Just how new can a New World wine region get? This is the question many wine drinkers pose when checking out vintages from Uruguay, a tiny region in South America that’s been garnering more attention these past few years.
Standing strong as the fourth largest wine-producing country in South America, Uruguay still manages to be looked over in favor of Argentina and Chile. This fact is slowly changing, however, as more global drinkers become interested in the underdogs of the wine industry.
Uruguayan winemakers combine traditional techniques with modern technology to create wines you can’t experience elsewhere.
If you’re curious to try a new region with a rapidly growing reputation, Uruguay is a delectable first step. Keep reading to learn about the wines of Uruguay, from the country’s winemaking history to their leading family-owned wineries.
Brief History of Uruguay’s Wine Industry
New World wine regions work around the clock to feed their growing wine culture. Whether through word-of-mouth or prestigious wine awards, Uruguay has been turning heads lately as a must-try origin for wine fans.
Uruguay first got its start in the winemaking world in the 18th century, hot off the heels of French immigrants curious to test out their wine grapes on foreign soil.
Basque settlers would later introduce another iconic red wine grape in the 19th century (which we’ll explore more below), eager to help the country carve out a unique identity. Red wines reign supreme to this day, despite rosé starting to close the gap with younger drinkers.
This tiny country’s population barely exceeds three million, making it one of the smallest New World origins outside of New Zealand.
With such tight-knit communities and less than two hundred wineries, Uruguay offers a more personalized experience than average. The sheer volume of tradition and dedication in this wine origin will completely change the way you look at the craft.
What Wine is Uruguay Known For?
The most common red wine grapes you’ll find in this origin are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.
A lesser-known wine grape starting to gain attention both in and outside of Uruguay is Marselan, a hybrid French grape born from Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. Likewise, a grape you must know about when getting into this origin is…
What Kind of Grape is Tannat?
Tannat is one of the iconic grapes of Uruguay wines, standing out as a staggeringly high tannic varietal commonly used in blends. This grape is a must-have if you like to age your wine bottles before drinking.
If you want to experience the full range of Tannat, seek out single-origin bottles from old vine lots as well as newer vineyards. Old vine is a term used for grapes that grow on vineyards that are fifty years or older.
Wine Regions in Uruguay
This small country still boasts several wine regions for you to dive into. Uruguay’s soil tends to be rich in limestone, a feature that retains vital moisture even in the driest weather.
Let’s start off with the wine region smack dab in the middle of Uruguay. Durazno is a slow-paced wine region that prefers slow-maturing grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Colonia is situated in a prime location, snug between the river Rio de la Plata and the ocean. This exposure to the ocean creates a clay-like soil that’s very appealing to farmers who want to grow healthy, fat wine grapes.
Compared to the previous two options, San José struggles with less nutritious soil. Does that mean you shouldn’t buy wine from this region? Far from it.
Winemakers growing grapes in San José have adapted to their terroir with clever planting methods, utilizing altitude, and choosing appropriate wine grapes.
This little region’s name already hints at its coastal nature, providing a mixture of cool weather and sandy soil for its wine production. Expect to enjoy a blend of red and white wines as a result.
Last but not least, we have Rivera situated right next to Brazil. This wine region has two powerful factors to its name: high altitude and solid drainage.
High altitude is an ideal ingredient for growing richer, more full-bodied wine grapes, exposing the vines to more consistent sunlight year round. Likewise, soil that drains well reduces the possibility of rot.
Wineries in Uruguay
Wineries in Uruguay aren’t as plentiful as you’d see in New World regions like Australia or Argentina, but the selection is no less compelling.
Vinos De Lucca
You don’t get much more traditionally Uruguay than Vinos De Lucca. With a portfolio filled with popularly planted grapes and a history stretching back to 1945, this winery is a profound first lesson.
Vinos De Lucca splits their portfolio into three parts: Premier, Reserva, and Premium. Their Premier wines are younger, aged briefly in oak before being bottled and sold.
If you want a few more years on the bottle, their Reserva lineup will meet you halfway. Lastly, their Premium provides aged blends and aged single varieties.
This Uruguayan winery is a modern twist on traditional winemaking, boasting state-of-the-art facilities and recently renovated vineyards. Bodega Garzón is a family-owned winery keen on putting its best foot forward.
