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Posts Tagged ‘Tannat’

Sunset from the vineyards of Alto de la Ballena

Sunset from the vineyards of Alto de la Ballena

Alto de la Ballena, has a premium location in Uruguay. Not just is it a stone throw from the popular holiday town of Punta del Este, but the views from the winery are magnificent. As the cattle browses the pastures in search of the greenest grass, your graze is pleasantly distracted by a small lagoon with rolling hills accentuating the harmony of nature creating a breath-taking spectacle. Experiencing a sunset there with a glass of one of the winery’s delicious wines gets one nowhere far from a feeling as if cut-out from your imaginary of a paradise. Indeed, the paradise on Earth, stress-free, worry-free, and all the life negatives-free.

The winery’s name is almost surreal. Alto de la Ballena meaning “The highs of whales” received its name and picture on the label from its location at Sierra de la Ballena (the Whale Hills).

The owners Paula Pivel (winemaker) and Alvaro Lorenzo (her husband and director) bought almost 20 hectares of land in the Sierra de la Ballena in the year 2000. In late 2003 Paula left her stable job at a bank in Montevideo (capital of Uruguay) to devote her life to winemaking at Alto de la Ballena. Before that she studied as a winemaker at the National Wine School in Uruguay.

Vineyards of Alto de la Ballena

Vineyards of Alto de la Ballena

So far only eight hectares are planted with vines. The iron-rich soil of oxidized grey granite, schist and quartz is ideal for producing high quality wines. The first harvest was in 2005, four years after planting the first vines on the estate. Most of the property lies on a very rocky slop, unsuitable for vine plantation, yet visually attractive and popular between the local animals and colourful harmless lizards.

The vines

The vines

The vines planted and wines made are: Merlot, Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and the lonely white Viognier. Sustainable winemaking is prominent in Uruguay and the winery embraces most of its aspects including underground ageing of the wines, thus “taking advantage of the topography and the location at the foothill.” because of this system a high amount of energy is being saved.

Tannat with Viognier blend

Tannat with Viognier blend

They make single varietal wines such as Syrah and Merlot, but also blends with Tannat. The Reserva of Tannat/Merlot/ Cabernet Franc being an exemplary achievement of balance and roundness. The fresh yet slightly jammy fruit is balanced by a touch of wood and rewarding with a lingering finish. More adventurous is the blend of a highly tannic red Tannat with Viognier, the white northern Rhone fragrant grape varietal. The problem with it is that the result proved to be highly vintage sensitive so the winemaker has to work hard each year to achieve the ideal balance. I have tried the 2009 vintage that was complex (floral touch of Viognier contrasting the big and powerful Tannat with a zing of fresh mint ) and interesting, yet not my favourite. The fruity, round and balanced Merlot with a masculine touch of cigar and tobacco and the velvety smooth Reserva 2008 red blend were my preferred choices.

Merlot from Alto de la Ballena

Merlot from Alto de la Ballena

The success came quite soon for such a new winery. With first wine released to the market in 2007 the wines I have tasted proved to be very well done. Striving for harmony and complexity is surely the right way to go for the friendly and ambitious female winemaker.

We tasted the wines together with an abundant cheese plate (from the local farms) Paula prepared for us in the tasting “room”, which is rather a wooden deck protected from the local strong winds by shields of see-through curtains, to maintain the spectacle of surrounding landscape. It was truly an unforgettable experience I would recommend to anyone visiting the area. If you get bored with lying on the beach, then set off for a small wine tasting trip and enjoy the beauty of the Uruguay’s countryside.

Sun setting over the vineyard

Sun setting over the vineyard

VISIT:

Address: Bodega y Viñedos Alto de la Ballena
Ruta 12 Km. 16.400
Sierra de la Ballena – Dept. Maldonado, Uruguay

Contact: Phone: 094 410 328/+(598) 94 410 328

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Finca Narbona

Finca means a farm and Finca Narbona today once again became a real farm or, to be precise, two farms. One is located in the Uruguay’s Carmelo and the other over 160 miles away near Punta del Este. I have visited them both, although I spent more time wine and cheese tasting in the original one near Carmelo. Both also have nicely decorated restaurants serving interesting, locally innovative food.

