Uruguay still a hidden gem on world stage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am


It was easy way back when, Jancis Robinson commented while she was studying for her master of wine, because there so were few wine-producing countries and wine-producing regions. Today, it is almost impossible to keep up.

Even those residents in Portugal's bourgeoning Douro region say they don't always know what's happening, such is the pace of change.

Places such as Italy's northerly Alto Adige and the volcanic island of Sicily are traditional regions but are arriving gloriously and belatedly on the world scene.

Bruno Prats, former owner of Cos d'Estournel, was the first to plant grapes in Chile's Malleco region, which is south even of another 'new' region, Bio Bio, pushing the frontiers of wine production still further.

Les Vins de Vienne were the first to rediscover a part of the Rh?ne known as Seyssuel (Chapoutier and others have subsequently planted there, too), which will probably become France's newest Appellation d'Origine Contr?lee within the next few years.

The British are storming ahead with their sparklings from the south of England, taking advantage of climate change to become a respectable producer, while southern Germany is finding the quality of its pinot noirs (Spatburgunder) soaring for the same reason.

It is probably fair to say that the point where price-quality ratio is at its most favourable is when we buy from up-and-coming, offbeat regions, often selecting their 'unique' grape - malbec from Argentina would be a good example.

But when it comes to its little neighbour, Uruguay, we are talking about a whole country that could still be considered somewhat offbeat.

Uruguay is the size of England with a population half that of Hong Kong, and has about 9,000 hectares of land under vine.

To understand Uruguay, it is necessary to forget everything we know about Chile and Argentina. One of the wine areas Uruguay is most often compared to is Bordeaux because of the Atlantic-influenced climate.

Remarkably, even in a sophisticated and mature market such as Hong Kong, there is still no one importing what are certainly very high-quality wines, particularly those made with, or grapes blended with, tannat.

In its traditional home of Madiran in France, tannat produces huge, dark, tannic wines. In Uruguay, it has been tamed, making wines with elegant, soft tannins and lush fruit at the blackberry end of the spectrum.

Uruguay's neighbour Brazil is also on the ascendant after a decade of investment in technological innovation and vineyard management.

You must know you're entering the world stage when you can coax Michel Rolland over to consult, as the producer Miolo has done.