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been growing wine grapes for centuries, a tradition begun by the Jesuits, until the late nineteenth century, quantity superseded quality.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.