Uruguay sits between the 30th and 35th parallels in the southern hemisphere.

Ten years ago, if someone put me on the spot and asked me to point to Uruguay on a globe, I probably couldn’t have located it. Of course, these days, you could just Google it, to learn that it’s actually far below the equator, in South America, humbly wedged under Brazil and east of Argentina.

I never was good at Geography, but it’s not all my fault: Uruguay doesn’t really get too much attention here in the United States. With thousands of miles between, and cultural and lingual barriers separating us, I didn’t really find out about this wonderful country until I got into wine. I discovered Uruguay, and hence, Artesana Winery when they contacted me to do a video for them (see below).

Turns out, Uruguay is a pretty interesting place…

The Country

For starters, it’s small – about the size of Washington State. It’s a land of immigrants, a mix of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, most of whom came to the region starting in the late 1500s to colonize (to this day, some natives speak a local dialect known as Cocoliche, a mix of Italian and Spanish). Uruguay is now home to approximately 3½ million people, half of whom live near the capital of Montevideo.

The modern streets of Montevideo reflect its Latin and Hispanic past. FromWikipedia.

Despite its roots, Uruguay’s collective spirit is anything but old-world. The citizens embrace progressive ideas like environmental sustainability, social equality, and world peace. Same-sex marriage and abortion are legal. The government is ranked first in Latin America for democracy, the water supply is among the purest in the world, and almost 100% of the country’s energy comes from renewable resources.

But perhaps one of the most radical claims of this left-leaning culture, is that they legalized Marijuana in 2013. For this, and many more reasons, Uruguay is often called the, “Switzerland of South America.”

The Tannat grape

Wine History

Known for high-quality beef and soy beans, but not necessarily wine – Uruguay’s vinicultural history began in the 19th century, when Italian and Basque immigrants brought vines with them from Europe. In the 1870s a man by the name of Don Pascual Harriague imported grapes from the south of France, clippings of a little-known red French grape called Tannat, and in 1878 the first successful harvest was realized. This milestone is often thought of as the start of Uruguayan wine industry.

Although far behind in terms of world production, Uruguay is actually ranked #4 in terms of South American wine production. There are now over 250 wineries, the majority of them located in the hills, about 30 miles north of Montevideo.

Artesana Winery

The Artesana Winery occupies 80 acres of land.

Artesana Owner and Import Director, Leslie Fellows

It is here, in the Canelones region, we find Artesana winery. To this day, the same Tannat grape that was introduced 140 years ago, still thrives. And in fact, it’s become the Uruguay’s signature grape. Artesana Owner and Import Director, Leslie Fellows, explains why:

“Uruguay is the only Latin American country completely outside the tropics. It sits between the 30th and 35th parallels, in line with some of the best winegrowing regions of Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Its temperate coastal Atlantic climate produces growing conditions (over 220 days of sunshine) often compared to Bordeaux (France).”

Tannat produces rich, full-bodied wines with dark fruit and spice aromas and flavors; the deep, inky color has much to do with the fact that its skin and pulp are both tinted (known as “Teinturier” in French). Named for its high tannin content, Tannat has been found to be the healthiest of red wines with 3-4 times more antioxidants and an average resveratrol concentration of 4.2%

Winemakers Analía Lazaneo & Valentina Gatti

The name, Artesana, is technically not a word in Spanish. The masculine-dominant language only has the word, “Artesano,” to describe a craftsperson. So, the winery decided to put a fittingly progressive spin on the word, as a symbolic nod of respect to the feminine artists of Latin America: Particularly Artesana’s award-winning winemakers, Analía Lazaneo and Valentina Gatti (pictured). The winery also employs other local women to handle day-to-day tasks in and around the winery. This environment gives them an opportunity to work for fair pay and advance themselves in a culture that still favors men, to a degree.

It should also come as no surprise that the Artesana vineyard is entirely hand-farmed. Sustainable, low-input, dry farming is practiced to maintain the long-term health of the land. The end-goal is making wines with minimal intervention, simply allowing the character of the fruit to be expressed.

The Art of Asado and the Parillero

Photo by John Walker on Flickr

In Uruguay, where nearly 80% of the rolling, open land is dedicated to livestock farming, the cowboy, or Gaucho, plays an important role in the culture. Not only do they manage the herds, but they are also known to be experts at grilling meats (asado), on open-air pits, spits and more often, over the slanted metal grates of the Parilla (a smaller, wood-coal fired grill). The asador is an artist, patiently coaxing the flavors from any meat – shrimp, octopus, steak and chicken, nothing is off limits –  by raking hot coals into the right places at the right time, and moving the meats up or down the slanted racks to get them closer or further away from the heat.

And the drink of choice for the perfect asado? You guessed it… Tannat wine.

The Wines

Deschere’s is proud to bring a taste of Uruguay to wine lovers in Pennsylvania. Now that we’ve told you all about them both, let’s take a look at the wines of Artesana. For current inventory and pricing in Pennsylvania State Stores, check here.

Artesana Tannat Rosé 2017

This fresh and vibrant rosé exhibits lovely aromatics of bright red berry fruit. Crisp, clean acidity enhances intensity and imparts a dry, lingering fnish. Pairs beautifully with seafood, light pastas and soft cheeses. Serve chilled.

Artesana Tannat 2015

Gold Medal & Uruguay Winery of the Year, 2017 New York International Wine Competition

Full bodied and redolent with rich cassis and blackberry fruit suffused with layers of licorice, clove, cedar and allspice harmonizing in a long and well-rounded finish. Pairs beautifully with pasta and meat dishes including beef, lamb and pork!

“Artesana’s Tannat could easily go head-to-head with even some of the famous labels of California cabernets of much higher price.” –  John Mariani, Huffington Post

Artesana Tannat-Merlot-Zinfandel 2015

Gold Medal & Uruguay Winery of the Year, 2017 New York International Wine Competition

Deeply aromatic, suffused with layers of rich black raspberry, licorice, cedar and baking spice coalescing in a velvety mouthfeel and supple, full finish. Pairs beautifully with strong cheeses, pastas and roasted or grilled meats.

“Artesana’s Tannat-Merlot-Zinfandel is probably the best wine I’ve tasted from Uruguay”
(Excellent +) – Dave Mcintyre, Washington Post

Thirsty to learn more? Why not check out our video about the wines: