Uruguay may be small in comparison to its neighbours, Brazil and Argentina, but its reputation belies its size. Known internationally as the new home of Tannat (a grape introduced by Basque settlers in the late 19th century), it has a long history of embedded wine culture and a unique, incredibly diverse terroir.
The range of grapevines introduced by European settlers is a testament to its diverse soils and climate, with red grapes (80% of output) such as Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, and white grapes (20% of output) such as Albarino, Verdejo, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, all finding their own little niches in this country with relatively high levels of rainfall.
The wines produced are known to be more European in style with softer fruit, higher acid and structured tannins. With 99 different types of soil, the shorelines of the widest river in the world, Rio de la Plata, the southern cool climate coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, and almost sub-tropical heat in the northern inland, their appears to be a natural home for every grape to thrive.
Uruguay's volume of production is much smaller than neighbouring countries, often meaning high quality. 90% of vineyards are still family-owned, with wine culture a true part of life. In fact, it has the highest per capita wine consumers outside of Europe, consuming 25% more than even us Britons. With vineyards on the same latitude as famed regions such as Mendoza, Barossa Valley and Stellenbosch, alongside a climate that can rival Bordeaux, it is no wonder wine has become so beloved.
Over the last 60 years and 3 generations, Familia Traversa has established a reputation for producing high quality wines that positively reflect their environment in Canelones, Uruguay. Founded in 1937, they use state of the art technology and pride themselves in the sustainable nature of the winery, with solar panels, reduced bottle weights and increased use of composting to replace inorganic fertilisers.
Canelones is the traditional heart of wine-making in Uruguay. Alongside neighbouring capital Montevides, it holds the majority of the country's vineyards. The region is a premium rural agricultural region, with fertile rich clay soils perfect for many thriving grape vines. Finca Traversa continue to innovate with increasing organic methods, hand harvesting, and a range that is suitable for vegans.
Their Finca Traversa Reserva Cabernet Franc-Tannat harvests from vineyards with highly calcareous soils in an area comparable to a mild Bordeaux-style climate. Traditional fermentation takes place, with a further 6 months maturation in oak for an engaging blend with energetic acidity, rich berry fruit, warming spice and rounded vanilla flavours. The cleansing finish is full and satisfyingly long.
Their Finca Traversa Sauvignon Blanc harvests grapes from the same area before fermentation in stainless-steel tanks at controlled low temperatures. Fresh yet tropical, the resulting wine has aromas of green apple, citrus and fresh herbs. A light and totally refreshing palate makes this a fantastically versatile and easy drinking wine.
The Sierra Oriental range is produced by a family winery boasting over a century of land cultivation experience in South America. The Diz family moved from Argentina to Uruguay in 1998, where they fell deeply in love with the Maldonado mountain region for continuing their land cultivation and growth of food crops. In 2003 they established La Oriental in Paraje José Ignacio, planting olive trees and red vines, with the first commercial harvest in 2008.
This endeavour was so successful that the family starting producing wine under their own label, Sierra Oriental, in 2011. It is fitting that the Maldonado wine region is considered one of the fastest-emerging and exciting modern wine regions in Uruguay. Located in the southeast of the country along the Atlantic Ocean, with vineyards of sand, quartz and ballast, it has become known for offering a distinctive style of refreshing coastal wines.
The Sierra Oriental Winemaker's Blend uses Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Merlot grapes that are vinified separately with short maceration and fermentation at low temperature, followed by ageing in American and French oak for 3 months. The result is a youthful red of medium body with intense colour and a delicate, juicy palate. Fruity abundance of blackberry, plum, red apple, coffee, chocolate, vanilla, blueberry, and quince. This fleshy wine shows a touch of mint, liquorice and lovely minerality before a fresh finish.
Their Sierra Oriental Reserva Tannat allows grapes to wild ferment before 8 months in French (80%) and American (20%) oak barrels. This brings a a striking and powerful wine with aromas of blackberry and red fruits, quince, chocolate, blond tobacco, coffee and black olives. Full bodied with mature tannins, fresh mint, chocolate, vanilla, jasmine and dark juicy fruit.
Meanwhile, their Sierra Oriental Reserva Sauvignon Blanc is inspired by the Loire Valley, and uses whole grape pressing for a delicate must, with French oak barrels for 6 months of fermentation and ageing, as well as 6 months on lees with weekly battonage. Aromas of nettles, tomato leaf, white flowers and pineapple precede delightful opulence on the palate. Ripe peach, citrus, guava and passionfruit flavours are rounded up with lovely textural style.