Bodegas Castillo Viejo CataMayor Tannat 2005
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Bodegas Castillo Viejo CataMayor Tannat 2005 Tasting Notes

While some grapes thrive all over the world, others see the need to emigrate and set up shop elsewhere. The Malbec, long associated with Cahors in southwest France, made a name for itself in far off Argentina. The Tannat grape, used as a blending grape in Cahors but better associated with another southwestern French appellation, Madiran, has accomplished a similar feat in Argentina's next-door neighbor, Uruguay.

Uruguay's climate is Atlantic-influenced, far different from that of Argentina, where most wine regions are inland, upland, and decidedly dry. Bodegas Castillo Viejo, run by the Etcheverry family of French Basque origin, is located in the San José region in the south of the country. In addition to the characteristic Tannat, the 130 hectares produce Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc and Merlot (the last two as either full varietals or in versions blended with Tannat).

Castillo Viejo produces some wood-aged “Reserve” and “Reserve of the Family” wines, Tannat leading in either case, but the wine I enjoyed is from their basic “Classic” line, untouched by wood, and all of $6. The wine is a deep ruby with purple edges, clean on the nose, with aromatic notes of black raspberry, blackcurrant, rosemary, and a note of forest floor I initially recorded as “twigs.” There is plenty of black and red fruit for the palate, led by more black raspberry.

The CataMayor (they say it means “good taste”) is dry, with solid acidity. Tannat, as the name implies, can be overly astringent, but except for some good drying tannins on the finish, this Uruguayan edition cries neither for aging nor for blending (the usual French methods of accessing the deep flavor of Tannat without letting the tannins get the better of the drinker). The wine has oomph, but you don't need a knife and fork to enjoy it.

At the back of the wine, behind the fruit, I felt hints of burnt bitter chocolate and some smoke. These express themselves at the finish, along with the drying tannins. The wine isn't overly long, but neither does it flag at any point. While this is a New World wine by a strictly geographic standard, I consider the style to be rustic Old World.

This is the kind of reliable wine that will reward the drinker with a second glass, even a third. As for food combinations, forget the nouvelle menu and barbecue some grass-fed Uruguayan beef. You'll then do justice to both the wine and the beef.

Verdict: Virile
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food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award



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