As wine lovers, we have become accustomed to excellent and well-priced wines from South America. Chile and Argentina have won their places on our tables and in our wine cellars. Very few of us, however, have tried any wines from Uruguay.
This may be because, on the whole, Uruguay is a country of small-scale, family-owned wineries where some 250 wineries producing approximately 10 million cases annually. By comparison, Chile’s Concho y Toro winery produces more wine than all of Uruguay.
Now that the wines of Bodega Garzón have arrived, Uruguay’s wines will become more widely available. Owned by Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni the 9,880-acre property includes vineyards and olive trees as well as a new multi-million-dollar 123,000 sq. ft. environmentally certified winery opened in 2015.
Wine making arrived in Uruguay with the Spanish in the early 1600s. Uruguay’s wine industry began in the 1870s when the red wine grape Tannat, from the Madiran region of France, was introduced by Basque immigrants. Tannat is now considered Uruguay’s signature variety… but there are up and coming white wines!
A uniquely Uruguayan take on the variety, Garzón Viognier (+235085) $20.99 opens with fresh sliced peach and tangerine rind aromas. Despite those sweet notes, the wine is surprisingly dry and elegantly subtle once sipped. Faint honeysuckle, ripe peach and pineapple flavours dominate this chewy, mouth-filling white and slide into a bright and lingering wet slate finish.
Garzón’s terroir is made up of ballast, a fantastic soil of fine stone that gives minerality, vibrancy, complexity and elegance to the wine. Add in the fact that flying international wine consultant Alberto Antonini assists winemaker Germán Bruzzone and the quality of the wines is no mystery.
Albariño was introduced to Uruguay in 1954 by immigrants from La Coruña, in the Galician region of Spain. In the late 1980s, Uruguay took steps to increase the quality of its wines and stepped up its marketing efforts, in an attempt to compete with Chilean wines and Argentine wines, which had lower production costs.
Unlike similar wines from Portugal or Spain – and more of a tropical fruit medley than the Viognier – Garzón Albariño Reserva (+18265) $24.99 exudes aromas of candied lemon rind, mango and pineapple. Tropical fruit flavours slide over the tongue on first sip before the underlying chalky minerality asserts the dry character of this intriguing white. Then that tropical fruit echoes into the aftertaste!
A mere 18 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean, Bodega Garzón is close to Punta del Este, La Barra, and Jose Ignacio – a Uruguayan paradise with mesmerizing landscapes. More than 1,000 small vineyard blocks are blessed by constant fresh breezes that leave a wisp of salt on the grapes.
When Chile’s wines first got our attention, what we thought was Merlot captured our taste buds long before we realized it might just be Carménère. By the time Argentina upgraded their winemaking to international standards, we knew that their predominant red wine grape was Malbec. More than 25 percent of the Uruguay’s 22,000 acres of vineyards produce Tannat.
A juicy, full-bodied red wine Garzón Tannat Reserva (+20790) $24.99 is fermented on its lees for a year or more in large, untoasted French oak barrels. Low yields and perfectly ripe late-picked grapes allow the winemakers to moderate the excessive tannins that are always a possibility with Tannat. Red and black berry aromas and flavours mingle in every mouthful of this sturdy wine.
Using concrete fermenting tanks – an expensive technique that is approved by consultant Alberto Antonini – softens this naturally spicy red. Keeping tannins in check also means ensuring that the grape seeds are fully ripe before picking.
Like the Reserva, Garzón Single Vineyard Tannat (+199810) $44.99 spends 12 to 18 months in untoasted French oak barrels after fermentation in concrete tanks. Aromas and flavours or dried strawberries, black cherries, blackcurrants and blackberries simmer under the first notes of fresh cut tobacco leaf, cedar and dark chocolate. Broodingly dark and intensely fruity and pepper-spiced, the dark earthy flavours finish with a wisp of sea salt and bright juicy acidity.
Seek out these intriguing wines if you’re ready to expand your wine tasting horizons. Only time will tell if Alejandro Bulgheroni’s introduction of Bodgea Garzón’s fine wines into British Columbia will lead to the arrival of more Uruguayan wines on local shelves.
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