Thursday, July 25, 2013

What's In Your Cellar, Leslie?

Photo courtesy Artesana Winery
Leslie Fellows
Artesana Winery, Uruguay
Proprietor and Director

I met the charming and well-spoken Leslie Fellows at the recent Wine Bloggers' Conference in Penticton and was intrigued by her story: the California businesswoman who became an owner of a winery 1000's of miles away in Uruguay thanks to an adventurous father and a willingness to take a leap of faith that lead to a drastic career change.

As owner and director of Artesana Winery, a small estate winery in Canelones, Fellows splits her time at the winery and back home in California where she's busy evangelizing the merits of the signature varietal of Uruguay; Tannat. Tannat is an under appreciated grape that is perhaps best described, to the uninitiated, as Malbec with twice the tannin. The star-factor of Tannat is its range. Some producers create easy-going, juice'n'fruit explosions while others produce serious, age-worthy, cellar-dwellers. Fellows' mission is to champion all styles of Tannat and to help develop a place for it in the North American market.

What are your favourite wines to cellar/collect?
As an owner of a winery in Uruguay (Artesana), my favorite wine to collect/cellar (and drink!) is Tannat, the signature varietal of Uruguay. Tannat produces rich, full-bodied wines with dark fruit and spice aromas and flavors. Tannat is from the Madiran region of southwestern France and was brought to Uruguay in the 1870s. It is named for its high tannin content and has been found to be the healthiest of red wines with 3-4 times more antioxidants and an average resveratrol concentration of 4.2. Tannat is the only grape with 5 seeds vs. 3, so it lends itself well to cellaring.

What are your favourite wine regions to cellar/collect?
Canelones is Uruguay's most acclaimed wine region and though Tannat is the main variety grown, other reds include Merlot, Cab Franc and Tempranillo and whites include Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.

What is the purpose of your wine cellar/collection?
We keep a library of all the wines we produce at Artesana and taste through them at least once a year to see how the wine is evolving in the bottle. In addition to Tannat and Tannat-Merlot, we produce Zinfandel, the first and only Zinfandel to be planted and produced in Uruguay. The wines exhibit a classic Zinfandel profile, but expressed in very interesting ways in Uruguay’s distinctive terroir. In 2011 we made a Zinfandel Reserve (18 months in French oak) and a Tannat-Zinfandel-Merlot Reserve (24 months in French oak). 2011 was an historic harvest in Uruguay and the grapes achieved a greater level of ripeness than normal. The Tannat wines and the 2 Reserve wines are delicious now, but are structured to age 10 years or more and will cellar very well.

Is there a jewel of note or a favourite wine in your collection?
One of the best wineries in Uruguay is Bodega Carrau and I have a bottle of their 1998 Amat Tannat that was a gift to me from the winemaker. Bodegas Carrau has been making wine for 10 generations and they have some amazing wines in their library.

What inspired you to hold onto that first bottle or case beyond when it was ready to drink?
I’ve had a few life-changing experiences tasting some older vintages of Grand Crus and was completely amazed at how complex these wines can become with bottle aging. Well-structured Tannats and Cabs are really the only wines I lay down. The fascinating thing about cellaring is to see if and how the wines become more interesting with time.

What causes you to actually pull the trigger on a special bottle from your cellar?
Very special occasions that I want to remember by the wine I drank. In Uruguay when we open a vintage bottle of Tannat for a celebration, it usually includes a parrillada, a Uruguayan BBQ which is an open-flamed grill with every kind of meat you can imagine. Uruguayan beef is all organic by government decree and it pairs beautifully with Tannat.

What advice would you share with anyone wanting to start a collection of wine?
Try a Uruguayan Tannat if you see one. Buy two and cellar one, you’ll find it's one of the most age-worthy red wines. And come to Uruguay for a visit, it’s only 2 hours by ferry from Buenos Aires. You will love the wines and the people, not to mention the gorgeous beaches…it’s an extraordinary country.

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2013

1 comment:

  1. Liam, thanks for the fabulous write up! Hope your readers will try a Tannat from Uruguay. These wines are getting some traction here in the US and I hope you'll start to see some in BC as well. Salud!!