Try Uruguay

Wines from South America have become familiar sights in UK supermarkets but are almost always from that region’s 2 major players: Argentina and Chile. Yet, virtually every country in South America makes some wine – I’ve tasted some attractive bottles from Brazil, for example – and I recently opened a delicious rosé from Uruguay, South America’s 4th largest producer.

Uruguay RoseAtlantico Sur’s Tannat Rosé (Wine Society, £12.50) is delightfully fresh and clean with tangy cranberry and raspberry fruit, a slight smokiness and a lovely crisp, dry finish. The Tannat grape may not be widely known but it’s Uruguay’s most planted variety, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s vineyards. Originally brought over by settlers from the French and Spanish Basque regions in the late 19th century, it is more usually used, both in Uruguay and in its European heartlands, for deep, robust reds which, as the name implies, are often pretty tannic in their youth. Those who have tasted Madiran from south-west France will know what I mean.

But the variety grows well in Uruguay’s climate. Most of the country’s vineyards are close to the capital, Montevideo, which means they benefit from an important Atlantic influence – vital in moderating the temperatures in this relatively warm latitude (around 35˚S). Unfortunately, this also results in high levels of rainfall and humidity, so planting on well-drained soils and training the vines high to ensure good air circulation are key if undesirable rot is to be avoided.

The size of Uruguay’s vineyard and the keenness of its inhabitants on drinking their own wine means that Uruguay is unlikely to become a major player on the world wine stage but, based on this and a few other examples I have tasted, if you see a bottle on the shelf of your local wine merchant, it may be worth giving it a try.

Local Food, Local Wine

It’s amazing how often the food speciality of a region and the local wine go well together – shellfish with Muscadet and the little goats’ cheese crottins with Sancerre are 2 examples that spring immediately to mind, although there are many, many more.  So, when we decided to cook a cassoulet (a delicious rich stew made from mixed meats, haricot beans, tomatoes and fresh herbs originating from the area around Toulouse in the South West of France) for some good friends recently, it seemed only natural to turn to a wine from Madiran, just a short drive to the west of the city.

Madiran is not one of the most widely-known Appellations – probably because much of the relatively small production is enjoyed locally – but the best producers turn out some really lovely intense red wines, based around the astringent, tannic local grape variety, Tannat, sometimes ‘softened’ by a little Cabernet (Sauvignon or Franc) and another native variety, Fer.

Among the names to look out for are Alain Brumont’s Montus (£26.99 from Corks) or Bouscassé, Château Laffitte-Teston or Château d’Aydie and it was this latter estate’s cuvee Odé d’Aydie (Wine Society, remarkable value at £9.99) that we opened and decanted a couple of hours before drinking – always worth doing with Madiran. 

Madiran AydieEven so, the 2013 vintage was still quite tannic at first – it has at least another 5 years good drinking ahead – but, once we started enjoying it with the robust flavours of the cassoulet, it showed as I’d hoped – mellowing admirably with attractive blackberry and spice coming to the fore.

The reason behind local food and local wine working well together remains a mystery to me; does the food come first and wines develop to match it or is it the other way around?  Or is it purely by chance?  Either way, next time you start thinking, ‘what should I drink with this?’, look where the dish comes from and hope they make wine there.