Articles Tagged uruguay wine
One could go their entire blogging life and never be fortunate enough to use the phrase “toilet frog.” And yet… here I am, able to use the term from personal experience.
I need a moment to revel in this, people. Please, indulge me a moment, for I have met them, in person.
T-o-i-l-e-t f-r-o-g-s…. As in, frogs that live in a toilet. Yes, seriously, and for realz, as the youngins say these days.
The toilet frogs moment comes courtesy of Alto de la Ballena (literally, “height of the whale [hills]”), a relatively small producer (about 55k bottles) with a relatively small vineyard area (about 20 hectares) in a relatively small country (Uruguay) who are making relatively excellent wines that are not yet available in the U.S. (though they are working on it; it’s a situation I sincerely hope changes after this, and not just because they showed me their toilet frogs).
The story begins in the Sierra de la Ballena, a stretch of hills that begin at a whale-watching peninsula near the seaside resort town of Punta de Este, a spot where the seafaring mammals stop during their August/September migration to Patagonia. Taking their name from the whales, the Sierra de la Ballena undulate to the north, about fifteen kilometers inland to the town of Maldonado, which is where Alvaro Lorenzo and his wife Paula Pivel decided to plant their vineyards in 2000/2001.
Lorenzo and Pivel were all alone on the steep, rocky, gravel, granite, limestone, and schist hills in Maldonado.
“At the time, no one was here,” Lorenzo told me when I visited the property as a guest of Wines of Uruguay; “we took the risk.”…
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In Carmelo, about three hours drive from the bustling city of Montevideo in Uruguay, along the river that divides the country from Argentina, there exists the picturesque hamlet of Narbona, the kind of place with such overwhelming quantities of irony that it causes story-relating fingers like mine to nearly freeze at the keyboard.
Where to begin?
It’s probably best to start with Winemaker Maria Valeria Chiola. Female winemakers aren’t exactly the norm in the relatively conservative sphere of Uruguayan winemaking, but the ironic (or maybe just surprising?) thing is not her sex, but the fact that twenty-eight year old Chiola is, at such a young age, making some of the best wine that I tasted during my travels there. And she has almost no sense whatsoever of what a powerful example she could be for the promotion of wine in Uruguay abroad, mostly because the cult of winemaker personality that dominates the fine wine media in the U.S. is pretty much non-existent in that small country (another irony).
Chiola has some pedigree, of course: her father has a winery in Canelones and she’s worked at Miner (among other places). She claims winemaking duties fall exclusively to her, an intern, and infrequent consultation with Michel Rolland (Rolland himself meets with her only twice per year). She suggested that there is healthy tension between the winemaking styles she’s after and the styles that are being pushed by the Rolland consultants.
Whatever is going on between tenderfoot winemaker and veteran consultant, much of that tension seems to be working in the wines’ favor. More on that in a minute or two, after we visit some of the other ironies dripping from the Narbona story…
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Bouza Winery is small even by Uruguay’s petite wine production standards. 25 hectares of vineyards spread out between two plantings, in the Melilla and Las Violetas regions near Montevideo, yielding about 120 thousand bottles a year. But you wouldn’t know it tasting their wines, which are bold, modernly stylized (okay, and in a few cases too modernly stylized on the aggressive oak treatment), and bigger than some of California’s heftiest reds.
But while you might justifiably dismiss Bouza’s in floral, plummy and spicy experimental 2011 single-parcel “A6 ” Tannat as being too, well, boozy, you’ve got to admire the gumption undertaken in trying to bring it to life. The vines are trained low to the ground, a ground covered with local stones red stones brought in specifically because their wavelength provides maximum light reflection, the better to ripen up that tricky Tannat with less need for leaf thinning and with fewer of that grape’s often punishing tannins.
Bouza has a bit of a secret weapon, and it’s not Pincho, their local male capybara who is friendly and fond of having his rough fur petted (by the way, capybaras purr when they’re happy; who knew!??). No, the secret weapon isn’t a dog-sized rodent that acts like a cat (although that admittedly is very cool), or the fact that Bouza’s renovated 1940s-era property and excellent restaurant have them set up better for receiving tourists than just about any other winemaking outfit in Uruguay. [ Editor’s note: as far as I’m aware, Pincho is a relatively rare case among capybaras, who are pensive in the wild; do NOT get hosed on Bouza wine and the go to the zoo trying to pet one, unless you want to possibly lose your hand! ]
The weapon is mild-mannered, be-speckled and willy-haired former physics teacher and chemical engineering PhD Eduardo Boido; the kind of head winemaker whose doctoral thesis centered on oenology, and just the kind of guy that you’d expect to think up an idea like trucking in wavelength reflective-wavelength red rocks and dumping them in an experimental vineyard…
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Bienvenidos – and, as I’ll explain in just a moment, adios – to the Weekly Wine Quiz!
This week, I’m preparing to head back down South of the equator, this time to Uruguay to tour its budding (from a global market perspective) wine regions. And so this week’s quiz is a bit of a brain-wrangler about the Uruguay’s wine scene (maybe it will help me learn something new before I haul my butt down there!).
This week, we’re also bidding farewell to the Weekly Wine Quiz series here on 1WD. It’s been a good run – well over a year – and a fun one, but the increase in my paying gigs (more on those coming soon… stay tuned) means that something has to give time-wise, and that something is the (gratis) republishing of the weekly quiz. I’ll still be penning this series, and it will still be free to access, but from here on out you’ll just need to subscribe to the awesome wine newsletter The Juice to read it (and look, if you’re not already a subscriber… what the hell are you waiting for?!??).
True or False: Uruguay’s wine growing regions resemble those of Bordeaux’s Right Bank?
Cheers – and good luck!