Wine of the Week: Intipalka 2009 Ica Valley Tannat

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It wasn't so much the origin of this wine that interested me- it's the last of three samples from Peru reviewed for Wine of the Week. But the varietal, Tannat, is something that I've never tried before on its own.

Tannat is a red grape that was originally grown in the Madiran appellation in southwestern France, but is now grown all over the world -- in Uruguay (where it is considered the national grape), Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Italy, California, Virginia (experimentally), and of course, Peru.

In its native France, Tannat is so tannic that it is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to make it more drinkable, but in South America, the grapes produce wines with softer tannins and fruitier notes. This softer flavor profile allows winemakers in South America to create single-varietal wines from Tannat without needing to blend it.

Other than its drinking characteristics, Tannat has also been linked to heart health and longevity through recent studies by Dr. Roger Corder of the William Harvey Research Institute in London.

This Intipalka Tannat may be less tannic than the French versions of the varietal, but it is still very potent. It's a sucker-punch to the palate from the first sip. There's no wading into this wine - you dive off the cliff immediately. Full of tannins, it's also rounded out with a slight molasses flavor, heavy on the fruit and a big, dry pucker at the end.

With the fluctuating Houston weather and everyone's allergies in full bloom, this red would be ideal, as even people with a stuffy nose (like me when I sampled it) would get plenty of flavor out of one glass. And since the weather seems to be consistently spring-like, there will be plenty of grilled meats on tables soon, and burgers, steaks and lamb off the grill will be a perfect match for this wine.

It's available at Spec's Warehouse for less than $20 a bottle if you're looking for an intense red wine to drink now, in the midst of allergy and grill season, or looking for an affordable red that will age beautifully over the next few years.

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