SOME years ago, I visited an upstart little winery in Australia by the name of Yellow Tail along with an enthusiastic group of Aussie and Kiwi wholesalers.
We shared a casual lunch at makeshift tables in the warehouse (they'd expanded so fast there was no reception room), along with several local growers, who had been asked to bring along their own wines.
Many were of Italian descent and brought what they liked to drink at home: big, dark, robust and very barbie-friendly Tannat, which, believe me, goes very well indeed with anything slightly charred, especially kangaroo. Even though the variety has its origins in southwestern France, it's popular in many other parts of the world, including in Italy, and particularly in Puglia, as a blending grape.
Argentina is also making some impressive Tannat, especially "up north," from high-elevation plantings in Cafayate. And the variety is the (much softer) backbone of Uruguay's production.
Apparently, Yellow Tail also makes Tannat but we don't see it here in Canada. I guess we're just too wimpy, obviously, although it does wind up in the U.K. in some Tesco blends.
It should come as no surprise that the one place in B.C. that you can find Tannat is on the slopes of the Osoyoos East Bench, at Moon Curser about as far removed from the Aussie juggernaut imaginable.
This winery has a wellearned rep for thinking outside the box. All you need to do to understand why is to check out their label, which rocketed them from being quietly sedate Twisted Tree to cheeky-naughty Moon Curser, with its fantasy-filled, crossborder smuggling theme. It's now two years since they made the switch and the method in their madness (at the time, when the goofyfoxy-donkey gold runners first appeared, many thought they were totally cracked) is now quite apparent.
When the South Okanagan eventually emerges from its sub-appellation skirmishes, you can be sure that the Osoyoos East Bench will have its own claim to fame. At least it should. And given my experience of tasting their new releases over the last couple of weeks, Moon Curser's "border vines" will be a big part of it.
Here's a few highlights worth lying in wait for: ¦ Dead of Night 2010 Even though the Tannat was initially bottled as a single variety, it gets put to better use as a partner in crime for Syrah in this beefy but polished red that nicely balances ripeness and acidity. The Syrah brings peppery and meaty notes with added structure and depth from the Tannat ($38/91 points). ¦ Syrah 2011 While the more "serious" Contraband Syrah gets the fancy gold-label treatment, this white label covert Côte Roti nod (seven per cent Viognier) adds up to excellent value from what for many was a challenging year. Mediumbodied with black fruit on top, a decent meaty, peppery streak with a touch of anise wrapped in easy tannins, with cautious oak and good acidity ($25/90 points).
Tempranillo 2011 Malbec, Petit Verdot, even Touriga Nacional (a stunner complex, blackberry, anise, cherry and spice, 91 points): no shortage of worthy reds in this flasker's arsenal but it's the Tempranillo that piques my interest, in part because others (such as Stag's Hollow), are also having success with the variety. This one has me drawing comparisons to Rioja, with vibrant cherry and earthy notes over a Pinot-like, slight savoury streak ($29/89 points, $29).
Afraid of the Dark 2012 ("White label") A character-packed "Rhone-Ranger" white in a sea of reds, this artful, unoaked blend of Roussanne (47 per cent), Viognier (31 per cent) and Marsanne yields a mouthful of a dry white, with floral and stonefruit notes on top, followed by a layered, complex, juicy palate of citrus and peach through a lengthy end ($22/90 points).
Tim Pawsey covers food and wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: rebelmouse.com/hiredbelly, on Twitter @hiredbelly or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Tim Pawsey / MOON Curser, on the slopes of the Osoyoos East Bench, has a reputation for thinking outside the box.;
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