TBT – A Tale of Two Uruguayan Wineries

Today’s Throwback Thursday tale from 2008 follows on the heels of yesterday’s Wine Wednesday post about the very tasty Tannat wine.  It was during this trip to South America when we visited both Argentina and Uruguay, that we decided once leaving Costa Rica, we would make our next ex-pat move to Buenos Aires.  But let’s not jump the gun.

Plaza Independencia
Plaza Independencia

We were staying in Montevideo, the capital and largest city of Uruguay.  Montevideo is situated in the southern coast of the country, on the northeastern bank of the Río de la Plata directly across from Buenos Aires.  Ironic that we are doing this on Malbec World Day.

So just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.  This was our fateful trip into the Uruguayan wine country.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

By our second day in Uruguay, we were seriously beginning to regret the brevity of our stay here. The food and the wine had been incredible, and the people never ceased to amaze us with their hospitality.

And now it was time to go see some vineyards.

Our driver for the day, Carlos, arrived at our hotel at 10:00AM sharp, as requested (a nice break from the standard 1 hour lateness we’ve come to expect in Costa Rica). Like everyone else here, he was very forthcoming and friendly, and even made an effort to speak some English with us.

Soon, we were out of Montevideo and in the middle of nowhere. Uruguay really is quite empty outside of Montevideo. For the next half hour, we passed some cows, some fields, some farmhouses, and not much else. There weren’t even many other cars on the well maintained 4 lane highway.

Finally, we arrived in the village of Juanico. A cute little village, with a surprising number of amenities, but nothing much to see here. Our destination was the Juanico Winery and that’s where we headed.

Welcome to Juanico
Welcome to Juanico

What awaited us when we arrived was positively stunning. Early 19th century stone buildings, a beautiful, modern processing facility, and vineyards as far as the eye could see.

This particular vineyard (they have another in the North of the country) spans 240 hectares and is home to twelve varieties of grapes and supporting crops (more on which later). As we were soon to find out first hand, what we were seeing was only a tiny slice of it.

The lodge at Juanico
The lodge at Juanico

We eagerly entered the main lodge and asked if we might be given a tour. We were told that someone would be with us shortly, and offered some delicious coffee while we waited. Mike had three cups while Sharyn started taking pictures.

Juan our guide
Juan our guide

Within 15 minutes, Juan, who was to be our guide, greeted us in almost perfect English and explained our options to us. The tour of the facilities would be free, and there were three different tasting options to choose from with a different cost attached to each.

After a bit of thought, we opted for the “Grand Tasting,” the mid-priced option, including 6 wines and a plate of cured meats, cheeses and empanadas.

We were now ready for our tour.

So, with Juan in tow, we piled back into our cab and drove out into the vineyards. On the way, Juan pointed out a variety of fields along with the type of grape grown there and the age of the vines.

The Juanico Vineyards
The Juanico Vineyards

The variety was quite impressive, as was the layout of the vineyard. As we travelled down the gravel paths, I started noting many features of Permaculture in the vineyards. Juan had never heard of Permaculture, but he’d only been working there for two months, and, while his English was excellent, there may have been some language issues interfering as well.

When we stopped, it was between two fields, one housing two-year old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and the other holding one year old Chardonnay vines. There was an ancient stone structure here from the top of which we were able to see the contours of several nearby fields.

The design was superb. Grass filled in the gaps between rows of vines, allowing for easier hand-picking of the grapes. A variety of trees surrounded each field to hold the soil in place, protect the grapes from the wind and stabilize the temperature. The only thing that surprised me a bit was the fact that the rows of vines were perpendicular rather than parallel to the drainage lines.

This Juan explained without even being asked. Apparently, no type of artificial irrigation is used here. The rains provide more than adequate water for the grapes. Once the water drains down the rows into drainage points, it allows the earth to dry to the point of cracking thereby providing aeration for the roots.

This was textbook design-over-effort agriculture. Mike was thrilled.

We piled back into the van and drove back to the winery. Here we got the standard tour of huge stainless steel vats, epoxy-lined concrete fermentation chambers, presses, and, of course, huge French and American oak casks.

