On Tuesday September 17, 2019, French and international press gathered at the Intercontinental Bordeaux for the launch of Bodega Garzón’s latest Balasto vintage.

Managing director, Christian Wylie, and wine consultant, Alberto Antonini, presented the newly released 2017 alongside the 2016 and 2015, though with a promising mention that it is the 2018—out next year—that is the best they’ve produced as of yet.

Indeed, a year that will go down in history for the Uruguayan estate as it also marks their crowning as 2018 New World Winery of the Year.  “We won this out of 10,000 wineries,” says Christian, “and one of the main reasons we were selected was our commitment to sustainability.” Built into the hills, the winery not only uses gravity flow, but also harnesses solar and wind energy. It is the first winery outside of North America to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

Alberto Antonini has been with Bodega Garzón since day one; recruited by Don Alejandro Bulgheroni, a very wealthy Argentinian businessman from the energy sector (oil, gas and sustainable energy) whose first wine project was Bodega Garzón. After 10 years of working with Alberto, Alejandro has now acquired 21 estates around the world: seven in Tuscany, four in Argentina, two in Bordeaux, two in California, and one in Barossa Valley.

“Bodega Garzón is the one he set up from scratch,” says Christian. “It’s a new terroir of the 21st century; a new appellation 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.”

Alberto attested the project fascinated him from the beginning as nothing had ever been planted there before. Most of Uruguayan wine production (60%) is around Montevideo, in the Canelones region. But the granite soil—which the locals call balasto—is of very high quality in Maldonado and its proximity to the Atlantic was promising. With more rainfall than Bordeaux, the drying breeze from the Atlantic is essential for keeping disease pressure down as well as retaining fruit freshness.

Bodega Garzón’s property is comprised of 1,300 different vineyards, or more like small lots, which Alberto says are as inspiring to him as having myriad ingredients to choose from when cooking. The vines are young, having been planted just 12 years ago. Tannat was important to include in the blend because of its history and performance in Uruguay, Alberto explained. Meanwhile, Albariño was the focus for their white wines at the estate because he noticed the resemblance to Galicia, which is due to the oceanic influence. 

Other red plantings are Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, but also less popular varieties like Marselan and Caladoc, which allow them to keep experimenting with the vineyard’s potential.

“2015 was the first vintage where I felt confident to put together a blend,” reveals Alberto. He goes on to explain his priorities for Balasto were first and foremost: soil management, to encourage a deep root system, and second: winemaking, in that he didn’t want to over-macerate or over-extract the fruit (avoiding bleeding, rack and return, or excessive oak). “These are all distractions from the essence of the place. A lot of new world wines are playing a game with a lot of concentration, power, and viscosity,” says Alberto, “but Balasto is all about freshness, balance, and drinkability.”

The Wines:

Bodega Garzón, Balasto 2017
(50% Tannat, 40% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 5% Marselan; 14% ABV)
Aged 20 months in 25 & 50HL untoasted French oak barrels, unfiltered

Intense dark fruit aromas with balsamic undertones.
A very refreshing acidity lifts the richness of the ripe red and black fruit. Long across the palate, gently spiced.
Returning to the glass 20 minutes later, the nose had more black fruit with seductive smoky character.

Bodega Garzón, Balasto 2016
(45% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 12% Marselan; 14.5% ABV)
Aged 20 months in 25 & 50HL untoasted French oak barrels, unfiltered

Extremely well balanced, smooth and utterly drinkable. Firm yet completely integrated tannins, the wine feels energetic across the palate with vibrant acidity, intensity of juicy berries with a delicate spice finish.

Bodega Garzón, Balasto 2015
(45% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Marselan; 14.5% ABV)
Aged 20 months in 25 & 50HL untoasted French oak barrels, unfiltered

Has a distinct Bordeaux feel, with red understated fruit, and developing tertiary characters coming through. Still quite luscious and juicy, with bright acidity and firm, tannic structure.