A few months ago, I was sent a slew of wines from Uruguay and was asked to partake in a tasting on Zoom with the winemakers. Sure. No problem. Without getting too much into it, like I am sure is common in many industries post-pandemic, Zoom seems to have become the norm in the wine industry and I agreed without much thought.
Once the wines arrived for the tasting, I started thinking, which is a rather rare occurrence. Had I ever had Uruguayan wine before? Have I ever heard of Uruguayan wine? Where the hell is Uruguay?
In short, although I knew that Uruguay produced wine, I am fairly certain that I had never tried any, and I was pretty certain that Uruguay was in South America.
After a brief interaction with Señor Google, I discovered that even though Uruguay, which is sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, is the second smallest country in South America, it has the fourth largest wine production on the continent.
Look, I could go much further into what I learned about the Uruguayan wine industry, but much smarter and well-informed people have already done that. What is key to know is that the industry, like in the U.S., is fairly new, with the first grapes introduced in 1870 by Basque immigrants.
The Basques brought Tannat, a grape that is widely planted in the Basque region of southwest France and produces rather dark, full-bodied, and tannic wine. It quickly took to the Uruguayan soil and climate and is now widely considered the country’s “national grape” even though many international varieties are also widely planted in the country.
On the white side, Albariño is the most widely planted although both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are on the rise.
I was sent nine wines from the country for the Zoom call, which I decided not to open during the noon tasting, instead preferring to open them a bit later so as to continue the charade that I do not have a drinking problem. I started with the three whites and the one rosé vermouth.
2021 Bodegas Cerro Chapeu Folklore Blanco, Rivera, Uruguay: Retail $20. 70% Trebbiano, 30% Malvasia. I believe this is my first foray into Uruguayan wine and while I have never been to the country, the first bottle certainly warrants further examination. Light straw in the glass with a bevy of fruit aromas: citrus (lemon, orange peel), tree (peach, green apple), and even tropical (pineapple). There is also a fairly pronounced floral aspect, rounding out the intriguing nose. The palate is all about the tartness initially, with the fruit coming in right before the mid palate and the two do a tête-à-tête all the way through to the finish. A wonderful quaff. Excellent. 90 Points.
2022 Don Pascual Coastal White, Juanico, Canelones, Uruguay: Retail $12. An interesting blend of Albariño, Chardonnay, and Verdejo. Under screw cap. Including this wine, I can count the number of Uruguayan wines I have tried on one hand. Hell, I can count them with two fingers. While no one would suspect a world beater at this price point, it is a tasty, solid wine. Quite tart as it is loaded with citrus, a seashell aspect, and some white flower. Look, there are times that you just want a wine while you are watching your guilty pleasure on TV. For me, that may or may not be Survivor. I’ll never tell, unless you are threatening to vote me off the island. Very Good. 88 Points.
2022 Familia Traversa Sauvignon Blanc, Montevideo, Uruguay: Retail $13. Under screw cap. I continue my trip through Uruguay, a country I have never visited and sometimes struggle to find on a map. This Sauvignon, while bright and tasty, is also incredibly affordable. Do I want anything more than that? Light straw in the glass with a noticeable green tinge, the green apple is predominant on the nose, but there is also grated lime rind, macadamia nut, and just a hint of oak. The palate is rounder than I would have suspected (a small portion was aged in oak), but the tartness is certainly there along with oodles of fruit, and a lengthy finish. Very nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Bodega Marichal Vermut Flores, Canelones, Uruguay: Retail $18. Under screw top. 100% Tannat. Honestly, I have not tried much vermouth in my life, at least not with active knowledge that I was drinking it. Vermouth is a fortified wine that is also infused with spices and botanicals. Dry vermouth is usually white and it originated in Franc, while the sweet version is usually red and comes from Italy. This lovely vermouth is rosé, comes from Uruguay, and is infused with 27 botanicals and four flowers: elderberry, chamomile, rose, and hops. What does all of that mean? I have no idea. What I do know is that this is pretty darned tasty. Quite aromatic, as one would expect, the nose seems like someone put a handful of Chinese five spice into a Christmas candle, the one that was lit for Good ‘Ole Saint Nick (bars). There is cinnamon, rose petal, sage, thyme, rosemary, candle wax, and maybe some dried apricot. Whoa. The palate is sweet, but not at all cloying, and relatively lively for all that is going on (18% ABV). Honestly, I really hesitated to open this bottle, I was even a bit afraid. But having tasting it? Add a bit to some Prosecco with a slice of orange or just drink it straight up over ice–it is pretty darned tasty. I was not going to give this a score due to my lack of experience with the genre, but what the heck, numbers are free and this is really, really good. Outstanding. 93 Points.