The wines of South America deliver some of the best values, along with incredible taste. For years we have hoisted glasses of Malbec from Mendoza, lying under the gaze of the mystical Andes Mountains, and cool-climate Pinot Noir from Argentina’s Patagonia region. Chile offers a combination of international favorites growing sandwiched between the Pacific and the Andes, each highlighting the influence of both on the fruit. Nestled on the opposite side of the continent, the South American country of Uruguay is quickly becoming a leader in producing quality wines from the Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, and Tannat varieties, but the quality does not end there.
I visited the country several years ago and fell in love with the wine, the people, and the beauty of Uruguay. Recently, I had a chance to taste several selections with some of the country’s leading producers and continue to be blown away by the wine’s quality.
Today 180 wineries are dotted throughout the country with just over 3 million people. Uruguayan citizens are predominantly descendants of Spain and Italy, with many bringing generations of wine growing and making history with them. Though many are accustomed to making wine in their homes, as they have for generations, beef is the country’s number one industry, without challenge. Uruguay is home to over 111 million livestock, outnumbering the people four to one. Uruguay’s hearty red wines are crafted to pair with the plethora of beefy options available throughout the country. And the locals like their wine. Uruguay currently exports its wine to over fifty countries. Still, most of its production stays in the country for the Uruguay people to enjoy, especially during their Carnival celebration, which lasts 50 days!
The Spanish first brought vines to Uruguay in the 1700s, and today’s wineries are mostly small-scale operations run today by third and fourth-generation families. These families work with traditional processes, with most of the fruit harvested by hand while incorporating modern technologies and practices.
Most of the growing regions for the wines of Uruguay are just inland from the coast, creating a maritime climate. Vineyards are lush and green, and soils are similar to Bordeaux, rich with clay and gravel. The country enjoys moderate temperatures throughout the year thanks to warm winds blowing down from the equator and cold winds blowing up from the South Pole. The result is a continuously balanced climate with a nice amount of rainfall.
Tannat has fared well throughout Uruguay thanks to its easy adaptability, covering almost five thousand of the 15,000 acres planted in the country. Tannat’s origins are historically from France, where the variety produces powerful, tannic red wines with brawny character. The selections from Uruguay carry some of that power but generally deliver softer tannin with more fleshy red and black fruit notes, like selections from Bodega Garzon. With a New World approach, Bodega Garzon Single Vineyard Tannat has a freshness that is somewhat unexpected from the typically robust variety. Balanced and brimming with lush blueberry, black cherry, and plum flavors meld with dried tobacco and vanilla spice.
Showing more of an Old World style, while completely being a New World wine, Antigua Bodega Prima Donna Tannat is grown in pink granite soils, giving an edge of minerality to the bold and vibrant wine. The wine is rich, round, and full-bodied from the fourth generation of the family winery who make several passes through the vineyards to ensure each bunch of grapes is perfectly ripe at harvest.
Though single variety Tannat is most common, wineries like Bodega Artesana create balanced blends utilizing the variety. Artesana Tannat/Merlot/Zinfandel blend brings everything into balance in a well-rounded wine with power and personality. The Merlot eases the strength of its two counterparts, with the Zinfandel adding ripe red and black fruits along with spice and the Tannat adding black fruit flavors and tannin. The wine is aged for 12 months in a mix of French and American oak, enhancing the spicy qualities and balancing the robust nature of the fruit. The end result is a delicious wine ready to enjoy upon release after a bit of decanting.
Though Tannat has become the signature red variety, wineries like Vina Progresso showcase other varieties, like Cabernet Franc. VIna Progresso Cabernet Franc is a lovely, luscious expression of the Bordeaux variety. Layered with typical floral and fruity notes, along with lovely structure, texture, and strength. As a fan of single variety Cab Franc, the wine immediately became a favorite, balancing aromatic notes of purple flowers and toasted spice with blue and black fruit. Bold enough to enjoy with the country’s signature beef dishes and lighter fare, like grilled salmon or poultry.
Red meat dominates the diet of most of the people of Uruguay. However, the coastal country also enjoys a plethora of seafood delights, making white wine options appealing to fish lovers. Don Pascual Coastal White is an Albarino dominant blend with a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The approachable wine is bright, fresh, fresh, and incredibly easy to drink, capturing the classic briny character that coastal Albarino brings, along with fresh white flowers and ripe golden orchard fruit and citrus. Pair with any seafood or shellfish you plan on enjoying tonight.