Monday, September 22, 2014

The Wines Of Uruguay (Part 3)

The Wines of Uruguay 2nd Annual U.S. Trade Tour was an excellent opportunity to sample and learn about a wide range of Uruguayan wines which are currently being exported to the U.S., though all are not yet available in Massachusetts. At this event, there were 16 wineries, pouring a total of over 80 wines, including Sparkling, Rosé, White, Red and Dessert wines. Though I didn't taste everything, I was able to sample about 50 wines, enough to form some preliminary thoughts about the wines of Uruguay.

In general, the white wines, mainly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, were dry, clean and well balanced, with more of a European flair. They were food friendly and many were good values. The red wines were also well balanced, food friendly, and more interesting than most of the white wines. I was intrigued to see the range of Tannat wines, from easy drinking, inexpensive wines to higher end, more tannic and complex wines.

The easy drinking, inexpensive Tannats would make an excellent introduction for wine consumers to the wines of Uruguay. As inexpensive Malbec wines from Argentina caught on with consumers, so could these inexpensive Tannats catch on too. Their often fruity and approachable style would please many wine drinkers, and providing a good introduction to the Tannat. Consumers could eventually move up to the Tannat blends, where grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon help to soften the tannins of the Tannat, making them approachable too, but with added complexity and flavor.. The high-end, single varietal Tannats could intrigue and delight the wine lover, who seeks something new to experience.

Besides Tannat, other red grapes seem to possess some potential in Uruguay too, from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Franc. Though there were only a handful of such wines at the tasting, I generally enjoyed what I tasted and would like to see more examples to better ascertain their potential. In addition, I would like to explore more of their Sparkling and Rosé wines, as I only had a single example of each, As Uruguay continues to experiment and study, they will better be able to determine which grapes will grow best in the different terroirs of their country. Uruguay isn't a one-trick pony which must rely only on a single grape, Tannat. It is a diverse wine region with the potential to produce numerous interesting and delicious wines.

Now, I''m going to discuss some of the Uruguayan wines which most intrigued me at this event. Please note that I didn't taste all of the wines at the event, and won't be mentioning every wine I tasted. This is more a survey of some of the most interesting and delicious wines I encountered.

Alto De La Ballena
With a name that roughly translates as "high of the whales," this winery was founded in 2000 with the purchase of 20 hectares of land in the Maldonando region. Their original goal was to make top notch Merlot, though they have found their land is excellent for producing Syrah, which has been compared to that found in Crozes-Hermitage.

The 2010 Alto De La Ballena Reserva Merlot, which sees about 1 year in French oak, was fruity and pleasant, an easy-drinking wine. The 2010 Alto De La Ballena Reserva Cabernet Franc was more intriguing to me, with deep black fruit flavors, smooth tannins, mild spice notes and a lengthy,pleasing finish. Based on some of my other tastings of Uruguayan Cabernet Francs, I think this is a very good region for that grape. The prize of their wines was the 2010 Cetus Syrah, about $60, which isn't yet available in Massachusetts. Only about 1800 bottles were produced, and it is a big,though not an overpowering wine, with rich, black fruit flavors, an underlying backbone of spice, some floral elements, and a certain elegance. One of my top three wines of the tasting.

Antigua Bodega Stagnari
With roots extending back to 1910, and even longer roots to wine making in Italy, this winery owns about 20 hectares of vineyards. Their 2014 Del Pedregal Chardonnay, which sees no oak, was clean and well balanced, with pleasant apple, lemon and pineapple flavors. Easy drinking, this is a pleasing style which should please many.

Finca Narbona
The winery produces about 80,000 bottles annually, and their wines are not yet available in Massachusetts though I hope they can find a local distributor in the near future. Pictured above is Fabiana Bracco, the Export Manager for Narbona.

