Uruguay: small in size, big on wine
Sometimes overlooked in favor of its larger, more famous neighbors, little Uruguay is upping the stakes in diversity of grape varieties and terroirs, putting it in the big league of South American wine producers and bringing it to the attention of enophiles around the world, who are discovering the delights of its full-bodied reds and cool-climate whites.
It may, in comparison with its two massive neighbors, be small in size, with a population of just 3.5 million, but when it comes to wine, Uruguay has become one of South America’s most important producers, coming fourth in terms of volume behind the regional giants of Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.
It’s an important consumer of wine, too—which is really just another way of saying that the Uruguayans love to drink wine, and always have. The fermented grape finds its way into every social occasion, and in recent years, the quality of the local supply has grown better and more diverse than ever before.
One of the ways in which Uruguayan wine has moved on is in the discovery and planting of new terroirs, and in the understanding of which grape varieties are best suited to grow where. Just a couple of decades ago, Uruguayan wine was dominated by one variety, Tannat, in one region, Canelones, near the capital Montevideo. But now, the potential of Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Albariño is being realized from Salto in the northwest, to the cool-climate coastal hotspot of Maldonaldo in the south, to the Montevideo region close to the capital city.
An alliance of 15 producers has put together a very useful and detailed website (www.uruguaywinetours.com), giving information on which wineries to visit, enabling you to draw up an itinerary and make reservations. But given that most visitors to the country will pass through the capital and its international airport at some point, it would be logical to begin any journey along Los Caminos del Vino (the wine roads) of the Montevideo region. Set amid woodland at the source of the Meililla River, Bodega Bouza is an attractive Bordeaux-château-inspired, family-run winery built in 1942, with a fine restaurant and a collection of classic cars to enjoy after a wine tasting (www.bodegabouza.com).
The next stop is Canelones, a region of gently rolling hills just 35 minutes north of Montevideo that plays host to most of Uruguay’s best-known and longest-established producers. A tour of the Pizzorno family’s facilities includes a tapas lunch, while relative newcomer Artesana Winery is a good place to sample some of Uruguay’s legendary beef alongside a vinous specialty that is unusual for Uruguay—Zinfandel (www.pizzornowines.com; www.artesanawinery.com).
The fabulous beaches, boutique hotels, and restaurants of Punta del Este make it one of South America’s most in-demand holiday locations. The Playa Vik José Ignacio, a modernist private retreat right on the beach in the village of Faró José Ignacio, makes a luxurious base for an exploration of Uruguay’s most fashionable wine region, Maldonaldo (www.playavik.com). Bodega Garzón is now the prime mover here, a 4,000ha (9,900-acre) property at the top of a gorge, with rolling terraces devoted to olive oil and vines plus a 120-seat restaurant. Options for tours include a balloon ride over the estate, a Uruguayan barbecue experience, and even participation in the olive-oil harvest—all accompanied by delicious cool-climate wines, including some of the best Albariño outside Galicia.
A Tuscan-inspired guesthouse in the hills of Canelones wine country, with fine views and a well-regarded restaurant, plus activities such as wine tastings and tours and horse-riding.
Caminos de los Peregrinos, Departamento de Colonia | +598 45 42 77 44 | www.posadacampotinto.com
Casa Chic has a delightful five-star guesthouse in Canelones and airy, bright, luxurious beach houses in José Ignacio on the Atlantic coast—both are well situated for touring wine country.
Set amid pine and eucalyptus forests on the banks of the Río del Plata, with views of a neighboring vineyard, plus four acclaimed restaurants, the Carmelo is the perfect base for exploring the wineries of the Colonia region.
Ruta 21, km 262, 70100 Carmelo, Departamento de Colonia | +598 45 42 90 00 | www.carmelo.hyatt.com
Chef Alejandro Marales’s beachside restaurant in trendy seaside José Ignacio is highly regarded for its grilled meat, seafood, sushi, and excellent wine list.
Calle de Los Cisnes, 20402 José Ignacio, Departamento de Maldonado | +598 44 86 22 79 | www.paradorlahuella.com
A refined, classical French restaurant, surrounded by lovely gardens in the backstreets of Punta del Este, where Burgundy native chef Jean-Paul Bondoux makes the very most of superb local and seasonal ingredients.
Ave Pedragosa Sierra, 20100 Punta del Este, Departamento de Maldonado | +598 42 48 20 07 | www.labourgogne.uy
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
Argentinian billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni’s vast project in the fashionable Maldonaldo region near Punta del Este has a diverse range of tours, tastings, and foodie experiences on offer.
Garzón, Maldonado, Departamento de Maldonado | +598 42 24 40 40 | www.bodegagarzon.com
A visit to the Ballena vineyards, planted on a rocky slope in the Sierra de la Balllena, just 9 miles (14km) from the Pacific coast and the resort of Punta del Este, gives visitors the chance to appreciate both artisanal production and magnificent views.
Ruta 12, km 16,400, Sierra de la Ballena, Maldonaldo | +598 94 41 03 28 | firstname.lastname@example.org | altodelaballena.com
Located where the Río del Plata estuary meets the Atlantic, this family-owned boutique winery’s proud Italian roots are fully on display in the kitchen, a natural end-point for a tour and tasting.
Ruta 11, km 162, Estación Atlántida | +598 43 72 16 22 | email@example.com | www.vinedodelosvientos.com
Uruguay’s largest winery is a national monument, and its historic buildings—including some built by the indigenous Guaraní peoples centuries ago—and 200ha (500 acres) of natural park and vineyards are a deservedly popular attraction.
Establecimiento Juanicó s/n, 90400 Juanicó, Canelones | +598 94 84 74 82 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.juanico.com
One of Uruguay’s oldest producers has a fine old bodega in Montevideo, plus a splendid modern cellar right up on the far northern border with Brazil. Both are well worth a visit.
César Mayo Guitiérrez 2556, 12400 Montevideo | +598 23 20 02 38 | www.boedgascarrau.com