Jul 032010
 

French Country Wines: An Unexpected Joy That I “Could-Tannat” Pass Up

There is a gem of a place hidden on a back street near Rice Village in Houston, Texas. Believe it or not, there is a bonded Texas winery. But, it’s something different than I expected. The place is called French Country Wines.

Tim and Phyllis Smith’s wine hobby has turned into a passion, and has evolved even further into French Country Wines (www.frenchcountrywines.com), the commercial enterprise. While Tim acknowledges being interested in making wine, he usually only makes enough to satisfy is personal needs and to keep his winery license in place in Texas. He’s looking for some Texas Syrah grapes right now to craft into his personal fermented juice. If you have any Texas Syrah, please contact Tim.

Most of the business operation of French Country Wines involves the wine they import from France. They focus on the wines they enjoy, usually made at smaller family-run wineries from the regions they have enjoy visiting time and time again, mostly in the south of France. From my personal experiences, I can attest that it is a truly wondrous place to visit, and of course, taste the local wines.

A week ago, I was pulled towards French Country Wines by an email shot that Tim sent out offering tastes of wines from Cahors (an area of France pronounced with a soft ‘h’ and without the ‘s’). The people of Cahors make wines that are usually thick, dark-red and made in the Malbec grape. Malbec is relegated to blending grape in Bordeaux, but in Cahors it reigns supreme.

This particular opportunity attracted me since these wines are not  common in Houston. If you happen upon a Malbec wine in Houston, it is much more likely to be from the new-world location of Argentina than old-world France.

While tasting through the Cahors and a few whites, rosés and reds from Provence and the Rhone Valley, I spied another bottle on the counter with a name that I did not recognize. It was Domaine de Poujo, Madiran. Tim offered us a taste and it came out of the bottle with a heavy, nearly opaque purple flow. At first, I thought that the wine could have been another Malbec. Well, was I every wrong. Madiran is a commune in the Hautes-Pyrénées region of south-western France, almost to the border with Spain, and is the centre of it wine producing area.

According to Tim, the Madiran region is known for powerful red wines primarily from the grape variety, Tannat (pronounced without the final ‘t’). Often they are blends of Tannat and other red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon. When Tim said that, I nearly yelled Tannat, half a question and the other half an exclamation.

From the tasting, I can attest to the opacity, intensity and tannic tenacity of wines made with Tannat. They are not for the faint of heart or palate.

I have been very interested in wines made from the Tannat for a while now, as they seem to be all around me, something that I thought was unusual due to the rarity of this uncommon grape. I first tasted a Tannat wine when in Rio de Janeiro in 2008. It was at an Italian restaurant that imported red wines from Uruguay. The wine was big, fruity with a pleasantly soft yet firm tannic structure.  I found out down there that Tannat has become the national red grape of Uruguay, like Malbec is to Argentina.

More recently, in early 2009, I visited friend and winemaker Les Constable at his Brushy Creek Vineyard winery in Alvord, Texas (www.brushycreekvineyards.com). He had obtained a boat load of Tannat grapes that were grown here in Texas, mostly on the high plains around the Lubbock area at Reddy Vineyards. This was definitely something new for the Texas wine industry. I tasted some of his Tannat wine directly from the tank after fermentation prior to any oak aging. Again, the wine was a deep, dark purple in color. Even without the tannins that the wine would gain through oak aging, Les’ tank sample Tannat was a very rich experience. Les mentioned that, in this winery, tasters prefer it blended in Cabernet and Tempranillo over these same wines made as straight varietals.

I have yet to taste the Brushy Creek Tannat as a finished wine even though I had a prime opportunity at the field day held in Plains, TX, hosted by long-time winegrower, Neal Newsom. By the time I got to the bottle of Les’ Yannat, it was drained. Nuff said!.

I am now trying to link up with Les in north Texas during my upcoming trip through east Texas on my way to the Texas Wine Quality Boot Camp at Grayson College in Denison, Texas (See: ). I have a bottle of South American Tannat to share with Les and I hope that he doesn’t forget to bring his bottle, or worse yet, run out of it. I received my bottle in Rio de Janeiro last November and I’ve saved it especially for our get-together.

Thanks Tim for the Tannat tasting opportunity at your French Country Wines. I love to taste wines from their original source. It helps me to understand the initial wine style and subsequent tastings of wines from other places help me understand how it evolved as the grape got relocated. This is what I call ‘calibrating my taste buds’.

Cheers Ya’ll

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