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Uruguay II: Exciting New Producers, Promising New Regions

2013 June 24

New plantings in Garzón, north of Punta del Este

New plantings in Garzón, north of Punta del Este


Boom Economy Drives Wine Industry Investment

Uruguay is smaller in size than the State of Washington. Its population, 88% of which is of European descent, is only just under 3.5 million (Washington has twice that many people). What you do find in Uruguay in enormous numbers is cattle. Uruguay has an estimated 20 million cows.

Cattle were first introduced to Uruguay in 1603, long before it became an independent state, by the Spanish Governor of Buenos Aires. Uruguayan beef—grass fed, free ranging—is considered some of the best in the world. Although Uruguayans eat a great quantity of beef themselves and are real connoisseurs of the stuff, the vast majority of that meat gets exported. By recent estimates, beef was responsible for over one-third of the nation’s export dollars.

Along with beef, the other kinds of agricultural commodities Uruguay produces—soy, wheat, milk and dairy products, rice and cellulose—have climbed in value in recent years. Uruguay has also been blessed with a stable government, progressive social welfare policies and a growing economy for over two decades.

Uruguay is a prosperous banking center for Latin America. Education here is free through university level. Primary and secondary school children all receive laptops courtesy of the government. In other words, the standard of living is remarkably high and the country’s stability also attracts investments from wealthy individuals living in less stable neighboring countries.

This booming economy—which grew by 8% per year during most of the last decade–was certainly the most dramatic change in the country since I spent time there 26 years ago. Back then, many of the people I socialized with were making less than $5,000 per year.

Another measure of the financial improvement in the country is how weak the dollar is there now. My favorite culinary treat in Uruguay, which I enjoyed virtually every day I spent there in the ‘80s, is the national sandwich called the chivito. It is made of thinly sliced beef, usually the lomo cut, stacked with lettuce, tomato, Canadian bacon, mozzarella, fried egg and other garnishes, if you want, and served in a delicious fresh and light bun. Despite everything packed in there, a good chivito somehow always tastes light and succulent to me. In the ‘80s, these culinary gems used to cost me between $1 and 1.50, an amazing bargain given the quality and deliciousness of the ingredients. Now they run $12 to $15. Even a combo meal at McDonald’s now runs over $9 in Uruguay.

a chivito at American Bar in in Nueva Helvecia

a chivito, from American Bar in in Nueva Helvecia


The prosperity and favorable climate for investments in the country are clearly helping to drive the rapid and dramatic improvement in wine quality there.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this report, most of Uruguayan wine has traditionally been produced in and around its major population center—the area around Montevideo and the department of Canelones. There the soils are rich, leading to high vigor and overproduction in the absence of rigorous vineyard management. The Carrau family pioneered in developing vineyards in the north of the country, along the Brazilian border, where poor, red sand soils help restrain the vigor and provide lots of good drainage for Uruguay’s high annual rainfall.

We visited two other areas—in the west near the Argentine border and to the east near the Atlantic coast–that are also seeing significant new plantings.

The area with perhaps the greatest potential is located along the Atlantic coast in the department of Maldonado in the country’s southeast. This area encompasses the prosperous resort cities of Punta del Este and Piriapolis. Here the soils are poorer and there are lots of low lying hills that can provide good drainage. We also visited the Carmelo area lying near the Argentine border and the river Uruguay. This area has a lot of calcareous soils, but is a lot warmer than Maldonado.

The five producers that are the focus of the remainder of this report are all relatively new—dating back to the mid-‘90s at the earliest. Unlike the longtime producers profiled in part 1, all of which are Uruguayan owned, two of these wineries are owned by wealthy Argentines while another has an American proprietor. All have had the benefit of consulting with and learning from foreign wine experts, including such famous “flying winemakers” as Michel Rolland and Alberto Antonini. Unlike some of the longstanding wineries, which still produce large quantities of table wine in addition to quality wine, all five of these new producers are focused exclusively on making quality wine. All five are achieving impressive results, further demonstrating the tremendous promise of the Uruguayan wine industry.

Alto de la Ballena

view from Alto de la Ballena in Maldonado

view from Alto de la Ballena in Maldonado


A 1992 study of Uruguay by Spanish viticultural specialist Dr. Luis Hidalgo indicated that the southeastern sector of Uruguay, including the province of Maldonado, was ideal for growing wine grapes. Wife and husband Paula Pivel and Alvaro Lorenzo were the first to act on this recommendation when they purchased their virgin land here in 2000.

Their property, only a few kilometers from the sea and close to Lake Laguna del Sauce, comprises almost 20 hectares on the Sierra de la Ballena. They call their project Alto de la Ballena, which means “whale heights.”

The rocky soils here are made up of gravel, limestone and weathered granite with some quartz and schist. The steep slopes provide good drainage. The climate here is moderate, with a broad range of temperatures and cool nights during the ripening period.

Paula Pivel and Alvaro Lorenzo

Paula Pivel and Alvaro Lorenzo


Paula is an electronic engineer who used to work for Citibank and who has completed a two-year oenology program. Alvaro is a lawyer. The couple both love Merlot, especially from the Right Bank in Bordeaux, so that was meant to be the focus of their plantings, in 2001 and 2002, along with Cabernet Franc. It turned out, however, that other grapes, especially Syrah and Tannat, did very well here too. Their first harvest was 2005 and their first wines were released in 2007. The Merlot turned out well, but they began to realize the world is already awash in Merlot.

