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Expert’s choice: Uruguay

In partnership with Uruguay Wine

From intense, textured Tannats to fresh, ocean-influenced Albariños, Marina Gayan MW selects 18 wines to kickstart your journey of discovery

Many wine lovers around the world are yet to taste Uruguayan wines. This is perhaps because of the small scale of the country’s wine production and Uruguay’s relatively recent arrival on the international wine scene. Bearing in mind that only 5% of the country’s bottled wines are exported, this tasting showcases fully half of the producers who export the highest quality Vinos de Calidad Preferente (VCP) wines.

The predominance of red wines is perhaps not surprising in a country where most of the land is dedicated to beef production. Uruguay has the highest per capita consumption of beef in the world (56kg, followed closely by Argentina with 54kg). Of the 6,100ha of vineyards in Uruguay, 4,900ha are planted with red grapes, predominantly Tannat and Merlot.

All but one of the reds in this selection are made, wholly or in part, from Uruguay’s flagship grape variety, Tannat. The eight single-variety Tannats here share a few characteristics: colour intensity, oak ageing (two wines are unoaked), textured tannins, refreshing acidity and a savoury edge that enhances the dark fruit.

All in the blend

To my mind, Tannat blends are Uruguay’s secret weapon. The top three wines here showcase the quality that can be achieved in this country. Surprisingly, none of them comes from Canelones, Uruguay’s most important wine region, which accounts for 65% of the country’s vineyards. One is a Merlot-based blend from the volcanic soils of Cerro del Guazuvirá in Lavalleja. The other two are Tannat-based blends from coastal Maldonado – one from Viña Edén and the other from Garzón.

When it comes to whites, Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc are logical grape varieties for the terroir. Uruguay is surrounded by water on all sides except for its northern border with Brazil. The maritime climate is similar to that of Galicia, the Spanish homeland of Albariño, and even though the variety remains niche in Uruguay, with only 47ha of vineyards planted, quality is blossoming. There is a little more Sauvignon Blanc planted (about 120ha) and the wine I have recommended here demonstrates the quality potential of this variety in Uruguay. Salud!

Bouza, Albariño, Montevideo/Canelones 2019 95

£19.95 (2018)

This wine is the perfect Albariño archetype. Lovely fresh apricots, white-fleshed nectarines and yeasty notes. Beautifully lifted palate of layered citrus and stone fruits, with mineral notes and an underlying saltiness. Drink 2020-2021 Alc 14.5%

Bodegas Carrau, Juan Carrau Sauvignon Blanc Sur Lie, Canelones 2018 95

N/A UK

What a nice surprise! A Sauvignon Blanc that is elegant and mineral; marked by yeasty aromas together with citrus and subdued tropical notes. Lovely texture and zingy acidity. Drink 2020-2021 Alc 13%

Bodega Garzón, Balasto, Maldonado 2017 95

£100

A blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Marselan made only in the best years. Dark and bold with intense aromas of plum and spices. A wine that begs for time in bottle. Drink 2022-2030 Alc 14%

Familia Deicas, Extreme Vineyards Cerro del Guazuvirá, Lavalleja 2018 95

£31

Merlot, Tannat, Petit Verdot and Viognier. Entices with notes of black plums, olives, spice and toast. Structured, concentrated, with juicy fruit. Drink 2020-2026 Alc 13.5%

Viña Edén, Cerro Negro Gran Reserva, Maldonado 2016 95

N/A UK

A blend of Tannat, Merlot and Marselan with complex aromas of blueberries, spices and smoky oak. Beautiful elegance with a vibrant acidity showing off its oceanic influence. Drink 2020-2028 Alc 13.9%

De Lucca, Río Colorado Reserve, Canelones 2011 94

£25

Shows Tannat’s ageing potential. Blended with Cabernet and Merlot, it displays classic earthy aromas of tobacco and dark fruit. Meaty and juicy on the palate. A serious wine. Drink 2020-2023 Alc 13.5%

Uruguay wine group

Giménez Méndez, Premium Tannat, Canelones 2018 93

£25

Packed with aromas of blueberries and blackcurrants. The palate opens with a chocolatey attack, layered with black pepper and vanilla. Chalky tannins and powerful oak. Drink 2021-2028 Alc 14.5%

Marichal, Grand Reserve A Tannat, Canelones 2015 93

£27.99

Lovely expression of black forest fruit and spices with a hint of vanilla. Concentrated chalky tannins are balanced by juicy fruit, keeping the plentiful oak in line. Let it breathe. Drink 2020-2028 Alc 13.5%

Ariano Hermanos, Don Julio Ariano Special Reserve Tannat-Merlot-Syrah, Canelones 2017 92

N/A UK

Juicy dark fruits and toasty oak notes are followed by spices and plums, rounded out nicely by sweet tannins. Persistent finish. Drink 2020-2024 Alc 14%

Cerro Chapeu, Reserva Tannat, Rivera 2018 92

N/A UK

A balanced, modern and approachable Tannat with substance. Violets, blue fruit and quince, smooth tannins and light toasty oak. Lovely blueberries lifted by acidity. Fantastic value. Drink 2020-2023 Alc 13%

Narbona, Roble Tannat, Colonia 2015 91

£21.99

Its dark inky colour is rapidly matched by dense dark fruits and red plums. Then come the tobacco nuances giving it a classic feel. Quite big and tannic, with a fair amount of oak adding structure and complexity – but still juicy. Drink 2020-2023 Alc 14.5%

Antigua Bodega Stagnari, Mburucuyá, Canelones 2015 90

N/A UK

Pepper aromas with dark fruit and a touch of white pepper. Juicy raspberries and blackberries with a vibrant acidity and light yet grainy tannins. Serve this unoaked blend slightly chilled. Drink 2020-2022 Alc 13%

Uruguay wine

Bodegas Castillo Viejo, Catamayor Reserva de la Familia Tannat, Canelones 2017 90

N/A UK

Floral notes and ripe plums give way to savoury and spicy notes. Textured yet supple tannins and well-integrated sweet oak flavours. Drink 2020-2022 Alc 13.5%

Familia Traversa, Viña Salort Reserva Tannat, Canelones 2018 90

£10.99

Good value. Supple tannins coupled with sweet coconut oak notes deliver pure charm. Luscious red fruits and a smooth texture make this wine very approachable – if you like oak. Drink 2020-2022 Alc 13.5%

Pizzorno, Maceración Carbónica Tannat, Canelones 2019 90

N/A UK

Carbonic maceration makes this Tannat soft, juicy and delicious. We are in the land of serious Beaujolais, deliciously fruity but with a savoury undertone and a minerality to its tannins. Drink 2020-2021 Alc 13%

Casa Grande, Super Blend, Canelones 2015 89

N/A UK

The character in the funky label mirrors this wine’s charm. Packed with red and black fruit and meatiness. The blend includes Tempranillo and Arinarnoa, a crossing of Tannat and Cabernet. Drink 2020 Alc 13%

Familia Dardanelli, Family Reserve Merlot, Canelones 2018 89

£15

Cake-like aromas carry through to the palate. Prunes and figs combined with sweet oak notes. Powerful tannins match the ripe fruit, while the acidity holds the wine together. Drink 2020-2022 Alc 13.4%

Pisano, Río de los Pájaros Reserve Tannat, Canelones 2018 89

£21.95

Lovely bright purple colour. Perfumed aromas of violets and blueberries. Good concentration of juicy, soft, dark fruit balancing a pleasant structure. A good lunch wine. Drink 2020-2021 Alc 13.5%

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