Charming Carmelo in western Uruguay, an hour’s drive from Colonia del Sacramento, has been called the Uruguayan Tuscany. The sleepy town is surrounded by eight boutique wine producers – mostly small, and all family-run concerns.
Familia Irurtia is on the outskirts of Carmelo town. Almacen de la Capilla (also known locally as Bodega Cordano), CampoTinto and El Legado are all in the Colonia Estrella district a 30 minute bike ride away. Narbona is the most far-flung, just over six miles west of Colonia Estrella.
Each vineyard is very different one from the other. Though what they have in common is that your winery tour guide will most likely be the owner or the principal wine-maker.
And they all have unique stories to tell you as part of (abundant) wine-tasting.
Carmelo wine tasting
Plan to visit just one or two Carmelo vineyards per day.
These are leisurely personalised experiences to be savoured, very different from what you might expect in more commercialised parts of the wine world.
The good news is that you can coordinate wine-tastings at each vineyards by email. And the vineyards are usually extremely quick to answer.
Almacén de la Capilla – Bodega Cordano
is the oldest vineyard in the region. Go for a tasting any time of day between 11am and 8pm in the hundred year old store hosted by fifth generation wine-maker Ana Paula Cordano (pictured above). The tasting includes five wines, a generous picada (cold cuts, cheeses) and a traditional dessert and coffee for 25 USD.
Reserve a tasting: Email Ana Paula and Diego at Almacendelacapilla@adinet.com.uy or message them through Facebook*
How to get there: They are a 20-30 minute bike ride from the centre of Carmelo or a 10-minute ride from Zagarzazú beach. Take Route 21 out of town, take a left at the roundabout staying on 21. At the 257 km landmark turn right onto a dirt road for just over a mile. It is clearly sign-posted.
is a lovely boutique vineyard with a stylish four-room guesthouse and restaurant onsite. The owner is an Argentine property developer with a passion for wine. You’ll be received personally by the wine makers who told me proudly that they have set out to produce “the world’s best tannat”. Three tastings options are available from Wednesday to Sunday from noon till 5pm: the standard tasting includes wine and barrel tasting for 15 USD; the premium tasting includes two Tannat reserve wines, barrel tastings and a picada (30USD); and the premium wine tasting plus lunch (55 USD). CampoTinto also provides a delightful gourmet picnic option (65 USD per person).
How to get there: Follow the directions above. CampoTinto is on the road just before Almacen de la Capilla
Bernardo Marzuca is famous for his hospitality and the wine is just as superb. You’ll get to draw your own from the barrels in his tasting room. Tastings cost 25 USD and include a picada as well as ample wine. For groups of eight people or more Bernardo can cook a full-on asado (a mighty Uruguayan mixed grill) for you for 50 USD per person.
Reserve a tasting: Email Bernardo at email@example.com or message him through Facebook*
How to get there: El Legado is along the same road as the Almacen. So coming from Carmelo, go along Route 21 and carry on straight across the roundabout at the edge of town. Turn left onto a dirt road for just over a mile. There are a couple more turns which are clearly sign-posted. There is an easy short-cut along a country back-road between El Legado and the Almacen.
offers tours and tastings in the morning and afternoon each day at 11am and 3pm. Owner Maria Irurtia (pictured above) is great fun and does the morning tour. She speaks English and French. The tour lasts about 1.5 hours and is always different, depending on the questions asked and the wines being produced at the time of your visit. The tasting includes 3 wines. Together the tour and tasting costs 15 USD. There’s a small cafe for lunch, a picada or an afternoon dessert.
Reserve a tasting: Email Maria Noel at firstname.lastname@example.org*. You can also check out the history of Maria Noel’s father, Dante Irurtia, a local legend on the Irurtia website.
How to get there: Take the Route 21 from the town centre. Turn right onto Paraguay street. (If you come to the roundabout out of town, you have gone to far.) Keep going straight. You will leave the town behind. Just when you think that you must have missed it, the winery warehouses will rear up on your right.
Narbona Wine Lodge
Narbona is the dream winery of Pacha Canton, a charismatic Argentine who has lovingly rebuilt one of Uruguay’s oldest vineyards. The winery also includes a small but sumptuous hotel and restaurant and a grocery store. Tastings include wines that are now being sold in the USA and picadas of cheese made at Narbona’s own dairy farm just down the road. Narbona offers four tastings per day which includes a tour around the winery, 3 wines and a picada (50 USD per person). Tastings take place in a 1909 wine cellar (pictured above) and are scheduled four times per day between noon and 8pm. If you’d just like to see the vineyard and historic buildings, there’s a 20-minute guided tour (5 USD). Before you leave don’t forget to pick up a pot of Narbona’s own dulce de leche, a traditional caramel sauce for desserts. It’s attracting even more fans in the US where it’s recently become available than the wines!
How to get there: Take Route 21 out of town, take a left at the roundabout staying on 21. At the 268 km landmark you will see the lowrise stone buildings on the left and a large sign. [Don’t be misled and turn right following Capilla Narbona signs just a bit before, as I did!]
* When you write, please tell the vineyards you found out about them through Guru’Guay. It really does help us. Thank you!
Getting around the wineries in Carmelo
[Note regarding GoogleMaps: The label “Colonia Esterella” is incorrectly located (and misspelled). Colonia Estrella is correctly located on the map as “COL Estrella”, which you can only see when you zoom in. ]
Uruguay has a zero tolerance to drink-driving. So check out how I recommend getting around Carmelo.
New Saturday shuttle
There’s a great sense of community and mutual support amongst the wineries. From mid October a Saturday shuttle service between the different wineries and a number of hotels will be starting.
Diego at Almacen de la Capilla informed me that initially it will cost 10 USD for the transportation and 10 USD per person for each vineyard you choose to visit. Tastings will include two wines per vineyard and a small picada. Contact your hotel in Carmelo for more details.
Organised wine tours
If you are going to be in Colonia and have just one day to devote to a wine tour, we recommend Feeling Uruguay wine tours. Damian can pick you up at your hotel or the port in Colonia del Sacramento and take you to Carmelo for the day.
[All tasting prices are based on my visit in October 2016.]
- More about Carmelo, the Uruguayan Tuscany including getting around and the best times of year to visit
- Uruguay V Napa – how do the wine tasting experiences compare?
- Where to stay in Carmelo
Photos: Guru’Guay, CampoTinto, Narbona
Guru’Guay’s hearty thanks: My visit to Carmelo wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Sylvana Cabrera of ComeryBeber.com for scouting out wonderful locations for Guru’Guay readers, Diego and Ana Paula Cordano of Almacen de la Capilla for providing me shelter in their wonderful little cabin amongst the vines and Mariño Sport, the most trusty rent-a-car in Uruguay. As always all opinions expressed in this article are my own.