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.

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