Uruguay weighs in

I recently bought a case of wine at an auction for one of my favorite charities, WaterAid, which works to bring fresh clean water to communities in Africa, digging wells, supplying pumps, and creating plumbing systems, making a huge differences to people’s lives. The wine was a “mystery case”—all I knew was that it was white wine, donated by Decanter after a series of tastings. Half a dozen bottles were Uruguayan Chardonnay. Oh well, I thought, the money went for a good cause anyway. I’ve now drunk my way through most of them, and am pleased to report that I got quite a bargain.
          Back in the days before “terroir” and “minerality” became the dominant, all-purpose, misappropriated and eventually diluted criteria they are now, we used to judge wine in simpler, more accessible ways, beginning with varietal character, moving on to acidity, and ending up with balance (which brought in the actual winemaking)—not a bad way to go. On that useful basis, several of those Uruguayan Chardonnays were terrific, clearly respecting the grape’s flavours and aromas, with a vibrant zing of green-apple acidity running through them that never let up, and a balance that never flagged, with just the right touch of subtle oak, always inviting another mouthful: Bouza, Bodgeas Carrau, and Del Pedregal from 2014, and Marichal 2015, are highly recommended.
          Uruguay has a fascinating wine history, with an unusual climate and topography; it’s the fourth-largest wine industry in South America, and becoming export-minded. The principal grape is the red Tannat, a rough, tannic beast in France but softer and voluptuous in Uruguay (it must be the terroir!). And if you see a dessert wine called Vinedo de los Vientos “Alcyone,” do yourself a favor and try it—it’s  Tannat made with added herbs, in the style of some Amarones, and it’s a delicious chocolate-cherry bombshell with a firm tannic backbone, unique and quite wonderful.

Trapper, Moses, and me

Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre in the classic TV series of “M.A.S.H.,” died last week. Besides acting, he had been  a highly successful financial manager. One venture, in the early 1970s, was a syndicate that included Peter Falk, Jack Webb, and James Caan, which established a 530-acre vineyard in Paso Robles, then mostly known for its hot springs.
          Vineyards were a savvy, tax-deferring investment, but Wayne, who admitted at the time that his wine knowledge was limited to knowing the difference between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, got involved, even taking university courses in enology and viticulture. His enthusiasm—and financial returns—helped bring in new investors and revitalize the area’s historic wine traditions (and its annual rodeo became the only one in America featuring wine-tastings).
          We were slightly acquainted, so I wasn’t surprised when he called me one day in 1985 at my office at Wine Institute in San Francisco, but I was surprised at the reason: He'd gotten a phone call from Charlton Heston, who was appearing on stage in London in “The Caine Mutiny,” and was in a Captain Queeg-type lather. On his night off, Heston had had dinner with the American Ambassador--and been served French wine! He was indignant! He was outraged! He said the ambassador had claimed French wine was all they had in the embassy’s cellar. Not so, I told Wayne, I’d recently arranged a donation of wine left over from a California tasting to the embassy. Perhaps the ambassador had been misled.
          Wayne wasn’t mollified. “Do you really want to argue with Moses?” he said, laughing. Good point: I sent Heston a message promising that we were working to sort out the situation, and then called Geoffrey Roberts in London, the leading importer of California wine at the time, and asked him to send a mixed case to Heston at his hotel, with a note saying I was sure he’d enjoy it when he hosted the ambassador in return, and then to bill me for the wine. (A real gent, Roberts only charged me the wholesale price.) 
          Later, Heston sent me back a message saying he appreciated the quick response; I never knew if he was referring to my promise, or the wine he evidently enjoyed. Moses supposed, I disposed. That’s entertainment.
copyright 2010-2017 by Brian St. Pierre