Sometimes a wine-growing region and grape variety combine to produce a wine legend. Think California’s Napa Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon, or Argentina’s Mendoza region and Malbec. Well, there is another wine-growing region and grape variety combination you should know about: Uruguay and Tannat.
Tannat is originally from France. It grows in many countries for use as a blending grape, due to its sharp bite. But in 1870, when Tannat grapes first came to Uruguay, growers noticed something unusual. The terroir (wine-growing conditions) of Uruguay interact with the genetics of the Tannat grape to produce a softer and more velvety wine—one that’s excellent to drink on its own.
Most people outside Uruguay don’t know about Uruguayan wines, including Tannat. Until recently, Uruguayan wineries only produced wine for the domestic market. And even today, 95% of the wine produced is consumed in Uruguay.
But things are changing. Wine aficionados are discovering and praising Uruguay’s signature, full-bodied red. With the increased interest, more Uruguayan wine-makers are opening their doors, with winemaking tours and wine tastings for thirsty travelers.
Visiting a winery in Uruguay is a real treat. Unlike the mega-wineries in California and Argentina, most of Uruguay’s 270 wineries are still small, family-owned operations crafting wine in small batches.
And if spending a day in the countryside sipping good wine and meeting interesting people isn’t enough incentive to take a winery tour, consider this: Tannat has significantly more antioxidants, including resveratrol, than any other wine. So you could even say that a day visiting Uruguayan wineries is good for your health.
Although vineyards can be found all over the country, 90% of Uruguay’s wineries are in the Department of Canelones, a region just north of Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo. Here are three options for exploring Uruguay’s “wine region.”
Hop a taxi to a winery near Montevideo: The Bouza winery is a 20- to 30-minute taxi ride from the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. It has daily scheduled tours and a fine restaurant for wine tastings or a mid-day meal.
Tours start at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., with an additional tour at 1 p.m. on weekdays. All the tour guides are bilingual and engaging. A tour and wine tasting of four classic wines, with cheese and cold cuts, is about $35. With four premium wines, it is $50.
Wines made at Bouza include award-winning Albariños, Chardonnays, Merlots, Tempranillos, and Tannats. The restaurant and tour manager, Guus Haans, an expat from the Netherlands, recommends tasting them in this order.
The restaurant at Bodega Bouza serves food from noon until 4 p.m.
The appetizer menu includes foie gras and octopus. Entrees include several choices of meats, pastas, and fish. Most of the vegetables and greens are from Bouza’s own kitchen garden in the vineyard.
In a country known for its excellent beef, Bouza’s signature steak stands out as truly special. A midday meal with wine here makes a memorable occasion, at a cost of $50 to $75 per person.
In addition to the well-kept vineyard and winery, there is an antique car collection, plus fenced pastures with donkeys, sheep, peacocks…even a capybara. (The world’s largest rodent, capybaras look a bit like a 100-pound, two-foot-tall guinea pig.)
A taxi ride from Montevideo to the winery is about $17 each way. You should call ahead to reserve your place on a tour or make a restaurant reservation. Tel. (598) 2323-4030; website.
Hire a wine guide: Who wants to be the designated driver on a day visiting wineries? Luckily, you don’t have to. The Wine Experience, operated by Ryan Hamilton, offers guided winery visits with hotel or home pick-up and drop-off in Montevideo, Punta del Este, or Colonia.
Ryan is an expat from South Africa, with a wine- and hospitality-rich resume. Besides really knowing his stuff, Ryan’s enthusiasm for wine—and for life—adds value and makes for a fun day.
Ryan offers morning and afternoon wine tours. On a typical tour you visit two wineries and taste up to 10 wines, with cheeses and ham. Prices start at $129 per person. Tel: (598) 9734-8445; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make your own arrangements: The Uruguayan Wine Tourism Association is a private organization comprised of 15 family-owned Uruguayan wineries. While most of the wineries do not have regular tour days and hours as Bodega Bouza does, they do welcome tours and wine tasting by appointment. You can find a list of associated wineries on the Association’s website.
Member winery Artesana will arrange a tour and wine tasting for you. Artesana is the first North American-owned winery in Uruguay.
You can arrange a guided tour of the Artesana winery that includes a wine tasting of three wines, accompanied by a selection of cheeses and meats, for $25 per person, or $20 per person with a group of eight or more. A tour and tasting of four wines with catered lunch is $50 per person. Artesana Winery is about 25 miles from downtown Montevideo. Tel: (598) 9578- 0629; website.
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