Insider’s Guide: Uruguay Wine
By ~ Eric-Sheets
When you think about the best wines in South America, often Argentina’s world-famous Malbec vines in Mendoza, or Chile’s verdant Central Wine Valley come instantly to mind. However, there’s a new kid on the block, a country whose winery scene is every bit as enticing as Chile or Argentina and there are boutique vineyards, rolling countryside and top South American culinary tours to back it up; that country is Uruguay. This country, often compared similarly to Wyoming in the United States, actually has been producing quality wines since the 18th century, so here’s our insider access advice for the best wine regions, grapes and gastronomic experiences in the country’you may be surprised by what this pocket-sized place provides!
Montevideo: Uruguay Wine by the Sea
Magnificent Montevideo manages to beautifully balance all of the attractions you’d expect from a cosmopolitan capital city, with countryside, boutique vineyards, and tasting tours also on its doorstep. Such a mix makes Montevideo quite a unique South American city, and with wine country within close driving distance of town, you’ll soon notice that some of Uruguay’s finest wine labels and exclusive harvests find their way onto plenty of restaurant menus too.
Yet the best way to experience everything that the Montevideo wine region has to offer is always by participating in a unique tour and tasting the wines straight from the barrels themselves. This is usually accompanied by a multi-course lunch featured with a simple spread of artisan cheese, crusty bread and cured meats; delicious. Our expert trip designers will help plan the perfect tour and tasting for you and your group.
In particular, the wider Montevideo region is known for growing Tannat, Tempranillo, Albariño, Chardonnay and Merlot grapes on its mostly flat terroirs, thanks to several boutique cellars such as Bodegas Bouza, Spinoglio, Stagnari, Carrau, Santa Rosa, and the Pizzorno Winery among them. Even if visiting for a long weekend while staying in Buenos Aires on a tour of Argentina, you can easily squeeze in a Montevideo vineyard day trip while here and still have time to see the rest of the city’s many highlights, plus the beach, of course. A great way to see this region is by booking a custom-tailored private wine journey to Uruguay like our VIK and VINES program.
Canelones: Wineries in the Countryside
North of Montevideo you find Canelones, an inland stretch of mixed soil types, mild winter weather, lots of rain and long sunny summers which help stand this region out as Uruguay’s top wine producing spot, for Tannat, the ‘National Grape’.
Whether on a day trip from Montevideo or staying a little longer, we recommend checking out one of the smaller vineyard tours. Unlike the more popular vineyards, these are typically hosted by the owners themselves which makes for an authentic and rare experience. There are too many great winemakers to mention across the entire region, though Artesana Winery, Juanicó, and Bodegas Marichal, Filgueira and Pisano are a good place to start. For more details or a proposal itinerary, reach out to us by phone or email to discuss your Uruguay trip ideas with one of our expert trip designers.
Maldonado: Uruguay Wine Growing Region
You may not have heard of it, but boutique Bodega Garzón in Uruguay’s coastal wine growing region of Maldonado, recently fell second in a list of the World’s Best Vineyards – no small accolade! It’s also been honored as the New World Winery of the Year and if that weren’t enough, Bodega Garzón also occupies a scenic hilltop setting, making the most of the perfect ballast soil plains which surround it. This is a true fine wine experience for sure, with their Albarino, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Tannat grapes being especially good, ideal with one of Bodega Garzón popular BBQ/fire pit gourmet lunches during a vineyard tour.
Though there is far more to Maldonado than the recently recognized Bodega Garzón, as this picturesque part of Uruguay is home to plenty of equally refined growers and small-scale labels. Among them, Viña Eden is a good choice for quality Chardonnay and Cerro Negro varieties’accompanied by a great view, you can head to Altos de la Ballena Winery for Syrah, Merlot, Viognier and a long lunch close to Punta del Este, or Bodega Oceánica José Ignacio where striking onsite artworks, sculptures and displays are as important as the wines; to name a few. All of this, plus the rugged beauty of Uruguay’s southern coast to enjoy between tastings, makes a wine tour in Maldonado hard to resist.
Carmelo: The Oldest Vineyards and Uruguay Wine
For a real travel experience and some of the most boutique Uruguayan vineyards around, head to Carmelo, a sleepy town near the Rio de la Plata that’s primed for laid back tasting tours and cycling between the wineries. This region of Uruguay may be off the main tourist trail (for now), but they’ve been making wine here since the mid-19th century, as you’ll see with a visit to Almacén de la Capilla, home to some of the oldest vines in the country. Indeed Almacén de la Capilla has not changed much in its over 150-year history, so coming here is a real trip back in time too, on top of those great tasting wines.
Bodega El Legado is another must-visit while in Carmelo, known as it is for serving a full gastronomic experience of locally sourced bites, walnuts, creamy cheeses, chutneys and freshly baked bread to pair with each glass. Tannat is the main grape here, with the vines well adapted to Carmelo’s unique terroir, and producing award-winning labels as a result.
The rural pace of life, untouched countryside, gravel tracks and quiet bays of Carmelo seem to fit the idea of a Uruguay wine tour perfectly, with intimate experiences, privately guided vineyard tours, lunch with the owners, home cooked BBQs and some first-class labels here. Then, the prestigious Narbona Wine Lodge and CampTinto certainly take things up a notch in terms of luxury levels, though other Carmelo cellars such as Bodega Familia Irurtia, Bodega Zubizarreta and Bernardi are much humbler affairs that reflect a typical Carmelo spirit.
Why Book a Uruguay Wine Tour with Latin Excursions?
In short, the secret of Uruguay being one of South America’s finest wine producing countries won’t be kept for long. Some of the grapes here create exquisite batches of world-beating boutique labels, and the scenery also speaks for itself. Given that Uruguay is still not on everybody’s radar (compared with similar experiences in Argentina or Chile, for example), you get an authentic experience with the locals and not as many tourist as other destinations in South America. This fact alone, is reason enough for any self-respecting wine-lover to book a trip to Uruguay, and let us organize lip-smacking tasting tours throughout your journey.
Someone once said, ‘your journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.’ We encourage you to take the first step by reviewing our collection of itineraries, hotels, villas, and ships to choose from here at Latin Excursions. Then, give us a call for your free, no obligation, trip assessment and to learn why travel experts like Wendy Perrin, Travel+Leisure and others recommend our services for private Latin America travel.