2005 Monterey County Tannat
Tannat •Rocosa Loma Vineyard
California: Monterey County: Santa Lucia Highlands
What We Say
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Unique Wine Alert!
Today’s wine is really something very special. If you have never had Tannat before, you have a unique opportunity to taste a wine that is unlike any other. This wine will challenge your perceptions and enlighten your mind – and palate. Do not miss out, and be sure to read Agent Red’s winemaker interview, below.
Mission Codename: The Bold and the Beautiful
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Secure an allocation of the elusive Tannat from Cambiata Winery
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Cambiata Winery
Wine Subject: 2005 Monterey County Tannat
Winemaker: Eric Laumann
With about 200 acres of Tannat planted in California it is among one of the least harvested grape varietals in the state. Originally planted in the Basque region of Northeast Spain and Southwest France and made famous for the bold red wines of Madiran AOC (at least 40% Tannat) by expert winemakers like Alain Brumont (Chateau Montus), Tannat makes its name as big, rich, chewy and tannic wines. Pure varietal wines from Tannat are deep and dark in color, with firm tannins and exceptional cellar potential.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Dark purple and almost black with an inky core. Dark garnet and purple hues along the edges and one thin legs that are deep in color and hint at the viscosity of this wine when swirled
Smell – Profound aromas of blackberry and raspberry layered on a base of licorice and a mineral-tar component. Earthy aromas of wild brush, floral violets and new oak also complement the solid fruit base of this wine.
Feel – Despite its reputation, this wine is not dominated by its tannins. It is tight and firm with tightly woven tannins but is also rich, chewy and full bodied with good minerality that supports its bold fruit and earthy components. While the tannis are bold, they are not the up-front sort that some big Cabernet Sauvignons present. Rather, the tannins here are tart, zesty and mid-palate
Taste – This wine starts with a bold attack of ripe and tangy blackberries layered over components of new and toasted oak, earthy brush and a hint of spicy pepper
Finish – Despite its bold onset, this wine finishes surprisingly smooth, albeit dry, but with finesse not expected from a Tannat, given its reputation for hardness
Conclusion – The 2005 Cambiata Tannat is an excellent example of a pure varietal wine made from the aggressive Tannat grape. This rendition of the wine reveals its inherent fruit and texture characteristics. As the winemaker says, this wine is perfect for the boldest of meats and ripest of cheeses. We paired this wine with red spicy Moroccan Merguez sausages, grilled lamb chops and shoe-string french fries
Agent Red Reporting -
I had the singular honor to spend an afternoon with Cambiata winemaker, Eric Laumann. Anyone that meets Eric immediately realizes one thing: This is not your typical California wine guy. Instead, Eric strikes me – and this may sound contradictory – as a genius working stiff.
Eric’s approach to winemaking is down to earth. Where some winemakers may describe their work as ‘artisnal’ and ‘passionate’, Eric describes a career pursued with great rigor. While I can appreciate that some winemakers feel passionate about their craft, I find Eric’s attitude very refreshing.
What follows is an extract of an afternoon conversation that I had with Eric recently:
AGENT RED: Hi Eric!
ERIC LAUMANN: Agent Red, welcome!
RED: Thanks, Eric. With harvest fast approaching, I appreciate that you were able to allow me to tag along with you today. Tell me, how did you become a winemaker? Was it a lifelong dream?
ERIC: (chuckles) No. Actually, I had enrolled at U.C. Davis, taking general ed classes, with no major. I only knew at that point that I was the sort of person that was not cubicle bound. I wanted to choose a career that would allow me to breath fresh air and to stay healthy.
RED: Davis’ viticulture program seems like a great choice then.
ERIC: Indeed. That was 25 years ago and today I continue to pursue my career with rigor.
RED: That’s a word I hear a lot of in relation to you…
ERIC: Making wine is about making the best wine that I can make. This is a career for me, it’s my job. It’s everything to me as a professional. I create great wines and if they’re not great, the food that winemaking puts on my table… well, it won’t be as good, will it?
RED: I get it. How would you characterize your winemaking style? Are you a scientist, an intuitive?
ERIC: I listen and I learn. Each new vintage is a progression and I learn from the past. My output is something that I have input into.
RED: Let me say that out loud: Your output is something that you have input into. That’s very interesting. I notice that you did not say that you have control over your output. Is Mother Nature the reason for this?
ERIC: There is an inherent unpredictability to growing, farming and winemaking. The best I can do is impart my experience and work hard to improve my wines.
