Uruguay exports focus on quality

Uruguay is focusing its exports on quality as the wide variety and superior quality of its white wines are currently much in demand in foreign markets.

Carlos Pizzorno

“Our new niche in the UK are the wine clubs and the high end restaurants which are all good targets for our different wines,” said Gustavo Magarinos, director of Wines of Uruguay.

In the UK, lower-end Urguayan wine is sold in supermarkets, yet the country’s new focus is on the high end market abroad – specifically the US, its traditional largest export customer Brazil, and increasingly Poland and Scandinavian countries which are huge proponents of their white international varietal wines which include the standard Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well as the more exotic Torrentés, Albariño, Gewürztraminer, and Viognier.

The country boasts approximately 300 producers, yet only 20 wineries (both large commercial productions and small boutique family owned operations) are focused exclusively on the production of higher-end quality wine.

A recent tour of these 20 producers revealed several new trends: first and foremost, a new focus on taming the previously harsh, astringent tannins of the national native grape Tannat through a variety of methods that include a five day cold soak, blending with softer grapes such as Merlot, and increased aging in a mix of new and older French barrels.

Another positive surprise was the wide variety and superior quality of its white wines, currently much in demand in foreign markets.

Virtually every winery made a refreshing sparkler culled from a blend that included Chardonnay as a base blended with a minority of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and even Viognier. Cellars are high-tech and modern, despite the sepia-toned portraits (and often 18th century oil paintings) of ancestors mounted on winery walls. A few of the wineries, specifically Bodega Bouza, have become tourist attractions with high-end restaurants and tours.

Uruguay is the fourth most important wine-producing country in South America, with its winemaking families descended from immigrants who came to Uruguay in the 19th century.

A surprisingly majority of the top producers opened their doors in the 1930’s, fulfilling demand when most of the old world wine producing regions were at war. The current challenge for the Uruguayan winemakers is to further their reputation for offering high-quality products at a fair price to new export markets.

2 Responses to “Uruguay exports focus on quality”

  1. Wink Lorch says:

    Having followed Uruguayan wines in the UK for 15+ years, visited their wine regions several times and presented a series of tastings for them in the UK 3 years ago, it’s good to see the country at last getting some coverage again.

    However, there are some strange assertions in this article:
    1) There have never been low-end wines from Uruguay in British supermarkets (unless you count a pair of Juanico wines sold in Tesco in the mid-90s). Today, as far as I know, there is just one Uruguayan wine in a British supermarket and that is Pizzorno Merlot-Tannat in Waitrose (and by the way, the photo shows Carlos and his wife Ana Pizzorno).
    2) White wines are in the minority in Uruguay, and certainly I believe, whereas quality has risen by leaps and bounds, and there are indeed some interesting varieties around in very small quantities (e.g. Albariño from Bouza only, I believe or Marsanne from de Lucca), these are not going to find as many listings in the UK as the reds. It is true that the famous tannins of Tannat have been tamed with various vineyard and winery methods, as well as by blending and this is definitely the flagship grape and wine for the country. As for their sparkling wines, I very much doubt we will see any trying to compete for space on our shelves.

    The good news is that in the independent trade, we now see more Uruguayan wines in the UK than ever before with wines from at least 8 wineries available.

  2. Wink, thanks so much for taking the time to provide commentary. We are members of several of the most prestigious wine associations and you are obviously an expert in your field. However, Gustavo’s quote reflected that while Uruguay wines are sold in UK supermarkets, what went unsaid is that this is NOT his primary market which explains why you do not see them so often. The reason is because the quality producers can’t compete on price in the supermarkets.

    As he explained in his quote, the NEW and primary focus for Uruguay wines is OUTSIDE the UK, as the UK supermarkets are not appropriate markets for the higher end wines.

    I know you have been in Uruguay several times, but even if you visited as recently as two or three years ago, my visit ten days ago reflects many dramatic changes. White wine is the new trend here for the export market OUTSIDE the UK, which may explain why you didn’t see them in the UK market.

    While I did not include the feelings of the producers in this article, they felt they could not effectively compete in the UK in supermarkets on price, and for this reason are focusing their exports outside the entire UK market. It is true that Tannat is the main export, yet white wines are fresh, delicious, and on the increase. Some Nordic countries only want the white wine.

    Thanks again for chiming into the discussion and hope this clarifies some of your points.


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