A four day tour of Uruguayan wine country, small though it is, still barely scratches the surface and leaves one wanting more – be it somewhere new, or more of the same, the wines, people and culture are wonderfully addictive.
In November of last year one of the wine industry’s most venerable magazines, the Quarterly Wine Review, ceased publication. Wine, says owner Richard Elia, has lost its romance. The charm, the characters, the gentle hedonism, the mischievous sparkle; all have been losing ground at a devastating rate to marketing and point systems. In many ways he is right, from huge companies whose product just happens to be wine, to raging consumerism and out of control bandwagons, things can look a little bleak from a certain angle. A recent YouTube video shows a sommelier vigorously molesting his glass of wine (his glass in this case being a convenient lab beaker…) with a hand-held electric blender so as to better and more quickly aerate his fine aged wine. This is the face of the apocalypse, I thought; I rent my clothes, rubbed ash in my hair and spent a week wandering around in sackcloth.
A postcard available at Corchos, a small, classy wine bistro in the old quarter of Montevideo depicts a personification of a Tannat grape, Uruguay’s flagship varietal. He is short and … robust… North American of girth and his face sunburned to a deep shade of British tourist. He snarls a challenge over a stubby hand-rolled cigarette and his eyes back it up; try me, they say; see these spurs on my boots, they say; that’s right, they say; I’m no Pinot Noir mo#% *f#$!!@.
And for the longest time he got the arms-length respect he demanded in his native Madiran, a small area in the Gascon region of France. Generally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to make Madiran appellation wines (a wine must contain at least 40% Tannat to classify) or made as a single varietal, wines with Tannat are relatively simple and rustic and usually stored for many years before consumption is even considered.
I tend to travel home with lots of bottles. Rum, pisco, Cachaça, wine, etc. When I’m in Mendoza in particular, I tend to be stretching the limit of my legally allowed alcohol allowance. Also, considering if you are not buying from Duty Free and if you have a connecting flight in the United States, wine cannot be transported in your hand luggage. It has to be packed. Although I’ve never had a bottle brake in transit, I know it is coming.
Intipalka, produced in the Peruvian pisco heartland in of the region of Ica, manages to accomplish something that rarely occurs with Peruvian wine: not be spit out. Sure Tacama has put out a few alright wines, mostly their reserves, but nothing that could ever rival an average (lets not get carried away here) vino from Argentina or Chile. This wine isn’t half bad. Drinkable even. It proves Peru has the grape growing potential that extends beyond pisco.
Aesthetically, I have come to appreciate O. Fournier maybe more than any other winery in Mendoza. The dramatic architecture, cutting edge technology, glass enclosed restaurant, and art filled wine cellar have made the bodega here one of the most recognizable in Mendoza. During a visit to their Uco Valley winery in 2010 I found the team there to be surprisingly down to earth and approachable. Co-founder Jose Manuel and his wife Nadia Haron, the executive chef, were out chatting with the guests. Their daughter helped wait tables. This combination of elements all becomes reflected in the wine they produce.
I have never been to Salta, but torrontés might change that. The white grape, which I first tasted in Mendoza last year, has quickly become my favorite white. It’s the one wine I pair with almost anything now: sushi, cheese, paté, duck, grilled shrimp, and even fish tacos. It serves as a cleanser and can calm down your palate with spicy Asian and Latin foods. On a sunny day, a chilled glass of torrontés – with its hints of grapefruit, elderflower, and apricot – is as smooth and refreshing as any wine I’ve ever had. It’s the same feeling as cracking open a frosty cold beer after an exhausting day.
n Torrontés, from Argentina (Wines of The Times) the New York Times proclaims that torrontés, one of Argentina’s other blossoming white wines (another is viognier) has begun to take the United States by storm. In 2004, less than 30,00 cases of torrontés were exported to the U.S. In 2010, that number ballooned to 231,000 cases, the Times reports via Wines of Argentina.
Malbec grapes grow in Argentina like nowhere else on earth; just as grass fed cows have no prettier place to graze than on the country’s endless plains. These are two iconic elements of the country. On their own they spin legends, but pair the two and this is where they form something special. Something only experienced in Argentina.
While Chardonnay and to a lesser extent Torrentes and Sauvignon Blanc are almost always given the nod as South America’s favorite white wines, dry, refreshing Viognier is slowly carving out a name for itself. It pairs well with shellfish, seafood, sushi, and even curry and the wine is drunk best young.