They planted Syrah at the vineyard’s highest point, 112 meters above sea level. They had originally planted Viognier to co-ferment with the Syrah, for a Côte-Rôtie style wine. Their winemaker, Soldedad Mello, who had been assistant winemaker for Chile’s Veramonte, tried blending some of the Viognier with Tannat. On a suggestion from California’s La Crema, they co-fermented the Tannat with the Viognier skins, keeping the juice separate and blending it back later. They made only 800 bottles of the 90% Tannat, 10% Viognier the first year, but the results were so exceptional, they produced 4,000 bottles the next year. They then grafted some of the Merlot over to Tannat and some of the Cab Franc to Viognier.

They now have 11 hectares planted—8.5 on the parcel we visited and an additional 2.5 on a nearby hill. Their viticultural consultant is New Zealander Duncan Killiner, based in Mendoza, who also advises the Pizzornos profiled in Part 1.

new plantings at Alto de la Ballena

new plantings at Alto de la Ballena


The current plantings are predominantly Tannat, at five hectares, with 2.7 of Merlot, 1.1 of Cabernet Franc, 1.2 of Viognier and less than one of Syrah. The plants are spur pruned using the Royat cordon system of training. They produce up to 55,000 bottles per year, 25% of which they export to Brazil, Mexico, Sweden and the U.K.

I am very excited about these wines. They made a delicious and characterful 2012 rosé from Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The 2008 Cabernet Franc Reserva was good, but the 2009, which we tasted pre-release, is excellent. Even more outstanding is the 2010 Tannat-Viognier Reserva, which I rated 93+ points.

Cetus is the name of their icon wine, a Syrah. It is very impressive, complex and delicious—94 points in my book. They also made a port-style wine from Cab Franc in 2011 that was remarkably good. This is definitely a project to watch, and one very much deserving of U.S. distribution, which it will soon receive from a company called Face to Face Wines based in Los Angeles.

Artesana

This is a relatively new project founded by an American, Blake Heinemann. Blake is originally from California but now lives in Philadelphia, where he is a vice president at Sunoco. Blake’s niece Leslie Fellows, who lives in Santa Cruz, California, manages the project, along with its two winemakers. What is distinctive here is the California feel to the wines and Uruguay’s first Zinfandel bottlings.

Artesana winemakers Analía Lazaneo and Valentina Gatti

Artesana winemakers Analía Lazaneo and Valentina Gatti

The two winemakers who collaborate to make these wines are Valentina Gatti and Analía Lazaneo. Valentina worked at Simi and Frank Family in California for two years, so she knows her way around Zinfandel. Analía worked at Bouza, another new producer summarized below, for three years. That’s where she met Blake in early 2007. Together they began planting the vineyards for Artesana in September 2007.

Blake owns a total of 33 hectares in the Canelones region, 30 miles north of Montevideo, and 8.5 hectares are currently planted. They obtained the Tannat and Merlot budwood from France, and the Zinfandel from a nursery in Uruguay. The vines are grafted to a few different rootstocks—3309, 101-14, 504—and they ferment the grapes from the different rootstocks separately. Sustainable, low-input, dry farming is practiced using the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Vines are pruned to six shoots per plant, one cluster per shoot, to produce low yield, highly concentrated fruit, at approximately 2.2 tons per acre.

Their first vintage was 2010, and their first Zin was produced in 2011. These are big, full-bodied, rich wines, which might well be mistaken for Napa reds in a blindtasting. My favorites were the 2011 Zinfandel Reserva, which is complex and tasty, wearing its 15.8% alcohol remarkably well, and the rich and powerful 2011 Tannat-Zin-Merlot blend. I rated both 92 points. The 2011 Tannat and Tannat-Merlot were also quite good in a rich, concentrated style. The 2012 Zin, which is only sold in Uruguay, was quite herbaceous and lighter in body by comparison.

They are currently producing 20,000 bottles annually and plan to ramp up to 60,000 in the next two to three years. Epic is the distributor for these wines, which can be found throughout California. From the packaging, I had, in fact, originally thought these were California wines when I first saw them on shelves here.

Bouza
The Bodega Bouza Boutique was started by Juan and Elisa Bouza in 1998 when they bought an abandoned winery with its surrounding property in the town of Melilla, near Montevideo. They also purchased vineyards in Las Violetas, and planted additional vines both there and in Melilla, so that they now have a total of about 25 planted hectares–10 near the winery in Melilla and 15 in Las Violetas. Both vineyards are planted to five grapes: Albariño, Chardonnay, Merlot, Tannat and Tempranillo. Some of the original vines at Las Violetas are now about 30 years old.

The Bouzas made a lot of money from selling their frozen food business and still own a profitable pre-cooked frozen bread enterprise. They put some of those proceeds toward lovingly restoring the old winery, and toward building a very attractive restaurant on the property, which also includes an old luxury railroad car and a small automobile museum. They brought Dr. Eduardo Boido on board as winemaker in 2002.

Eduardo makes wine for his own family’s winery, Viñas del Sur, and studied oenology, followed by doctorate studies in chemical engineering at the University of Uruguay. His thesis was on the effect of malolactic fermentation on aromatic compounds in wine. He also collects Uruguayan stamps from the period 1864-1866, which includes the time of the Uruguayan Civil War.

