Uruguay: small is beautiful
With an increasingly diverse range of grape varieties, terroirs, and winemaking styles, Uruguay is a winemaking match for its bigger, more famous South American neighbors—and with a range of facilities that make it a great place to visit, too.
For a country of just 3.5 million people, Uruguay has a remarkable ability to punch above its weight on the global stage. It’s true of its football team, regular winner or strong performer in World Cups and South American championships. And it’s true of its wine industry: fourth only to Argentina, Chile, and Brazil in South America in terms of size; in terms of quality, it just gets better and better.
The country is 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 got 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 an understanding of which grape varieties are best suited to grow in them. Whereas just a couple of decades ago, Uruguayan wine was dominated by one variety, Tannat, in one region, Canelones, near the capital Montevideo, 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 Maldonado in the south and the Montevideo region right by the capital city.
For information on who to visit, where and how, an alliance of 15 producers has put together a very useful and detailed website—www.uruguaywinetours.com—to help you plan and 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” (Wine Roads) in the Montevideo region. Set among woodland, 5km from the Santa Lucia 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).
Next stop is Canelones, a region of gently rolling hills just 45 minutes north of Montevideo that plays host to most of Uruguay’s best-known and longest-established producers: a tour of the Pizzorno Family facilities includes a tapas lunch, while relative newcomer Artesana Winery is a good place to sample some of Uruguay’s legendary beef (all of which is certified organic) alongside a vinous specialism that is unusual for Uruguay, Zinfandel.
The fabulous beaches, boutique hotels, and restaurants of Punta del Este and surroundings 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 eponymous village, makes a luxurious base for an exploration of Uruguay’s most fashionable wine region: Maldonado. Bodega Garzón is the prime mover here, with a 4,000ha (10,000 acre) property at the top of a gorge, with rolling terraces devoted to olive oil and wine, and a 120-seat restaurant. Options for tours include a balloon ride over the estate, a Uruguayan barbecue experience, and participation in the olive oil harvest. All accompanied by cool-climate wines including some of the best Albariño outside Galicia.
A Tuscan-inspired guesthouse in the rolling hills of Canelones wine country, with fine views and a well-regarded restaurant, and activities such as wine tastings and tours and horse-riding.
Caminos de los Peregrinos, Departamento de Colonia | +598 4542 7744 | www.posadacampotinto.com
The rooms here each have views of the winery and are named after grape varieties. There’s a fine vintage wood beam restaurant, too, and numerous tastings and other events.
Ruta 21 Km 268, Carmelo | +598 4544 6831 | www.narbona.com.uy
Refined classical French restaurant surrounded by beautiful gardens in the back streets of Punta del Este where Burgundy native Jean-Paul Bondoux makes the most of the fine local ingredients.
Avenida Del Mar, Pedragosa Sierra, Maldonado | +598 4248 2007 | www.labourgogne.uy
Boutique hotel set right by a lemon plantation, but just a stone’s throw from a number of top wineries offering local wine tours and tastings.
Carretera H Mignone, Camino Tomas Assandri, Sacramento | +598 4523 1028 | www.lacasadeloslimoneros.com
Chef Alejandro Marales beachside restaurant in trendy seaside village José Ignacio, highly regarded for its grilled meat, seafood, sushi and excellent wine list.
Calle de Los Cisnes, José Ignacio, Maldonado | +598 4486 2279 | www.paradorlahuella.com
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni’s vast project in the fashionable Maldonado region near Punta del Este has a broad range of tours, tastings, and foodie experiences on offer.
Ruta 9 Km 175, Garzón, Maldonado | +598 4224 4040 | www.bodegagarzon.com
Planted on a rocky slope in the Sierra de la Ballena, 14km (9 miles) from the Pacific coast and the resort of Punta del Este, a visit to Ballena brings artisanal production and magnificent views.
Ruta 12 Km 16,400, Sierra de la Ballena, Maldonado | +598 9441 0328 | www.altodelaballena.com
Located where the Río de la Plata estuary meets the Atlantic, this family-owned boutique winery’s proud Italian roots are fully on display in the winery kitchen, a natural end point for a tour and tasting.
Ruta 11 Km 162, Estación Atlántida | +598 4372 1622 | www.vinedodelosvientos.com
Uruguay’s largest winery is a National Monument, and its historic buildings— including some built by Guaraní indigenous people centuries ago—and 200ha (494 acres) of natural parkland and vineyards are a deservedly popular attraction.
Ruta 5 Km 38,200, 90400 Juanicó, Canelones | +598 9484 7482 | www.juanico.com
Viña Edén’s remarkable, architecturally impressive home is set seemingly in an area of vast nothingness, but the dry soil and green hills provide the perfect environment to grow some of the country’s best reds.
Ruta 12 Km 26, Pueblo Edén | +598 9255 2300 | www.vinaeden.com