Which wine region in the world has more cattle than people (four to one!), a literacy rate of 98.7%, provides laptops to all students and teachers, and grows Tannat near the Atlantic coast? If you guessed Bordeaux, France, you guessed incorrectly: we’re talking today about the unexpected in URUGUAY.
Located on the east coast of South America, Uruguay is the second smallest country on that continent, about the size of Wisconsin, and often gets overlooked, especially when it comes to wine as its Andes dominated neighbors Chile and Argentina get all the recognition while Brazil is better known for rain forests and Carnival (even though in Uruguay they celebrate longer at 50 days!)
Looking at the map above, it’s plain to see how Uruguay lines up along the same latitude as the prime wine producing areas of Argentina near Mendoza, and Chile’s Santiago. However, Uruguay is relatively flat and damp with vineyards closer to sea level than high altitude deserts of Argentina or Chile. Similar to Bordeaux, the moist Atlantic Ocean plus encompassing major river drainages (Uruguay River and the Río de la Plata), keeps the Uruguayan climate cool. In contrast to Bordeaux’s 272,000 acres of vines, Uruguay has just under 15,000 acres of vineyards — just a little less than California’s Alexander Valley– making grapes from the region even more rare and special as most of the 10 million cases are year are enjoyed domestically and rarely reach the shores of the United States.
The wine industry began in the 18th century, and flourished into the 19th century, then died back, only to recover in recent years to produce enough wine for export. Today, Uruguay has 164 active wineries, most small and family owned, many within an easy drive of the capital Montevideo. To protect the cattle industry, they avoid pesticide use in the vineyards.
If people know anything about Uruguayan wines, it’s probably for their Tannat which makes up 27% of their production and thrives under the challenging damp conditions. But there’s much more to Uruguay than Tannat (which we will be writing about soon). So that’s we explored the unexpected diversity of Uruguayan wine with four different wines from four producers paired with four traditional Uruguayan dishes — and yes there was chimichurri shrimp and beef because this beef eating coastal country also loves its seafood– and everything is slathered with chimichurri.
Just in time for Tannat Day April 14, 2023, the World Wine Travel writers are off to Uruguay!
- Cam of Culinary Cam joined with me as she is Full of Uruguayan National Pride: The Chivito + Tannat
Wendy has Milanesa and a Pisano Tannat from Uruguay by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Here on Wine Predator we share Unexpected Uruguay: 4 Wines To Find That Aren’t Tannat with Bavatte Chimichurri
- Martin of ENOFYLZ Wine Blog is Exploring the Wines of Uruguay
Travel with us to the rolling hills of Uruguay with our combination of food and wine representing unexpected Uruguay below. And stay tuned for TANNAT from Uruguay! We might just have to do chimichurri again because it was THAT GOOD. Lots more to share about the country, its wines, and wineries too.
Unexpected Wines from Uruguay
- 2022 Marichal Sauvignon Blanc
- 2022 Bracco Bosca Ombú Moscatel
- 2020 Familia Deicas Bodegones del Sur Vineyards Select Cabernet Franc
- 2019 Bouza Monte Vide Eu Blend (Tannat, Merlot, Tempranilllo)
- samples provided to participate in an educational ZOOM and for review consideration
Uruguayan Inspired Menu
- Cheeseboard: comte, Beechers jerk, nuts, olives, coppa,
- Faina, a chickpea flour flatbread (adapted from this recipe)
- Shrimp with homemade chimichurri sauce (recipe below)
- Marinated grilled Stemple Creek bavette steak with homemade chimichurri sauce (recipe below)
- Bizcochos (traditional Uruguayan cookie made with lard)
2022 Marichal Sauvignon Blanc
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
sample for review consideration
Grown on calcareous soil. Surprisingly, Sauv blanc is 32% of Uruguay’s production.
About 60% of Uruguay’s vineyards are in the department of Canalones, home to Marichal. Established in 1938, Marichal’s vineyards are located at an ideal latitude where warm weather, cool Atlantic breezes, and deep clay soil allow grapes to thrive and achieve unique character. One of Uruguay’s top family-owned artisan wine producers, Marichal is a third-generation winery headed by winemakers Juan Andrés and Alejandro Marichal. Read more about Uruguay, Marichal, and Marchal’s Tannat and Tannat/Pinot Noir blend.
Appearance: Very pale lemon, crystal clear
Aroma: Smells like Sauvignon Blanc. Gooseberry, grasses, very green, lime, key lime pie, pineapple guava, loquat,
Palate: Tart and tangy lemon, mouthwatering acidity, Meyer lemon, tart lime and lemon up front, mellowing to Meyer lemon then to tangerine, very citrusy, minerals are present, nice sippidity, very light, fresh, bright easy to sip on wine.
