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Uruguay - part II

By Wink Lorch

Uruguayan People and Wineries

Apart from the wines themselves, by far the most attractive side to the Uruguayan wine industry is the nature of the people that produce the wines.

By New World standards, most of the wineries are small, and almost all are family owned and it is a real pleasure to meet - instead of the ubiquitous export manager, or if you are lucky, transient winemaker - a dedicated, educated and enthusiastic group of people, making and promoting their own wines. From a wide selection of backgrounds - most originally Italian or Spanish families, putting a personal stamp on your wines is considered crucial and this shows well in their wines. Here is a summary of the important export wineries and their wines:

See all stockists of Uruguayan wines on wine-searcher.

Bodega Bouza
The only fairly new winery in the list, Elisa and Juan Bouza made their money in the food industry. They decided to buy an established vineyard with some fine old vines, and, some distance away a beautiful estancia, where they keep rare breeds of sheep, vintage cars, and have planted new vineyards and created a state-of-the-art boutique winery. They focus on just a few grape varieties, which include Chardonnay, Merlot and Tannat and, unusually, Tempranillo and Albariño reflecting their Spanish family origins. Attention to detail is high and shows through in the clear-cut, elegant and sometimes intense wines.

Some of the range is available from Great Western Wines.

Vinos Carrau (Castel Pujol/Cerro Chapeu)
The Carrau family was one of the first to recognise the export potential for their wines. With two sites and wineries, one in Rivera on the Brazilian border (wines from here are marketed as Cerro Chapeu), and the other in Canelones (Castel Pujol), for some years they have had a good selection of fruit and more than competent winemaking. With a wide range of wines, they were the first to produce very fresh, flavoursome Sauvignon Blanc from both wineries, and an excellent, ageworthy Tannat Amat from Cerro Chapeu.

Laymont and Shaw used to be their UK agents, but there is currently no importer.

Bodegas Castillo Viejo (Catamayor)
One of the larger quality wine producers, the Etcheverry family has two vineyard sites covering 130 hectares, mostly trained to the Lyre system. The Catamayor wines used to benefit from the consultancy of New Zealander Duncan Killiner (who subsequently married a daughter of the family) and this gave them a good kick-start to making clean, tangy Sauvignon Blanc. They are also known for Cabernet Franc, of which they have parcel of old vines, making an interesting reserve wine.

Wines imported by Forth wines.

De Lucca
Reinaldo de Lucca is one of several great characters of the Uruguayan wine world. Keen to tell you of his Italian family background and his three university degrees from Montevideo, Penn State (USA) and Montpellier (France), he's a passionate Francophile and traditionalist, but nevertheless fiercely proud of his part in the growing success of the Uruguayan wine industry. Also involved in a vine nursery business, he farms his vines as naturally as is possible, and keeps his winery as basic as possible. Along with some excellent Tannat and Tannat blends, he makes an exotic Marsanne and an elegant, spicy Syrah.

No agent, but the Wine Society stocks some of his wines.

Establecimiento Juanico (Don Pascual/Preludio/Familia Deicas)
The largest of the serious exporting wineries, Juanico has been owned by the Deicas family since 1979 and they have gradually transformed more than 200 hectares of vineyards and adapted the winery to produce quality wines. A large range is made of unoaked and oaked wines for various markets culminating in an up-scale Tannat blend, Familia Deicas made in very small quantities in conjunction with Bernard Magrez. Viognier has been successful in blends with Chardonnay here, and there are various good Tannats. The ultra-premium Gran Bodegon (or Preludio) red (a Tannat blend) and white (Chardonnay-Viognier blend) are both good.

Agent for the Off-Trade is Georges Barbier. The Wine Society stocks some of their wines.

Bodega Marichal
A relatively small family winery, this is an up-and-coming name to watch, with young Juan Marichal leading the way after five years experience in Mendoza, Argentina. They have 48 hectares, not yet all geared to fine wine production, and along with the usual varieties, they grow some Pinot Noir, which has done well on its own and as a surprisingly successful blend with Tannat. Their Chardonnay is also excellent. The wines were imported into the UK by the Cellaret, which has recently gone into liquidation leaving Marichal in the lurch. Let's hope they find a new importer soon.

Pisano Wines
Perhaps the leading quality wine producer of Uruguay. Currently without a UK agent, despite exporting to over 18 countries, winning a string of accolades and beloved by the media, it seems that the problem here is the relatively high price of the range. Based in Progreso, Canelones, the Pisano family of three brothers (one manages the vineyards, one the winery and one the exports), produces a huge range of wines, in particular reds, and it is unusual not to like them all tasting through the range. They make excellent Tannat at various levels, up to the intense Axis Mundi and including a cross between a port and an amarone, called Et Xe Oneko.

They have Tannat blends too including the consistently good Arretxea and they have pioneered high quality Pinot Noir (with input from Burgundians Boisset), Syrah and even Petit Verdot. In whites, along with Chardonnay and Viognier, they make an interesting Torrontes. They expect to find a new UK importer soon.

Pizzorno Wines
Carlos and Ana Pizzorno are dedicated to building up their small family business, which dates back to 1910 when Carlos' grandfather first planted vineyards. Carlos made the move from quantity to quality wine production and his love is the vineyard, where he constantly experiments to improve the grapes, keeping yields low. In the winery, which they have recently expanded, they have advice from New Zealander Duncan Killiner. An excellent Sauvignon is produced along with very good Tannat and Tannat blends.

Ana holds everything together, with a day job as a doctor, (and part of a research team investigating the benefits of moderate red wine consumption in the prevention of colonic cancer, very prevalent in this meat-eating country) and somehow she manages to sneak time off to come to international Trade Shows as she speaks English. They are currently the only Uruguayan winery with a national supermarket listing - their Merlot/Tannat 2005 is available at Waitrose at £6.99. Laymont and Shaw used to be their agent - they are currently seeking a new agent.

Other wineries of interest to look out for in the future include Filgueira, Stagnari, Toscanini, Traversa and Los Ventos from Canelones, and Irurtia and Los Cerros de San Juan from Colonia.