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Antonini paints fresh vision for Uruguay

Uruguay needs to look beyond its winemaking heartland of Canelones in order to fulfill its true quality potential, according to international wine consultant Alberto Antonini.

Alberto Antonini at Roof Gardens
International wine consultant, Alberto Antonini (right) introducing his Uruguayan range from Bodega Garzón at Babylon, Kensington Roof Gardens, in London.

Introducing the latest releases from Bodega Garzón, an estate owned by Argentine entrepreneur Alejandro Bulgheroni, Antonini expressed his excitement about these vineyards’ location in the Maldonado district near Punta del Este and highlighted the sharp contrast with Canelones.

“Canelones is very close to Montevideo and in reality for me it’s not the best place to grow grapes,” he remarked. “It’s just where the Europeans went first when they arrived.”

Outlining some of the challenges for this current focal point of Uruguay’s wine industry, Antonini remarked: “It has very heavy, mostly clay soils and if you don’t have good drainage in the soil then you see the canopy growing and growing. You get a lot of very green, harsh tannins, which a lot of Uruguayan Tannat has.”

Turning to the location of Bodega Garzón, which lies near a village of the same name – the country does not yet have a defined appellation system – Antonini highlighted its “granite, well-drained, stoney soil”.

He described this geology as “very important for Uruguay” thanks to the country’s high rainfall of around 1,200ml per year, “but sometimes up to 1,500ml.” In addition, maintained Antonini, “the granite is giving the wine an interesting vitality and energy.”

Located 11 miles from the ocean, Garzón is also exposed to Atlantic breezes, rather than the warmer river influence seen in Canelones. Meanwhile, Antonini highlighted an “amazing biodiversity” around the vineyard, including wild palm forests, as he described the scenery as “a mix of Tuscany, Burgundy and a little bit of California.”

The vineyard itself was largely planted in 2008 and currently features 200 hectares divided into an average size plot of just 0.2ha and spread over about 10km.

In addition to Uruguay’s flagship grape Tannat, Garzón has a major focus on Albariño, as Antonini noted “a lot of similarity with Galicia in terms of climate.” Despite the prevalence of Tannat nearby, he chose to obtain his vines from the variety’s French homeland of Madiran “because I didn’t like very much the Tannat from Canalones.”

Seafood and Garzon2
Garzon Viognier

Other varieties planted include Viognier, Petit Manseng and Cabernet Franc, with the latter “doing very well”, according to Antonini, a confessed fan of this grape. However, he has yet to make a wine from this variety, explaining, “Cabernet Franc vines require at least 10 years to age” in order for the plant to become less vigorous.

For the moment there are few other wineries in the region, but Antonini remarked: “They are coming. The price of land has gone up a lot. I think people realise that Uruguay has a lot more interesting terroir than Canelones.”

Despite welcoming this evolution of the country’s wine scene, Antonini – who also consults widely across South America, the US, Okanagan, Armenia, Australia and his native Italy – insisted that Garzón would remain his only project in Uruguay.

“I like this place too much,” he said of the Garzón venture. “It is a big project so I want time to focus and not give my energy to anybody else.” Instead, he indicated that his partnership with Bulgheroni was set to extend in a rather different direction with a new project in Rioja, although insisted that no deal had yet been finalised.

Having launched the Garzón range in the UK last year through distributor Bibendum PLB with a retail price of £11.99, the estate is reporting strong sales growth as part of a growing interest in Uruguayan wine from this market. The UK is currently Uruguay’s third largest export market and value sales here have risen by 300% in the last four years. 

In order to drive further growth in the UK, the producer aims to introduce a separate label under a different name for the off-trade. “We want Garzón to be for the on-trade,” explained Gustavo Crespo, managing director in Europe, Canada and Asia for the brand’s export group Blends.

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