They make wine in Uruguay?
They sure do!
But before we get into that, we're going to take a slight detour. For a quick second, let's talk about Malbec. What country comes to mind most often when we think about Malbec? Argentina, right? But the thing is, Malbec isn't originally from Argentina. Malbec's ancestral home is actually a small town in Southern France called Cahors. Bordeaux adopted this grape as one of their blending varietals, which is still in practice to this day. But in the mid 19th century, Argentina's provincial governor (and later President) Domingo Faustino Sarmiento instructed the French agronomist Michel Pouget to bring grapevine cuttings from France to Argentina. Among the vines that Pouget brought were the very first Malbec vines to be planted in the country and it is now Argentina's national varietal.
If we trekked a little further southwest from the commune of Cahors, we'd enter French Basque Country. In that part of France a grape varietal called Tannat has its origin. High in tannins and alcohol, Tannat, like Malbec, is a deep and rich grape and is often aged in oak to soften it. Also like Malbec, it too migrated to South America, but rather than Argentina, Tannat found a new home in Argentina's neighboring country Uruguay.
In the 1870's, Basque immigrants who settled in Uruguay brought Tannat along with them. Today more Tannat is grown and produced in Uruguay than in any other place in the world. And as Malbec is to Argentina, Tannat is the national varietal of Uruguay.
Now that the history lesson is over, let's get into what we'll actually be drinking!
East of Argentina, Uruguay is on the coast and has coastal influences. Thinking back to Basque Country, once out of France and over the Pyrenees mountains and into Spain we find ourselves in Spanish Basque Country. And as we go towards the west coast there in northern Spain we find ourselves in Rias Baixas. Coastal Rias Baixas where the famed Albariño originates. Like Malbec and Tannat before it, Albariño also made its way across the pond and to South America. Not to beat a dead horse, but you see the pattern that has emerged here. All of these Old World varietals from a relatively small part of Europe and all within close proximity of one another have found new homes and thrive all within close proximity of one another in New World countries in South America.
(That was a very wordy way of saying we'll be drinking an Albariño from Uruguay to start things off).
Next up is a no-brainer. With Spring looming and warmer weather on the horizon, rosé season is upon us. So we'll be enjoying a delicious little rosé made from Pinot Noir.
Our first red is yet another French Varietal that made its way to the New World: Cabernet Franc (Parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon and of Bordeaux and Loire Valley fame). See how everything's connected?!?
And of course, after that lengthy diatribe at the start of this piece, we'll be enjoying Uruguay's flagship: Tannat.
We'll be joined by Banks Wannamaker from RNDC who will be pouring for us and special guest Fabian Quintero who will tell us all about the 2018 winner of Wine Enthusiast's New World Winery of the Year Bodega Garzón and the wines of Uruguay. And as we imbibe, we can say, "Salud, dinero, amor, y tiempo para disfrutarlo," which is a common Uruguayan toast before drinking wine that translates to: Health, wealth, love and the time to enjoy it.
See you there!
The Wine Shop Team