RED: Speaking of your wines, you seem to have a thing for wines that are – to be blunt – not the most commercially viable. Tell me why?
ERIC: Well, while that may be true, the wines I focus on are meant to broaden, maybe even exponentially, the horizons of wine drinkers. Take my Tannat, for example. It is a wine that is, perhaps, difficult for most people to understand – at first.
RED: How do people first react to the wine?
ERIC: Let me first tell you that people usually react to a wine based on their experience with similar wines. If you are tasting a Pinot Noir, for example, your mind pulls up the Pinot Page and gives you a basis for comparison. Does this Pinot look like others I have seen? or Does it have the terrior-specific characteristics that I am used to?.
RED: I see where you are going with this. Most people din’t even have a Tannat page, do they?!
ERIC: (smiles) That’s right. And that’s a beautiful thing. Its a delight to show a few wines and begin with something more familiar. When I do this, I hear all the usual buzzwords and phrases.
RED: And when you get to the Tannat?
ERIC: They usually give a sniff and a sip – and then…. silence! They begin to really think about the wine. When they realize that they are thinking about the wine, well, they smile. The experience is akin to their first real experiences with tasting wine. Its a great moment, a great change.
RED: And that sums up the Cambiata philosophy, doesn’t it?
ERIC: In a way, yes. The word Cambiata means change, which is a fitting metaphor for my wines as they allow people to change the way that they may view a wine. My wines are something of a reality check!
RED: I’ve heard you say that Tannat may not be for everyone, but I might argue that everyone should try at least one Tannat at least once in their lives. Do you agree?
ERIC: I think that broadening your experience is a great thing. I love to see reactions to my Tannat and I would encourage anyone to try mine and others.
RED: The tannin structure of a Tannat is very different from other wine. Isn’t this one of the things that can make the varietal misunderstood?
ERIC: The tannins are very different. My Tannat has probably twice the tannins of a big Napa Cab, but they reside in a different place on your palate. Where a Cabernet Sauvignon presents its tnnins up-front, Tannat is further back and far more tart and zesty. Tannat provides a lively punch. These things make it a great wine for richer and more oily foods.
RED: Tannat seems to be a best enjoyed with food wine. Is this true, and what sort of pairings would you recommend?
ERIC: It is certainly true. There is a uniqueness to Tannat that is best brought out with food. Or, rather, there are foods that are best complimented by Tannat. The varietal is Basque, so imagine a very oily duck or goose dish, something rich, hearty and heavy. The Tannat has the ability to slice right through and refresh the palate.
RED: I will certainly encourage our Operatives to try this wine. Most of our Operatives consider themselves to be serious about wine and I’m sure that the experience alone will be the reason that many of them try it.
ERIC: This wine is thought provoking. They make you stretch your mind and will challenge your sensibilities – and your palate. That’s my intent with the wines I make.
RED: Mission accomplished, I’d say!
What the Winery Says
Awards & Accolades:
90 Points – Wine Enthusiast – The variety is best known in the French appellation of Madiran, where the wines are inky, tannic and long-lived. Here, California terroir has produced a soft red, in the manner of Napa Cabs, with similar flavors, except for a wild edge of violets and Provençal herbs. An impressive debut.
Double Gold Medal – San Francisco International Wine Competition
About The Wine:
When Tannat is made properly, it is bold yet refined, thought provoking and rousing – an experience that extends beyond the last glass. It has a rich fragrance of violets and brush, like Santa Ana winds over a field of sage. The tannins immediately fill your mouth (and for the uninitiated this might cause a moment of concern) but you’ll see they are knitted and structured and form the matrix that begins to fill with a thick, surging wave of viscous blackberry and licorice fruit. Take another sip alongside a savory roast and you’ll see how the aggressive components in Tannat work to release and accentuate the rich flavors of your meal. For Cambiata Tannat, break out your aged beef, ripest cheese and a contemplative state of mind; the wine’s intensely concentrated flavors, quintessentially indigo red profile and forthright but balanced tannins will reward all three.
Check out the Cambiata Tannat on Wine Library TV
We planted our small Tannat vineyard in the rocky and well drained soils of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The cool growing region means we can harvest grapes that are fully ripe yet still retain the appropriate amount of natural acidity.
The challenge with Tannat is balancing the wine’s fruit and its aggressive tannins. During fermentation we try to accentuate the soft tannins with aerobic pump overs and long macerations. Because Tannat loves oxygen, it took over 24 months of barrel aging before this wine was ready for bottling.
