Uruguay: Wine and Travel
A Relaxing Wine Travel Destination Declaring a National Grape: Tannat
I am anxious to travel to Uruguay in the next few years for a number of reasons. Its national grape, Tannat, makes one of my favorite bold and full-bodied wines. Uruguay’s great Atlantic beach location, laid-back culture, viticultural gastronomy, and nature trails signal a wonderful place to explore on a South America tour.
Although the grape Tannat is most famous for being grown in Madiran, in Gascony in Southwest France, it is now being grown in many world wine regions. Tannat is the “National Grape” of Uruguay. It’s wonderful with barbeque, aged cheeses, and rib eye steaks. Tannat was first listed on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year in 2017 with Bodega Garzon 2015 “reserve” Tannat from Uruguay making the list. Tannat is a big wine, full of tannins and flavor of black fruit, vanilla, dark chocolate, and smoke. See Recommended Wines.
But the lure of Uruguay may be its laid-back lifestyle, nature trails, and Atlantic Ocean beaches. With its landscape of beaches, pampas, sierras, and long lines of trees such as ceibos, ombúes, and tipas gracing the shores of its rivers, Uruguay is an excellent spot for birdwatching. With around 450 native species of birds and a combination of lagoons, savannahs, pampas, forests, sea and riverscape habitats, Uruguay is especially attractive to nature lovers.
The capital city, Montevideo, is also the epicenter of viticultural gastronomy. The metropolitan area contains two-thirds of the country’s vineyards, making it easy to visit some of the country’s most fabled wineries from there. In the Ciudad Vieja (old city), a walk through the pedestrian district, from the Cabildo de Montevideo to Plaza Zabala, is an excellent introduction to historic Montevideo, within what was the walled city built in 1724. La Rambla, which runs along the edge of the city, offers another perspective on the life that bustles within, especially between Parque Rodó and Punta Carretas. At sunset, the pink granite of the walk lights up to create a magical atmosphere for Montevideans to begin their evening. Pocitos and the surrounding area is a great place to enjoy dinner.
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Fun Facts About Uruguay
o Similar in surface area to the state of Wisconsin, with a population close to that of Connecticut (about 3.5 million).
o With 14,804 acres/5,991 hectares under vine, the wine regions are slightly larger than Saint-Émilion in Bordeaux and slightly smaller than Alexander Valley in California.
o The only South American terroir whose climate is affected by the Atlantic Ocean.
o 180 wineries are currently operating in the country. Most are family-run, with two-thirds Tannat the mostly widely planted variety in Uruguay at 3,892 acres/1,575 ha.
o In Uruguay, Tannat is also known as Harriague (Ha-ree-AH-gay), surname of the first producer to plant it in the country.
o Uruguay has the longest carnival in the world, 50 days. Even longer than Brazil!
o Cows outnumber humans in Uruguay 4 to 1 and Uruguayans consume more meat per capita than any other country in the world! Beef is the #1 industry.
o Uruguay has a 98.7% literacy rate (US is 88%).
About Uruguay Wine
Uruguay has excellent characteristics for the production of fine quality wines: it is located between parallels 30º and 35º south latitude, the same location of the best wine lands of Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. Wine has been made in Uruguay for a long time. Like other Latin American countries whose growth was fueled by European immigration in the mid-19th century, wine was made to slake the thirst of those nostalgic for their homeland.
Following the models of Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina, efforts focused on a single variety that could be associated with the country. Uruguayans tend to prefer red wines and over the last 30 years, Uruguayan wine has become synonymous with Tannat. Rosé wines and white wines have become popular in more recent times. Key grapes grown in addition to Tannat are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Albariño, and Moscatel.
Tannat has been recognized as one of the “healthiest” red wine grapes, thanks to much higher levels of antioxidants (resveratrol). See my article on a Texas-grown Tannat, “Have a Healthy Wine: Bending Branch Winery, An Interview with Dr. Bob Young, MD.”
Given the country’s oceanic climate, however, white wines influenced by the sea are now also beginning to attract attention as producers new and old look to venture into new territory. Uruguay is beginning to produce a growing range of flavors to tempt curious drinkers. Thank you to Wines of Uruguay and WSET®-certified tasting friends, Wendy and Brian Hatfield, for sponsoring and hosting our tasting.
How are Uruguay Wines Unique from other South American Wines?
Amanda Barnes, author of The South American Wine Guide, says about Uruguay, “It has more in common with Bordeaux and Galicia than Chile or Argentina. The production levels in Uruguay are also quite small and artisanal, typically family businesses. But like other South American countries, the wines are value priced. In a nutshell, Uruguay is a wine country for people who love personal, boutique wines they can’t find anywhere else.”
“If you’re going to think of one thing when you think of Uruguayan wine, think of Tannat,” she says. “Albariño, a white grape, is a rising star and calling card for the country as well, but it doesn’t come close to Tannat’s acreage.”
Wine Enthusiast, 90 Points
Decanter Magazine, 91 Points
Vivino, 4.5 of 5 Points
2018 Pisano Reserva de la Familia Tannat, Uruguay, $24
Total Wine, 4.3 of 5
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