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The Next BIG Thing in Wine

Ta da! I'm a Mermaid...again. 

Published at July 2013

There are many regions that are known for their grapes. Argentina claimed Malbec and Chile has its Carmenere. Closer to home; Oregon is known for Pinot Noir and British Columbia has successfully tackled Ice Wine. As a side note, Washington State's defining grape is debatable as the region has at least a half a dozen contenders. Regardless of Washington's indecisiveness, I think it's a good thing to claim a grape not just for marketing purposes, but well...Global Grape Domination.

The latest claim to fame is that Uruguay is taking the world of viticulture by storm with its distinctive Tannat wines. Discovering this variety was a major highlight of the recent Wine Bloggers Conference. A boisterous group of wine enthusiasts had an opportunity to sip and savor the unique wines of Uruguay.

I compare this to watching a soon-to-be discovered rock band playing in a dive bar for tips just prior to getting a major record deal. At first sip, you knew they were onto something and that this was a launch pad to Global Grape Domination. "Yea for us" for getting to partake in Uruguay's best pours in small city in the Southern Interior of British Columbia, Canada. Yes, I'll be claiming "I knew them when."

Credit: world maps

Admittedly, I was only vaguely aware of where Uruguay was actually located. I can now confidently say that Uruguay is in southern South America, nestled between Brazil and Argentina. Also news to me, is that Uruguay is the continent's fourth-largest wine producer.
Uruguay sits between the 30th and 35th parallels in line with Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Winemaking began in the 18th century when the Spanish brought vines to the region. With approximately 3,500 grape growers and 270 wineries, Uruguay produces 10 million cases of wine annually from its 22,000 acres of vines. Maybe it’s with good reason, but Uruguay selfishly keeps 95% of the wine produced for them. Luckily for us, they are finally ready to share and have plans of wine becoming their most tasty export.

Currently, not many of the country's wines make it to North America. The signature grape variety is the relatively unknown Tannat. Undiscovered GRAPEness. Tannat is a red wine grape, historically grown in South West France in the Madiran AOC and is the most prominent grapes in Uruguay, where it is considered the "national grape." (See how it works, Washington? They claimed a grape.) Named for its high tannin content, Tannat has been found to be the healthiest of red wines with 3-4 times more antioxidants and an average resveratrol concentration of 4.2%. I love when they tell me how healthy it is to drink wine. Tannat has come to be seen as the quintessential Uruguayan grape and wine, representing about 40 per cent of the country's entire wine production. Rumor has it that Tannat is a difficult grape, possessing a thick skin that resists rot. Aome things are so worth it and this, my wine loving friends, is one of them.

Photo Credit: Welcome Uruguay

Tannat makes decidedly robust wines with pronounced aromas of smoke and plum, significant tannins and a wonderfully spicy finish. The wines are typically dense purple-red in color, with a nose of tobacco, smoke, and ripe berries. I experienced juicy flavors of plum and raspberry, with a long, generous finish. The tannins are impressive, but nicely balanced. The wine was a juxtaposition of elegance, yet clearly powerful and complex. Definitely a variety I want to spend more time with.
I wish I could have this tasting back as it seamed fast and furious and I really needed to spend some more time with these wines. I guess its good they left me wanting more. Now I'm on a mission to get to know the wines of Uruguay much more intimately. Naturally, I want to go there.

Here are a couple "stand out" wines I had the pleasure to sip:

Artesana poured a Tannat-Zin-Merlot blend (2011) that was very elegant and extremely smooth. The boldness of the Tannat was artfully tamed in this blissful blend. This is a wine that begs to be paired with strong cheeses or grilled foods. It's well balanced and surprisingly light on the palate. I also tried Artesana 100% Tannat (2011 and I really liked it as well. Its big, bold and deliciously distinctive.
Photo Credit: Artesana
Bodegas Carrau offered their 1752 Gran Tradicion. This wine was very deep maroon in color. This was a Tannat blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The enveloping aroma was tart currant and plum followed by a dried currant taste. Tannat is the ever-present variety but the tannins are as smooth as silk.
Photo Credit: SIP
Bouza Bodega Boutique poured their Albariño 2012. Albariño (Alvarinho) is a green-skinned grape variety native to Galicia on the north Atlantic coast of Spain, which lends itself well to Uruguay. This was fruit salad in a glass. Delights of tropical fruit aroma with white flowers. The taste lead with tart pear and peach, tangy green apple with a mineral palate and crisp acidity. This standout wine was well balanced and with lively acidity and a long finale. This is a perfect summer sipper.
Photo Credit: SIP

Thank you Wines of Uruguay, it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I look forward to our next encounter. I just know it will be tasteful.

Life's fast, sip slow.

Laurie L Ross
 is a consistently published freelance writer who usually writes about the important things in life: fine wine, creative cuisine, spectacular spas, regional art, and unique boutiques. Ms. Ross has a popular wine blog entitled Sip of Spokane, a lively Facebook page Sip of Spokane, as well as an active Twitter page sipofspokane. Weekdays she can be found as the Director of Marketing at an advertising agency in the Spokane Valley. 
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