About The Winery:
HISTORY: Cambiata is a small independently-owned winery. For 25 years I have made wine and grown grapes for quality California wineries. In 2002, following the fortunate securement of a long-term Monterey vineyard lease, I decided to produce wines under my own label. Simply, this venture came about from my enjoyment of making wine and the desire to have full control over winemaking and the end result. My intention is to make distinctive wines for wine enthusiasts who appreciate learning about and enjoying great food wines, wines that go beyond the Franco triumvirate of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone.
PHILOSOPHY: By choosing Cambiata for my label, I wanted to work with a concept that broadened the vocabulary of the way that we usually think about wine.
Cambiata in musical language means more than the literal translation of “exchange” or “changed note.” It is the added tonal dimension that occurs when two chords momentarily share properties, so that the transition has greater depth and mellifluence. It was a radical idea back in the sixteenth century and was almost outlawed, along with a large group of polyphonic idioms.
The cambiata is expressed on my label with the idea of divine proportion. People gravitate towards objects or art that incorporate divine proportion: the Parthenon, the Taj Mahal, The Last Supper. These proportions are also common in nature, and, for example, are seen in the rose and the nautilus shell. On the Cambiata label the use of the spiral refers to the recursive shape of the nautilus, and of the recursive character of the wine, elements that continue to appear vintage after vintage, and work to better define, expand and make the terroir more evident—somewhat like the time dimension that’s needed for the musical cambiata to work. Divine proportion, then, is a metaphor for the balance between terroir and wine, where the wine proportionally expresses the vineyard.
I chose “Gradus Ad Parnassum,” the title of Joseph Fux’s 1725 music textbook, as Cambiata’s motto, and this appears on the wine’s label. This pedagogical thesis, translated from Latin under the supervision of Bach and still in print today, was used by Leopold Mozart to teach young Wolfgang Amadeus, his son, the fundamentals of counterpoint—one essential fundamental being the beautifully melodic and vivaciously harmonic Nota Cambiata. “Gradus ad Parnassum” translates as Steps to Parnassus, the mountain of the muses. Fux chose the title to implore his students to rigorously study and practice, to climb the metaphorical mountain. Over vintages, a winemaker’s ability grows with the knowledge he engages. You can make fine wine from the start if you hire good help but to make wine with soul you yourself must study, develop philosophies and rigorously follow those beliefs. “Without method,” Fux writes, “the passionate and the ambitious will remain forever desperately athirst.” This fable carries Fux’s lesson—that the muses will only grant mastery to those who do the climbing.
WINEMAKING AND WINES: I personally survey every row in the vineyard and top every barrel with my own hands. I focus my attention on the meticulous winemaking and farming practices that give rise to wines with distinct character and varietal expression and a clear sense of place. Cambiata wines must be worthy of fine foods and impeccably balanced.
Why Tannat and Albariño? I didn’t set out to plant unfamiliar varietals but when the opportunity arose to plant this small vineyard I found myself drawn to working with varietals that I thought were intriguing and that were relatively unexplored in the U.S. I also wanted to bring some new flavors to the wine enthusiast’s table. Anyone who has tasted Albariño and Tannat from their indigenous appellations is usually a fervent fan. I find them to be remarkable wine varietals that hopefully will have a bright future as the number of wine aficionados continues to grow.
Albariño is just a beautiful grape. It is the customary white wine in northwestern Spain’s fishing villages—not surprisingly, it goes superbly well with seafood. What I like so much about this grape is not just its crisp acidity but also the opulence that develops on the palate. This combination is what makes it so enormously versatile with food. In the nose, the citrus and spice aromas are complex but not overpowering. You could say Cambiata Albariño has forward aromas like Viognier, richness similar to Chardonnay and the crispness of Pinot Gris. Albariño, however, is singular, distinctive, delicious and definitely worth sharing with your best friends.
Tannat means tannin and therein lies the potential and the problem. No other grape seems to be surrounded by as much mysticism as Tannat, as if in its dark tannic depths lives a spirit that will challenge your sensibilities. After drinking this wine, will everything you thought you knew about red wine be suspect? Probably not but as a winemaker, I have never seen a wine behave so independently and imperviously to cellar treatments. When we tried to soften it, it only became tougher. We racked it, we splashed it and we still had to keep moving the bottling date further into the future. After months, we finally started to see the assembling of tannic structure and the emergence of an intense core of blackberry fruit. The results had lived up to Tannat’s reputation. The Pyrenean Basque grape growers hold dear to their old Tannat vines, even though they are so close to Bordeaux. Creating a convincing version of this challenging varietal made me feel that I had a small part in this esteemed old winemakers club.