in the future.

This spring I was invited to the Slovakian embassy in Helsinki to taste a selection of Slovak wines – truly a chance one wouldn't want to miss! Here is a selection of Devín wines I tasted there:

Topoľčianky Château Noir Devín 2016
  • Château Topoľčianky
  • Country: Slovakia
  • Region: Južnoslovenská
  • Grape(s): Devín (100%)
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2017





With its 420 ha (1,050 acres) of vineyards and annual production of over 5,000,000 bottles, Château Topoľčianky is the biggest producer in Slovakia. The winery was founded in 1933 in the village of Topoľčianky, which is situated in the Nitra region, located in the central parts of the southwestern Slovakia. The winery naturally has vineyards in the Nitra region, but also in the wine region of "Southern Slovakia" (Južnoslovenská), south from Nitra. This 100% Devín wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel.

Pale green color. The nose betrays is parentage with very Gewürztraminer-like aromas of rosewater and succulent, ripe pear with some sweet underlying hints of apricot candies. On the palate the wine feels quite full-bodied and slightly oily with moderately high acidity. There are flavors of somewhat Gewürztraminer-like floral complexity, juicy pear, some stony minerality and a curious hint of salty licorice. The wine finishes on a bright and refreshing note of acid-driven citrus fruits, stony minerality, sweet peach, some salty licorice and a hint of balancing bitterness.

Here we have a balanced and well-made Devín that shows the typical richness and floral qualities of the variety without coming across heavy, flabby or too low in acidity. On the contrary, the wine feels relatively high in acidity, especially towards the end of the aftertaste, balancing out the full body very nicely.

86/100
Summary: Overall this is a nice, easy-drinking everyday white from the weightier end. Not really the most complex effort, nor one that one should cellar for a long time, but one that can be easily paired with a great variety of different dishes, ranging from entrées to lighter main courses. A reliable entry-level Devín.

***

Karpatská Perla Varieto Devín 2015
  • Karpatská Perla
  • Country: Slovakia
  • Region: Malokarpatská
  • Grape(s): Devín (100%)
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2017




Karpatská Perla, founded in 1991, is a rather small winery cultivating their 50 ha of vineyards in the Malokarpatská ("Lesser Carpathian") wine region, located at the westernmost extreme of Slovakian border. On 2011, after 20 years of work, the winery won the Slovak Winery of the Year award, awarded by the association of Slovak wineries and winemakers. This single-vineyard Devín from their Varieto range is a wine made to show the typical characteristics of the variety, fermented and aged in stainless steel. 8,5 g/l of residual sugar and 7 g/l of acidity.

Pale yellow-green color. Youthful, fragrant and a bit restrained nose with delicate perfumed rose aromas and nuances of ripe apple. The wine feels ripe and moderately full-bodied on the palate with somewhat rich yet still rather delicate and nuanced flavors of sweet red apples, white flowers, some rosewater and a hint of apple peel bitterness. The acidity feels quite high, offsetting the residual sugar sweetness effortlessly. The refreshing finish is quite long and lively with flavors drier than on the midpalate; green apples, some apple peel bitterness and a hint of rosewater.

At close to 10 g/l of sugar I expected this wine to be something of a simple crowdpleaser, but it turned out to be a surprisingly balanced and nuanced effort. It isn't a fruit-forward entry-level wine, but instead a surprisingly sophisticated and elegant one.

90/100
Summary: Overall this wine reminds me of a well-made dry Muscat or Gewürztraminer, but with less exuberant floral character. Instead of making the wine feel simple and dull, the residual sugar here simply boosts the fruit and accentuates the richness, never really making the wine feel particularly sweet, not even off-dry. Very nice, recommended.

***

Nichta Devín 2015
  • Vino Nichta
  • Country: Slovakia
  • Region: Nitrianska
  • Grape(s): Devín (100%)
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2017





Vino Nichta, founded in 1997, is a family winery located in the Nitra wine region, situated in the southwest part of Slovakia. They cultivate a wide selection of different grape varieties over their 30 ha of vineyards, but Blaufränkisch, Devín, Gewürztraminer and Welschriesling cover a noticeable portion of their holdings. The Devín in their "Nichta" range is medium-sweet – a style that supposedly suits well this variety capable of accumulating high sugar levels – having 32 g/l of residual sugar, 6,6 g/l of acidity and 12% of alcohol.

Instead of the normal pale green Devín color, this wine is more deeper yellow with a pale golden hue. Unsurprisingly, the nose is quite sweet, but also rather restrained with delicate floral aromas, some ripe pear, hints of apple jam and a whiff of perfumed rosewater. On the palate the wine feels rich and half-sweet, yet surprisingly fresh and balanced. There are flavors of apple jam, exotic flowers, some steely minerality and a hint of cantaloupe. The residual sugar pushes the acidity down a little bit, making the wine come across medium in acidity with somewhat oily mouthfeel. The finish is pretty sweet, but also surprisingly long and refreshing with perfumed flavors of flowers, very ripe citrus fruits – even lemon marmalade, some cantaloupe and hints of rosewater.

Just like one of its parents, Gewürztraminer, Devín seems to carry even relatively high levels of residual sugar pretty well. The floral notes suit the sweetness pretty well and the acidity keeps the wine from coming across too sweet or flabby.

88/100
Summary: For a medium-sweet white wine (a style not really my cup of tea, unless it's a Mosel Riesling) this Devín felt like a very balanced and enjoyable effort, reminding me quite a lot of sweeter Alsatian Gewürztraminers. I can imagine a wine like this would suit a variety of hot Asian dishes prepared with chilies particularly well.

***

Editio Vinifera Cuvée Devín 2015
  • Vinalma with Karpatská Perla and Pavelka
  • Country: Slovakia
  • Region: Malokarpatská
  • Grape(s): Devín (80%), Gewürztraminer + Pálava (20%)
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2017





Vinalma is a Slovakian wine merchant specializing on Slovak and Spanish fine wines and Editio Vinifera is their own special line of fine wines that are made by Vinalma's oenologist Edita Ďurčová in collaboration with a ahndful high-quality Slovak wine producers. The Editio Vinifera wines aim to highlight the typical characteristics of the best Slovak wines through the use of the high-quality fruit, harvested in the regions these varieties perform the best, and sensible, pretty hands-off winemaking. I had a chance to discuss with mrs. Ďurčová on these wines and she explained to me among other things that the Devín grapes in this wine were sourced from Karpatská Perla, whereas the Gewürztraminer and Pálava grapes are sourced from the Pavelka & son winery. As the Slovakian Devín wines tend to be made in off-dry rather than bone-dry style, this wine has 9 g/l of residual sugar. Acidity is 7 g/l and alcohol 12,7%. To keep the floral characteristics of Devín on the fore, the wine sees no oak nor aging on the lees. The wine is bottled with minimal sulfite addition of 30 mg/l. Total production of this wine is only 1,000 bottles and 2% of the proceedings from Editio Vinifera sales go to support creative activities of mentally challenged people.

Pale lemon color. The sophisticated, fragrant nose shows perfumed meadow flower aromas, some ripe apple, a little bit of exotic spice and hints of honeydew melon. On the palate the wine feels full-bodied and rather ripe, borderline off-dry, with very Gewürztraminer-esque flavors of roses, meadow flowers and ripe apple, along with a nice streak of steely minerality and a hint of mirabelle plums. The acidity lingers in the background, giving the wine good structure and freshness and offsetting the sweetness from the residual sugar. The lively aftertaste follows the midpalate quite verbatim with fresh flavors of green apples, yellow plums, some meadow flowers and a hint of steely minerality.

Overall this is a lovely, balanced white wine that seems to capture the essence of Slovak Devín wines: sophisticated and balanced floral character; fruity flavors that are not quite bone-dry yet not off-dry either; round, moderately full body with balanced acidity; good richness with some weight but without any plump character or sense of heaviness.

91/100
Summary: Although not a 100% varietal Devín, this wine is a terrific example of the style that this variety is normally made in. It feels very versatile, so there's no need to overthink what to pair it with. However, I'd recommend to drink the wine within a few years, as it really doesn't feel particularly cellarworthy.

***

Overall it was both very fun and enlightening to taste through the different styles of Slovakian wines and out of the different local crossings I tasted, Devín definitely seemed one of the most promising! Stylistically it feels surprisingly versatile, making lovely, floral dry wines, yet carrying even relatively high levels of residual sugar with ease. Apparently the variety is also very popular with sweet dessert wines, but I've yet to taste any.

