Uruguay is situated in the southern hemisphere between the 30-35 latitudes, similar to its fellow wine producing countries of Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Uruguay’s geographical location aids it to excel in the production of fine wines. The wine regions clay-based soils and the balanced hours of sun, volume of rainfall, and temperatures in Uruguay are ideal for the growth of the vines, which lie among the gently undulating hills without any artificial irrigation.
Uruguayan vineyards are greatly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, much like in Bordeaux, although having a longer, warmer growing season. While the suns intensity is similar to that of Argentina and Chile, refreshing cool air currents are generated from the Antarctic.
Uruguay is the fourth-largest producer of wine in South America, with approximately 9,000 hectares under vines - with all being harvested by hand. Its signature wines are red, produced from the Tannat grape varietal although several whites including Albariño and Cocó are receiving international attention.
The Uruguayan wine industry dates back to 1870, started by immigrants of mainly Basque and Italian origin. In 1870, Tannat was introduced to the country by a Basque migrant named Don Pascual Harriague. Albariño was introduced to Uruguay in 1954 by immigrants from La Coruña, located in the Galician region of Spain.
The wines produced in Uruguay generally have lower alcohol levels due to their physiological ripeness producing wines with a potential of 12-12.5%. This results in wines attaining a natural balance between acidity and fruitiness - and while tannins are present in their red wines; they are soft and smooth in character.
In Uruguay over recent years wineries have instigated an energetic and focused process of restructuring vineyards and wineries, with excellent results for all. This worldwide recognition for producing good quality, harmonious, and elegant wines has been accompanied by an exceptional growth in exports, which have tripled over the past five years, now greater than 3.2 million litres annually.
The country has 9,000 hectares under vines - with all harvested by hand. The vineyard area is made up of; Tannat the most planted at approximately 36% - Merlot 10%, Chardonnay 7%, Cabernet Sauvignon 6%, Sauvignon Blanc 6%, and Cabernet Franc and Syrah at around 4%. Also Muscat Hamburg is still a common varietal for VC-classified Rosé wines.
Tannat has transformed itself into the ‘national varietal’, adapting perfectly to the local soils and climate. Considered an exotic grape varietal, demand worldwide for Tannat is growing. Uruguay is the only country in the world where significant amounts of Tannat are grown, more than in its native Madiran and Irouléguy in south-west France. Tannat makes a red wine of intense colour, good aroma and body which is well suited to accompany game, beef and other red meats. It is a strong wine with a great personality which will surprise your taste buds.
There are two wine classifications for wines crafted in Uruguay:
• Vino de Calidad Preferente (VCP), a ‘quality wine’ category. Wines must be made from Vitis Vinifera varietals and are required to be sold in 750ml bottles or smaller.
• Vino Común (VC), a ‘table wine’ category. VC wines are often sold in Demijohns and Tetra-Paks, and much of it is made into rosé.
The majority of vineyards and wineries are located in the hills north of the capital Montevideo, particularly in the departments: San José, Canelones, Montevideo and the lovely old town of Colonia del Sacramento, and more scattered around the country including an interesting outpost in Rivera, on the northern border with Brazil. Though there has been the lose of major vineyards in Flores, Rio Negro and Treinta-y-Tres over past two decades.