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.
“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.