Montevideo or Bust!


It is always time to sit up and pay attention when Uruguay comes to town (London in this case), especially when the opportunity arises to taste through a ‘hand-picked’ selection of the best of their ‘new wave’ of wines. The tasting took place, end of March 2023, under ground at 67 Pall Mall, and they showed off, respectively, innovative styles of un-oaked, orange, pet nat and amphora-fermented wines. Some modern whites dominated by Albariño, but also with Chardonnay and outstanding Rieslings. The reds came in diverse Cabernet Franc, Marselán, Syrah and Malbec, coming from the 15 bodegas. If there was a defining thread, it was the vivacity and drinkability right across the board. Most of us know that Tannat is their flagship grape, but now they are on a mission to show the world more than just the Tannat, and boy oh boy did they manage to pull that one off. Si Si!

“There are a lot of good expressions, styles and interesting grapes in Uruguay. Also Tannat, but with a lot of different styles; pink, carbonic maceration, unoaked and new ways, there is a lot going on in Uruguay.” a passing comment from one producer at the tasting.

In terms of the best varieties to promote as Uruguay’s ‘calling cards’, there appears to be near unanimous backing for it’s signature Tannat among the reds, although with Marselán as an increasingly successful newish addition to the show. Cabernet Franc and Syrah are among those that are also offering standout wines.

With the whites, winemaker Daniel Pisano of Pisano estate is among a growing number that believe there is a strong argument for Albariño as the white counterpart to Tannat, even though so little is currently planted. “Demand is making us plant Albariño,” he said, adding that while Uruguay is increasingly recognised for the quality of it’s Sauvignon Blancs, the world is flooded with the variety, “so why would you look for it from Uruguay?”.

It was arguably relative newcomer Garzón that really put Uruguayan Albariño on the (international) map, with big investment and wine consultant Alberto Antonini at the helm. But other bodegas, such as Vinos de Mar, Deicas and Bouza also produce superb, typically crisp and saline iterations, with wines increasingly benefitting from texture-enhancing barrel work.

Uruguay now has over 100 hectares of Albariño planted. However, add great Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, plus the likes of Petit Manseng, Riesling, Viognier and even a Torrontés, to name just some of the most prominent and feted white varieties. Back to Tannat, though, and intriguingly it was an old timer of a local grape, rather than a youthful whipper snapper that shows off it’s old school macho image.

Pisano showed his 1996 RPF Tannat, all made before wine barrels were even first shipped by Uruguayan producers, which, despite being “rustically made”, still showed balance and a bit of life left in it. Tannat will and should remain king, and rightly so. But it is the evolving diversity from this small, Atlantic cooled country that will help drive an exciting future on the world stage, which it already has it’s foot firmly upon.

The big show up for me was from an Italian couple, Pablo Fallabrino & family, who immigrated to Uruguay some 20+ years ago now, and I even had the good fortune to visit them around fifteen years ago when they where just starting to produce their local wine. The wines to look out from them, especially the whites, are from Bodega Vinedo de los Vientos, Dpto Canelones, by Pablo Fallabrino:

2020 Estival
60% Gewurztraminer, 30% Chardonnay & 10% Moscato Bianco
Orange & Tangerine on the nose backed up with Lime, Grapefruit and mineralogy on the palate.

2019 Arneis
60% Arneis & 40% Chardonnay
Appley and little stones. Quince and Citrus finishing bone dry.

2018 Notos
90% Nebbiolo & 10% Tannat
Cherry and rose petal, spices and Redcurrant. Orangey finish, delicious!

2018 Catarsis
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tannat & 20% Barbera
Cabernet with Cherriness, Vanilla and Eucalyptus.

The other serious bodega to look for would be Cerro Del Toro, Piriapolis in Dpto.Maldonado, a little further up the Atlantic coast from chez Fallabrino. Again two superb whites from this stable:

Their Albarino Sobre Lias 2021 is a cracker of a white.
Aged on it’s lees for minimum of six months. Peach & Apricot and a wonderful honied (not sweet) finish.

Singular Chardonnay Fosiles de Mar 2021
What a lovely Latin American Chardonnay. Super elegant and slightly spicy. Chalky dry finish but I want to go back for more.

Singular Pinot Noir 777 2020 all hit the right spots aswell, after 12 months in used barriques!
Raspberry, Cherry, Tangerine and silky tannins make up an absolutely delicious glass of wine.

”I say, I think we’re messing up their game Sir!”
Well, comes the reply from P.Cook:
”Serves them right, they should be playing something like Cricket”

Having travelled this month between Buenos Aires, Dusseldorf, Paris and London over the last two weeks, I can now share with you that the world is definitely not playing Cricket, at all, at the moment. Prowein was a waste of time, Paris was on fire (riots and Police, rubbish & strikes) and dear old London seems to be a bit lost under a total building/construction site (scaffolding and road works absolutely everywhere, not to forget the strikes there as well). Very difficult to get around, train and plane strikes everywhere, and of course it was cold, I just wasn’t expecting it to be so chilly (zero to 5 degrees) having just come from 40 degrees of summertime hotness.  All that aside, tasting all of the top 2019 Barolos, 2020 Barbarescos and 2020 Dolcettos possible, in one large BAFTA room (3 hours of intensive tasting off Piccadilly) was quite something. Then sorting out some post-Brexit nonsense paperwork, which is now the norm. aparently, and then drinking some very good Swiss wine (a Fendant from the Valais) produced on Les Terrasses by Jean-Rene Germanier in Vetroz and followed the next day by some jolly good old Clarets (1982s-2000s) separately of course, all made life definitely worth living for a bit longer. I can still actually taste the glacier-schist in that Chasselas. Fresh, citrusy and a full palate. Nothing like the ski-slope Fendant I used to drink as a child. Superb!

When in May, go away!” W.P.H.