If you love to drink South American red wine, there’s a very good chance you’ve quaffed a Malbec from Argentina, or a Chilean Cabernet. But Uruguay’s claim to grape fame- the big, bold tannat – may not have arrived in a wine glass near you, especially if you’re Canadian.
Part of that is because of the federal government’s tightly controlled process for bringing wines across the border into Canada. Part of it is due to Uruguay’ s less well-known presence as a wine producer, as compared to its famous South American neighbors. So when we had the chance to find out more about Uruguayan wine on a private tour, we jumped at the opportunity.
On a recommendation from Guru’guay, the cleverly named and informative website about all things Uruguayan, we booked with Borravino Wine Tours, owned by Damien Pinon, an expat Argentinean, wine enthusiast, and soon-to-be wine exporter. He picked us up at our hotel and whisked us north to Pizzorno Family Estates , a winery on the border of Montevideo and Canelones. There we were introduced to Francisco, great grandson of the winery’s founder, who would give us a tannat education.
The earthy smell of fermenting grapes filled our noses as we looked around the production area of the winery. Pizzorno is small, producing only 200000 bottles annually, but the upcoming holiday seasons (summer and Christmas) meant the bottling area was particularly busy.
Back upstairs, we were ready to get busy ourselves with some serious tasting. We sampled six wines, ranging from a Sauvignon Blanc to straight up tannats to tannat blends. We ate palate-cleansing empanadas in between our samples and a dulce de leche tart to show off the changing character of an ice wine (made in a freezer because it never gets cold enough in Uruguay for nature to do the job).Eventually, Francisco packed up four bottles for us to bring back home.
On the way back to the hotel, Damien suggested a wine bar where we could sample more of Uruguay’s best wines-Boca Negra Vinos y Tapas. We loved their totally cool, self-dispensing sampling system (kind of like an ATM for wine, complete with client card) and their homemade tapas. Doing our part to support local business and industry had never been so much fun.