While Chile and Argentina have traditionally been the South American countries that have made their names in wine, they are being joined by an upstart rival – Uruguay. Patrick Schmitt MW travels there to see what it has to offer.
Among the modern success stories in the world of fine wine, it is safe to say that the great reds of South America rate highly. While Chile has made its name in this top-end circuit with ‘icon’ Bordeaux blends such as Almaviva, Argentina has led a global revival for Malbec, with Catena at the forefront of repositioning this variety as a great grape. But there’s another country muscling in on this new Latin-led fine wine scene, boosted by a pioneer that’s just starting to gain global awareness. That nation is Uruguay, and the producer is Bodega Garzón.
While the country has for some time offered much for the adventurous wine drinker, it is only with the advent of Garzón that Uruguay has been thrust into the fine wine limelight. This bodega has the backing of Argentina’s richest man, oil and gas billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni, who is intent of putting his winery, and its location, on the global map. Having invested an estimated US$200 million (£157m) in the property, no expense has been spared in creating something that demands attention.
Not only that, but the bodega’s top wine, Balasto, is disseminated worldwide by the singular distribution system of Bordeaux, known as La Place. This makes it one of just four from South America that are handled by the French négociants, the others being Chile’s Almaviva and Seña, along with Argentina’s Catena.
Launched in 2017 with the 2015 vintage, Garzón’s ultimate expression was named Balasto after the weathered granite soils in its vineyards, and employs Uruguay’s flagship grape, Tannat, along with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdet and Marselan.
But it’s not just this top-end blend that impresses. Indeed, Garzón is crafting notably good Pinot Noir and, in whites, Albariño – both benefitting from the cooling influence of the nearby Atlantic. This is because Bodega Garzón is located 18km inland from fashionable coastal village José Ignacio, which itself is near the much larger resort town of Punta del Este.
Standing alone on a hilly terrain that is not unlike the undulating landscape of Tuscany, Bodega Garzón spans 210 hectares of high-density vines on free-draining gravel-like decomposed granite soils – the oldest granite on the planet. Planted with no expense spared by expert viticulturalist Eduardo Felix in 2008, with support from famous Italian wine consultant Alberto Antonini – who still works with the estate – the vineyards at Garzón are in peak condition, and are managed with great care.
Then there’s the winery, which, with its Italian oak botti and specially designed truncated concrete fermentation tanks, is one of the most advanced and impressive set-ups in the world, and in 2018 was declared New World Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast.