With more than 200 wineries, Uruguay is the new world’s undiscovered wine jewel.
Some vineyards are over a hundred years old run by fourth and fifth generation winemakers; some of the newer ones are owned by foreigners who have fallen in love with Uruguay, like Leslie Fellows from California, one of the owners of all-women-run estate winery Artesana.
It was typical for families, many of whom are descendants of Italians and Spaniards, to grow grapes and make their own wine at home. I have a relative whose family has a tub to tread the grapes at home that dates from several generations ago. At the Almacen de la Capilla in Carmelo you can have a go at treading grapes yourself in February.
Since 2000, wine-making has been professionalised under the tutelage of renowned flying wine-makers coinciding with a new generation of local enologists getting their wine-making credentials in Uruguay and specialising abroad. These young wine-makers are daredevils, making new styles, trying new blends and all importantly getting great results.
For years, but most noticeably in the last decade, wines from Uruguay are winning gold and silver medals in international competitions. And rivalling more well-known Argentina in the process.
Uruguay’s wine regions
- Montevideo and nearby Canelones
Over half of all Uruguayan wine is produced within a 30-mile (50 km) radius of the capital. Almost all are small family-run concerns that have been around for generations.
Drive time: 10-40 mins from Montevideo
- Carmelo, Colonia in the west of Uruguay
Colonia is a south-western province most well-known for the historic city of Colonia del Sacramento. Carmelo’s wineries are just outside the town of Carmelo and almost all dedicated to boutique-production.
Drive time: 3 hrs from Montevideo; 1 hr from Colonia
- Maldonado to the east
Maldonado with its coastal breezes and cooler temperatures has become the new hot spot for Uruguayan wines. On the way to Maldonado from Montevideo you’ll pass Atlantida, a small wine region sharing the same climatic characteristics.
Drive time: 1.25 hrs from Montevideo; 30 min from Punta del Este
Without leaving the capital To experience Uruguay’s wines, make the Montevideo Wine Experience your first stop once you get into Montevideo. A tiny wine-bar directly opposite the port and located at the infamous Port Market, the staff speak excellent English and love to get you fired up as they are about Uruguay’s wines.
Most of Uruguay’s wine is produced in vineyards just outside of the capital Montevideo and its neighbouring province Canelones. The closest vineyard is just a literally twelve-minute taxi ride drive from the city centre.
Carmelo Carmelo wineries are a wonderful opportunity to get to taste some of Uruguay’s best wines with the owners themselves in a setting that has been called the “Urugayan Tuscany” by the New York Times.
Uruguay versus Napa, California – how do the wine tasting experiences compare?
Many vineyards are working establishments, closed to the public. Plus Uruguay has a very strict drink driving law – you cannot have even a single glass and drive. So a private wine tour is a great way to experience some of these great little vineyards.
Two dedicated wine enthusiasts are offering outstanding tours in Uruguay.
- Argentine Damian offers private wine tours from Colonia and Montevideo
- South African Ryan offers wine tours from Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio and Punta Ballena and Montevideo.
More reading on Uruguay wines
The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo which you can buy for your tablet or on Amazon includes lists of the best Uruguayan wines available in 2016, best budget wines under 8 dollars as well as restaurants with great wine cellars and/or expert English-speaking sommeliers as selected by Argentine experts Bodegas del Uruguay.
Photo: Guru’Guay Map: Click map to go to original