Eduardo Boido explaining placement of rocks under the vines

Eduardo Boido explaining placement of rocks under the vines


Eduardo’s innovations at Bouza include placing small red rocks, quarried about five kilometers away, under the vines to reflect sunlight upward. He also locates the shoot positions lower to the ground than is usually the case. According to Eduardo, the stones reflect 30% more light onto the grape clusters while the lower shoots are responsible for about 10% additional light. As a result, he claims they don’t need to remove so many of the leaves from the canopy, and can work with less herbicide. He also believes the additional light helps the grapes develop more aroma producing compounds and polyphenols. All the new plantings use vertical shoot positioning (VSP).

The winery is now producing about 120,000 bottles per year. They are also starting a project near Pan de Azaucar in eastern Uruguay where they are planting Pinot Noir and two clones of Alsatian Riesling, along with additional Chardonnay, Merlot and Tannat vines. They are starting with five hectares there and plan to go to 15.

The clone of Tannat most commonly found in Uruguay is 398, and that is what they currently have planted. Eduardo is also testing 717, which appears to have more resistance to botrytis and smaller leaves. The roostock is 3309.

The vinification room in the remodeled winery, which was originally built in 1942, contains oak foudres, coated INOX cement tanks and stainless steel tanks. It is entirely temperature controlled. Eduardo explains that they pick the grapes at night, and they are delivered to the winery in the early morning. It then takes about four hours to fill the tanks after sorting and destemming.

Eduardo favors concrete tanks for long macerations, which often last 12-14 days, and up to 25-28 days for the Merlot and Tempranillo. The number of pumpovers and punch downs they perform depends on the grape variety. With Tannat which is naturally intensely tannic, they start with only two pumpovers and one punch down per day. Maloloactic generally occurs in barrel. Only part of the Chardonnay goes through malolactic fermentation; in 2012 it was 50%.

They use approximately 30% new oak each year. About 60% of that is French and 40% American. The Chardonnay is partly fermented in oak, while the Albariño is mainly fermented and raised in tank. The Chardonnay and Merlot are raised in French oak, while the Tempranillo is aged in American oak. The Tannat is typically aged partly in American and partly in French oak.

Bouza’s wines are impressive, big and rich. The Albariño is very aromatic and balanced, with crisp acidity. It sees only 15% oak, and spends three months on the lees with batonnage. The Chardonnay has lovely, firm texture and lots of appealing flavor. The Merlot is complex and quite delicious, with a sense of salinity. The Tannats were, however, the star of a strong lineup for me, with the delicious, complex and very rich single parcel bottling, the B2, coming in at 95 points for me. The A6 bottling was almost as strong at 94+ points.

Bouza parcella unicas

Bouza parcella unicas


Also impressive are the single parcel Tempranillo bottling, B15, which was reminiscent of the modern style Rioja wines produced by the Eguren family, and a blend of Tannat, Merlot and Tempranillo named in honor of Uruguay’s capital—“Monte Vide Eu.” That last bottling is comparatively low in alcohol at 13.8%. The other reds run to as much as 16%, in the case of the A6 Tannat, but their structure keeps the high alcohol from seeming out of balance. Bouza also produces grappas—one from Tannat pumice and the other from Tempranillo. Both were quite good, but they are made in small quantities and I doubt they will ever be distributed to the U.S.

A higher percentage of the Bouza wines are exported than is generally the case with Uruguayan producers. They are definitely the most widely available here at the moment of the five producers profiled here. Currently 40-50% of the production is exported, to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, England, France, Belgium, Spain and Australia. In the U.S., the wines are distributed in New England by The Imported Grape; in the South, Midwest and on the West Coast they can be obtained through Southern Wine Group out of Bend, Oregon.

Eduardo responded to my question about what wines inspire him by listing the Merlots of Pomerol; Pinot Noirs from Oregon (which he has tasted a lot in gearing up for the new plantings in Pan de Azucar); the Rioja wines Roda I and II; and also Montus Tannat-based Madirans, though he finds them very different from the Tannat produced in Uruguay.

Garzón

New producer Bodega Garzón’s massive plantings are audacious and breathtaking by Uruguayan standards. The owner, Argentine oil and gas billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni, hired former Antinori chief winemaker Alberto Antonini in 2007 to advise on where and what to plant to make wine in Uruguay. Antonini, who was reportedly impressed by what he tasted from Alto de la Ballena, recommended Bulgheroni purchase additional land in the Maldonado Department north of Punta del Este lying on slopes above a vast amount of land Bulgheroni had already acquired there for cattle ranching and the planting of olive trees. This bucolic area is called Garzón, and Bulgheroni’s Agroland S.A. enterprise now owns a total of about 10,000 acres there.

new plantings at Garzón

another view of vineyards at Garzón


This is Uruguay’s coldest region, with sandy soils and low lying hills providing lots of slopes for drainage—a vital necessity as the area receives about 47 inches of rain per year. They started by planting 40 hectares, but the plantings now stand at 200 and they plan to add at least 40 hectares more. These plantings are made up of 1,000 plots of less than one-half hectare each.

