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A lifestyle blog by Allison Arbuthnot on The Whole 9

Allison was raised on the vine in Sonoma, California, and believes that life is too short to drink bad wine, count calories, or second-guess your destiny. She now lives in Los Angeles where she practices many things, the two most important being contentment and tricks for opening a wine bottle without a wine key.

To Drink or “Tannat” Drink, that is the Question.

About a year ago, maybe more, my former boss, a man whose opinion I respect endlessly on matters of wine as well as many other things in life, conned me into buying a case of bad vino.

It was a deal through a friend of his. An obscure French varietal I had not yet been acquainted with called Tannat, from the Appellation Madiran Contrôlée, a commune in the Hautes-Pyrénées department in south-western France. A red table wine, only $80 for the 12 bottles. And it was old. 1995. It was the deal of the century. Whatever you say, boss, just tell me where to sign—and, hey, thanks for the hookup. I like to imagine he and his friend laughed devilishly as they loaded my case of wine, along with the several other cases purchased by unsuspecting fellow employees, into the back of his Subaru.

Madiran wines are often described as intense, and bold, and everything you read will tell you they need age to smooth out. After over 10 years in the bottle, drinking one of these bottles of mine, the Chateau de Crouseilles 1995 Madiran, was sort of like licking gritty tar. I opened the first bottle the night I brought the case home, and I’ve been giving them away as gifts ever since.

This weekend, in an act of pure and simple desperation, I opened the second to last bottle of the Tannat. The well had runneth dry in our home by Sunday night, and the company I was attempting to provide for wasn’t terribly discerning by this point, so I thought I could get away with it. I pulled the cork, smearing sediment all over my index fingers, and watched as the first sips were taken. No one choked. I sniffed my glass, eyes growing wide. It was a whole new wine.

Tom put it best, I think: “This wine smells like a cow patty.” As a couple of homegrown Sonoma kids, the smell of cow dung is both familiar and warm to us, and it wasn’t a far stretch to perceive it as something I’d like to drink. The wine was primarily earth: dirt, sweat, old leather, tire rubber. A bit of black fruit crouched in the corner of the glass like a quiet, storm-cloud cowboy in a dark, dusty bar, eating prunes and drinking boiled coffee. It was dark and murky and aggressive. It was fabulous.

As an added bonus, it also apparently very good for you. In a study on longevity, it was found that folks living in the Madiran region of France were out-living the rest of us, and a link was made to the local juice. Tannat contains an extraordinary high level of Procyanidins, a miracle antioxidant. The traditional winemaking style in the south-west of France also involves soaking the grape juice with the seeds much longer than most other wines, further enhancing the amount of Procyanidins present in the wine (hence the tannins that take 15 years to chill out). That’s something I can drink to.

Some things are worth waiting for. Thanks, boss.

(a traditional Franch toast, meaning “to your health”)

  1. Ah the Madiran….we still have some lingering. We actually have to plan in advance when we do drink it because we will open it a day or two in advance so that it would be “calm” enough to drink.

  2. Wow- thought I was gonna have to sue for libel as this post started ;)

    But why does no one except the Kerr clan believe me when I tell them to leave open for hours and hours before drinking…

    I have about a case left- (remember I bought two myself…) big fan of that wine with grilled lamb with rosemary by the by…

    PS- my car is a Saab ;)

  3. PS- now you only have one left- that’s sad, being that the wine will still be alive at your kids wedding…

  4. Haha…I thought you’d like this one, Capo. I laughed in your honor when I wrote the first paragraph. I know it needs massive amounts of open air, but you’ve got to admit, it was still a little aggressive even the next day. And you know, I knew it was a Saab! That was a last minute change – poor form on my part. Hope all is well! Miss you guys.

  5. I am now fully salivating. Sounds like my kind of wine. Throw in a little actual dirt and you’ve got a meal.

    Will look into the Madirans!

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