Tag Archives: Uruguay

Wines of South America: Uruguay’s Wine Country

3 May

News flash: An article posted Tuesday on InternationalLiving.com states that the best quality of life in Latin America can be found in Uruguay. World Cup soccer and Diego Forlan notwithstanding, I realize some of my non-Uruguayan Latin American readers may disagree. Being of Peruvian heritage myself (and let’s not EVEN bring up futbol at this point), I was simply looking for a timely news hook besides Cinco de Mayo on which I could hang this blog post.

Kidding aside, Uruguay oozes old-world charm and pristine natural beauty, as I discovered a couple of years ago when I had the good fortune to travel there on business. Never one to miss an opportunity to sample a country’s wines, I did some exploring in Carmelo, Uruguay, which looks a lot like Tuscany minus the throngs of tourists.

Early morning in Carmelo, Uruguay’s wine country.

Carmelo, located in southwestern Uruguay, is one of the country’s lesser-known wine growing regions, and Tannat is perhaps Uruguay’s best known wine, a deep purple, full-bodied explosion of ripe blackberries and bold tannins. Uruguayan Tannat is not something you’re likely to find at the local grocery store, although more U.S. wine shops are beginning to carry it and I would say it’s worth the search.

Tannat wine, produced at Zubizarreta vineyards in Carmelo, Uruguay.

Unlike California’s Napa Valley and parts of Argentina, Carmelo’s wine country is not easy to explore on your own unless you have a local contact or you are fluent in Spanish and have a knack for finding places off the beaten path. When I was there in 2009, most of the wineries had no web presence and wine tourism was virtually nonexistent. But therein lies the charm of Carmelo’s wine country.

Kick back with a bottle of wine at bodega Irurtia in Uruguay’s Carmelo region.

Irurtia, one of the bodegas I visited, is operated by the grandchildren of founder Lorenzo Irurtia, who migrated to Uruguay from the Basque country in the early 20th century. Spread throughout the winery and grounds are mementos from the family’s past, including Lorenzo’s vintage adding machine and his son Dante’s collection of classic cars from the 1930s and 1940s.

The family’s classic car collection is on display at the winery.

Tasting wine at Irurtia is a little like hanging out in the gothic-style dining room of a good friend whose family happens to make wine. Maria Jose, who runs the winery with her brother, casually pours some of the wines while talking about the history of the vineyards and the vines’ French root stock. The Tannat grape originated in France and was brought to Uruguay in the late 19th century by Basque immigrants.

Maria gets ready to pour some of her family’s wines.

Irurtia has won awards for its wines in international competitions and produces a lovely Pinot Noir, so don’t limit yourself to the Tannat if you happen to go there. And yes, going there is the only way you can sample Irurtia wines as they are not yet available in the United States. The winery now has a website and you can use the contact form to arrange a visit.

Tannat is not the only grape in town.

Besides wine, the Carmelo region offers delights for foodies and nature lovers alike. My fellow cheese addicts will be thrilled to know you can get your fix at any of a dozen artisanal cheese makers on the road from Carmelo to Montevideo (about 165 miles). When I say ‘artisanal,’ I mean families making cheese out of their homes from milk produced by goats raised in the backyard. The epitome of farm-to-table.

A tiny cheese shop on the property of a family who makes artisanal cheeses.

You can do what I did and make stops along the cheese route as you head to Montevideo. You can also day trip it from Carmelo, but it may make for a long day. Whatever you do, be prepared for some of the best cheeses you’ll have this side of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, once you’ve tasted your cheese, pay it forward by stepping out back and personally thanking the goats who produced the milk.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

I’ve never lived in Uruguay so I can’t speak to its quality of life. However, if wine and cheese are any indicator of an ideal place to live, Uruguay is a winner in my book.

Fireworks – and kitchen experiments – go better with wine

5 Jul

A Fourth of July meal for free spirits: Grilled raspberry-chipotle chicken with quinoa tomato dill salad. Put out the little chipotle fire with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc.

Hot dogs are overrated. This Independence Day, I exercised my right to the pursuit of happiness by watching Perú and Uruguay tie 1-1 in a thrilling* Copa América match, and by happily declaring burgers, frankfurters and beer verboten at this year’s barbecue. Instead, I channeled a little independent thinking ‘round the grill. The result  – a mashup of flavors from around the globe that scored points with my fellow independent thinkers.

On the menu: Grilled raspberry-chipotle chicken, quinoa tomato dill salad, and mango cake for dessert. The wine of choice: St. Supery 2009 Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc.

By-the-book wine lovers might take issue with the pairing of a Sauvignon Blanc and grilled chicken. I found that the mild kick of the chipotle marinade was tamed by the fruitiness of the wine. Go figure.

To come full circle, my pursuit of happiness involves bending a few rules, perhaps making some mistakes along the way, but learning from them. Case in point – I decided to add dill to the quinoa salad because 10 years ago I had a fantastic raspberry-dill salmon salad at a café in Edinburgh, Scotland. I thought the dill in the quinoa salad would mesh with the raspberry in the chicken marinade.  The crowd went wild.

So here’s a toast to independent thinkers, free spirits, loquitas and the occasional culinary/pairing screw-up. Don’t let rules kill your appetite for experimentation.

*El full disclosure: A soccer match thrilling on many levels, not the least of which was watching Uruguay’s Diego Forlan in his resplendent, Greek-god glory AND learning that he broke off his engagement. But seriously, gente, I was rooting for Perú all the way.

Señorita Vino’s Quinoa Tomato Dill Salad

 Serves 8 as a side dish


1 cup dried quinoa

2 cups water

2 tbsps chopped fresh dill

4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

6 seeded and diced roma tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the quinoa according to package instructions. Don’t forget to rinse it first! Once it’s cooked, let it stand at room temperature in a large salad bowl. Add the diced tomatoes and dill. Add the olive oil and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over a leaf of butter lettuce. ¡Buen provecho!

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