Bulgheroni has recently invested in the wine business in a big way since he started by acquiring a half interest in Argentina’s Bodega Vistalba. He bought Renwood in California’s Sierra Foothills in 2011, followed by the purchase of two Italian properties early this year—Dievole in Chianti Classico and Poggio Landi in Montalcino. He also recently acquired another Argentine brand, Bodega Argento, and is rumored to be looking for a Napa acquisition. This year he formed an international wine distribution enterprise called Blends, which will have divisions in the U.S., based in Napa; in Europe and Asia, with headquarters in London; and Central and South America based out of Mendoza.

Besides the spectacular new plantings on the slopes in Garzón, which vaguely resemble the rolling hills of Chianti to me, this property includes a winding river, exotic wildlife and a very attractive winery visitors center. They are constructing a massive three-story gravity flow winery of which two stories will be underground, aiming to complete it in time for wine production by December of this year. The new winery’s flat, terraced roofs will be planted with grass to offset emissions and reduce heat transmission. Solar panels will generate 40% of the winery’s total energy requirements.

Bodega Garzón visitor center

Bodega Garzón visitor center


Agroland S.A. has also planted 4,000 hectares of olive trees in four departments of Uruguay, including 550 hectares near the winery, and bottles some delicious olive oil under the label Colinas de Garzón. The whole operation includes cattle ranching, an almond grove, pecans, chestnuts, honey, blueberries, cherries, other fruits, forestry, dairy farms, wind energy, and did I mention the golf course? All in all, employment is being provided to about 1,000 people.

We toured the property and tasted the wines and olive oils with Export Manager Nicholas Kovalenko, who told us that, like me, Antonini is not a fan of natural cork. For the whites and rosés, then, they are using screwcaps, while the reserve whites and Tannat reserve are sealed with Diam closures.

The winery’s first vintage was 2010. The focus right now is on aromatic whites and Tannats. Antonini reportedly wants to wait until the vines have some age on them before coming up with an icon wine. The potential of this massive, beautiful and carefully designed new vineyard seems quite extraordinary. As it is, the whites are already showing well, especially the minerally and crisp Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc.

Narbona

Juan de Narbona was a Frenchman who came to the Carmelo region of Uruguay to work in the quarries. He built a home there in 1909. In 1920 he imported grape varieties from France and planted a vineyard. He made wine in the basement of his home. In 1950, he returned to France and the vineyards and winery were basically abandoned until Argentine hotelier and real estate developer Eduardo “Pacha” Cantón decided to get into the wine business by purchasing the property in 1990.

Cantón replanted the vineyards from 1994 to 1996. He and his wife not only restored the Narbona home and winery as a small hotel and tourist attraction, but also renovated an old general store on the property into a farm-to-table themed fine restaurant, which seems to be doing very good business. Among other things, they make their own cheeses at Narbona—in the style of buffalo mozzarella, brie, blue and parmesan–receiving a daily supply of milk from 100 cows.

They made their first vintages of wine under the Narbona label at Irurtia, summarized in part 1, with Marcelo Irurtia acting as winemaker. In 2009, they completed a new winery on the property and hired the lovely and talented Valeria Chola as their winemaker.

Valeria Chola

Valeria Chola


Valeria received her oenology education in Montevideo before spending two years in Italy. On her return from Italy, she worked with her father in her family’s vineyard and winery. She also worked for six months in 2004 at Miner Family Winery in Napa. Valeria is articulate, knowledgeable and dedicated, as well as being a very unaffected beauty. One of my two American writer companions, W. Blake Gray, suggested Wines of Uruguay would do well to employ Valeria as its spokesperson. She would make a very appealing “face” of Uruguayan wine.

In 2011, Cantón contracted with Michel Rolland’s consultancy firm, EnoRolland, based in Mendoza, both to advise on the wines in general but also to design a line of premium wines for the brand. Members of EnoRolland visit about a dozen times a year. The first bottling of premium wine they have created for a line called Luz de Luna (meaning “moonlight”) is a 2011 Tannat.

When Cantón replanted in the mid-‘90s, his team did so with the same varieties Juan de Narbona had originally planted—nine acres of Tannat and one of Pinot Noir. They also used the Lyra trellising system prevalent in the area. In 2009, the year Valeria came on board, they planted five more hectares, to Syrah, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo, using VSP vine training. They also planted three hectares in Maldonado , where the grapes typically ripen two weeks later than in Carmelo, to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier.

Lyra trained vines at Narbona

Lyra trained vines at Narbona


Valeria explained that each year, they choose one of those white varieties from which to make a white wine, and sell off the rest of the grapes.

I thought the line up was very good here, especially the delicious 2010 Tannat Roble, which is rich and savory and just begging to be paired with Uruguayan grass fed beef. The Luz de Luna Tannat, the one designed by Rolland’s team, is good in a big, rich, international style, with coffee oak flavors. The Pinot Noir is strong, complex and structured, and the Tannat rosé was also quite good, with intense and unusual herbal flavors.

Originally they planned to produce only about 10,000 bottles, but that has now expanded to 60,000. Most of that is to be exported, to Brazil, Peru, Australia and the U.S.

Finca Narbona restaurant

Finca Narbona restaurant


Finca y Granja Narbona would be a delightfully relaxing vacation venue for those looking to spend quiet time surrounded by vines, in luxury accommodations, with a fine restaurant just several steps away. We also saw lots of bright green parrots in the area, reminding me that the name Uruguay in the indigenous Guaraní language means “river of painted birds”

Viña Progreso

This is the project of Gabriel Pisano, son of Eduardo Pisano, one of the brothers that own and run the great Pisano winery summarized in part 1 of this report. Gabriel studied oenology at the Uruguayan Vine & Wine School, and then worked harvest with David Ramey in California and with Michel Rolland at Clos Apalta in Chile. He also spent time working with South African winemakers Beyers Truter and Dany De Wet, and ended up at Mas Doix in Priorat before returning home and starting the Viña Progreso project in 2006. The first “official” vintage of this project was 2008.