This winery is a peak choice for drinkers who want some serious selection. Familiar grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Tannat are on display here, though you’ll also find rarer varieties like Albariño.
If you’re thinking of branching out from still wine, check out their brut varieties or their grappa (an Italian-style pomace).
With a lower price point and impressive quality, you’re all but guaranteed to find a wine that fits your tastes here.
Deceptively small, this winery is quite lively with regularly hosted cultural events, wine tasting, and even yoga.
Your wine journey will start off strong with Viña Eden, offering fresh Pinot Noirs right alongside finely aged Tannats. There’s also a wonderful selection of sparkling wines, rosés, and cooking oil.
Fun fact: cooking oil is one of the most common additions to wineries due to the similar growing conditions between olives and wines.
The Best Wines of Uruguay
While ‘the best’ is highly subjective, we chose the following Uruguayan wines to showcase the country’s tendency toward still reds and persistent love for varieties like Tannat.
Atlántico Sur El Carmen Durazno
Grown in the San José of Uruguay, this red blend mixes Cabernet Sauvignon and Marselan for a complex result.
Red blends are favored by both beginner and experienced wine drinkers for their carefully balanced flavor notes. These bottles rarely are ‘too sweet’ or ‘too dry’.
If you want a wine that’s less fruit-forward in favor of more spiced and smoky notes, this is the bottle for you. Save this wine for a homemade dinner with savory flavors such as beef, potatoes, or grilled vegetables.
Vinos De Lucca Tannat Reserva
Sooner or later, your Uruguayan wine journey will lead you to the niche Tannat grape. While Tannat is often used in blends to soften its tannins, single origins are still quite appealing to wine drinkers with acquired tastes.
This Reserva bottle comes with several months of French oak aging to push its notes of ripe plum and cassis. If you’re unfamiliar with cassis, this is a term used to refer to sweet blackcurrants.
Bodega Garzón Marselan 2020
The Marselan grape is growing increasingly popular in Uruguay, born from the breeding of the famed Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache varieties.
If you want a red wine that’s simultaneously classic and quaint, you’re in the right place. This bottle is an ode to rich, red fruit with a surprisingly minty aroma.
The winemakers highly recommend pairing their Marselan with pasta or sausage, which we agree with wholeheartedly.
Bodega Garzón Albariño 2021
This portfolio is so good, that we had to put two options on here. White wine fans will love the exceptional crispness and tangy acidity of this fresh bottle of Albariño.
With a lean toward a dry mouthfeel and zesty flavor notes, this wine would be brilliant alone or mixed into a risotto.
Viña Eden Pinot Noir Rosé 2018
Last but not least, consider adding an intense Uruguayan rosé to your list.
Pinot Noir grown in warmer climates tends to be more jammy and full-bodied than in cooler climates, which can be quite appealing depending on your tastes.
How Do I Improve My Uruguayan Wines?
Want to get the most out of your Uruguayan wines? We have a few tips to help keep your wine tasting as flavourful as possible.
Chill Your Red Wine Slightly Before Drinking
This tip may come off as strange since red wine is known for being best at room temperature. That said, giving your red wine a brief chilling session can enhance fruity flavors and reduce the flabby feel of too-warm bottles.
Chilled is not the same as cold! Pop your bottle into the fridge for just fifteen or twenty minutes before drinking to bring out its best side.
Swirl and Sniff
Aeration is a glass of wine’s best friend, reducing tightness and astringency. Exposing your wine to air is done by either decanting or swirling your drink before sipping.
Why Should I Drink Uruguayan Wines?
For a drinker learning about New World regions, this country is as fascinating as it is productive. Uruguay is a tiny slice of tradition nestled in the far corners of South America, diligently breathing life into its winemaking culture with every new bottle produced.
Uruguay’s winemaking cultures gained traction in the 18th and 19th centuries, gradually earning its reputation as the fourth largest wine producer in South America.
This country favors red wine, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and Marselan. White wine and rosé fans will still have plenty to enjoy, though expect the hot, coastal climate to create unique approaches compared to your classic Italian or French vintages.
Want to learn more about wine regions? Check out our pieces on Bordeaux and Victoria!