Uruguayan wines: Why there's more to South American wines than just Chilean and Argentinian

Argentina’s northern neighbour across the river estuary is making waves in the wine world. Christine Austin puts Uruguay to the taste test without leaving our shores..

Every wine drinker is happy to reach for a Chilean Cabernet or an Argentinian Malbec for their weekend drinking, confident that they will provide well-made, positive flavours to go with the roast. But there is more to South America than these two countries.

Chilean vineyards rely on cool breezes coming in from the Pacific Ocean, and Argentina’s vines are planted on the foothills of the Andes to achieve the best growing conditions, but over on the eastern coast of this continent there is another wine producing country that is just starting to make an impact in our market.

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Uruguay is Argentina’s neighbour, a 75-minute ferry ride north from Buenos Aires, across the River Plate, but unlike Argentina’s vast area, Uruguay is just a bit bigger than England and Wales put together. Despite its small size Uruguay has a long Atlantic coastline with spectacular beaches which attract thousands of South American holidaymakers. Stylish resorts such Punta del Este are like St. Tropez, packed with top name shops and restaurants while the harbour is crammed with expensive yachts.

The Tuscan-like vineyards of Bodega GarzonThe Tuscan-like vineyards of Bodega Garzon
The Tuscan-like vineyards of Bodega Garzon

In terms of climate, Uruguay is closer to Bordeaux or Galicia than Mendoza. There is a lot more rain here than in Mendoza, which means that irrigation is often not needed. There is plenty of warm sunshine to ripen the grapes, while evenings are cooled by breezes that come straight off the Atlantic ocean.

Winemaking has been established for centuries, introduced mainly by immigrants from Spain, Italy and France who brought cuttings from home and established small family vineyards. In the 1860’s, it is thought that Basque immigrant Pascual Harriague introduced the red grape variety Tannat, probably sourced from Madiran in France. Tannat grew well and made powerful, long-lived wines and so it became the signature grape of Uruguay.

Tannat, as indicated by its name, makes wine that have a lot of tannin and when, around 20 years ago I made a flying visit to Uruguay to tour of some of the best -known wineries, I tasted some fairly powerful, tannic wines. They had wonderful fruit but needed several years to soften.

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Then 5 years ago I returned to taste the wines of just one producer, Garzon, which, with the backing of one of South America’s richest men has been created solely with the aim of producing top-quality wines. The contrast was astonishing. These wines were balanced, supple and elegant.

That change has not just been happening in one winery but across all producers. There has been a massive government-led initiative to improve vines, wine making and quality, with the aim of exporting more of Uruguay’s wines. That is why last week the first Wines of Uruguay tasting took place in the UK. Most producers were looking for importers, but some have already established their place in our market, and it was those that I paid most attention to.

Around 90% of Uruguay’s wine comes from the coastal region, from regions such as Canelones, close to the capital Montevideo, San José to the west and Maldonaldo to the east. While most producers have at least one Tannat-based wine in their range there has been an explosion of other varieties such as Albariño, Viognier, Marsanne, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. There are many producers making Pet Nat sparkling wines and exploring fashionable orange wines. After so long trapped behind the tannin of old-school Tannat, it sems like the winemakers of Uruguay are showing just how many good wines they can make.

These are some of the best: -

Bodega Garzon

After so much investment – rumoured to be around 85 million US dollars - it is hardly surprising that these wines shone out for their quality. Vineyards and winery are a no-expense-spared operation with raw land transformed into a mini-Tuscany of slopes that capture varied expositions and sunshine. The sandy, loamy soil is packed with big granite rocks, making this a well-drained place to grow grapes. In the winery, gravity takes over using stainless steel, large oak vats and tall egg-shaped concrete tanks to gently cosset them as they turn into soft, rounded wines.

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Bodega Garzon Albariño Reserve 2022, Hic!, Ledston, £19.50: Aromatic with soft peach and citrus fruit and a rounded, texture. Delicious.

Bodega Garzon Reserve Marselan 2021, Roberts and Speight, Beverley, £20.99: This Southern French grape does well in Uruguay, giving dark red fruit flavours with a smooth, rounded style.

Bodega Garzon Tannat 2021, Corks and Cases, Masham, £17.25: Deep in colour with plum and blackberry fruit and hints of spice in the profile, this has tannin well under control with enough gentle structure to take on a steak.

Bodega Garzon Tannat Reserva 2021, Latitude Wine, Leeds, £20.99: Layers of flavour and a long, elegant finish show that this is a step up in quality with spice dusted raspberries and damson plums giving tremendous personality and style.

Familia Deicas

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A long-established winery now brought completely up to date with a focus on low-intervention winemaking.

Familia Deicas Gran Bodegón 2017, The Wine Society £29: Aged for 22 months in oak, this wine is a blend of all the best red grapes of Uruguay. Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Marselan work together to give deep, dark red and black fruit flavours with a lifted aromas and a plush mid-palate from Merlot.

Bodegones del Sur Cabernet Franc 2023, Wines of Uruguay £17.99: Not yet available in Yorkshire, this is an outstanding wine with blueberry and dark raspberry fruit, with a thread of freshness across the palate.


Famous for their Tannats, the Bouza family are now making terrific Albariño and Chardonnay wines.

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Bodega Bouza Chardonnay 2021, Field and Fawcett £26.85: Clean, fresh flavours of tropical fruit, melon and citrus in this Chardonnay that has been partly oak fermented and aged, but the wood doesn’t show above all that delicious fruit.

Bodega Bouza Albariño 2022, Field and Fawcett £28.60: An outstanding fresh-tasting wine with lemon blossom on the nose, crunchy apple and pear fruit, with spice and a hint of vanilla.

Castel Pujol

Based in the north, close to Brazil, Bodega Cerro Chapeu makes this winery makes exciting pet nat under the Castel Pujol label.

Castel Pujol Folklore Pet Nat, Latitude Wines, £14.99: Clean yet cloudy, with brioche and honey notes and a fresh finish. A perfect aperitif.

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