Gabriel Pisano

Gabriel Pisano


Gabriel–who is a handsome and charismatic 30-year-old–lives in a very old house in the middle of the original Pisano vineyard. He calls his project an “experimental winery.” He does seem busy trying out a lot of different methods of vinification. Among other things, he has produced a sparkling Tannat using méthode champenoise that is reminiscent of the better Australian sparkling Shirazes. He used Amarone, Recioto and Port-making techniques to create the rich liquor de Tannat, called EtXe Oneko, for his uncles’ Pisano label.

At Mas Doix, where they often ferment in very small batches so as not to mix grapes from different lots, Gabriel learned the labor intensive “open barrel” technique. This involves removing two rings from a barrel, opening the staves and removing the barrel head, so as to be able to ferment with the top open. Once the fermentation is completed, they remove the wine and reassemble the barrel. That’s how he made the Tannat-based wine called Sueños de Elisa, which is spectacularly lush and flavorful.

Suenos de Elisa label

Sueños de Elisa label


Elisa is Gabriel’s aunt, the wife of Daniel Pisano. She is the artist responsible for the striking artwork on Gabriel’s labels.

Gabriel refers to two lines of wine he makes: “underground,” the experiments he creates in very small quantities and mainly drinks with family and friends, and “overground,” the wines made in small quantities, but enough to export and sell to exclusive Uruguayan restaurants. These include wines he makes from varieties less commonly found as varietal bottlings in Uruguay, like Sangiovese, Petit Verdot and Viognier.

While visiting with the Pisanos, I got to taste four of the Viña Progreso wines and a barrel sample of the Viognier. They were all fascinating, very good wines, with the 2010 Cabernet Franc and 2011 Sueños de Elisa being quite exceptional.

Gabriel produces a total of about 50,000 bottles a year, most of which are currently exported primarily to Brazil, Canada, Germany, Norway and Sweden. I am dying to see them imported here.

Other Newer Producers and Uruguay’s Budding Wine Culture

Although we spent one night near Punta del Este and another at Finca Narbona on the outskirts of Carmelo, most of our stay was at a wine-themed hotel called MySuites in the Pocitos district of Montevideo. There each of the floors is named after one of Uruguay’s larger wineries, and winetastings are regularly offered in the bar. It is a lovely modern hotel, with very spacious and well appointed rooms.

MySuites Wine Hotel in Montevideo

MySuites Wine Hotel in Montevideo


Since we usually returned to the hotel only in time to get some sleep and had already sampled the wines on offer at the bar for that month during our winery visits, I didn’t do any tastings at the hotel. On my last evening in Montevideo, however, I made my way to a wine bar in the old town area called Corchos Wine Bistro and Boutique.

I was hoping merely to sample wines from a couple more producers we weren’t going to have time to visit, but had the great fortune of encountering Juan Vázquez there. It turns out Juan not only is the proprietor of Corchos but also co-author with Greg de Villiers of a new Guide to the Wineries and Wines of Uruguay, published by Grupo Planeta.

Juan Vázquez at Corchos

Juan Vázquez at Corchos


Juan gave me further perspective on Uruguay’s growing and improving wine industry, along with a copy of his guide, which contains text in both Spanish and English. The guide is a slim 125 pages but packed with useful maps and up-to-date info about what is offered for visitors at each of the wineries included. The guide also makes a brief attempt to define a set of wine regions for Uruguay, but I have a feeling there will be years of wrangling and study ahead before any such demarcations gain official recognition.

The guide includes ratings—from one to three bunches of grapes—for wines that were submitted by wineries to a panel of experts, including sommeliers and a wine writer, that tasted wines for the guide. From the guide’s ratings, it looks like the three best rated producers my colleagues and I did not visit on this trip are Castillo Viejo, H. Stagnari and Viña Varela Zarranz. I did, however get to try a couple of wines from both Stagnari and Varela Zarranz, as detailed in my complete tasting notes below.

Juan and his co-author profiled 33 wineries for this first edition of the Guide. Juan told me they hope to expand the number of wineries included in next year’s edition to about 70, as that is the approximate number now registered as producing one or more wines of the quality level Vino de Calidad Preferente (VCP). I think it’s a great sign of Uruguay’s burgeoning wine culture not only that it has a new guide to visiting its wineries, for both Uruguayan and foreign tourists, but also that the ranks of would be fine wine producers are growing at such a fast pace.

Between the five additional wines I tasted at Corchos and a few more enjoyed during a couple of meals with Wines of Uruguay CEO Gustavo Magariños Pagani, I managed to sample wines from four producers that we didn’t visit. The tasting notes for those wines are included at the very end of this report, right below my notes for the wines of the five producers summarized above. All were of good quality, but the best for me were a Marsanne Reserva from De Lucca and a Roble Tannat from Quinta Santero.