The 2013 Puerto Carmelo Sauvignon Blanc is produced more in a French style and made to be food friendly. It has prominent fruit flavors, especially grapefruit and lemon, with a clean taste and nice acidity. The 2013 Narbona Blend 001 (about $25) was excellent, a Tannat based blend where they won't reveal the other grapes. With moderate tannins, the wine had intriguing depth of flavor to it, a delicious blend of black fruit and spice, with hints of leather, blueberry and herbal notes. Highly recommended. Pinot Noir is made by only about 7 wineries in Uruguay, and the 2013 Narbona Pinot Noir (about $30-$35) is an elegant example, with pleasing red fruit flavors, some minerality and a hint of earthiness. The 2010 Narbona Tannat Roble (about $40) is big and bold, tannic and muscular, with almost a sweetness to the rich, dark fruits. Make sure you have a thick, juicy steak handy.

Bodega Garzon
Located on the eastern border of the Maldonado region, they are one of only two wineries that currently produces an Albarino. Their 2014 Garzon Saiuvignon Blanc ($14) sees no oak and sits for about 6 months on the lees. Delicious grapefruit and citrus flavors, with more richness than other Sauvignon Blancs. An easy-drinking value wine. The 2013 Garzon Albarino also sits on the lees for about 6 months, and was an excellent example of this varietal. Crisp and clean with tasty white peach and citrus flavors, as well as some with mineral accents. Would love this wine with some fresh seafood.

Artesana Winery
Established in 2007 and located in the Canelones region, this small winery produces only around 2000 cases, hoping to eventually expand to 4000 cases. They have a 20 acre vineyard and are the only winery which grows Zinfandel. They just acquired a Massachusetts distributor, Humboldt Imports, though their Tannat-Zinfandel-Merlot blend is not yet available.

The 2012 Artesana Tannat ($16)  is a nice expression of Tannat, with tasty black fruit flavors, mild spice notes and hints of smoke. The tannins are moderate and the wine delivers plenty for this price. The 2012 Artesana Tannat-Merlot ($16) is a blend of 60% Tannat and 40% Merlot, which matures in both French and US oak. Smooth and easy-drinking, this was a compelling wine, blending red and black fruit flavors, spicy notes and mild tannins. This is the type of wine which would convert many wine drinkers to lovers of Tannat.

I was thoroughly impressed with the 2011 Tannat-Zinfandel-Merlot, a 55%/25%/20% blend that spent 24 months in French oak and only 130 cases were produced  The harmonious complexity of this wine was superb, and the restrained tannins made this wine even more compelling. There was so much going on in this wine, and all of it was pleasing and delicious. Highly recommended and one of the top three wines of the tasting.

Giminez Mendez:
They were the first winery in Uruguay to produce a wine with Malbec, and they were also the only winery at the tasting to showcase a Rosé. The 2014 Alta Reserva Malbec Rose, with a medium red color, was dry and clean with tasty red fruit flavors and good acidity. A pleasing, easy-drinking Rosé which can be enjoyed year round.

Bodegas Carrau
This family first made wine back in Spain around 1752 and eventually some of the family traveled across the Atlantic and started producing wine in Uruguay around 1930. They produce an intriguing portfolio of wines, from value wines to high-end bottlings, and consistently they are quality wines.

The only sparkling wine at the tasting was the 2009 Sust Vintage, Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine ($24.99), a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Aged for 30 months on the lees; this will remind you of a Champagne, dry and clean, with rich flavors of green apple, and brioche. The 2013 Savignon Blanc sur lie ($12.99) sees no oak and spends about 6 months on the lees. Tasty grapefruit and lemon flavors, it is more of a French style than a New Zealand wine. Especially interesting was the 1752 Gran Tradicion, a blend of 90% Petit Manseng and 10% Sauvignon Gris. Aromatic, this was a very herbal wine, with a nice depth of flavor and an intriguing finish. This should interest any wine lover seeking something different.

