Not So Small: Uruguay
There is a lot to be said about being small. Uruguay is the second smallest country of South America, yet it ranks fourth in terms of wine production (behind Chile, Argentina and Brazil). Located within the band of the southern hemisphere that is compatible with vine-growing, its climate is obviously favourable to viticulture, albeit quite humid; rot and mildew can be a problem. It is interesting to note that almost all the wine produced by its northern neighbour, Brazil, comes from the region near their common border but, curiously, it is not there that Uruguay produces most of its wine. The vineyards are instead concentrated in the south, near the Rio de la Plata (Canelones, San José, Florida and Montevideo departments). Less important vineyards are found along the Uruguay River on the western border with Argentina. Only the small Rivera sector merges with Brazil’s Fronteira, but excellent wines are made there and exported by Bodegas Carrau.
Under Spanish influence for a long time, Uruguayans have been growing varieties of the same origin, aimed at local consumption. That changed in the 1970s when a conscious effort was launched to improve the quality and develop the export market. It was then that Tannat, originating from around Madiran in the south west of France, became the emblematic and most successful grape of Uruguay, a unique situation in the wine world. Today, the other varieties that produce the best results are also of French origin; they are for the most part Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Winemaking practices have also evolved over the last 40 years; some wineries are as modern as in any other part of the world, while others remain more traditional. Investments made by well-established names like Bernard Magrez of Bordeaux tend to confirm the potential of the country. Canadians generally don’t enjoy a wide choice of Uruguayan wines at this time, but the stage has been set for them to shine on the international competitive wine market in the near future.
Pisano RPF Tannat 2006, Canelones ($21)
This Reserva Personal de la Familia is a dark wine with a purplish contour. We recognize the Tannat’s typical nose of blackberry, dark plum, earthy notes, leather and a little spice. It develops a pleasant, delicately floral scent in the glass. The initial taste is fruity with adequate acidity. Texture is very thick, dense and chewy. The massive but finely grained tannins coat the mouth and cling to the tongue. The finish is long and only slightly astringent. Aging potential is estimated at an additional 8 to10 years. Clearly a food wine; cassoulet or traditional French-Canadian dishes immediately come to mind.
Juanico Don Pascual Reserve Tannat 2011, Canelones ($13.50)
A modern-style red, easier to approach. Deep purple colour with a pleasant nose of ripe raspberry and blackberry, black plum, earthy mushrooms and noticeable oak (vanilla, pastry notes). Ripe, fruity taste, velvety texture. Mellow and warm on the tongue, there is only a tad of bitterness in the finish. Ready to drink, it can easily be mistaken for an Argentinian Malbec or a dry red from the Douro Valley.