Although I tasted some pretty impressive Rizling Rýnsky (Riesling), Veltlínské Zelené (Grüner Veltliner) and Frankovka Modrá (Blaufränkisch) wines there as well, I really think that the future of Slovak wine might actually be in these Slovakian crossings. In my view, the wines made from these aforementioned "well-known" varieties face some serious challenges, the most notable being the Slovakian names for these varieties – which are both alien and quite difficult to pronounce for foreign consumers – and the competition with the neighboring countries. After all, is an average consumer more likely to pick up a Slovakian Rizling Rýnsky over a German Riesling? Or a Slovakian Veltlínské Zelené over an Austrian Grüner Veltliner? My guess is that 9 out of 10 wouldn't.

However, these new Slovak crossings are named quite smartly with short, marketable names that are easy to remember for even a foreign consumer, yet the names are also very Slovakian, so that the vine growers can easily relate to them. As this tasting showed me these crossings can produce wines of unique, but obviously high-quality character, they are a great choice for making wines that are both interesting to a consumer looking for wines that show local color, yet have no problems fitting the fine wine niche – at least after the Slovakian wine market evolves. The biggest challenge obviously is to communicate and create awareness of these wines in the global market, which isn't going to be an easy task – but I am certain that it will still be much easier than to compete with Rizling Rýnsky against German Riesling.

July 4, 2017

Vertical of the month: Château Musar 2000-2009

As my Vertical of the Month post on white Musar proved to be such a popular piece, it wasn't hard to decide writing a similar post on red Musar as well. However, I wanted a more concise theme this time so I decided on concentrating solely on the vintages of the 00's instead of a huge post on every red Musar I had tasted. The problem was that the belated vintage 2006 was yet to hit the market. However, in the late March 2017 the 2006 Musars finally arrived to the market, so all I needed to do was to acquire a bottle, taste it and write a piece on the 10 first Musars of this millennium. It took me a few more months to do this arduous task, but here we finally are.

Our lineup from 28th of May, 2016
Lebanese Château Musar (often written without the circumflex as Chateau Musar) is by far the best-known winery in the Levant and also among the best-known wineries in the natural wine movement. Unlike so many wineries of the modern natural wine movement who have started to produce wines more naturally around or after the turn of the millennium, Château Musar has produced their wines with minimal intervention since 1977, predating the vast majority of natural wine producers by a decade or a lot more. The method of production is quite simple at Château Musar: the grapes are crushed and left to ferment on the natural yeasts. No yeast inoculations, nutrients or other additives are used and the use of sulfur is kept at minimum, letting the nature go its course without winemaker's manipulation. The resulting wines are very often rustic and exhibiting characteristics like brettanomyces or pronounced volatile acidity – traits often considered as unwanted, even faults – yet also remarkably balanced and capable of aging easily for decades.

Chateau Musar is the top tier of the winery's range, above the simple, early-drinking Musar Jeune range and the single-vineyard Hochar Pére et Fils. Out of the wines in the Chateau Musar range, the red one comprises the great majority of production (from a third to almost half of the winery's total production of some 700–800,000 bottles), whereas the white's production normally hovers around the 10–30,000 bottle mark . The rosé is by far the rarest wine in the Chateau Musar range as it is not made every year – and in those years when it is made, the amount of bottles produced is only some thousands.

What is remarkable in Musar wines is that they have always been produced in a geopolitically highly volatile area, where tensions and shoot-outs are not uncommon. Despite these difficulties, the wines were produced systematically even during the Lebanese civil war (1975–1990), when tensions were at their highest and bombshells were exploding all the way from Beirut, where the winery is located, to Beqaa valley, where the vineyards lie, and even in the vineyards. However, occasionally the grapes could not be transported directly via roads (some 70 km / 45 miles) from the Beqaa valley to the winery due to the unstable situations; in some cases the grapes had to be transported by taking a longer (250 km / 150 miles) detour, and once even by driving to the seaside and shipping them from port to port. Against all odds, there have been only two vintages that have not been released to this date:
  • The vintage of 1976 was lost due to the civil war: unstable situations prevented the workers to reach the vineyards and the crop was lost.
  • The vintage of 1984 was made, but there were great difficulties reaching the vineyards and transporting the fruit back to the winery – as it was impossible to reach the winery by land due to roads being closed, it was necessary to ship the fruit by sea. Due to this, the grapes were very overripe and started fermenting on their own before the winery was reached. The wine was practically undrinkable due to heavy flaws for years, even decades, but recent tastings have confirmed that the wine has changed into something remarkable after having been cellared for more than 30 years. The wine, however, still remains unreleased at the time of writing.

If you are interested on reading more in-depth introduction to the history and philosophy of Château Musar, I highly suggest you to read my other Vertical of the Month on Musar Blanc 1991–2007.

Chateau Musar
  • Château Musar
  • Country: Lebanon
  • Region: Beqaa
  • Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon (1/3), Carignan (1/3), Cinsaut (1/3)






The red Musar is the wine this winery is best known for. It is traditionally a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsaut in more or less equal proportions, left to ferment in cement tanks on indigenous yeasts. After the fermentation, the wine is aged for 1 year in oak barrels (approx. 25–35% new), after which the wine is normally blended together and then returned back to marry in the concrete vats. After a suitable period of aging (1–2 years) the wine blend is bottled without any fining or filtration. What makes this wine so unique is that according to the winery's philosophy it is not released until the winery deems it ready, a process which normally takes 7–10 years – the vintage 2006 was released only after the vintage 2009, after more than ten years of aging! Furthermore, Musar normally keeps up to 25% of the annual production stored in their cellars for later release.

Chateau Musar 2009
  • Price: 35,70€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 20th of January, 2017

The 2009 vintage was particularly good, remaining quite dry through the whole growing season and keeping all the difficulties at bay. The only particularly wet moment before the harvest was in the late March, giving the vines much-needed water after the dry first three months. Due to the hot summer, the harvest was brought on exceptionally early, starting on the 2nd of September with Cabernet Sauvignon and finishing on the 8th of September with Cinsaut. The wines were blended together only after 3 years of aging. 14% alcohol.

The color seems rather concentrated with dark, almost black red color showing only very little translucency. There are initial aromas of ripe, sunny fruit and lighter, sweeter VA notes of nail polish on the nose, with more subtle notes of very dark forest berries, some raisined fruit, a little hint of sweet oak spice and a touch of Assam tea. On the palate this full-bodied wine feels very youthful, quite dry and rather fruit-forward with flavors of ripe red berries, exotic spices, some strawberry sweetness, light meaty notes and a hint of savory wood. The typical animal and barnyard notes of Musar are practically nonexistent and even the volatility feels quite restrained. There is a sense of firmness along with good structure resulting from the relatively noticeable tannins and moderately high acidity. The finish is opulent and juicy with ripe, plummy flavors of sunny dark and red fruits, some cassis notes, light Middle Eastern spice hints and a touch of dry, savory wood. The tannins give the sweet, supple finish some positive sense of grip and grit.

Lovely balance, structure and focus here. Although I often enjoy purity of fruit in wines, this vintage of Musar feels remarkably polished and fruit-forward, making me miss some of those more quirky characteristics of some of the older vintages.

92/100
Summary: Overall this is a really juicy and supple red Musar where the warm, sunny growing conditions are very obvious and which is lacking those rustic and funky notes typical of Musar. Nevertheless, the wine shows good aging potential and hopefully it will gain some more complexity and more interesting characteristics with age. Recommended, especially for cellaring.

***

Chateau Musar 2008
  • Price: 23,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 28th of May, 2016

The first few months of 2008 weren't particularly good with rain and snow, but after the late February no rains reached Beqaa for the rest of the season. The March was moderate followed by sunny spring, keeping the humidity (and the amount of weeds) very low. In mid-August a heat wave arrived, making the grapes reach maturity at the same moment, creating some logistical problems on the harvesting of grape varieties – normally the grapes mature at different times, so there is no need to worry whether some varieties would turn overripe while picking the others. Especially Cinsaut seemed to only benefit from the heat wave. The wines were blended together after 3 years of aging. 14% alcohol.

Youthful, dark, almost black cherry color with faint purple hues and moderate translucency. Lovely, complex and wild nose so typical of Musar: sweet volatile notes, rich kirsch-driven fruit, ripe and succulent red berries, sunny dark fruit, some acetone, a little prune and a hint of bretty funk. Very intense, structured and quite full-bodied palate with surprisingly concentrated flavors of ripe dark berries, toasted spices, some sweet plummy fruit, a little sour cherry and a hint of acetaldehyde salinity – all counterpointed by moderately pronounced bitterness. The wine is held together beautifully with moderate acidity and quite chewy, grainy tannins. The wine finishes on a moderately long, spicy and slightly bitter note with a bit of alcohol warmth and flavors of sour cherry, tart lingonberry and a hint of salinity in the aftertaste.