The Juanico winery maintains as much as possible of the traditional wine making methods while using just enough technology to remain competitive. They pick the grapes by hand but use automated presses to crush them. They transfer material from vat to vat using gravity where possible and avoiding pumps almost completely.

It was a great tour, and now it was time for the tasting. We headed back to the main lodge.

Picada at Juanico
Picada at Juanico

What awaited us there was a huge plate of cured meats and cheeses, another of empanadas, and a mildly dizzying array of wine glasses.

Juan went behind the bar and started pouring while we helped ourselves to some surprisingly delicious empanadas.

All in all, we tasted six of their wines and their only Liquor (in order):

Carrau "Champers"
Carrau “Champers”

Cuvee Castelar
A sparkling wine made in the Champagnois method (although, thanks to the WTO they are not allowed to call it Champagne).

Don Pascual Sauvignon Gris 2008
A very tasty white wine of which we ended up buying a bottle.

Cabernet Franc 2008

Petit Verdot Roble 2007

Familia Deicas Barrel Select Preludio 2004
We fell in love with this wonderfully complex wine and bought a bottle.

Familia Deicas Premiere Cru Tannat 2004
This one was not supposed to be part of the tasting, but they had an open bottle around and Juan let us taste some. It was an excellent wine but unfortunately well out of our budget.

Licor de Tannat
Licor de Tannat

Licor de Tannat 2005
A sweet dessert wine made of distilled Tannat wine with a 19.5% alcohol concentration. Juan brought out some delicious cookies to go with this and We bought a bottle of it as well.

I’ll leave the tasting notes to Parker et al, but we were both very impressed with the quality of all of the wines and with the fact that their price really did correlate strongly with their taste (this is by no means universally the case as we were to find out the hard way in Mendoza).

Flat Stanley at Juanico
Flat Stanley at Juanico

After seven glasses of wine, one of which was highly concentrated, we were fairly drunk. Before paying for the wine tasting and stumbling back into the van for our next vineyard visit, Juan was gracious enough to poses for a picture with Flat Stanley.  A good friend had asked us to bring Flat Stanley along on this South American adventure and take his picture everywhere we went for her son’s second grade class.

When we’d planned our outing for the day, we had included three Vineyards. However, our state after the first one led us to curtail the number by one. The two remaining vineyards on our itinerary were Carrau and Bouza. Since we’d really enjoyed a bottle of Tannat from Carrau the previous night, we decided to give Bouza a miss on this trip.

So, off we went to Carrau Winery.

Welcome to Carrau Winery
Welcome to Carrau Winery

After about 20 minutes of driving back along the same highway on which we’d come, we arrived at a very different winery.

Carrau "Vineyards"
Carrau “Vineyards”

The grapes for the Carrau wines are all grown in the North of the country. They are then transported to the facility we were in for processing, fermentation, aging, etc. The only vineyard here was a small “”model”” vineyard for the benefit of tourists.

Nonetheless, the facilities were very impressive and extremely modern. And, we were fortunate enough to be given a tour by Margaritta Carrau, one of the daughters of the founder of the winery.

Carrau Barrels
Carrau Barrels

She gave us the standard tour of the epoxy lined fermentation chambers, the stainless steel aging casks, and of course, the French and American oak casks.

The Carrau "Lab"
The Carrau “Lab”

The tour was short, but very personal and very informative (with cool test tubes and bunsen burners and glass coils and stuff).

And then it was time for the tasting. In order, we tasted:

Savignon Blanc 2008
Another surprisingly tasty white.

Tanat de Reserva 2005
Another excellent Tannat.

Ysern Cabernet Blend 2004
This wine is made from a mix of Cabernet grapes from a variety of vineyards. The result is superb. We bought a bottle.

Arerungua Tannat 2002 (made by Carrau Ferrer)
Wow! Absolutely delicious, but too expensive for our blood, especially since we’d be lugging it around for quite a while.

Nebiolo with Souzao
I can’t remember much about this one, and apparently, our notes were getting really sloppy by this point. Sharyn seems to remember it being like Port.

By the time we finished, it was around 4:00PM and we were seriously done for the day. Mercifully, our hotel was only about a half hours uneventful drive away.

We paid Carlos and stumbled into bed for a much needed two-hour nap before dinner

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