Tannat works for Virginia, and more importantly, Tannat works for rose at Stinson Vineyards

Stinson Vineyards Rosé of Tannat

At a media preview for Philly Wine Week several years ago, I tasted my first Tannat. It was from Uruguay. I don't remember producer, but I remember that wine. I learned the grape dominates the vineyards of the South American country having been brought there by French immigrants from the Madarin region over a century ago.

Ever since, if there's a chance to sample Tannat, I take it. Last summer, on a trip to Virginia I discovered wineries in the Monticello AVA grow and vinify the grape. I first had it at Grace Estate when friends and I bought a bottle of 2016 Estate Le Gras Baril - a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Tannat - to enjoy with a picnic on the winery's lawn. Earlier this year, I sampled the 2015 Shaps Tannat, and I loved its aromas of tobacco and leather and flavors of earthy violets and dark fruits.

Last month, two more Virginia Tannats showed up on my doorstep. Stinson Vineyards sent me a sample of their 100 percent Tannat, a rich red wine with violets, currants, leather and mimeograph on the nose and flavors of dark berries, pepper, plum,and earthy cedar. It's a great wine, but the second bottle of the varietal they sent, the Rosé of Tannat, simply blew me away - so much so that I had to talk to the winemaker and learn more about it.

Winemaker and director of operations Rachel Stinson Vrooman (pictured left) says that nearby Horton Vineyards is generally credited with bringing Tannat to Virginia. "Dennis Horton brought some of the more obscure at the time French varietals to Virginia like Viognier, Tannat, and Petit Manseng. He saw Virginia had similar climate -or so he thought - to the Rhone Valley."

Many Virginia wineries have since embraced these Rhone grapes, and I asked Vrooman why the Tannat grape works well in the region.

"Tannat is good for Virginia because we get so hot, and it retains acids so well. It has acid. It has tannins. It's thick skin makes it pretty disease resistant. All of those things have the potential to make a really good wine for us here with minimal intervention," she said.

Despite this, the grape is not commonly used to make rosé. In fact, Vrooman tried to source some rosé of Tannat from other wineries to sample. She was only able to get a few from Southwest France, and those were usually blended with another grape. What she was able to get her hands on was out of vintage by the time she received it and heavy and clunky, possibly because of its age.

Still, it seemed like there was an opportunity to make a good rosé from the Tannat grown in Stinson's estate vineyards.

"Because of the color and the acid - and it's so flavorful - we brainstormed that we could possibly make it into a nice delicate style," she said. In 2017, the harvest yielded a significant amount of quality Tannat, about 7 tons an acre, presenting the opportunity to make the red Tannat and give rosé a try in the cellar, too.

"We went with a direct press and no skin contact time to see if we could get enough color and flavor in that first vintage," Vrooman said. "It was a big hit in the tasting room. It had so much fruitiness to it that it tasted like it had some residual sugar, but it was super, super dry. We liked that it had sweetness on the palate but it was a dry rosé. We’ve been perfecting it ever since."

In 2018 and 2019 the winery only made rosé with their Tannat grapes due to vintage conditions. Vrooman does a little skin contact on it now and works with enzymes and stabulation to try to bring out the aromatics so she can keep the wine delicate while also getting a lot out of it.

What I got out of the 2019 Stinson Vineyards Rosé of Tannat was orange, petrol, caramel, peach and rose petals on the nose. Flavors of grapefruit, cherry, brambles, herbs and pepper came with a chewy mouthfeel and plenty of beautiful acidity. There was so much going on, and I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and its beautiful copper/salmon color.

I paired it at dinner with a Farro Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers topped with feta along with Chicken Salad Sliders - a simple cold summer meal.

Every summer, right about this time of year, I take a road trip down to Crozet, Virginia where Stinson is located to visit friends. We visit wineries, but we have yet to go to Stinson together. This year, the pandemic has cancelled my yearly trip, but as soon as it's safe, I'll be hopping in my Prius, blasting my road trip playlist, and visiting my friends and paying a call to Stinson Vineyards.

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