Pairing: Sue brought over some goose berries and put them on our cheese plate which were surprisingly great with the wine. Very nice with our Comte cheese, our goat gouda, very nice with the olive and herbed mixed nuts that were also on the cheese plate, good with spicy salty coppa, great with our savory Fahina loving the herbal rosemary, fantastic with the chimichuri shrimp, the meal really tames the wine. The sweetness of the shrimp are enhanced, the complex flavors in the meal bring out the different nuances in the wine so nicely.
2022 Bracco Bosca Ombú Moscatel
sample for review consideration
Canolones in 4 miles from sea where this wine grows, and the quality has to do with its proximity to the sea. They say this is “a white wine that will break your mind.” The name references a beautiful tree.
Appearance: Very pale rose gold, very very pale, platinum rim, crystal clear
Aroma: Very floral, white flowers, gardenia, white pepper,
Palate: Rose petal, very floral, a bit bitter, white pepper on the finish, very peppery spicy finish, unsweetened Turkish delight, very lengthy finish
Pairing: The creamy farina and herbal rosemary in it balances the flavors in the wine and tames the bitterness. Fantastic with the chimichuri shrimp loving the complex flavors of the dish. This wine really liked the textures and flavors of our cookies. They were so good together that it blew our mind. It is just like the Turkish delight in the wine that we described before, all of the subtle textures and the floral textures and the cinnamon spice and the sweetness of the anise all come together to be enjoyed.
2020 Familia Deicas Bodegones del Sur Vineyards Select Cabernet Franc
Grapes: Cabernet Franc
sample for review consideration
Juanico Region has soils of schist; the wine is made in a reductive way intentionally.
Appearance: Ruby, lighter ruby rim surrounded by another even paler pink rim, quite the legs
Aroma: Elegant nose, herbal aspects with pretty fruit. It reminded me of a Loire Cabernet Franc. Cooked cherry hand pie just out of the oven for Sue, baked cherry, rosemary,
Palate: Very smooth and light, mouthwatering minerality, light tannins, seems like tannins from the fruit over tannins from the oak. Woodsy, cherry tobacco, herbal finish, bay leaf,
Pairing: Fantastic with the jerk spiced Beecher cheese on the cheese plate, the cheese also enhanced the grilled beef. Great with the spicy coppa, nice with the Comte, the salty olive brings out all if the sweet fruit in the wine, The grilled beef was super nice with this wine. The marinade on the meat is so happy with the wine, and the chimichuri sauce was so great as well. Loves the green flavors and grilled flavors on the meat. The wine was very nice on its own, but this flavorful menu took it out of the ball park. While our shrimp was for our white wines, Sue saved a bite to go with the reds. This wine is light enough to handle the shrimp and once again is a perfect for the complex flavors of chimichuri.
2019 Bouza Monte Vide Eu Blend
Grapes: Tannat, Merlot, Tempranilllo
sample for review consideration
Appearance: Very dense and dark ruby, bright fushia rim, seems unfiltered and unfined
Aroma: Cherry tobacco, earthen, loam, rose petals, baking spices, cinnamon, schezuapn pepper, very much about the red fruit, sandalwood, plum, violet,
Palate: This is a heavy, big wine, bold tannins, very structured, rich, bold fruit. We both wanted food with this wine, it is not for cocktail hour. We both wanted to go straight to the food it would go with rather than talking about the nuances of the wine. It needs food to tame and tango with.
Pairing: We loved the wine with the coppa. It was like silk sheets (oh baby, baby) it tackled the spicy richness of meal. A brine olive brings forth the wine making it so smooth and so sweet, such a WOW experience. So fantastic with our Beechers jerk cheddar cheese and the Comte cheese. The meat, the chimichuri, and the complex flavors of the meal were so perfect with this big bold wine. This meal takes this beg bold tannic wine and makes it seem like it has laid down for another 10 years making is smooth and elegant and bringing out the beautiful fruit. The fahina is good but much better when dredged with the chimichuri sauce. I was surprised that our Bizcochos were quite good with the wine. Sue felt that the cookies would be too sweet but because of the sweet anise, it worked.
Steak and Shrimp with Chimichirri
Combine the following for the steak marinade:
- 2/3 c olive oil
- 1/2 c fresh orange juice
- 1/3 c fresh lime (preferred) or lemon juice
- 1/4 c soy sauce
- 1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
- 3 T apple cider or red wine vinegar
- 4-6 garlic cloves minced
- Salt and pepper
Marinate for 4 or more hours 16 oz Skirt Steak (we had a Stemple Creek Bavette), then grill steak, and serve with a drizzle of chimichurri.
Combine the following for the shrimp marinade:
- 4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 c olive oil
- 1/2 lemon, squeezed
- 1/4 c white wine
Marinate one pound shelled shrimp for one hour or less, then cook shrimp with marinade in 1 T olive oil until done (should be pink). Serve with drizzle of chimichurri.
Chimichurri sauce for steak and shrimp
- 1 c fresh parsley, chopped fine
- 1 c fresh cilantro, chopped fine
- 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, chopped fine
- 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
- 3 T fresh lime juice
- 2 T red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
- can be made in advance