This vintage is a surprisingly concentrated and structured for a Musar, which is nice change after the weaker and somewhat disappointing 2007.

93/100
Summary: The wine feels very imposing with its brooding, dark-toned fruit and those typical volatile-and-funky Musar notes; although promising, it seems to be in a bit awkward phase right now. Currently it requires easily more than just 2 hours of decanting which we had; however, I recommend giving the wine at least a decade more before opening it. Very, very recommended; definitely one of the most promising Musars in a while with good possibility of hitting a much higher score with age.

***

Chateau Musar 2007
  • Price: 35,70€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 28th of January, 2016
2007 was an uneven vintage with a sudden spring frost disturbing the growth cycle, cloudy and rainy May preventing 30% of flowering and a three-week heat wave in August hastening the ripening process before the harvest. All the three grape varieties matured very quickly and at the same time, creating some logistical problems to and in the winery. 14% alcohol.

Quite opaque, dark cherry color with figgy purple overtones. Slightly reticent and quite dry nose with slight greenness that lacks the typical sweeter sunny fruit character of Musar; there are aromas of ripe red berries, slightly unripe blue- and blackberries, some vaguely off-putting, chemical VA aromas, a little bit of cedary wood and hints of raisined fruit. Medium-to-full-bodied on the palate, coming across as quite austere and tannic for a Musar. There are youthful, but more dry than sweet flavors of ripe dark fruit, juicy yet bitter red forest berries, some volatility and a hint of sour cherry. Although the acidity is modest at best, the wine seems both quite tightly wound and a bit muted, even backward. The rather pronounced bitterness gives the wine some sense of structure, but also emphasizes the tannins in a not altogether pleasant way. Quite long, bitter and complex finish with juicy flavors of ripe dark berries, peppery spice and some tannic astringency with a bit of alcohol heat.

This might be an enjoyable and drinkable Musar, but compared to the usual house style, the wine seems rather austere, unresolved and backward. Although I'm a big fan of Musar, this time it just doesn't make the cut. I am not sure whether the wine is in some very awkward phase, or if it is just an off vintage.

87/100
Summary: Definitely a hard fellow now in its youth, but also seeming to lack focus and balance: there is a lot of structure – especially tannin-wise – and also some pronounced bitterness, but very little fruit to balance them out. I hope that the wine is in an awkward phase and it will resolve beautifully, but it can be that this is just an off vintage and it will never turn out to be anything truly memorable. Quite good and interesting for a red wine, but a disappointment for a young Musar. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the 2007's I have in my cellar.

***

Chateau Musar 2006
  • Price: 31,95€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 23rd of June, 2017

A very difficult vintage, but not that much because of the climatic conditions – which were remarkable by themselves, feeling like a never-ending spring with only 10 days of summer weather – but due to the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. Although it seemed that there wouldn't be a harvest at all, everybody still carried on normally despite the volatile conditions and fortunately a ceasefire came before the harvest. However, unlike the vintages that normally feel ready to be released after 7 years of aging, this wine was still in shambles in 2013, which is why the winery decided to postpone the release for a year. And then another. And yet another. Finally, the wine was ready for release in the spring of 2017. 14% alcohol.

Somewhat translucent dark cherry color that doesn't look that youthful anymore, but doesn't betray the +10 years of age either. Quite opulent, ripe and juicy nose which isn't that funky, but showing some acetic VA notes along with aromas of very ripe plums, even prunes, overripe blackberries, some sun-baked earth and hints of raisined fruit. Full-bodied on the palate with moderately high acidity but rather mellow tannins. There are flavors of fresh blackberries, overripe dark plums, exotic spice, some blackcurrant jam and hints of acetic volatility. Although the wine tastes quite dry, notes of dried prunes and raisins create an illusion of sweetness, giving the wine more juiciness and rounding its corners. The finish is medium-long with supple flavors of ripe and sweet dark forest fruits, black cherries, some plums, a bit of tannic bitterness and hints of peppery spice. The acidity makes the wine finish on a more tart lingonberry note along with a lightly gritty tannic grip.

A vintage that was anticipated for a long time, but which ultimately fails to captivate upon release. The wine might be quite balanced and enjoyable, but it is also quite mellow and rather tame effort for a Musar with a surprisingly noticeable raisiny character, especially given the cooler vintage.

90/100
Summary: Overall this wine feels, quite surprisingly, like a lighter take on those very ripe, raisiny and high-alcohol Plavac Mali wines grown in the southern Croatia. This soon after release the wine doesn't feel a remarkable vintage, but neither is this a disappointment like the 2007. Perhaps – and hopefully – the wine will gain some welcome complexity with age.

***

Chateau Musar 2005
  • Price: 35,90€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 28th of January, 2016

Unlike in most European wine countries, the 2005 was an atypically cool and humid vintage in Lebanon, resulting in harvest delayed more than a week from normal schedule (the harvest of red varieties was finished on 18th of September) and with wines showing lower than average alcohol and higher acidity. 14% alcohol.

Slightly translucent dark cherry color. Opulent, complex and ever so slightly volatile nose with lovely richness. Sweet, sunny aromas of plummy fruit, ripe figs, lilac, some red cherry, mature floral nuances, a little acetone VA and a touch of funky brett – although the succulent fruit tends to drown out the bretty barnyard character. Supple, full-bodied palate with good tannin structure and balanced, moderately high acidity. Ripe, succulent flavors of ripe plums, sweet figs, some rustic, bretty character, a little sun-baked earth, hints of jammy dark-skinned berries and a touch of dried prunes and raisins. Surprisingly robust and bold effort for a Musar, yet with fruit and body to match. Long and complex finish with a bit rustic and slightly astringent aftertaste of leather, bitter spices, ripe plummy fruit, some dried dark berries and a hint of bretty barnyard notes.

Overall 2005 feels a remarkable vintage for a red Musar (and white as well) resulting in a stunning combination of robust structure of both acidity and tannins and ripe, succulent fruit.

95/100
Summary: Lacking the finesse and delicate balance of the finer vintages, the red 2005 is all about power, intensity and – above all – cellaring potential. With fruit, body and structure as remarkable as these, I have no doubts that the wine wouldn't survive at least a quarter of a century in a good wine cellar. Drinking this wine now would be a travesty – try to get this stuff as many as you can and open the first one only after a decade. It will be worthwhile.

***

Chateau Musar 2004
  • Tasted on: 28th of January, 2016

A very cool vintage: snow didn't melt until March, spring lasted until June and the ripening period was slowed down by constant cooler breezes. The grapes never developed much acidity and the first grapes arriving to the winery were rather low in sugar as well. However, a two-week heat wave that arrived during the harvest boosted the sugar levels in the remaining grapes. The wine was made in the traditional method: 9 months of aging in cement vats, 1 year in oak barrels, blending and maturation for 9 months in cement vats, finished with bottling and extended bottle aging before release. 14% alcohol.

Almost black cherry color with slightly maroon rim and only a little translucency. Ripe and sunny yet a bit understated nose with a bit sweet aromas of crushed ripe forest berries, some succulent plummy fruit and a hint of car paint volatility. Moderately full-bodied and velvety palate with soft medium acidity. Rich, opulent flavors of sweet dark cherries, dark-skinned berries, some kirsch and a hint of acetic volatility. Moderately tannic, but still showing suave smoothness without any coarse character. Long, complex and a bit grippy finish with quite light flavors of peppery spice and allspice and turmeric, ripe dark cherry, some tart lingonberry, alittle bit of sour cherry bitterness and a hint of dusty earthiness.

A smooth and classy Musar with hints of sweetness and less emphasis on the tannic structure. Shows hints of volatility, but is far from the funkiest end of Musars.

91/100
Summary: Not as open and expressive as many vintages before and after this, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing; also, the wine seems to have resolved from the clunky phase it was earlier this year (January 2016). Drinking nicely now, will keep easily for many years. Not the most typical Musar with its sweet, fruit-forward character and rather low acidity, but still very beautiful. Recommended.

***

Chateau Musar 2003
  • Price: 31,40€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 15th of February, 2013

The winter of 2003 was the rainiest in 15 years in Beqaa, but after April, no rain fell. A long heat wave in May decreased yields by 30%, concentrating the acidity and sugar levels in the remaining grapes substantially. However, July and August were cooler than normal, delaying the ripening process. Still, the harvest was carried out by normal schedule. The maceration was carried out over 3 weeks with maceration, resulting in firm, structured wines. The wines were aged for 9 months in cement vats, 12 months in Nevers oak barrels, blended together and matured for a further 6 months in cement vats before bottling. First released in 2010. 14% alcohol.

Quite translucent, dark ruby color with a slightly maroon hue. Very rich, expressive and aromatic nose with complex and even somewhat animal aromas of leather, tobacco, dried figs, wizened dark berries, some barnyard funk and a hint of sunny dark fruit. With some air, the bouquet gains also some nuances of floral perfume, licorice root and the faintest touch of cedar. The wine is quite rich, full-bodied and powerful on the palate with ripe, slightly sweet and intense flavors of sunny dark fruit, roasted spices, ripe red cherries, figs, some tobacco, a little sweaty saddle leather and a hint of cigar box. Though the flavors are quite sweet, overall the wine still tastes dry and relatively robust. The structure relies mainly on good, bright acidity, as the ample but fine tannins are rather mellow and friendly, giving the wine more sense of firmness than noticeable grip. Only the high-ish alcohol shows a little through. The finish is very long, complex and quite powerful with flavors of leather, cedar, dried figs, some dark chocolate chips, a hint of tobacco and a touch of rough animal funk.

This is truly a textbook example of a superb vintage Musar. Although starting to show some developed character at 10 years of age, this vintage has still a lot more to go before reaching its peak. At only 31,40€ this wine shows incredible value.

95/100
Summary: Even by Musar standards this vintage shines above its peers, being an incredibly attractive, complex and elegant effort. Not challenging by any means, but still showing quite much of that hallmark funk of the house – although this was not overtly dirty or super-volatile, it showed more of that attractive leathery and animal character than your average Musar. Still a baby with plenty of miles ahead, so no need to open this now – this'll age gracefully for decades.

***

Chateau Musar 2002
  • Tasted on: 28th of January, 2016

In 2002 long, cold and rainy weather pushed the ends of the winter and the spring back, all the way into late June, followed by a mild July and, suddenly, hot August. The ripening process was delayed accordingly, the harvest starting two weeks behind the normal schedule, starting on 15th of September. The maturity of grapes was extremely varied from vineyard to vineyard, so instead of picking the varieties one by one, the harvest had to be done vineyard by vineyard, according to the maturity. The fermentation and maceration times were much longer than normal this year. After 6 months of aging in concrete vats, the wines were racked into oak barrels for one year. After the oak aging the wines were blended together and matured for a further year in oak casks before bottling. 14% alcohol.

Rather translucent, yet a bit hazy, dark cherry color with some orange bricking towards the rim. A bit restrained nose with delicate aromas of sweet, dark-skinned berries, figs, some car paint VA, something a little biscuity, a hint of plum marmalade and prunes with a whiff of powdery oak. Ripe, medium-bodied and surprisingly acid-driven palate with complex, savory flavors of ripe plummy fruit, dark-skinned forest berries, peppery, bitter spiciness, some aromatic and sweet clove spice, a little balsamic volatility and a hint of sweet red cherry. Quite soft and ripe but firm enough tannins. The lengthy finish carries the bitter, spicy note while turning the fruity notes into something more earthy and savory; along with the flavors of ripe and sweet dark-skinned berries, complex flavors of clove, funky brett, some sun-baked earth and hints of sweaty leather become more pronounced.

This vintage is a bit atypical for Musar, but still in a lovely way: the wine is not that open and expressive as some, yet still it shows lots of those typical, Musary notes of sunny fruit, animal, volatility and earth. It is actually surprisingly delicate and sophisticated in its expression compared to many other, more voluminous vintages with bigger fruit, yet still sporting a surprisingly pronounced wild-and-funky side as well.

92/100
Summary: Perhaps this is not a vintage that'll keep for several decades like the best ones – although I wouldn't be that surprised even if it actually did! At least the wine is not showing any real signs of maturity now, only some depth and complexity that the wine gains with bottle age, giving the wine good cellaring potential for at least a decade more. An attractive example of a more subtle expression of Musar.

***

Chateau Musar 2001
  • Tasted on: 28th of January, 2016

A very hot and dry vintage: by mid-February the weather turned to much more warmer than usual with almost nonexistent rains. After relatively normal weather during the flowering, the weather turned hotter than normal for July and August, resulting in 15% reduction in yield. The harvest was carried ahead of the schedule, starting already on 3rd of September. The Cinsaut suffered from the hot weather, losing some of its color; thus, the percentage of Cinsaut is somewhat lower in this year's blend compared to other vintages. As normal, the wine was fermented and aged in cement vats for 9 months, aged in oak for 12 months, blended together and matured for a further year in cement vats before bottling. 13,5% alcohol.

Rather translucent dark cherry color with some orange bricking towards the almost clear rim. Lovely and attractive nose, with lovely depth and complexity – although the volatile acidity aromas so typical of Musar seem to be more pungent, chemical and glue-like instead of those sweeter, nuanced balsamico notes more typical of the house. Modestly developed aromas of savory dark berries, tart red berries, sunny dark fruit and some dark cherry with a little earthy sous-bois and a hint of dried, dusty leather. On the palate the wine is a lot sweeter, rich and suave than the nose suggests, with a supple, full body. Ripe, complex and dark-toned flavors of plummy fruit, aromatic spice, some fig, a little cherry, hints of leathery brett and a touch of paint thinner VA – intermingled with juicy, meaty notes. Moderately grippy, firm, dusty tannins and relatively high acidity give the wine good structure. Rich, quite robust and slightly grippy finish with savory flavors of ripe, dark-toned fruit, sour cherry, bitterness, some leather, a little salty acetaldehyde tang and a slightest touch of herbal greenness.

This is a delightful and surprisingly imposing – even somewhat brooding – vintage of Musar with surprisingly powerful structure and lots of depth and complexity but very little of that bretty barnyard funk.

93/100
Overall the 2001 does not seem as elegant and sophisticated as some vintages (some might consider calling a wine as wild and funky as Musar as "sophisticated" or "elegant" a travesty) with its roughness, occasionally slightly glue-like and more off-putting than attractive VA characteristics and slight greenness, but it still manages to hit many sweet spots with its combination of mature nuances and powerful, grippy character. Although starting to show some more developed notes, the structure seems quite unresolved even after 15 years – this is definitely a keeper with possibility for a higher score with more age. Tasty stuff now with right food, but a wine to be aged a lot more if enjoyed on its own. Very recommended.

***

Chateau Musar 2000
  • Tasted on: 28th of January, 2016

A warm and dry summer with hot July and temperatures above average in August. Released in 2007, alcohol 13,5%.

Translucent, medium deep red color tending to maroon. Rather reticent and restrained, but also nicely matured and savory nose with aromas of cherry, roasted spices, pencil shavings, dusty sun-baked earth, some developed and wizened dark fruit, a hint of reductive gunpowder smoke and a whiff of bretty funk. Full-bodied, noticeably spicy and structured palate with moderately developed, ripe and savory flavors of dark forest fruits, ripe red cherry, sweet sunny fruit, aromatic spices, some dried fig, a little pipe tobacco and a hint of bitter, sour cherry. The midpalate has a slightly pungent, saline streak giving the wine a bright, aldehydic Fino Sherry-esque overtone, supported by moderately high acidity. The wine has firm, ripe and slightly grippy tannins, giving it sense of firmness and good structure. The long, complex and generous finish is full of layered, interweaving notes of roasted spices, bitter sour cherry, dark sunny fruit, some dusty earth and a hint of dried figs. In the end, there is a lovely, slightly saline acetaldehyde lift.

Somehow this vintage of Musar seems a bit difficult one with atypical smoky and saline notes, yet still the wine does not come across as awkward or clumsy, but very delightful and tasty. Although these atypical notes give the wine some unique complexity, they also distract a little bit from the honest Musary core of sunny dark fruit and nuanced, earthy tones. Additionally, this is one of the less bretty and volatile vintages, with almost none of those leathery, barnyardy and balsamico notes apparent.

91/100
Summary: A Musar that is starting to exhibit some aged complexity in addition to the primary, fruity characteristics. The wine will most likely keep for a good while, but I'm not 100% sure whether it'll keep for a decade more – structure-wise there is a lot of aging potential, but the wine seems to lack focus and I hope it will not start to fall apart with more age. Despite of its lack of typicity, still recommended. This is a good and enjoyable Musar, but not among the great vintages.

