Wines of Uruguay


Uruguay contains twenty-one viticultural districts. Three-quarters of Uruguay’s wine production is in reds, almost forty percent of which is Tannat, a grape brought here by Basque immigrants. The hearty Tannat is to Uruguay as Malbec is to Argentina, a grape that can fully ripen on the vine and is the country’s best-known wine. Though Uruguay is home to some three hundred wineries, many family-owned, few export. Besides Tannat, most of Uruguay’s other export reds are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Some prefer the tannic-tasting Tannat in blends with other varieties. Tempranillo, a red varietal from Rioja, Spain that is often an ingredient in rosés, and small quantities of the rare varietal, Petit Verdot are also grown in Uruguay. Whites are predominantly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Uruguay is blessed with a mild climate, lots of sun and well-drained soil in the country’s western regions. Though the winds off the Atlantic and Rio Plata offer the cool night conditions that wine grapes need, growers must contend with unpredictable weather and in some areas, strong winds. Humidity here makes the vines disease-prone, more so in the interior where there is flatter terrain and stronger winds. Unpredictable weather patterns tend to make for wide variability among vintages, though it is possible to grow wine grapes in Uruguay without the need of irrigation. Until recent times, the way vintners dealt with the weather problem was to produce hybrids which tended to be of lower, albeit drinkable, quality. Modern times have brought more sophisticated growing techniques that blunt the effects of weather variability, eliminating the need to resort to hybrids.

Like most everything else in here, few visitors who travel to Uruguay have heard of the country’s wines. Though Uruguay has been growing wine grapes for centuries, a tradition begun by the Jesuits, until the late nineteenth century, quantity superseded quality. When sampling wine during your Uruguay tours, you will find two classes of wine from which to choose. You will probably want to stick with the higher quality vitis vinifera wines and steer away from the lower grade vino comun unless you enjoy rosé.

Uruguay’s climate lends itself to winegrowing in practically every region of the country, vineyards found north to south in the western half of the country. The largest concentration of vineyards is conveniently located on the edge of the capital itself, making it possible to fit some tastings into the itinerary of your travel to Uruguay. Wineries are also located in the vicinity of Colonia, a much-visited western city because of its proximity to Argentina, an hour’s ferry ride from Buenos Aires.

Winetasting is one of the activities included in the itineraries of some of Southern Explorations Uruguay tours and tour extensions. We also offer special interest trip extensions for those who wish to learn about Uruguay’s history and culture, or hit the beach.

Wines on Tour near Montevideo

Visitors who travel to Uruguay with Southern Explorations will have opportunities to sample the wines of this small country with a growing viticultural reputation. Some of our Uruguay tours include wine-tastings in the more southerly wine regions close to Montevideo where most of the country’s vineyards are located. Our passengers whose travel to Uruguay includes wineries near Montevideo will tour two very different wineries, one tiny and the other one of Uruguay’s largest. Both produce top quality wine. Each has a restaurant on site so visitors can enjoy the pairing of their wines with regional cuisine.

During their Montevideo tours, visitors will be able to start tasting fine wines no more than thirty minutes from the capital. The family-owned boutique, Bouza Winery, situated in Montevideo Department, grows grapes in two separate vineyards. The first is just twelve acres in size and is near Malilla where its winery, a restored building that dates back to 1942, is located. Here Bouza grows grapes for its reds, Tannat and Merlot, as well as for its whites, Chardonnay and Albarino, a wine similar to Viognier. Its other vineyard, Las Violetas, is about twice the size and grows the same varieties plus tempranillo, a Rioja grape. The 90,000 bottles that Bouza produces each year include currently: two whites; one rosé made from Tempranillo and eight reds; three of which are Tannats, two that are Merlots and the rest Tannat blends.

The Juanico Winery

Located north of Montevideo outside the town of Juanico in the Cannelones Department, the Juanico Winery comprises almost 575 acres of vineyards as well as 360 acres grown on contract for other producers. Wine grapes have been cultivated on this land for almost two centuries, and the winery is in its fourth decade under the meticulous supervision of the Deicas family. Best known for its Tannats and its Chardonnay-Viognier blend, the winery produces several wines from its seven red and five white varieties. Juanico produced its first grand cru (a vineyard-specific wine) in 1992, began exporting its wines two years later and has been winning international awards ever since, thanks to high quality standards and advanced technology.

One of its brands, Don Pasqual, pays homage to the Basque immigrant who began Uruguay’s quality wine traditions, producing the country’s signature wine, Tannat, for the first time. Juanico produces such oak-aged wines as Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay-Viognier blend, and Petit Verdot, a rare varietal. The winery has also developed a French-style champagne. The cellar which passengers on Uruguay tours will visit at the winery is the original cellar built in 1830 and Uruguay’s first.

Wine connoisseurs who travel with Southern Explorations will have their choice of full trips or shorter tour extensions that include winetasting in the itinerary. We also offer special interest tour extensions for those who wish to learn about Uruguay’s history and culture or want to hit the beach, making it a convenient way to add in Uruguay tours during one’s travel to Argentina.