The inexpensive 2011 Tannat Reserva ($12.99) was elegant and delicious, delivering plenty of flavor and complexity for this low price point. An excellent introduction to Tannat. The 2007 Ysem ($20) is a blend of Tannat from their north and south vineyards, and is also elegant and delicious, with a bit more complexity and stronger fruit flavors than the Reserva. A step up for only a small amount of money. The 2009 Amat Single Vineyard Tannat ($30), from the Cerro Chapeau region, is aged in French and US oak for 18-24 months. With even greater complexity, and moderate tannins, this is a compelling wine, showing more of the potential of Tannat, without drowning you in tannins. This is a Tannat to impress your fellow wine lovers and is highly recommended.

Bouza Bodega Boutique
A family owned winery, they own two vineyards, totaling 25 hectares, one in the region of Las Violetas and other at Mellilla. They grow Albariño, Chardonnay, Merlot, Tempranillo and Tannat. The 2011 Bouza Albarino is bottled in a Riesling-style bottle, because the family liked its look. About 20% of this wine was matured in second-use oak and it also is aged on the lees for about three months. This wine had a bit of smokiness enhancing its deep, fruit flavors, and is a much different Albarino than the other wine I tried. The 2011 Bouza Tannat A6, aged in American oak for about 14 months, provided lots of spice, black fruit flavors and moderate tannins. There were  some interesting hints of other flavors on the finish, such as chocolate notes. The 2011 Bouza Monte Vide Eu is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Tannat, and presents a silky smooth wine with intense red and black fruit flavors, mild spice and some floral accents. An impressive blend.

Marichal Winery
This is a family owned winery, founded in 1938 and located in the Canelones region, with about 50 hectares of vineyards.

The 2013 Marichal Premium Variety Tannat ($14-$16) sees no oak and is a fruity and approachable Tannat, an excellent introduction for those new to this grape. Just like inexpensive Malbecs appealed to consumers, this is the type of Tannat which should do the same. A step up is the 2011 Marichal Reserve Collection Tannat ($18-$20),  which spends about 12 months in oak, delivering more complexity, a bit more tannins, and deeper black fruit flavors and spicy notes on the finish. Again, it remains an approachable wine, and still at a very good price. The 2011 Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot/Tannat ($18-$20) is a 70%/30% blend that spends 10 months in oak. It presents a fruity wine with a rustic backbone, mild tannins, and a pleasing finish. An interesting blend that is another very approachable and reasonably priced wine.

One of the top three wines of the tasting was the 2011 Marichael Grand Reserve Tannat "A" ($55-$60), a wine that is only made in good vintages. It spends about 18 months in oak, sees no fining or filtering, and only about 2300 bottles were produced. This was an alluring and seductive wine, with intriguing complexity, intense flavors, silky tannins, and a lengthy and satisfying finish. This wine shows the high-end potential of Tannat, how tannins can be made manageable, and the depth of flavors that can be drawn forth from this grape. Highly recommended.

Traversa Winery
Founded in 1956, this family owned winery is one of the largest in Uruguay. They produce a port-like wine, the 2008 Licor de Tannat ($22). With 18.5% ABV, this dark red colored wine is smooth and appealing, with a mild sweetness, good acidity and subtle berry and coffee notes.. An excellent wine to sip after dinner, or paired with a dessert.

Based on my sampling of all these Uruguayan wines, I will certainly be on the hunt to try even more. There is excellent diversity in Uruguay, and even the Tannat presents itself differently in many different ways. As their exports continue to grow, more and more people will realize the winders of Uruguay, and it could replicate the success of Argentina. If you get a chance to try a wine from Uruguay, don't hesitate to take it.

What are some of your favorite wines from Uruguay?


Leslie Fellows said...

Richard, thanks so much again for your excellent 3-part article on the wines of Uruguay. It's a substantive and in-depth review providing a great introduction to our wines which are gaining traction here in the US thanks to writers, sommeliers, distributors, retailers and most importantly consumers. Hope your readers will put Uruguay/Tannat on their radar and keep an eye out for these exciting wines… Salud!
Leslie Fellows/Artesana Winery

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks for all your kinds words about my posts, and it was a pleasure to meet you at the tasting. Uruguay certainly deserves more recognition and hopefully that will come in the near future, when the average consumers starts asking for their wines.