Tales of Tannat and Time

Jose Ignacio, Uruguay.
I'm not really sure where this bit of writing is going to go.   

I’m sitting in the open air of a wine café in a tiny beach town called Jose Ignacio, in eastern Uruguay.  It’s small.  Charming.  Slightly bordering on the Stepford Wives – white houses, white furniture, white Lacoste jeans on every other passing beautifully tanned local – but enchanting enough that I don’t really care.  My mouth is salivating in anticipation of a Pinot Noir / Tannat blend of wine that’s coming any second.  I’m freshly-showered, but my body still feels of the ocean.  Dressed in a brightly colored dress, and I’m wearing lace pink and white Victoria’s Secret underwear (which no one else knows, but hey, that’s the point).  I can breathe easy.  The wine just arrived… Yum. 

Jose Ignacio, Uruguay
Tannat is – come to find out – a very unique grape.  On the scale of all things yummy, it ranks very high.  Three days earlier, I had escaped the hustle and flair of Buenos Aires by ferry, across the Rio Platte, and landed on the cobblestone streets of Colonia, Uruguay.  There, before getting in the rental car and high-tailing it to the coast, I stopped and treated myself to a glass of vino tinto, and was introduced to the tannat.  I might be going through a honeymoon period with this grape, but it’s quickly outdoing all other current contesters for favorite red.
HEALTHY pours of wine in Uruguay... and dulce de leche cookies pair just lovely.
Why?  I’m not sure yet… but it’s something to do with this beautiful mix of dusty fruit and earthiness – that hints at spice, oaky aging and story.  My new attraction for the wine landed me in this same wine café two days ago, where curiosity got the better of me amongst the hand-picked selections hanging from their holders along the wall, and I asked, “Perdon, pero que es, un tannat?”

The store owner – a woman about my age, dark with flawless skin and fantastic earrings – smiled back at me and launched in to what I’m sure was the most eloquent dissertation of the history of tannat… of which I could glean about thirty percent.  Alas, I’ve not yet mastered the Spanish language (far from it really).  She must have seen the confusion on my face.

“Are you English?”

“Yes.” I responded with a half-laugh and smile.  Never mind that I'm actually American… I just feel a bit of (albeit quasi-guilty) relief to hear the nuances unfold in a language I understood.

And she launched in to her story again, this time in English. 

Turns out the tannat was a grape originally grown in France, but it had made its way across the Atlantic grace à the Basques during the early 19th Century.  Over time, the grape eased out of French wine commercialism, nearly forgotten, while it’s ex-patriated family adapted, rooted and flourished in the Uruguayan countryside.  It wasn’t until the late 20th Century that the grape was rediscovered and heralded a resurgence of the tannat varietal in the wine industry, and quickly into the hearts of neighboring countries – Argentina, Peru, and Brazil.  Though not considered the overall best wine produced in Uruguay, the country proudly holds the tannat as its “national grape.”

Opening my first bottle of Tannat... with some deranged metal implement we found in the kitchen.  Oops.
So, I think this is where I’d harken back to phrases like, “When in Rome” to justify my sitting here on a Sunday afternoon luxuriating in the soft tannins and blackberry goodness of a wine flight, while I put fingers to keyboard (unfortunately, that will never sound as eloquent as “putting pen to paper”).  If nothing else, it’s a built in excuse to give myself some space to think and try – or more accurately, mull over the thought of – putting myself in the context of experience.  And I'm not really referring to the wine tasting.

It’s been nearly two weeks since the Sea Dragon hit land, and for being one of the most poignant experiences of my life, finding time and space to write about it – the emotional landing, the emergence back in to a community, the lessons learned and the answers to ‘what’s next’ – is just not happening yet.  And I need to own up to that: I don’t know what to say, quite yet, quite right.  And I’ll get there, I know.  For now, I’m holding all of this – profound, huge, significant, beautiful – in my stomach.  I can feel it there like a rock, and I know sooner or later (pardon the gross analogy) I will puke it up.  

At least I’m coming off 31 days of puking practice to my benefit… I’ve gotta count as a professional at that by now, right?  Time to have a little faith in the process.

Even though I just experienced 31 consecutive days of beautiful sunsets across the Atlantic, the beauty of the sun passing below the horizon never gets any less profound.

Neither does looking down at your feet after you took the picture of the sunset and seeing a plastic bag

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing experience that voyage must have been. I don't have the courage to set sail for that many weeks. But I can relate to the poignancy of a timeless pink & orange sky unfurled above plastic bags, broken sporks, and fishing rope "puked up" along my Maine shore. I mean, it's February. It's freezing. We're nowhere near a great ocean gyre. Yet every week, more debris. Every week. Thx for what you & 5 Gyres are doing.