One country I have been so impressed with in its development over the last two decades is Uruguay. In the past it has been dominated by its larger noisier neighbours, but there has been a quiet wine revolution going on here – particularly in the dynamic easterly Maldonado region.
Sizewise Uruguay is tiny compared to Argentina, Chile and Brazil. Today it has just 5,990 hectares – which is about the same vineyard area as St Emilion in Bordeaux – and a population the same size as Wales. But in South American terms, small is beautiful here in Uruguay with an exciting range of wines now emerging from unusual grape varieties grown on a diverse range of soils.
The great challenge here is high humidity so close to the Atlantic, so vines are often trained higher to ensure aeration around the canopies. Historically the industry has been around Montevideo and in the gently rolling hills of Canelones just inland. This is still the main heartland and home to the country’s oldest vines with the higher altitude subzone of Las Violetas, which the Uruguayans think of as their Grand Cru, renowned for its volcanic and limestone soils.
Pioneers have been searching for less humid spots further east along the coast into Maldonado region, particularly around the popular Ponta del Este tourist hotspot. With a cooler drier climate, but still with constant Atlantic breezes and ancient granite soils – this is Uruguay’s new wine frontier.
It is also Uruguay’s fastest growing wine region. Twenty years ago there was only 20 hectares in Maldonado – today there are 400 hectares with two dozen producers. Many of the big players in the industry now have vineyards here.
Uruguay’s most planted red grape is Tannat – introduced from southern Gascony by Basque settlers into northern Uruguay in 1870. The other popular red grapes here are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Tannat has really found a home in Uruguay – now found in two styles – modern bright fruity Tannat (as made by Vina Eden or Garzon) or traditional more structured powerful styles (as made by Deicas or Bouza). Pablo Fallabrino also makes an extraordinarily good Tannat dessert wine.
Only 25% of Uruguay’s wines are white – with a tiny amount of sparkling. Whilst its most planted white grapes are the less promising Moscatel de Hamburg and Ugni Blanc – and it has over 100 hectares each of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay – the exciting new discovery here is Albarino.
With its combination of granite soils and Atlantic influence, eastern Uruguay is similar to Spain’s Galicia region. So it is hardly surprising that Albarino was introduced here (first planted in Uruguay by Bodegas Bouza) and is doing so well. There may only be 70 hectares so far – but this is definitely the great white grape of the future here.
Maldonado: VINA EDEN BRUT NATURE NV
£27.50 Wanderlust Wines
This small winery created by Brazilian Mauricio Zlatkin is one of Uruguay’s most rated fizz producers – their extra dry traditional method Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend has biscuity nose, zippy freshness with lemon peel and peach notes.
Maldonado: CERRO DEL TORO CHARDONNAY RESERVA 2021
£17.99 Wines of Uruguay
Japanese-owned Cerro del Toro winery does unoaked Chardonnay rather well – with bright citric fruits, leesy creamy mouthfeel and vibrant acidity.
Maldonado: GARZON SINGLE VINEYARD ALBARINO 2021
£26 Hic Winemerchants; Fine Wine Musselburgh
Bodegas Garzon, an exciting new winery created by Argentine millionaire Alejandro Bulgerhoni. make superb Albarino at all price levels – this is their premium slightly oaked version with layers of flavours, fabulous leesy texture and peachy richness on palate and length.
Maldonado: GARZON SINGLE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2017
£24 Fine Wine Musselburgh
Another dazzling success for Bodegas Garzon who have tamed the tricky Pinot Noir grape. Here aged 15 months in large old French oak, this single vineyard example is beautifully balanced with rich warm red fruits and succulent rounded mouthfeel.
Montevideo: BOUZA ‘SIN BARRICA’ TANNAT 2020
£21 Field & Fawcett; Jeroboams
From one of Uruguay’s leading and most innovative wineries, Bodegas Bouza. This is a youthful unoaked Tannat showing its black fruit, clove and herby notes
Canelones: DEICAS EXTREME VINEYARDS ‘SUELO INVERTIDO’ TANNAT 2018
£25 Wines of Uruguay
Enterprising winemaker Santiago Deicas inverted his soil bringing the limestone subsoil to the surface – deep powerful linear style of Tannat with hints of tropical fruit.
Canelones: PABLO FALLABRINO ‘ALCYONE’ TANNAT NV
£21.99 hf bt Wines of Uruguay; Novel Wines
A big hit at our recent tasting – made from a combination of techniques using Barolo Chinato aromatised style and Marsala-type fortification. Weird and wonderful dark red sweet wine with chocolate, honey, herb and mint notes.
By Rose Murray Brown MW. Published in The Scotsman 1 April 2023
Join Rose’s Escorted Wine Tour to Chile, Argentina & Uruguay in February 2024 www.rosemurraybrown.com