***

For long I had a mnemonic for Musar vintages that odd ones are the ones you want to keep and even ones the ones you'll probably want to skip. Not that you'd want to skip any vintage of Musar, but pushed to make a choice over two vintages, I'd go for an odd vintage.

However, 2007 and 2008 changed this pattern: having tasted the 2007 in three different occasions over a six-month time span I must admit, it has turned out to be a disappointment of sorts. 2008, on the contrary, was a really tightly-knit and promising one, feeling almost too young but still full of cellaring potential. Most likely both of them will get better with age, but I expect a lot more from 2008 than from 2007 now.

The vintages 2009 and 2006 that followed, in that order, followed the logic of my mnemonic; although not as impressive as the vintages 2003 or 2005 were, the 2009 was still more lush and opulent effort, whereas the 2006 felt a bit more restrained and underwhelming, true to the even-numbered vintage style – which was also a bit disappointing, seeing how every Musarophile was waiting for its release for more than three years after it wasn't released according to the normal release schedule of Musar.

Our lineup from 28th of January, 2016
All in all, I hope that this guide through a decade of Musars will be of some help if you ever come across of multiple vintages of Musars and you are pressed to choose only one or some among them. Overall the first 10 years of the 21st century seem to have produced some very attractive and delightful wines, practically all of them capable of surviving at least 10 years of cellaring, some of them even multiple decades. Only the vintage 2007 seems to be a bit of an underachiever now, but perhaps with some age it can turn out all right. Practically all the other vintages are more or less safe bets: some are drinking nicely now and some only after some years, even a decade in the cellar, but most of the wines are actually really lovely now yet they sport remarkable cellaring potential – true to the classic Musar style.

June 9, 2017

Tannat

There is a handful of grape varieties that are great contenders on the title of the world's most tannic variety, but none of them are as aptly titled for such a nomination as Tannat, that red and fiercely tannic variety originating from the Southwest France.

This dark variety is first mentioned in the late 18th century as a variety grown in Madiran, the wine region in Southwest France, which still is considered the spiritual home of Tannat and one of the few regions which cultivate this rather unapproachable variety extensively. The name of the variety means "tanned" in the local dialect, but it could also refer to the ridiculously high tannin content of the variety as well. This very deeply colored variety produces usually rather small grapes in which the skin-to-pulp-ratio is rather high, meaning that the amount of grape skins (one of the main sources of tannins) is noticeably high in relation to the juice. Normally Tannat produces wines that are not only remarkably tannic, but also very high in acidity as well. This means that traditional Tannat wines can be extremely ageworthy – the key components in the cellaring potential of wines are high acidity, prominent tannins, high sugar content and high alcohol content – but also very unapproachable (even undrinkable) in their youth.

The old school Madiran wines were made with moderately long maceration times resulting in wines often so tough and tannic it could take even more than decade to soften the wines enough to get them drinkable – something not unlike traditional wines of Barolo and Barbaresco region. However, as wine drinkers at some point started to favor softer wines suitable for early consumption, Madiran producers started to look for ways to make their wines softer and more approachable – aging the wine bottles for decades in the cellars of the wineries was not a viable option nor was aging for years in large oak foudres.

The classic method to reduce the tough character of Madiran and other wines based on Tannat has always been blending the variety with some other local varieties, like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Fér Servadou – all quite tannic varieties in their own right, which only serves to show how tannic Tannat is. After all, normally, in other parts of the world, other softer varieties are blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to soften its tannic character!

At some point wine producers realized that oxygen promotes polymerization of the tannins, meaning they bind together, forming larger (thus less astringent) molecules and even falling out of the solution, reducing the total tannin content of the wine. The logical method for introducing oxygen more effectively to the wine was to change the large oak foudres, often containing even thousands of liter of wine, to smaller barrique barrels of only 225 liters, thus increasing the "breathing" surface in relation to the wine. Furthermore, by using only new oak barrels, whose pores weren't yet clogged by wine deposit and crystallized acid, even more oxygen could be introduced to the wines, resulting even softer and rounder wines. The downside of this oak treatment is that the wines would also be often full of sweet and spicy new oak flavors and aromas. By keeping the barrel aging time short, the wines could keep the fruity characteristics of Tannat pretty much in the front. However, as many of the wines often required prolonged oak aging to let the oxygen have some softening effect, keeping the wine 2 years or even more in new oak barrels often resulted in wines that were quite dominated by new oak characteristics up to the point that the varietal characteristics were masked away and only the firm tannins would be what was left of the variety.

A more recent method to reduce the astringency from the tannins is microbullage, better known as "micro-oxygenation", developed (quite unsurprisingly) in Madiran by Patrick DuCournau of Château Aydie. This process uses a very small vent at the bottom of a wine tank, through which oxygen is introduced at very high pressure. This way the oxygen is introduced into the wine as very fine, minuscule and easily soluble bubbles that mimic the oxygenation that happens in small oak barrels. However, instead of taking several months, this process takes only some minutes. Furthermore, this process does not impart any new oak aromatics to the wine, so after the micro-oxygenation, it is possible to move the wine into old, large oak casks – or even keep the wine in the stainless steel tanks – while still reaping the softening benefits of oxygenation one would normally acquire only through aging the wine in new, small oak barrels. This process hasn't came about without controversies, however. Although adapted widely through the winemaking world, especially in Bordeaux, some people still regard micro-oxygenation as too manipulative a method and steer well away from it. For example Alain Brumont of Madiran Châteaux Montus and Bouscassé, the man who is widely recognized as bringing Madiran into wider recognition, never uses micro-oxygenation with his wines, but instead favors long oak aging periods in small oak barrels to soften his wines.

Although Madiran is the wine region best known for Tannat, it is not the only region where this variety can be found. Tannat is quite well-spread throughout the Southwest France, covering some 2,900 ha (7,250 acres) in total and is a key component in the neighboring regions of Tursan (reds can be up to 40% Tannat) and Saint-Mont as well in the Basque wine regions of Béarn and Irouléguy. From the Southwest France the variety has spread throughout the winemaking world, often with Basque migrants. The variety has found its spiritual new world home in Uruguay, where it was introduced back in the 1870's and is known by its local name, Harriague. Currently the variety covers approximately 1,800 ha (4,400 acres) of vineyards there, which is over 1/5 of the whole vineyard area in Uruguay! The variety is also relatively popular in Argentina (550 ha / 1,350 acres), Brazil (420 ha / 1,050 acres) and USA (100 ha / 250 acres).

Here is a rather large and diverse selection of different Tannat wines that I have tasted through these years, in the order of tasting:

Domaine Labranche-Laffont Madiran 2008
AOC Madiran
  • Domaine Labranche-Laffont
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (60%), Cabernet Franc (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%)
  • Price: 7,00€ / 0,12
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2013

The wine is produced by Domaine Labranche-Laffont a small family winery owning 19 hectares in the northern parts of the Madiran region. The hand-picked grapes that are partly from centenarian pre-phylloxera vines go through 18 days of maceration. After the malolactic fermentation the wine is aged for 18 months (1/3 in oak barrels, 2/3 in vats).

Opaque black-red color that reminds me more of blackcurrant juice concentrate than anything vinous!

The nose is quite rich and expressive with aromas of blackcurrants, some leather, a little ripe red fruit and integrated hints of vanilla and spicy oak character.

On the palate the wine feels very fresh, youthful and concentrated with flavors of blackcurrant, dark cherry, black forest fruits and some tannic astringency with toasty hints of oak looming in the background. Acidity is quite modest here, but instead the tannins are very prominent, aggressive even, keeping the wine very tightly-knit, structured and dry-tasting.

The astringent, tightly-wound finish is quite long with long-lingering flavors of toasted spicy oak, tannic bitterness, some bright minerality and hints of savory forest fruits.

This is a classic, tannin-driven Madiran that feels very tight and structured despite its modest acidity. Probably not the best choice for a wine bar wine, because this feels still very primary and even with more bottle age, you'd need something hearty to go along with this.

89/100
Summary: This is definitely stuff I'd leave in a cellar for a decade or more. Not recommended for people who are afraid of tannins. Very good value at 7€ for a 12 cl glass.

