Here is an unusual trip with many surprises: travel through Uruguay and its bodegas, taste some of the best Tannat wines in the world, meet the Uruguayan winemaking families whose welcome is exemplary of kindness and friendliness. Let's admit it, you will not have thought about it. And yet, what beautiful wine discoveries Uruguay has in store for you!
Uruguay is a small South American country, open to the Atlantic Ocean, bordered by two giants, Argentina to the southwest and Brazil to the north. A discreet country whose surface area is equivalent to 1/3 of France and where vines cover about 10,000 hectares for nearly 300 wineries. The vine was introduced in Uruguay in 1874 by Mr Harriague, originally from the Basque country. He brought back to this region of Latin America the emblematic grape variety of south-western France: tannat.
The Uruguayan vineyards are mostly located along the "El rio de la Plata", a huge river bordered by the River Plate.The river is the main river between Uruguay and Argentina, from where the famous cities of Montevideo and Colonia de Sacramento rise. 60% of the national production is located around these two cities. Further north, the province of Salto proudly displays vineyards whose wines regularly win awards in world competitions.
The Stagnari estate produces tannat wines that are recognized worldwide.
Uruguay initiated a turnaround in the 19th century to restore the national wine-growing coat of arms. Since then, the quality is there and the Uruguayan wine growers are organizing themselves to open up to wine tourism by creating the Wine Route in Uruguay. Wonderful initiative for travellers!
Without taking anything away from the south-west and its excellent Madiran wines, it is indisputable that Uruguay is the country of tannat. This French grape variety has found favourite terroirs on the other side of the Atlantic, and we are obliged to recognize it by tasting the excellent wines of the numerous wineries.
Uruguayan tannat bears little similarity to its French cousin. This grape variety, known to be difficult to work, often requires several years of cellaring to express itself. However, tannic wines in Uruguay are very easy to appreciate in their youth. As in France, tannat is rich in tannins and alcohol and it is not uncommon for Uruguayan wines to exceed 14%. Nevertheless, the tannins are very melted, almost silky and the wine gives off an impression of vanilla roundness when aged in barrels. As for the alcohol, it is perfectly balanced thanks to a tart structure which brings back a little freshness in this warm wine, with aromas of fresh black and red fruits, spicy notes and a surprising sweetness.
The Bouza estate, near Montevideo, is an emblematic bodega in Uruguay.
Uruguay's wineries can be immense, spread over several vineyards and in different regions. For example, the Stagnari winery, one of the jewels in the crown of Uruguayan wines, produces wines in the Salto region and in the southern region of Uruguay. In spite of everything, the wineries have managed to remain on a very family-run scale: no mechanical harvesting, no huge fermentation vats, and no over-industrialization of wine in this Latin American country. When we arrive at an estate, we are first of all surprised by the calm and peaceful atmosphere that reigns in the cellars, even during harvest time. The estates are magnificent, the surroundings perfectly maintained, the welcome exemplary in its kindness and conviviality, the wines very pleasant and qualitative. No doubt, one feels incredibly well in the Uruguayan bodegas.
Manon Mouly (for Les Grappes)
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