Uruguay owns one of the strongest national wine markets (with a relatively small population), since the average wine consumption is 35 liter per capita. In addition, Uruguay is the fourth largest wine producer in South America with it’s 8,500 hectares of vineyards, about 270 wineries operating in Uruguay. But – unlike in Chile – only 20 companies export it’s wine.
The first vines were planted in the 17th century by Spanish settlers but the cultivation of the vine began to expand in the second half of the 19th century, following the arrival of other immigrants (mainly Italian and Basque).
Uruguay has a strong agricultural tradition thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate. We may find many pastures here for livestock and poultry. Agriculture mainly produces rice, wheat, soybeans and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
The vineyard occupies only about the 1% of the agricultural area; so this country has a potential for a significant growth in this area and it aims to develop. Thus, since 1990, it has been attuned to international quality standards; 300 bodegas (domains) operate about 10,000 hectares of vineyards and produce 1 million hectoliters of wine per year, of which 20% is exported.
The vine growing is concentrated in the south, to the north from the capital, in the departments of Canelones, San Jose and Florida. There is an increasing number of vineyards in the western part of the country in the departments of Artigas, Salto, Paysandu, Soriano and Colonia and to the north near Brazil in the departments of Rivera and Cerro Largo.
Uruguay’s vineyards are located at the same altitude as it’s neighbors, Argentina and Chile. The climate is oceanic, similar to that of Europe, so the country can produce wines that appeal to the european customer.
On the climate graph, it appears that the temperature and rainfall fluctuate slightly during the year. The summer period is marked by drought. This type of climate can be compared to that of Bordeaux.
The vineyards are mainly located in the north and northwest of Montevideo where the Rio de la Plata brings a moderate heat. The most commonly used varieties for the production of white wine are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier, Muscat and Chardonnay. For red, they prefer Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Syrah and Pinot Noir.
Also called Harriague (it was introduced in Uruguay in 1870 by a Basque immigrant named Pascual Harriague), Tannat is present in almost all the vineyards of Uruguay, and for a good reason. This variety seems to have found here a land that suits him perfectly, promoting a more accessible and velvety expression – therefore less astringent – than it gives in its land of origin called Madiran in the south-western part of France. Later Tannat has spread to Argentina, where it is mainly deployed in the Mendoza and Salta region, while in Chile it is less important.
Tannat is a red grape that offers one of the best concentrations of antioxidants which is deemed to be favorable to health. Since this is rather a full-bodied wine, it is the best to drink with beef, duck or lamb. The best wines can age beautifully (for 10 years, or even more), responding well to barrel aging. Tannat has a deep color and it’s high in tannins and it do not mind if it gets blended with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon or even with Braucol.
The Tannat can be characterized with an extremely low tannin structure. This may be more present at low yield, but of course in a mature form. It needs some micro-oxidation and polymerization of tannins to become a more complex, more friendly but especially nicer wine. The smart “tannin management” influences the wine in a good way, which conquers primarily with primeur aromas.
Like the Carmenère is identified in Chile and the Malbec chose Argentina as the terroir of predilection, one can only note that the very successful acclimatization of the Tannat to the climate and soil of Urugay made it the emblematic grape of this country. As far as we know, there is no Tannat anywhere else in South America. It can be vinified alone or sometimes in combination with other varietals such as Merlot or Syrah.
In the next few lines we will explore the top six wines of Uruguay:
6. Pisano Rio de los Pajaros 2011
A smoky nose opens the ball. On the palate, sweet tannins are present but without aggressivity. The success of this wine lies in the aging between five and eight months in barrels. One of the flagship wines of this area created in 1924. Enjoy with an original piece of beef from Uruguay.
5. Artesana, Tannat 2011
After aging a year in oak barrels, this wine opens with a floral and fruity register. A round palate, with silky tannins which bring elegance and precision. The estate was created by an American family in 2007 and the wines are vinified by an Uruguayan winemaker. Artesana is located on an 80-acre estate in Las Brujas in the Canelones region, 30 miles north of Uruguay’s seaside capital of Montevideo.
Canelones is the premier winegrowing region in Uruguay and home to the majority of the country’s vineyards. Artesana wines are sold in select shops and restaurants in Uruguay, Brazil, the US, Canada and Europe. The winery is open to the public and offers tastings, tours and lunches.
4. Bouza, 2011 B6
B6 is the name of the parcel situated in the vineyard of Las Violetas. The sixteen months of new French oak barrels are fully integrated. We find aromas of coffee, mocha, with round and smooth tannins. Enjoy with a Guanaja dark chocolate. Bouza winery is famous about preparing terroir wines, i.e. They let the specific growing area talk through the wines
3. Domaine Narbona
Only 15 kilometers from Carmelo, in Rio de la Plata Bay, the Narbona area covers 50 hectares of vineyards. Here, the Tannat is vinified according to the advices of the French oenologist Michel Rolland since 2011. Their Pinot Noir is really remarkable! Like many great Uruguayan wineries place here the wine tourism is chic and innovative! You will find beautiful hotel rooms and a restaurant serving the best local products. The breeding of lambs and beefs are common in the region, as well as cheeses with names that will not be strange for you: camembert and brie!
2. Antigua Bodega Stagnari
Founded in 1928, the old winery´s construction still remains as in its origins. Nevertheless, their owners are always moving towards new technologies in order to reach the highest levels of wine production. Stagnari produces today 140,000 litres of various types of wine, exporting every fifth bottle out of the country to destinations like Brazil, Mexico, Belgium and Sweden.
1. Alto de la Ballena
When the wine-loving couple bought land on a gently sloping hill in the Maldonado region in March 2000, there wasn’t a single vineyard in the area. “We had no idea what we were doing,” Paula told me. “We were wine enthusiasts who just decided to buy some land.” Fast-forward 15 years: They’re now producing about 50,000 bottles of wine (approximately 5,000 cases) per year.
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