Uruguay – a land full of wine surprises...
- Credit: Archant
South America has a long history of wine making and it is on one of the smallest countries, Uruguay, that much interest is currently being focused. It is also the fourth most important wine exporting country in South America after Argentina, Chile and Brazil.
I was introduced to it when I was offered a glass of Alycone at a wine trade tasting. Your response might have been like mine was – that’s delicious but what is it? The short answer was a fortified red dessert wine made from the Tannat grape!
This was a revelation as Tannat has been grown in Uruguay since the early 1800s when European growers moved there and took the means for their livelihood over with them.
However, the early wines were dull and very tough with little appealing fruitiness making them difficult to drink never mind enjoy. Thankfully nowadays it is made in a more appealing, softer, fresher style.
Uruguay is relatively flat, especially when compared to the other successful wine producers of Argentina and Chile.
There are rolling hills with limestone and clay soils and rocky outcrops in the north and conditions are well suited to grape growing and wine production in many styles.
Tannat is especially suited to the maritime climate and like Malbec is to Argentina Tannat is becoming the grape most closely associated with Uruguayan wines.
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Wine production in Uruguay is still dominated by small family-owned businesses like that of Vinedo de los Vientos who make the Alcyone mentioned earlier.
The property has been in the Fallabrino family since 1947 and they produce great wines in small quantities utilising a modern winery, but they like to use forgotten old or less-known wine-making techniques.
‘Viñedo de los Vientos’ translates into ‘Vineyard of the Winds’ and is located where the river Plate Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean meet, providing clean cool ocean breezes and an ideal climate for the maturation of fine wine grapes. Their vineyards are also soon to be certified organic.
Some of their best wines are made from the Tannat grape. The Vinedo de los Vientos Anarkia which is a sulphur-free Tannat based wine with aromas and tastes of black olives and dark berry fruits with an appealing fresh finish and is ideal with red meats, game, and casseroles.
The Vinedo de los Vientos Alcyone is unusual as it is the result of two traditional processes of herbal infusion and fortification with grape spirit like Marsala production using a mature oaky base wine.
It results is a wine of lovely honeyed texture with notes of Madagascan vanilla bean, chocolate, and tiramisu! It’s lovely on its own or with desserts which have similar flavours.
The Vinedo de los Vientos Catarsis is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Barbera showing that some unusual blends are delicious too. This has delicate aromas of vanilla and toast with cherry and eucalyptus. The palate is medium to full body, soft tannins, and a long finish.
Talking of blends the Vinedo de los Vientos Estival is a white which in my mind shouldn’t work as it combines Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Moscato Bianco all of which are distinctive grape varieties that could dominate any mixture.
However together they make a balanced unctuous wine full of crisp passion fruit, pineapple skins and some floral notes.
Uruguayan wines are worth seeking out, especially those of Vinedo de los Vientos offering new flavours to enjoy, quality and great value.