***

Plaimont Rosé d'Enfer 2012
AOC Saint-Mont
  • Plaimont Producteurs
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Saint-Mont
  • Grape(s): Tannat (60%), Fér Servadou (25%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%)
  • Price: 7,50€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 15th of October, 2013


Although the Southwest France is pretty much a red wine region (with some white wine appellations here and there, like Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Jurançon), there are some regions with considerable rosé wine output – like Saint-Mont over here. This wine is made by Plaimont, a noticeably large co-operative of 800 members and 5,300 ha (13,750 acres) of plantings. They produce approximately half of the total output of Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and almost 98% of the small appellation of Saint-Mont. It must be noted, that even though Plaimont is a big co-op, they are generally considered a very good one and also one of the saviors of the forgotten wine regions of the Southwest France.

Pale, pink color.

Juicy and somewhat meaty nose with a pretty straightforward, fruity character with mainly aromas of ripe red berries and yellow plums.

Contrasting the juicy nose, the wine is surprisingly light and even quite thin on the palate with vague, nondescript flavors of red currants and other red berries along with a little bitterness. The taste is rather bland and even boring. Moderate acidity.

The finish is somewhat bitter and rather short with flavors of steely minerality, some herbal notes, a little thin red fruit character and a bit of alcohol warmth. There seems to be a hint of tannic grip to the aftertaste.

Overall Rosé d'Enfer proves that you can also make rosé wines out of Tannat, but at least this wine wasn't so impressive that I would recommend anyone to change their Tannat wine production from red to rosé.

79/100
Summary: It's a rather bland and mediocre rosé wine lacking body and character. Definitely nothing special to write home about.

***

Plaimont Maestria Madiran 2011
AOC Madiran
  • Plaimont Producteurs
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (70%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Cabernet Franc (5%)
  • Price: 8,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 15th of October, 2013


A red wine made by Plaimont, the same co-op behind the rosé wine above. This is a classic, mainly Tannat-based Madiran that is mainly fermented and aged for 8–12 months in stainless steel (80%) with only a small portion (20%) seeing old oak barrels. The idea is to preserve the vibrant fruit flavors, not to overwhelm them with oak.

The wine is quite opaque red with a noticeable, youthful purple hue.

The nose is somewhat restrained with aromas of ripe dark fruits and sweet berries, some smoked meat notes and a hint of earthiness.

The wine is medium-bodied and very structured on the palate with moderately firm tannins and high acidity. The rather spicy flavors are pure, well-delineated and youthful with notes of tart dark berries, ripe dark fruits, exotic spices, some earthiness and quite noticeable bitterness.

The finish is medium-long and very grippy with quite angular tannins and savory flavors of dark berries, aromatic herbal bitterness and roasted spices. The wine finishes on a light, slightly sappy vegetal hint.

This wine is a rather by-the-book modern Madiran with a lot of emphasis on the bright fruit flavors of Tannat. The variety's tightly-knit structure is obviously there, but not in as hard and forbidding shape as it could be.

87/100
Summary: For a young Madiran, this is a relatively "soft" and approachable effort, although still quite tannic and astringent, like a good Tannat should be. Stylistically this is pretty straightforward effort, so most likely this wine will never be a big and impressive one, but I can imagine it will develop nicely over the following 3–5 years and keep for a decade. Superb value at only 8€.

***

Garzón Varietales Tannat 2012
  • Bodega Garzón
  • Country: Uruguay
  • Region: Garzón
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 13,48€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 4th of November, 2014
Bodega Garzón, founded in 1999, is a Uruguayan winery located in the small village of Garzón. According to their home pages, the winery prefers natural yeasts over commercial ones and cement tanks or untoasted oak barrels over more aromatic, toasted ones. I really couldn't find any information on this wine, because it couldn't be found on the winery's home pages.

The wine's opaque color is very dark, youthful plummy purple.

The nose is dark-toned and very sweet with ripe aromas of cooked plums, some bilberries and hints of ripe strawberries.

The wine is rich, ripe and full-bodied on the palate with intense and somewhat sweet flavors of bilberries, blackcurrant jam, cooked strawberries, some iron, a little vanilla, a bit of balancing bitterness and a hint of milk chocolate. The wine is medium in acidity, making it come across rather mellow and plump, but its moderately firm tannins give it some welcome structure. Alcohol gives the palate a bit of warmth.

The wine finishes with a warm and chewy aftertaste with quite robust flavors of ripe cassis, stewed plums, some rough spiciness and a bit of earth. The wine ends on a quite bitter, astringent and pretty mouthdrying note.

Although a moderately firm and structured effort for a South-American red wine, I find it rather hard to believe this was made with natural yeasts or neutral oak; the oak characteristics of vanilla and other sweet spices are noticeable and there is also an obvious streak of sweet blackcurrant – a tell-tale sign I associate with South-American reds and assume is coming from a locally popular commercial yeast strain.

83/100
Summary: Overall this is a mildly positive example of South-American wine, but I still find it too sweet and plump to suit my taste. Perhaps a good choice for a fan of South-American wines who needs some tannins? Priced according to its quality at 13,48€.

***

Château Montus La Tyre 2001
AOC Madiran
  • Vignobles Alain Brumont, Château Montus
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 100,30€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 1st of December, 2014
As I wrote above, Alain Brumont, the man behind Châteaux Montus and Bouscassé, is the man who is considered to be the one who brought Madiran into wider recognition. He does not believe in the micro-oxidation, otherwise so prevalent throughout Madiran, but instead prefers to use new, small oak barrels to soften the tannins of his wine.

His flagship wine is La Tyre, a single-vineyard Tannat made from a steep, stony plot Brumont discovered in 1990. The grapes for La Tyre were harvested for the first time in 2000, when the vines were 10 years old, so this is the second vintage of this wine. The wine undergoes 3–6 weeks of maceration with the grape skins, depending on the variety, parcel and vintage. After the fermentation the wine is aged for 14–16 months in barriques, of which 100% are new. Bottled with a minimal dose of sulfites.

The age of wine is betrayed by the concentrated, dense black color with a hint of deposit and a slightly orange burnt clay rim.

The wine shows somewhat developed and quite oak-heavy nose with powerful aromas of smoke, tar, dry wood, sweet milk chocolate, dried prunes and some ripe blackcurrant.

On the palate the wine is extremely concentrated, mouthfilling and chewy with massive, mouth-coating, grainy tannins. There are monolithic and rich flavors of smoke, tar, milk chocolate, wood spice, some blackcurrant, maraschino cherry, a hint of licorice and nuances of prunes. Acidity can't really cut through the massive midpalate. The structure is, simply put, immense.

There are no discernible fruit flavors in the long, oaky, extracted and slightly bitter finish, but instead lingering flavors of dark chocolate, cocoa and sweet wood spice. The tannins leave your mouth bone-dry and gritty.

Holy Hannah this wine is full of oak and extraction – this must be one of the most massive wines I've ever tasted! It has impeccable structure to go with the mouthfilling flavors, but unfortunately there is very little left of the original Tannat flavors, as they are replaced by swathes of anonymous sweet wood characteristics. Nose- and flavor-wise this is like any new world super red wine; the dense tannic structure remaining is the only thing that points out to the direction of Madiran.

88/100
Summary: I have no idea whether this wine will ever reach a nice plateau of maturity where the tannins are smoother and more approachable and the fruit flavors and the oak characteristics might be in balance. I have no problems with the black-hole-esque density of the wine that much, more instead with the overdone, obfuscating oakiness. This is a good wine for those who enjoy extremely big and oaky reds, but definitely not for me. I probably need to revisit this in (or after) 15-20 years. Definitely not worth the 100,30€.

***

Château Montus 2010
AOC Madiran
  • Vignobles Alain Brumont, Château Montus
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Price: 33,85€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 4th of November, 2015
This is the standard Madiran of the Montus winery – the "calling card" wine of the winery, in a sense –one that is composed mainly of Tannat but with some Cabernet Sauvignon to soften up the structure (I know that sounds silly, but that's just the way Tannat is). The grapes undergo 3–6 weeks of maceration with the skins, depending on the variety, parcel and vintage. The wine is aged for 12–14 months in barriques, of which 60–80% are new.

Opaque, deep black ruby color with a slightly blueish hue.

Quite dry, savory and not particularly "big" nose with aromas of dark plums, blackcurrant, bloody meat, dark grapey fruit, some iron, a little milk chocolate oak, light dried herbal hints and a hint of dry, savory wood.

The wine is very full-bodied and extracted on the palate with balanced acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow tannins. Well, sure, there are a lot of tannins, giving the wine a very textural feel, but they are not grippy or aggressive one little bit. The flavors are very ripe and quite sweet with notes of dark cherries, plummy fruit, blackcurrant-driven forest fruits, moderately noticeable, sweet milk chocolate oak and a bit of spicy oak bitterness.

