Exploring the Wines of Uruguay
What types of wines are produced in Uruguay?
Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America and its 4th largest wine producer closely following Argentina, Chile and Brazil. Uruguay has a track record of producing wine since the 1720s and defined its European-inspired style in the XIX century with the arrival of its many European diasporas. In addition, it specializes in Tannat and Albarino wine blends, adapted to Uruguay’s unique maritime climate. Uruguayan wines are a natural partner to the delicious beef-based gastronomy of the country.
Uruguayan grape stars: Tannat and Albarino
Tannat is Uruguay's workhorse red grape variety, accounting for more than 4000 acres of Uruguay’s vineyard area. Tannat is the indigenous grape of the French Southwest Basque country and was introduced in Uruguay during the 18th century. Uruguayan Tannat wines yield dark-hued wines with spicy undertones such as Indian spices, black licorice, and chocolate with red and black redcurrants. Its advantage over its French counterpart is that Uruguayan Tannat is more accessible in its youth with more elegant and softer tannins. Tannat grows particularly well in the Atlantic and mid-mountainous Canelones wine region, not far away from the capital Montevideo. In fact, Canelones wine output counts for 60% of the wine made in Uruguay. To complement Tannat, Uruguayan grows an array of red varieties that include Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot and Marselan.
Uruguay’s maritime climate akin to Galicia in northwest Spain is the perfect paradise to grow the Albarino white varietal grape. Uruguay’s love affair with the Spanish Albarino started circa two decades ago when the Bouza family introduced the variety as a way to reclaim their Galician roots in Uruguay. Today, the Deicas family grows the best Albarino in Uruguay. This honour was awarded by the Uruguayan wine guide Guia descorchados 2023. In addition, Master of Wine Tim Atkins has stated that Uruguay makes the best Albarino outside Spain. There are 60 hectares of Albarino (2020) planted in Uruguay which counts for 1.3% of total vineyard production. In Uruguay, Albariño is grown primarily in the coastal regions, particularly in the departments of Maldonado and Rocha. The climate and soil conditions in these regions are ideal for growing Albariño grapes, which require warm temperatures and well-drained soils. Uruguay's Albariño wines are known for their high acidity, floral aromas, and crisp, refreshing taste. They are typically unoaked, which allows the pure fruit flavours of the grape to shine through. In fact, its taste brings to mind an Australian riesling. Uruguay also grows Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Gewurtraminer.
Pairing food with Uruguayan wine.
Uruguayan wines make natural partners for their European roots cuisine. Tannat pairs perfectly with the diverse preparations of their high-quality beef, which is exported all over the world. Uruguayans consume an average of 60 kg of meat per year, making it one of the highest rates in the world. Albarino pairs excellently as well with Uruguayan oysters and cheeses such as Queso de la Colonia, a hard cheese made from cow’s milk.
A well-known food pairing with Albarino is Cappelletti a la Caruso. This dish contains stuffed pasta with a sauce made of nuts, ham and cheese.
In conclusion, Uruguay’s wine scene is small but niche-oriented producing wines from Albarino and Tannat grapes. If you are familiar with Chilean and Argentinian wines, definitely Uruguay is the next learning stepping stone to get a holistic view of South American wine. Uruguay is definitely a destination worth considering for those who love good wine and food.
1- Barnes, Amanda. 2022. “Uruguay: The Little Wine Country That Could.” World of Fine Wine. March 11, 2022. https://worldoffinewine.com/news-features/uruguay-the-little-wine-country-that-could.
2- Schachner, Michael. 2020. “In Uruguay, a Tiny Wine Region Makes a Big Impression.” Wine Enthusiast. December 17, 2020. https://www.winemag.com/2020/12/17/uruguay-wine-country/.
3-“Familia Deicas Posicionó a Uruguay Como El Productor Del Mejor Albariño Del Nuevo Mundo.” 2023. EL PAIS. March 31, 2023. https://www.elpais.com.uy/negocios/empresas/familia-deicas-posiciono-a-uruguay-como-el-productor-del-mejor-alb arino-del-nuevo-mundo
4- Trinidad, Adriana. 2020. “Albariño: Una Oportunidad Histórica Para Las Bodegas Uruguayas.” Uruguay Natural Marca Pais - Sitio Oficial. June 22, 2020. https://marcapaisuruguay.gub.uy/albarino-una-oportunidad-historica-para-las-bodegas-uruguayas/.
5-Amanda Barnes. 2019. “Pairing Food with Uruguayan Wine: A Guide to Uruguay Wine Pairings.” South America Wine Guide. January 11, 2019. https://southamericawineguide.com/pairing-food-with-uruguayan-wine-a-guide-to-uruguay-wine-pairings/.