Alto de la Ballena

Alto de la Ballena wines

Alto de la Ballena wines

  • 2012 Alto de la Ballena Rosé – Uruguay, Maldonado (4/13/2013)
    Medium cranberry red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; earthy, tart currant, charcoal nose; charcoal, tart currant, dried cranberry, sanguine palate with medium acidity and grip; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; 60% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot) 91+ points

  • 2010 Alto de la Ballena Tannat-Merlot-Cabernet Franc Sierra de la Ballena – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Saturated very dark red violet color; mocha, espresso, tar, paprika nose; intense, dried currant, tar, charcoal, iodine palate with character and good acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 50% Tannat, 35% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc; Tannat aged 9 months in American oak) 90 points

  • 2008 Alto de la Ballena Cabernet Franc Reserva Sierra de la Ballena – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Deep ruby color; appealing, tart plum, tart berry, light bay leaf nose; tight, intensely flavored, tart black fruit, tar, dried currant nose; dried currant, tar, pepper, charcoal, tart cherry palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol; 12 mos in French oak) 91 points

  • 2009 Alto de la Ballena Cabernet Franc Reserva Sierra de la Ballena – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Pre-release (July 2013 release): saturated very dark ruby color; mocha, rich black fruit, dried black fig nose; tasty, rich, espresso, tart black fruit, tart currant palate with near medium acidity; good now but could benefit from 2+ years bottle age; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 92+ points

  • 2010 Alto de la Ballena Tannat/Viognier Reserva Sierra de la Ballena – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Opaque maroon color; very appealing, aromatic, blueberry, floral, tart berry, mulberry nose; very tasty, tart berry, tart blackberry, tart mulberry, dried berry, tar palate with salinity; good now but could benefit from 2-3 years bottle age; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol; 85% Tannat, 15% Viognier; 9 mos in American oak) 93+ points

  • 2008 Alto de la Ballena Merlot Reserva – Uruguay, Maldonado (4/13/2013)
    Saturated very dark red violet color; complex, dried fig, chocolate, baked berry nose; tight, rich, tart berry, dried berry palate; could use 2 years bottle age; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol; 2 mos in French oak) 90+ points

  • 2010 Alto de la Ballena Syrah Cetus – Uruguay, Maldonado (4/13/2013)
    Saturated very dark ruby color; very appealing, rich, tart blackberry, dried blueberry, roasted fruit, roasted meat nose; tasty, complex, tar, dried black fruit, roasted black fruit, charcoal, mineral, mulberry, iron palate; could use 2-3 years bottle age; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 14-16 mos in French oak) 94 points

  • 2011 Alto de la Ballena Port of Cabernet Franc – Uruguay, Maldonado (4/13/2013)
    Very dark ruby color; baked berry, dried berry, espresso, fudge nose; rich, very smooth, chocolatey, dark chocolate, chocolate cherry, chocolate syrup plate; long finish 93 points

Artesana

Artesana wines

Artesana wines

  • 2012 Artesana Zinfandel – Uruguay, Canelones (4/17/2013)
    Dark red violet color; VA, green bean, herbaceous, tart black currant nose; tart berry, dried berry palate with green edges and medium acidity; medium finish (13% alcohol; no oak; only sold in Uruguay) 88+ points

  • 2011 Artesana Tannat – Zinfandel – Merlot – Uruguay, Canelones (4/17/2013)
    Saturated very dark purple red violet color; oak, pistachio, dark chocolate nose; rich, powerful, violets, tart dark chocolate, green herbs palate; medium-plus finish 92 points

  • 2011 Artesana Zinfandel Reserva – Uruguay, Canelones (4/17/2013)
    Very dark red violet color; vanilla oak, ripe berry, violets, baked berry, ripe blackberry nose; tasty, complex, violets, saline, dried herbs, tart blackberry, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish (15.8% alcohol; 16 mos in 3d use French oak) 92 points

  • 2011 Artesana Tannat – Uruguay, Canelones (4/17/2013)
    Saturated very dark purple red violet color; deep, violets, dark chocolate, tart chocolate syrup, savory nose; tasty, tart chocolate syrup, savory, dried black fruit, tar palate; medium-plus finish (11-12 mos in French and American oak) 91 points

  • 2011 Artesana Tannat – Merlot – Uruguay, Canelones (4/17/2013)
    Very dark purple red violet color; appealing, tart black currant, blackberry, blackberry syrup nose; tart blackberry, green herb, tart black currant palate; medium-plus finish (11-12 mos in French and American oak) 91+ points

Bouza

Bouza whites

Bouza whites

  • 2012 Bodega Bouza Albariño – Uruguay, Canelones, Las Violetas (4/19/2013)
    Light yellow color; appealing, aromatic, tart pear, tart peach nose; tasty, rich but balanced, tart peach, tart pear, mineral palate with crisp acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points

  • 2012 Bodega Bouza Chardonnay – Uruguay, Canelones, Las Violetas (4/19/2013)
    Light lemon yellow color; appealing, white jasmine, poached pear, sweet butter nose; tasty, firmly textured, leesy, hazelnut, tart pear, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol; 50% malo; 25% fermented and raised in Inox) 92+ points

  • 2011 Bodega Bouza Merlot – Uruguay, Canelones (4/19/2013)
    Saturated very dark ruby color; appealing, tart plum, ripe black currant nose; rich, ripe black currant, tart berry, tart blackberry, violets palate with a sense of salinity; medium-plus finish (15% alcohol; 8 mos in French oak) 93 points

