(Continued from “The Oriental Republic” on 15 February 2019)
Lying between the 30th and 35th parallels north, indeed latitudinally on a par with the leading wine-producing regions in Chiles, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the Oriental Republic seems ideally suited to quality viticulture. This is further strengthened by the approximately 220 days of sunshine and up to 1,000ml of rainfall it receives per year, all the while being moderated by the Atlantic Ocean. Vine is apparently grown all over the country, but with more than 5,000ha and 1,000ha respectively, Canelones and Montevideo remain the largest wine-producing departments, whereas the rest possesses but a few hundred hectares each.
Increasingly overlooked and cast aside in their home country since the 18th century, the three musketeers from southern France – namely Carménère, Malbec and Tannat – all found their new homes in South America, respectively becoming the national varieties of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay in the process. In the 2nd half of the 19th century, Basque settlers from France brought Tannat to Uruguay. It is often said that Uruguayan Tannat is of 19th century French stock, whereas French Tannat has undergone grafting with American stocks post-phylloxera plague, hence the former tends to be more refined, and the latter more muscular.
In the early days, American and hybrid varieties used to be the mainstay in Uruguay, but as time passed by, French varieties gradually became the dominant force in the country, so much so that they now constitute some 70% of Uruguay’s national total hectarage, with Tannat alone representing some 36%. At present, the country is home to nearly 300 wineries; setting the behemoths aside, the average size of family-owned smallholdings – often run by the 4th or 5th generation, indeed since the very beginning – is no more 10ha each. As is the case in the Old World, family-owned smallholdings are more often than not quality-driven, not only because smaller scales facilitate quality control, but also owing to family pride.
On the global stage, the Uruguayan wine industry is leading the way in such areas as environmental protection and quality control. Merely a few years after the beef industry, another initiative driven by the Uruguayan government is being implemented so as to map and classify all vineyards in one computer database, containing all details on climates, soil types, parcels, grape varieties, vintages and producers of every single bottle, as well as their sustainability initiatives; the plan is to have total – i.e. 100% – traceability in place within years. The tag “New World Winery of the Year 2018” by Wine Enthusiast is no doubt eye-catching, but perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Bodega Garzón’s wines, from entry level to super-premium, are outstanding across the board.
To be continued one day…
A single-varietal Pinot Noir from Garzón, Maldonado, fermented under temperature control in stainless steel tanks and aged oin lees for up to 6 months. Luminous salmon pink with shimmering coral-rose reflex, the floral and refreshing nose effuses pink strawberry, red apple, dill and wet stone. Anchored by jubilant acidity, traces of sweet tannins and pristine minerality, the affable and invigorating palate emanates cranberry, pink grapefruit, rose petal and Himalayan salt. Medium-bodied at 14%, the titillating entry continues through a stimulating mid-palate, leading to an appetising finish. A dainty and lovely fairy, truly irresistible…
A single-varietal Cabernet Franc from the same location, fermented in cement tanks and aged on lees in French oak barrels and casks for up to 12 months. Rich garnet with cardinal-ruby rim, the fragrant nose presents mulberry, prune, tomato vine, cocoa powder and camphor. Braced by generous acidity, succulent tannins and clear minerality, the expressive palate furnishes blackberry, cassis, black pepper, coffee beans and pencil shaving. Medium-full bodied at 14.5%, the fruity entry persists through a fleshy mid-palate, leading to a tangy finish.
A single-varietal Tannat from the same location, fermented in cement tanks and aged on lees in French oak barrels and casks for up to 12 months. Pitch black with carmine-Tyrian purple rim, the brooding nose reveals cassis, dried bilberry, clove, dark chocolate and leather. Buttressed by abundant acidity, chewy tannins and palpable minerality, the impenetrable palate unveils dried mulberry, prune, rooibos tea, coffea arabica and charcoal. Full-bodied at 14.5%, the guarded entry evolves into a monumental mid-palate, leading to a long-lasting finish. This is no replica of Madiran, but an authentic and authoritative definition of the grape variety.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages