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An introduction to Uruguay wine country

Carmelo – wines of Uruguay

With more than 200 wineries, Uruguay is the new world’s undiscovered wine jewel.

Some vineyards are over a hundred years old run by fourth and fifth generation winemakers; some of the newer ones are owned by foreigners who have fallen in love with Uruguay, like Leslie Fellows from California, one of the owners of all-women-run estate winery Artesana.

It was typical for families, many of whom are descendants of Italians and Spaniards, to grow grapes and make their own wine at home. I have a relative whose family has a tub to tread the grapes at home that dates from several generations ago. At the Almacen de la Capilla in Carmelo you can have a go at treading grapes yourself in February.

Since 2000, wine-making has been professionalised under the tutelage of renowned flying wine-makers coinciding with a new generation of local enologists getting their wine-making credentials in Uruguay and specialising abroad. These young wine-makers are daredevils, making new styles, trying new blends and all importantly getting great results.

For years, but most noticeably in the last decade, wines from Uruguay are winning gold and silver medals in international competitions. And rivalling more well-known Argentina in the process.

Uruguay’s wine regions

Uruguay wine regions

Most wine is produced in:

  • Montevideo and nearby Canelones
    Over half of all Uruguayan wine is produced within a 30-mile (50 km) radius of the capital. Almost all are small family-run concerns that have been around for generations.
    Drive time: 10-40 mins from Montevideo
  • Carmelo, Colonia in the west of Uruguay
    Colonia is a south-western province most well-known for the historic city of Colonia del Sacramento. Carmelo’s wineries are just outside the town of Carmelo and almost all dedicated to boutique-production.
    Drive time: 3 hrs from Montevideo; 1 hr from Colonia
  • Maldonado to the east
    Maldonado with its coastal breezes and cooler temperatures has become the new hot spot for Uruguayan wines. On the way to Maldonado from Montevideo you’ll pass Atlantida, a small wine region sharing the same climatic characteristics.
    Drive time: 1.25 hrs from Montevideo; 30 min from Punta del Este

Wine tasting

Without leaving the capital To experience Uruguay’s wines, make the Montevideo Wine Experience your first stop once you get into Montevideo. A tiny wine-bar directly opposite the port and located at the infamous Port Market, the staff speak excellent English and love to get you fired up as they are about Uruguay’s wines.

Most of Uruguay’s wine is produced in vineyards just outside of the capital Montevideo and its neighbouring province Canelones. The closest vineyard is just a literally twelve-minute taxi ride drive from the city centre.

Carmelo Carmelo wineries are a wonderful opportunity to get to taste some of Uruguay’s best wines with the owners themselves in a setting that has been called the “Urugayan Tuscany” by the New York Times.

Uruguay versus Napa, California – how do the wine tasting experiences compare?

Wine tours

Many vineyards are working establishments, closed to the public. Plus Uruguay has a very strict drink driving law – you cannot have even a single glass and drive. So a private wine tour is a great way to experience some of these great little vineyards.

Two dedicated wine enthusiasts are offering outstanding tours in Uruguay.

More reading on Uruguay wines

The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo which you can buy for your tablet or on Amazon includes lists of the best Uruguayan wines available in 2016, best budget wines under 8 dollars as well as restaurants with great wine cellars and/or expert English-speaking sommeliers as selected by Argentine experts Bodegas del Uruguay.

More reading on Uruguay wines

Photo: Guru’Guay Map: Click map to go to original

7 Comments

  1. Adam

    November 28, 2013

    Do you have any particular recommendations for wine?

    Reply
    • Welshwitch in Uruguay

      November 28, 2013

      Hi Adam, I am actually a beer (and grappa 🙂 ) drinker myself so I don’t! But I will contact the helpful folks at Bodegas del Uruguay and we’ll see what they have to recommend at this time.

      Reply
      • Adam

        December 5, 2013

        Great, thanks.

        Reply
      • Adam

        December 5, 2013

        Have you tried the Mastra beers or Montevideo Brew House yet, beer lover?

        Reply
        • Welshwitch in Uruguay

          December 6, 2013

          Hi Adam I am very fortunate that I live just five blocks from the new artesanal beer maker and resto-pub Montevideo Beer House! and have visited it at least three times in the last month (which now I look at their Facebook page is basically since they opened)! I am a dark beer fan. They have a beer which is remarkably similar to Guiness – I think it’s the dry stout. They have made me very happy indeed 🙂 They also sell Davok beers, which until MBH appeared on the scene, was the maker that I was happiest with (love their Indian Pale Ale).

          Mastra I am not a big fan of. They seem to be attending to the South American palate which prefers its beers sweeter than I do. Fair enough. That is where we are based.

          Montevideo Brew House is in the Pocitos neighbourhood in a spot that is a little difficult to get to on foot, but worth it, for the beer and the charming maze-like streets. The address is Libertad 2592 esq. Viejo Pancho, Pocitos. If you walk from Blvr Artigas, take Viejo Pancho and just keep walking!

          Reply
    • Hello Adam,
      Uruguay produces most of the well-know European varieties since the climate is very similar to the Spanish, French and Italian growing regions (particularly because of its proximity to the sea).
      However, its signature grape is Tannat, a red variety on which Uruguayan winemakers have gained master expertise. Other grapes you can find excellent wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Albariño, and Merlot. There are more than 40 exporting wineries, I do not know particularly which you could find where you live, but the average quality is quite good in the range of 15 dollars. If you are in Uruguay, I recommend you keep above 150 uruguayan pesos. If you have any question in particular on a specific wine, winery or variety, please contact us directly through our website contact button. Cheers! Viviana – Bodegas del Uruguay.

      Reply
    • Welshwitch in Uruguay

      February 10, 2014

      Adam, your question prompted this new post http://www.guruguay.net/uruguayan-wines-outclass-argentinas-says-financial-times-wine-critic/. Happy quaffing!

      Reply

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