Christine Austin discovers that the wine industry in Argentina’s little neighbour is maturing nicely. Have a taste of Uruguay wines

Every wine drinker knows that Argentina and Chile make serious quantities of wine at all quality levels from everyday to icons, but the wines of Uruguay are a relatively unknown quantity. That is all about to change as the new winery of Bodega Garzón comes on stream. The builders were still busy when I visited last week but with harvest just about to start, I was assured that all would be finished by the time the President of Uruguay officially inaugurates the building in March. Meanwhile the winery’s top-class restaurant is already becoming the place to be seen in this surprisingly upmarket country.
Uruguay is Argentina’s neighbour, a 75-minute ferry ride north from Buenos Aires, across the River Plate, but while Argentina is a vast country, Uruguay is just a bit bigger than England and Wales put together. Despite its small size Uruguay has a long Atlantic coastline with spectacular beaches. Stylish resorts such as Punta del Este are like the St Tropez of South America, crammed with top name shops and restaurants while the harbour is crammed with expensive yachts.
Winemaking is nothing new in Uruguay. Vines were brought by Basque immigrants more than a century ago and the Tannat variety settled in to become the “national” grape, making rustic, robust red wine. Most vineyards are in the maritime climate of Canelones, close to Montevideo, but the new vineyards of Bodega Garzón are spread across the hillsides of Maldonaldo, 120 miles east of the capital.
Former oilman Alejandro Bulgheroni, who has a clutch of wine estates in Argentina, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Barossa and California, has carved out 200 hectares of vineyard on a 10,000-hectare estate that also produces olive oil, almonds, beef cattle and sheep. No expense has been spared on extensive groundwork, transforming the hillsides into a mini-Tuscany with slopes that capture varied expositions and sunshine.
The winery is starkly beautiful, clad in rough hewn granite blocks, and the chic exterior is packed with practical winemaking equipment. Designed with quality winemaking in mind, gravity takes the grapes from the reception area, right though the process, so that they have the most gentle transformation into wine. There are shiny stainless steel tanks, warmth-retaining concrete curves, beautifully crafted large oak vats and the latest addition to any self-respecting winery, a set of tall egg-shaped concrete tanks that apparently allow the yeast to work more efficiently and create soft, rounded wines.
Not only does the yeast work efficiently, so does the building. This is the only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified winery outside North America.
World-famous wine consultant Alberto Antonini has been involved in the project from the start and he suggested that two key grape varieties were planted, Tannat and Albariño. Tannat is the natural choice for Uruguay, but rather than use local cuttings, Antonini selected clones direct from France. He also thought that Albariño, normally grown in Galicia in Spain, might do well in this maritime region. Other varieties planted include Sauvignon Blanc, Marselan, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and Pinot Noir, but surprisingly, no Malbec.
“The vision for this property is that Tannat will be the key red grape variety,” said Christian Wylie, the newly appointed managing director of the company.
That was clear in the wines lined up for tasting where the Tannat 2014, still in tank, showed dark, silky plum fruit with none of the harsh, herbaceous flavours that can sometimes spoil this variety. Going back to the 2013 Tannat Reserva, it had chocolate notes, supple tannins and a fine, elegant finish that opened up in the glass. These were wines made in the smaller winery set up to cope with the harvest until the new winery was built. It will be fascinating to see how the 2016 vintage performs.
There were several surprises in the tasting. Albariño 2015 was crisp and aromatic and could easily become Uruguay’s signature white grape. Sauvignon Blanc had the minerally crunch of a Loire Sauvignon rather than the usual passionfruit flavours of a Southern Hemisphere version. But the real revelation was Pinot Noir 2015 for its gentle, aromatic black cherry fruit, balance and depth of flavour.
At present Garzón wines are available from Corks & Cases in Masham and at Bowland Forest Vintners (01200 448688) at around £13.90.
While the aim of Bodega Garzón is to produce quality wine for the international, and local markets, it is already providing employment for a great many people in the vineyards, olive groves, winery and restaurant. There are plans for a luxury hotel and spa on the estate and tucked away over the hill is a brand new golf course, reputedly South America’s best.
It may take a few more years to really hit the headlines, but with the investment so far,  Uruguay wines and Bodega Garzón may soon be as famous as those from its neighbours in Argentina and Chile.

About The Author

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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