  • 2011 Bodega Bouza Tempranillo – Tannat – Uruguay, Canelones (4/19/2013)
    Very dark purple red violet color; appealing, fresh, dried black currant, tart berry, tart red berry nose; tasty, saline, dried berry, very tart berry, mineral, licorice, cinnamon palate; medium-plus finish (60% Tempranillo, 40% Tannat) 92+ points

  • 2011 Bodega Bouza Tannat B2 Parcela Unica – Uruguay, Canelones (4/19/2013)
    Opaque purple red violet color; appealing, very aromatic, deep violets, ripe black currant, blackberry compote, bittersweet chocolate nose; delicious, rich, complex, tart blackberry, blackberry syrup, fig, black cherry palate; long finish 95 points

  • 2009 Bodega Bouza Monte Vide Eu – Uruguay, Canelones (4/19/2013)
    Nearly opaque purple red violet color; violet, blackberry syrup, deep, ripe black fruit, mulberry, fudge nose; rich, tasty, tart blackberry, saline, tar black currant palate with drying tannins and good acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol; 50% Tannat, 30% Merlot, 20% Tempranillo) 94 points

  • 2011 Bodega Bouza Tannat A6 Parcela Unica – Uruguay, Canelones (4/19/2013)
    Opaque purple red violet color; rich, appealing, complex, ripe berry, blackberry, dark chocolate, dried herb nose; tasty, rich, savory, roasted black fruit, meaty, dried provencal herbs, rosemary, smoked salmon, bittersweet chocolate palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish 94 points

  • 2011 Bodega Bouza Tempranillo B15 Parcela Unica – Uruguay, Canelones, Las Violetas (4/19/2013)
    Very dark purple red violet color; very appealing, aromatic, violets, mulberry, ripe black currant, blackberry nose; rich, tasty, tight, tart berry, licorice, dried berry palate with salinity; needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 93+ points

  • NV Bodega Bouza Tannat Grappa – Uruguay, Canelones, Montevideo (4/19/2013)
    Clear; tart pear, tart peach nose; tasty, tart peach, tart pear palate; long finish 93 points

Bodega Garzón

Garzón wines

Garzón wines

  • 2012 Bodega Garzón Sauvignon Blanc – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Very light yellow color; tart peach, light lemon grass nose; bright tart peach, mineral, citrus palate with good density and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.1% alcohol) 91+ points

  • 2012 Bodega Garzón Pinot Grigio – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Light yellow color; appealing, floral, lemon blossom, vanilla, peach nose; tasty, creamy textured, ripe peach, ripe pear palate with good acidity; medium finish (13% alcohol) 90+ points

  • 2012 Bodega Garzón Albariño – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Light yellow color; clean, lime cream, honeydew melon, lettuce juice nose; tasty, creamy textured, honeydew melon, lime cream, mineral palate with some acidity; medium-plus finish (13.4% alcohol) 91 points

  • 2012 Bodega Garzón Viognier – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Light yellow color; tart pear, citrus nose; simple, clean, tart pear, citrus palate; medium finish (12.9% alcohol) 88+ points

  • 2012 Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Light yellow color; tart celery juice, celery seed nose; tasty, creamy textured, celery juice, light dill, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (13.4% alcohol, 10% oak for 4 months; would pair well with lots of vegetable dishes) 90+ points

  • 2012 Bodega Garzón Viognier Reserva – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Light yellow color; lettuce juice, dill seed nose; lettuce, celery juice palate with good acidity; medium finish (12.9% alcohol; 10% in oak for 4 months) 90 points

  • 2012 Bodega Garzón Pinot Noir Rosé – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Light medium orange pink color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; herbaceous, tart currant, green olive nose; tart currant, green olive, mineral palate with good acidity, reminiscent of a Cab Franc rosé from the Loire; medium-plus finish 89 points

  • 2011 Bodega Garzón Tannat – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Opaque purple red violet color; toasty oak, tart black currant, espresso nose; tasty, toasty, tart black currant, violets, coffee nose with good acidity and grip; drinkable now; medium-plus finish (14.6% alcohol; stainless steel fermentation and aged 6 months in oak, all 2nd use) 89 points

  • 2011 Bodega Garzón Tannat Reserva – Uruguay (4/13/2013)
    Opaque purple red violet color; espresso, toast, violets nose; espresso, integrating oak, tart black currant palate with firm tannins and good acidity; could use 1-2 years to integrate; medium-plus finish (with 9% Petit Verdot; 14.7% alcohol; 18 mos in 2nd use oak) 89+ points

Narbona

Narbona wines

Narbona wines

  • 2012 Finca Narbona Sauvignon Blanc – Uruguay, Carmelo (4/16/2013)
    Light yellow color; reduction, tart pear nose; tart citrus, saline, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; no oak) 90 points

  • 2011 Finca Narbona Pinot Noir – Uruguay, Carmelo (4/16/2013)
    Very dark ruby color; tart black cherry, hibiscus, violets, sweet green herb, black fruit nose; tasty, tart black cherry, black raspberry, sweet green herb, tart cranberry, mineral palate with good acidity and structure; medium-plus finish (from 2 clones, 1125 and 3018) 91 points

