On Thursday April 20th Janine led a the ICC Tasting on Wines Of Uruguay. I am very grateful to her for organising and conducting the tasting, and for the excellent notes she has provided.
The Tasting focused on two leading producers Juanicó/Familia Deicas and Vinedo de los Vientos. Lets start with some information about them:
Juanicó is Uruguay’s largest wine company, owning about 240 hectares of vineyards. The modern company is run by the Deicas family who founded it in 1979. The company is now run by Fernando Deicas who is the son of the founder. Fernando trained as a chemical engineer, is familiar with all the latest technical knowledge and equipment, and is a very good taster. Fernando brought French specialists to Juanicó, and he traveled throughout France and Italy on a study tour before planting grapes in the early 1980s. Most of their vineyards surround the property in Canelones, situated about 40 minutes north-west of the capital Montevideo. Their main challenge is dealing with the high humidity in Uruguay. Well drained soils like the clay-limestone around the property help, as do open vine canopies such as the lyre system (where vines are grown on a flat plane, for example against a wall. About 12 grape varieties are grown. Red grapes include Tannat, Cabernet Sauignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Marselan (a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir). White grapes include Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The entry and medium level wines are labelled as Juanicó, while Familia Deicas is used for the top wines. Their premium wine Gran Bodegón shows the potential of Uruguay to make fine wine.
Vinedo de los Vientos is located east of Montevideo on the coast. Vinedo de los Vientos means “Vineyard of the Winds”, and sits where the River Plate estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean. With 17ha under vine, the family practices sustainable farming. Owner Pablo Fallabrino says “It’s really wild,” and “we don’t like an overworked vineyard.” Pablo grew up in a family of winemakers. His grandfather moved to Uruguay from Piedmont in Italy in 1920, and in the 1930’s he started two wineries with five different vineyards. Eventually, Pablo’s father Alejandro took over and became one of the key players in the Uruguayan wine industry, until he died in 1991. After his death, Pablo took over one of the vineyards – Vinedo de los Vientos – and in 1997, he started his own winery. Then in 2000, Pablo decided to do something different and he began blending and experimenting with winemaking techniques. For example, the dry wine tasted here (Estival) is a blend, but is fermented all together. He also experiments with different techniques for Tannat wines and is now planting Italian varietals. And with the acquisition of 10ha of vineyards at 500 meters above sea level, Vinedo de los Vientos now has the highest vineyard in Uruguay. The vineyard is two to three degrees cooler than his other vineyard and it’s steep, so he’ll have to make terraces. Using no insecticide and no-till farming, Vinedo de los Vientos does not filter their wines, and only fine with egg whites if necessary.
CASTELAR EXTRA BRUT (FAMILIA DEICAS) – 12% – £13, Wines of Uruguay
90% Chardonnay and 10% Viognier
This wine was a surprise, as I was expecting a light, frothy Prosecco-style sparkler, but it was quite a deep golden colour and had rich flavours of ripe lemons and tropical fruits with a touch of stem ginger spice. Quite sharp acidity and a slight bitterness on the finish, along with some minerality. The downside was that the bubbles weren’t very persistant and the wine fell flat quite quickly. Given the deep colour and richness, perhaps it had been aged for too long before release?
ESTIVAL 2015 (VINEDO DE LOS VIENTOS) – 12.5% – £13, Wines of Uruguay
60% Gewürz, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Moscato Bianco
Pale golden colour. A mix of tropical fruits and a hint of lychees and rose petals from the Gewürz. Fairly light bodied, but with a touch of oilyness on the palate. Quite rich flavours and a nicely balancing acidity. A nice summery wine, refreshing but with some interest and depth.
BODEGONES DEL SUR VIOGNIER 2015 (JUANICO) – 13.5% – £12, Wines of Uruguay
100% Viognier, 5% of which was fermented in new American oak barrels for 6 months.
Medium gold colour. Peaches and apricots and a honeysuckle-type floral aroma. Dry, rich and full-bodied, with refreshing acidity and reasonably good length. Felt like more of a serious wine than the previous white.
ATLANTICO SUR TANNAT 2011 (FAMILIA DEICAS) – 13.8% – £12.95, Wine Society
Deep purple colour. First impression was of quite a strong vanilla aroma, but this faded and blackberries emerged, along with a touch of spice and herbs. Medium bodied, fruity and soft, with ripe tannins and a refreshing level of acidity. A surprising (in a good way) introduction to Tannat from Uruguay; was expecting something tougher / more tannic!
GRAN BODEGON 2011 (FAMILIA DEICAS) – 13.5% – £22, Wine Society
40% Tannat, 29% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Marselan. Matured in oak barriques for 27 months.
Deep ruby colour. Aroma of damsons and garrigue. Full-bodied, rich sweet fruit, with smooth tannins and nicely balancing acidity. Complex and really lovely. A step up from the previous red, but then it should be given the difference in price…
ALCYONE TANNAT DESSERT WINE (VINEDO DE LOS VIENTOS) – 16% – £21 (50cl), Wines of Uruguay
100% Tannat, made in the style of Barolo Chinato. A fortified wine infused with herbs and spices that originated in the Barolo area of Italy. Ingredients often used include coriander, citrus peel, clove, ginger, vanilla, cardamom seed, rhubarb root, gentian, sugar and the bark of the Cinchona plant, which is where the drink gets its name. It was once used for medicinal purposes, but is now drunk after dinner in a similar way to Port. Once the base wine is made, it is aged for several years in old French oak
Deep crimson with a mahogany rim. Aromas of vanilla and spice and a touch medicinal. Sweet and full-bodied, with a slightly syrupy texture. Vanilla, spice, cassis and milk chocolate on the palate. Great acidity, makes it feel balanced, despite the syrupy texture. A hint of soft tannins on the finish. This was an unusual wine (not surprising, given the production method). I had read that it went well with chocolate, so we tried that out and agreed!
I got the impression that the group’s favourites were the final two wines. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the wines, given the low number of producers making quality wines for export in Uruguay. They were all well made, are a bit different and had a really nice core of acidity that kept them tasting fresh.
Thanks so much Janine for a great tasting and such comprehensive notes.