In addition to living in close proximity to a number of them, I’ve had the pleasure of travelling overseas to quite a few beautiful wine regions. I managed an overnight excursion to Uruguay as part of a trip that was otherwise spent in Argentina and Chile, and I’m very glad I did. We visited three wineries, and while each was lovely, the reception we received at Juanico was particularly nice, even if our host seemed a bit more taken with my wife than perhaps I would have preferred. Alas, the hazards of being married to someone lovely. I flirted with a charming woman a few cellar doors later, so everything worked out. All these memories came back when my wife and I shared this bottle from Establicimiento Juanicó, the Atlántico Sur Single Vineyard Tannat 2007.
Uruguay, the smallest country in South America, is nestled right in between Argentina and Brazil, with its capital Montevideo a short ride across the Rio de La Plate from Buenos Aires by ferry. Before I arrived, all I knew of it was the tale of the Admiral Graf Spee, and pleasingly I was rewarded by spotting the rangefinder of the same from the taxi between the ferry terminal and the hotel in Montevideo.
You can’t visit a site about the wines of Uruguay without seeing a map that shows how the country is at the same latitude as slightly better known wine producing areas in Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Australia. (Very few show that this translates to North Africa in the Northern Hemisphere, but never mind.) The climate is temperate maritime with a significant Atlantic influence as wineries tend to be in the south of the country, in the hills just north of the capital, though there are areas under vine throughout the country. The soils in the south are clay loam and limestone, becoming more rocky the further north you go.
Uruguay is not what you’d call a huge player on the world wine scene, but they’re certainly managing to carve out a niche. Producers tend to be small and family owned, and they’re putting an emphasis on quality exports instead of trying to win market share with the lowest prices. The biggest way in which they’ve made their mark in the trade is with Tannat.
Tannat is a red grape that is generally associated with the Basque region of the southwest of France, and forms the basis of the red wines of Madiran. I wrote a bit about it when I covered the Pertaringa Tannat, but with regards to Uruguay, the grape arrived in 1870 with Basque settlers and has found a new home. It can be argued that it prefers the warmer climate to that of France, but more importantly the grape has been appreciated and developed to a much greater extent (though you certainly can find the rare innovator working with Tannat in France, but more on that later in the week). Tannat is made in a number of styles in Uruguay, from traditional varietals with oak treatment, through blends with everything from Shiraz to Pinot Noir, and even fortified wines. It’s seen as softer than classic Madiran Tannat. It constitutes approximately a third of all vines in Uruguay, and it generally considered the national grape, in much the way that Malbec is now at least as associated with Argentina as it is with Cahors.
Establicimiento Juanicó is run and owned by the Deicas family, with three generations sharing the responsibilities. The company was founded by Don Francisco Juanico in 1830, though it was reborn under Juan Carlos Deicas in 1979. After more than a decade of investment and renovation, as well as research into what grapes and winemaking would best suit the terroir, they started producing their first wine for export. They were the first producer of Uruguay to export in quantity to the UK and have grown to the point that some of their wine even makes it to Australia. If they’re not the biggest producer in Uruguay, they’re certainly one of the biggest. They maintain 240HA under vine and have another 150HA under contract with local growers. They practices the principles of organic farming, though it’s not clear if they’re certified. Their winemaking approach is very modern, with steel and epoxy-lined concrete tanks for ferments, French and American oak, and modern winery machinery. They employ micro-oxygenation for some of their reds, with whole bunch pressing and barrel ferments for some of their whites.
The company produces several lines of wines, with Tannat featuring prominently across each. The major (and some minor) international varieties are represented both in terms of red and white grapes, as well as Marselán, a modern French cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. Blends, varietals, single vineyard, and even single barrel wines are produced, as well as a number of sparklers, a botrytisized blend, and a fortified Tannat done in the style of Port.
Unfortunately, I can’t find this wine within their portfolio on their otherwise excellent website. What I can tell you is that it is part of the Atlántico Sur, or South Atlantic, range of single vineyard wines, of which there are also Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc releases. One source indicated this wine is from the Paysandú Region though that is all the information I was able to dig up. Alas, I don’t have the bottle to check the back label, but I can tell you what I found in my glass.
This wine had a dark ruby core, but a bit of brick on the rim. When swirled it had thick legs with some brick colour to them. On the nose it was full of luscious red fruit, milk chocolate, and sweet spice with medium plus intensity and a developing character. On the palate it was dry, with medium plus tannins, medium acidity, medium plus body, full flavour intensity, and medium plus alcohol with notes of cocoa, red cherries, red currants, and some coffee. It had a long length.
This was a full wine, with big fruit, but also developed notes. It had lots of flavour – it just keeps giving. While it wasn’t overly tannic, I think it would do well with more time in the bottle, though with decanting it was fairly approachable. I would classify this as a good to very good wine, and I look forward to cracking open one of the Juanicó wines I carried back with me from Uruguay at some point in the future.