  • 2011 Finca Narbona Tannat – Uruguay, Carmelo (4/16/2013)
    Medium pink orange color; intense, unusual, dried berry, lightly smoky, cured meat, fresh marjoram, olive nose; savory, olive, cured meat, mineral, marjoram, clove palate; medium-plus finish (2 hours skin contact, fermentation in new oak barrels) 91 points

  • 2011 Finca Narbona Tannat Luz de Luna – Uruguay, Carmelo (4/16/2013)
    Opaque black red violet color; appealing, ripe and tart berry, blackberry nose; tasty, tight, tart black fruit, tart berry, coffee, pepper palate with sweet tannins; needs 2-3 years and should age well; medium-plus finish (6 mos in new French oak) 91+ points

  • 2010 Finca Narbona Tannat Roble – Uruguay, Carmelo (4/16/2013)
    Opaque black red violet color; spicy, bitter chocolate, chocolate syrup, smoked brisket nose; very tasty, savory, tart meat jus, very tart black fruit, liquid pepper palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12 mos in oak, 90% French and 10% American oak) 93 points

  • NV Finca Narbona Honey Grappa – Uruguay, Carmelo (4/16/2013)
    Cloudy medium yellow color; mead-like, honeycomb, fresh caramel nose; unfiltered, beeswax, creamy texture, honey butter palate, lacking acidity; medium-plus finish (25% alcohol, so not a true grappa) 88 points

  • NV Finca Narbona Cognac Cognac – France, Cognac (4/16/2013)
    Medium orange color; caramel, honeyed nose; smooth, caramel, coffee, pear palate; long finish (from barriques imported from France in 1990; 42% alcohol) 92+ points

Viña Progreso

Viña Progreso wines

Viña Progreso wines

  • 2013 Viña Progreso Viognier Reserva – Uruguay, Progreso (4/18/2013)
    Tank sample – light yellow color; ripe lime, tart green melon nose; tasty, complex, tart lime, tart honeydew melon, saline, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91-93 points

  • 2010 Viña Progreso Cabernet Franc – Uruguay, Progreso (4/18/2013)
    Very dark red violet color; intense, tart currant, dried currant nose; delicious, savory, intense, ripe and tart currant, ripe red berry, oregano palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 93 points

  • 2010 Viña Progreso Sangiovese – Uruguay, Progreso (4/18/2013)
    Very dark red violet color; tart cranberry, very tart cherry, dried plum, tar nose; tasty, tart cranberry, tart red berry, tar palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91 points

  • 2011 Viña Progreso Tannat Suenos de Elisa Open Barrel – Uruguay, Progreso (4/18/2013)
    Very dark purple red violet color; appealing, blackberry, vanilla, mulberry, violets, mine nose; lush, rich, tart berry, violets, chocolate mint, mulberry palate; long finish 94+ points

Others

  • 2011 De Lucca Marsanne Reserva – Uruguay (4/19/2013)
    Light golden yellow color; appealing, ripe peach, ripe pear nose; slightly oily, firm textured, tart peach, tart pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol; 30% in new oak for 4-5 mos) 91 points

  • 2011 Quinta Santero Tannat Tannat Roble – Uruguay (4/19/2013)
    Dark red violet color; tar, tart black fruit, charcoal nose; tasty, tar, charcoal, tart black fruit, saline, iodine palate with medium acidity; good now but could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points

  • 2012 Hector Stagnari Viognier Premier La Puebla – Uruguay (4/19/2013)
    Light lemon yellow color; appealing, tart pear, lightly floral, tart grapefruit nose; juicy, tart white grapefruit palate with medium acidity; medium finish 88 points

  • 2005 Hector Stagnari Osiris Tannat Reserva Limited Edition – Uruguay, Canelones (4/20/2013)
    Slightly bricking very dark purple red violet color; ripe berry, tart black fruit, tart blackberry, tar nose; tar, very tart black fruit palate with firm tannins and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90+ points

  • NV Viña Varela Zarranz Extra Brut Metodo Tradicional – Uruguay, Canelones (4/20/2013)
    Light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; chalk, tart lemon, very tart apple nose; tasty, focused, juicy, tart apple, mineral palate, very dry with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (12% alcohol; blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Bourboulenc and Marsanne) 90+ points

  • 2011 Viña Varela Zarranz Tannat Crianza – Uruguay, Canelones (4/14/2013)
    Saturated very dark purple red violet color; violets, tart blackberry, tart berry, light smoke, tar nose; tasty, tar, tart berry, violets, unsweetened chocolate palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. June 25, 2013

    Richard, many thanks for your comprehensive write-up and the attention you bring to Uruguay and its signature varietal Tannat. Uruguay is producing some outstanding and award-winning wines that are starting to get some traction here in the states. The Wines of Uruguay, an association of 25 member wineries focused on export, is planning a 3-city Tannat Tasting Tour September 9-12 to include DC, Austin and SF on the 12th. Save the date and contact me for details. Put Uruguay on your radar and keep an eye out for the these exciting wines.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      June 25, 2013

      Leslie,
      Thank you for the kind words on the post.
      I am glad that the Tannat Tour is definitely on. There was a lot of discussion about it as a possibility if enough wineries joined in when I was down there, but I was waiting for word that it was definitely a go before publicizing it. I definitely plan to be there for the SF portion. It would be very cool to meet you, too, if you’re here for that.
      All the best,
      Richard

  2. June 27, 2013

    thank you very much to promote and disseminate our country, its people and the passion that enclose our wines

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