The finish is quite long, slightly warm and rather spicy with chewy, extracted flavors of cocoa-driven oak spice, red cherries, ripe plums, some bloody iron and bit of tannic bitterness. For a Tannat, the aftertaste is surprisingly mellow and easy, lacking the mouth-drying astringency typical for the variety.

Overall this is quite oak-driven and modern Madiran with great balance and a somewhat crowd-pleasing, easy-to-drink character. Although the wine is drinking very nicely now and is definitely not in need of any cellaring, I personally would age the wine for 7–10 more years in the hopes the excessive oak character would get integrated with the fruit better.

87/100
There is a distinctively Bordelais / Southwest French quality to the wine, giving it nice sense of sophistication and elegance, but it is also so polished, modern and round in style I really can't get grips with the wine. It is good and, in its own sense, pretty tasty, but I look for more rustic and unpolished character in Madiran. A wine this polished feels just too dull and predictable for me – and too expensive for its quality at 33,85€.

***

Capmartin Vieilles Vignes 2012
AOC Madiran
  • Domaine Capmartin
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%)
  • Price: ~10,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
Capmartin is a Madiran-based winery founded by Guy Capmartin in 1985, focusing on more terroir-oriented, traditional examples of the regional style. In 2007 the winery started adopting organic and biodynamic practices and in 2010 the winery obtained an organic AB certification.

Capmartin Vieilles Vignes is made from very old vines: the youngest vines are approximately 60 years old, whereas the oldest ones are pre-phylloxera – centenarian vines with their own, original rootstocks. The wine is first fermented in 7,000-liter open-top cement fermenters, after which the wine is transferred into oak barrels for 12 months of aging. Then the wines are blended into stainless steel for further 6 months of aging before light filtration and bottling.

Very dark, opaque black-red color.

There is a sense of weight and density in the nose that is somewhat very cool and savory – not suggesting much sweetness – with aromas of somewhat ripe dark, plummy fruits, red forest fruits, some chokeberries and a hint of understated complexity.

The wine is full-bodied, concentrated and chewy on the palate with moderately acidity and firm, ample tannins that grip the insides of your mouth quite eagerly. The flavor department offers licorice, ripe dark berries, some more savory chokeberry character, a little bit of raspberry and a faint spicy streak of old woody oak. The wine feels quite weighty and structured, but surprisingly gentle for a Madiran this young.

The finish is dense and concentrated with ripe yet mouthdrying and grippy tannins and long, intense flavors of blackberries, crowberries, some licorice and hints of fresh, almost tart blackcurrants.

This is a classic, pure and well-delineated Madiran with wonderful, chewy texture and grippy tannins, yet surprisingly gentle and easily approachable character.

92/100
Summary: Although the wine is surprisingly drinkable right now, the acidity and the ample tannins especially give it good potential for further cellaring. I can imagine the wine will mellow out and lose some of its baby fat with some 10 years of cellar age in favor of elegance and complexity – characteristics, which the wine is still lacking a bit in its current state. At only 10€, this wine shows simply stunning value.

***

Capmartin Cuvée du Couvent 2011
AOC Madiran
  • Domaine Capmartin
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 12,90€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
Couvée du Couvent is the top red wine of the aforementioned Capmartin and composed completely of organically grown Tannat. The long fermentation period is carried out in 70hl open-top cement fermenters, after which the wine is moved into new barrique for MLF. The wine is first aged in these oak barrels for 12 months, after which the wine is aged for further 6 months in stainless steel. The wine is very light filtered before bottling.

Very dark and concentrated purple-red color that is opaque up to the rim.

The nose is quite restrained with some bloody iron notes on the fore, supported by notes of concentrated dark berries, dark plummy fruit and a light hint of leather.

The wine is remarkably full-bodied, concentrated and weighty on the palate with chewy texture, moderately high acidity and ripe but tightly-knit, firm and grippy tannins. There are intense flavors of bitter spices, licorice root, blood, dark plummy fruit and tart dark-skinned berries. The wine feels ripe, yet very dry instead of sweetishly ripe. The concentrated fruit masks the oak aging characteristics remarkably well, wood peeking through in the light, slightly bitter spiciness underneath.

The finish is mouth-drying and meaty with pronounced spicy bitterness, some salty dried beef notes and remarkably crunchy flavors of crowberries and chokeberries with hints of sweet licorice and ripe plummy fruit bringing in some balancing richness.

Cuvée du Couvent is overall a rich, intense and very impressive red wine with remarkable structure and gravitas without being one bit too imposing or forbiddingly tannic – although the wine is still very tannic to say the very least. The key word here is impeccable balance between the concentration, structure and intensity – the wine has heaps of these components, yet nothing in excess.

93/100
I'm surprised how well this wine carries its oak – and by that I mean it is barely noticeable by the concentrated yet still very well-proportioned and structured fruit. Although drinking surprisingly nicely already, this wine is still a baby and I can imagine 10 years in a cellar will only benefit it. Lovely stuff and a steal at only 12,90€.

***

Pisano Tannat / Petit Verdot 2008
  • Bodegas Pisano
  • Country: Uruguay
  • Region: Progreso
  • Grape(s): Tannat, Petit Verdot
  • Price: 12,89€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
Pisano is a winery located in Progreso, some 30 kilometers north from Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. It was founded in 1914 by an Italian family who moved from Italy to Uruguay in the start of the 20th century. The winery is still owned by the Pisano family and they aim to produce wines expressing the local terroir and style with as natural winemaking practices as possible.

I really couldn't find much information on this wine, because it wasn't featured on the Pisano website. From its name one can quite easily guess it is a blend of the local favorite, Tannat, with Petit Verdot – a variety equally notorious for its deep color and tannins.

Very dense dark ruby color with only a hint of translucency and, despite its 8 years of age, faint highlights of youthful purple hue.

The nose is fruity and opulent with intense aromas of almost overripe plums and blackcurrant jam with sweet oak spice, some alcohol and a hint of acetone VA.

The wine is full-bodied and quite soft and supple on the palate with moderately ample yet ripe and soft tannins and quite modest acidity. Although not that concentrated, the wine comes across as pretty big, easy and juicy with relatively soft structure. There are flavors of ripe plummy fruit, savory spice, blackberry-driven sweet dark berry notes, some slightly bitter wood spice and a slightest hint of acetone.

The spicy medium-long finish is slightly mouth-drying and a bit coarse with flavors of sweet dark fruit, roasted spice, some oak bitterness and a hint of sour plums.

Though there is a wild edge to this wine, giving it some welcome character to set it apart from many sweetishly ripe South American reds, this still doesn't really manage to impress me. The wine is just too ripe, sweet and straightforward with too mellow and easy tannins to give the wine the structure its big fruit calls for.

84/100
Summary: Although a relatively well-made effort for a Uruguay red, the wine still leaves much to be hoped for. With more emphasis on structure and less on oak, the wine could show more finesse and potential. I suppose the wine could hold – even develop a little – in a cellar for some years, but I doubt there's room for much development. Priced according to its quality at 12,89€.

***

Miolo Tannat Reserva 2012
  • Miolo
  • Country: Brazil
  • Region: Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha Gaúcha
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 8,90€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
Miolo is a young Brazilian winery with a long history: although the company was founded only in 1990, the people behind it had been cultivating vines since 1897 – almost for a hundred years – and supplying the local producers with fruit. Currently the company cultivates 450 ha (1125 acres) of vineyards, of which the company owns 120 hectares (300 acres) and the rest are cultivated through contract growers. World-famous winemaker Michel Rolland works as a viticultural and oenological consultant with Miolo.

Quite opaque and moderately purple-tinted black-red color.

At first the nose of the wine feels somewhat odd with restrained aromas of bloody meat, dark-skinned forest fruits, some lactic blueberry yoghurt character and herbaceous green hints. With air, however, the nose turns much more anonymous with sweet aromas of cooked red fruits and strawberry jam.

Surprisingly for a Tannat, the wine feels more medium- than full-bodied with lively acidity with rather light and easy tannins. The taste department is full of rich, extracted flavors of youthful red fruits, forest strawberries, ripe raspberries, some meaty notes and blood, a little bit of alcohol and a hint of strawberry jam. Especially after some breathing the wine starts to taste quite much like a generic, inexpensive Aussie red.

The long aftertaste is spicy, quite bitter and somewhat green with flavors of tart lingonberries, ripe blackberries, some coarse peppery character, a little bit of odd, candied raspberry candy flavor and a slightly vegetal sappy hint.

I'm really confused by this wine. At first it felt surprisingly interesting, lighter and more refreshing take on Tannat with some odd – but not fully negative – aromas and flavors. However, with air, the wine lost most of its exciting character and transformed into a regular, thirteen-in-a-dozen red wine, not quite plonk but not far from it.

82/100
Summary: If the wine had remained how it was first, it would've easily scored a handful of extra points. However, in the end there was very little to set this wine apart from any inexpensive new world red and even less to suggest that the wine in question was made from Tannat. So I guess the wine was priced more or less according to its quality at 8,90€ and one shouldn't really expect more.

***

Don David Finca Las Mercedes #6 Tannat 2011
  • Michel Torino / Bodega El Esteco
  • Country: Argentina
  • Region: Salta, Cafayate
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 17,12€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 9th of January, 2016
This wine is made by the old Argentinian wine company Bodega El Esteco / Michel Torino (founded already in 1892) and it represents the single vineyard end of their popular Don David range – named after the company's founder, David Michel. Normally the winery produces only Don David Reserve series wines, but occasionally they release single vineyard wines showing the potential of their finest plots. The plot #6, called Las Mercedes was planted in 1997 with Tannat and from that single plot are all grapes sourced for this wine.

Pitch-black, opaque color with slightly purple highlights in the rim.

The dark-toned nose feels very rich, concentrated and powerful with really intense aromas of almost overripe plummy fruit, juicy blackberry notes, rather dominant aromas of coffee chocolate, some spicy and savory wood and hints of vanilla.

On the palate the wine is really full-bodied, rich and textural with grainy tannins that are both chewy and grippy. The wine is dominated by powerful, sweet oak notes with some fruity notes of blackberry and crowberry jam and juicy dark plums, supported with a light, sweet hint of licorice. Although there most likely isn't much (or at all) residual sugar in the wine, it comes across quite sweet and really ripe – a characteristic further emphasized by the sweet vanilla and chocolate notes of oak. Although the tannins are ample, the wine feels pretty soft, thanks to its rather modest acidity.

The finish is long, powerful and somewhat warm with a little tannic astringency and persistent, sweet flavors of ripe blackberries, plums, mocha, some bitter wood notes, a little bit of dark chocolate and a hint of dried figs.

Well this was a disappointment. Apparently the winery had set out to produce a modern masterpiece with a lot of extraction, more alcohol and even more oak, but to me, they resulted only in a wine showing sloppy (yet expensive) winemaking that masks away all the fruit. I really can't say anything about the quality of the Las Mercedes vineyard, because all I can taste here is oak and fruit preserves.

86/100
Summary: I really do hope that long cellaring can integrate the oak underneath the fruit – there is a lot of fruit, but also a lot of oak to hide. The wine at least shows some cellaring potential with its concentrated fruit and ample tannins, so I guess the wine might show better at 10–15 of age. However, I guess this wine will never be one to suit my tastes. Priced more or less according to its quality at 17,12€.

***

Odé d'Aydie Madiran 2012
AOC Madiran
  • Vignobles Laplace, Château Aydie
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat (100%)
  • Price: 10,20€ / 0,12
  • Tasted on: 21st of August, 2016
Not having an Aydie wine on an article about Tannat would be blasphemy. That's because it was Château Aydie where the now-so-prevalent micro-oxygenation was originally invented and the winery employs it quite systematically with their red wines. The winery was founded in 1927 by Frédéric Laplace and now it is run by the 3rd generation of the Laplace family. The Laplaces own some 58 hectares (145 acres) of vines, of which 49 ha (120 acres) are planted with red varieties for Madiran and 9 ha (22 acres) with white varieties for Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.

Odé is the second wine of the estate, made completely from Tannat. The grapes are macerated with the fermenting wine for 30 days, after which the wine is aged for 12–15 months in oak tuns and vats. Then the wine is blended together and finally bottled after 20 months of aging.

The wine is dark-cherry colored with a bit of translucency.

The nose is rich and expressive with opulent and rather sweet aromas of freshly picked, ripe forest fruits, some cocoa oak, a little bit of plum jam and a hint of milk chocolate.

The wine is full-bodied and quite textural with moderately high acidity and very ample, yet surprisingly soft and friendly tannins. Although obviously quite ripe, the wine is surprisingly savory and bitter with flavors of bloody iron, sappy greenness, astringent berry skin notes, some tangy chokeberry and crowberry notes and a bit of woody bitterness, counterpointed by sweeter oak notes of milk chocolate and cocoa.

The finish is as coarse and bitter as the midpalate with flavors of chokeberries, quite rich, complex and somewhat sweet oak character, a bit of bitter milk chocolate, a little bit of ripe dark plums and a hint of sappy greenness.

Obviously Odé d'Aydie is a modern Madiran, with its very noticeable, sweet oak characteristics and surprisingly mellow and easy tannins. Yet the wine is very true to the Madiran style with its noticeably bitter flavor profile – most likely due to the sheer volume of tannins in the wine. Normally you really don't taste tannins – they just show some level of mouth-drying astringency – but if there is enough of tannins in the wine, you start to taste them as a bitter flavor. What's remarkable here is how the tannins have been cleaned out into the background, yet they obviously are there.

88/100
Summary: In conclusion, this is really not my style of wine – I like my Madirans more tannic and less oaky, thank you very much – but for a relatively easy-drinking Tannat this was a decent effort. Nothing groundbreaking, but a decent wine for a modern Southwesterner. The winery promises 8–10 of aging potential for the wine, maybe that kind of cellar time could help the oak integrate a little bit. Priced according to its quality at 10,20€ for a 12 cl glass in a restaurant.

***

Château Bouscassé Madiran 1995
AOC Madiran
  • Vignobles Alain Brumont, Château Bouscassé
  • Country: France
  • Region: Le Sud-Ouest, Madiran
  • Grape(s): Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Tasted on: 14th of April, 2017
Finally, a wine from Château Bouscassé, the original family winery of Alain Brumont of Château Montus fame. This +20 years old wine is here to show how Madiran is capable of aging in a cellar.

Based on the tech sheet of more recent Bouscassé wines, this wine has probably undergone 3–6 weeks of maceration, depending on the variety, parcel and vintage and then aged for 12–14 months in barriques, of which 30–50% were new.

The wine's color is still quite opaque, but obviously developed with a slightly maroon hue and noticeable bricking in the rim.

The nose is quite robust with powerful rustic notes of barnyard and manure, ripe blackcurrants, brambly black berries and a hint of sweaty leather saddle.

On the palate the wine feels medium-bodied, textural and very structured with lively acidity and generous, still very grippy tannins. The flavors are quite developed and savory with dry, tertiary notes of wizened dark berries, leather, some manure and a bit of umami. The sheer amount of tannins give the taste a slightly bitter edge.

The long aftertaste is very lively but also mouthdryingly astringent with firm, grippy tannins. The finish leaves persistent flavors of dried dark berries, wizened plums, some leather, a little barnyard and a delicate hint of bitterness in the mouth.

Now this is what Madiran is all about! I have no idea how much (or if at all) new oak the wine has seen, but at this age there is none to be noticed. The wine is all about very nicely developed Tannat fruit with really captivating tertiary characteristics and lovely textural feel.

95/100
Summary: I don't know if Brumont's wines have been less "modern" back in the 1990's or if the wines just need 20 years in a cellar to show their best. Whatever the case is, this is a truly wonderful Madiran with tremendous character that speaks volumes of the region's wines' aging potential. Very highly recommended.

***

Having tasted a bunch of Tannat wines through these years has taught me something: although the variety itself is quite tannic, the wines surprisingly often aren't. Sure, you can notice that there might be quite a lot of tannins in the wines (giving them this tell-tale bitterness), but more often than not the winemaking has made sure the tannins are very smooth, mellow and unobtrusive. Especially in the new world the wines can be remarkably silky with barely noticeable tannic grip.

In Madiran things are a bit different. Quite often you encounter wines that have their tannins manicured to some extent, but often leaving the wines with firmness and chewy texture. However, it is also possible to find more rustic old-school Tannat wines in the Southwest France where they don't try to mellow down the forbiddingly tannic nature of the wine, but instead embrace it with open arms. These are the wines I usually love the most – after all, if the variety is known to be really tannic and structured, that is also what I expect of the wine! If I wanted something soft and easy, I'd grab a bottle of new world Merlot.