Winery as a national monument

The old building itself is a National Historical Monument housing a winery, a Chapel and a white-painted farm building. All of these edifices are part of the oldest building in Uruguay. The Estancia Narbona was founded in 1740 in the outskirts of Carmelo.

The property was recently bought by an Argentine businessman Eduardo ‘Pacha’ Canton and the wines under the Narbona label made there were launched with the 2012 vintage. To that date the Narbona label had been produced at Bodegas Irurtia.

New winery in the building process

New winery in the building process

Reviving the old winery

With a new ownership and high ambitions building a new winery was inevitable. The premises in the historical building are too small today to accommodate the needs of the increasingly demanding consumers looking for high quality wines. Barrels as well as other winemaking equipment take lots of space. The new winery is not being used for production yet, but it is scheduled to happen at any time soon.

Vintage car

Vintage car

The old winery is like a museum full of objects from its original owner and his descendants. The founder of the winery at Narbona was a Neapolitan Aragonese Narbonne who came to Uruguay from Italy and established his own finca in Carmelo in 1740. After a long time of decline, the premises were bought and revived recently by ‘Pacha’, who also owns the Four Seasons resort in Carmelo. An ideal marriage of a hotel and a farm. The guests coming from all corners of the world appreciate having such an attraction near to their resort. The Finca Narbona near Punta del Este also has a convenient location in proximity of a number of hotels including the luxurious brazilian-owned Fasano.

Old style scale

Old style scale

Wines and winemaking

The youthful female winemaker Valeria Chiola has plenty of experience from her studies in Italy as well as from her parents’ winery near Punta del Este. She is well-known in the wine circles of Uruguay.

The vines at the old property are new and were imported from France. These are mostly Tannat and Pinot Noir.There are planted also small quantities of Viognier and Gewürztraminer varieties and especially the Viognier seems to be highly promising as my tasting experience at Narbona proved.

Narbona vines

Narbona vines

The Pinot was also nicely made with bursts of red fruits on the palate. Recent hiring of the globally recognised and already legendary consultant Michel Rolland was probably costly, yet it seems to work well for the wines. Nevertheless, it is still Valeria who is in charge of winemaking.

The underground tasting room is located in the wine cellar and has an authentic and cosy ambiance. Sitting in the dark room surrounded by  huge hanging legs of ham and maturing round pieces of cheese really feels artisanal and real.

 tasting room

tasting room

Tannat Luz de Luna

Tannat Luz de Luna

Narbona is not the sole winery in Uruguay which is also a farm making its own cheese, ham, jams, pasta, grappa (a grape spirit originating in Italy) and anything else that a farm can grow and convert into a popular delicacy. Nevertheless, it is one of the best ones. Its new owners do an exquisite job. The local as well as international residents, that have been attracted by the Uruguay’s relative stability and safety, buy creamy fresh yoghurts, milk, provolone cheese, high-quality pasta and of course wine at this winery farm. The quality and authenticity are high above the supermarket products we modern consumers are accustomed to.

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Bodega Irurtia established in 1913

Bodega Irurtia established in 1913

Irurtia is one of the first wineries in Uruguay and the fourth generation of the Irurtia family, that is now in charge, is proud of it. Celebrating 100 years since the first vintage, 2013 is going to be a big year for the winery and perhaps it is also an ideal time for a merry visit. I had a speedy tour with María Noel Irurtia, who is wonderful. She was very friendly, casual, knew the wines very well and was eager to invite the winemaker to the tasting table with us. Great news for the non-Spanish speaking crowd is that her English is pretty good.

Location

Located in the Carmelo area in Uruguay, the winery is best reachable either by a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia and then by car or from Montevideo straight by car. Although it is simpler, the later trip is a bit longer as the capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo, is further from Carmelo.

Centenary history

While in Europe the First World War was rumbling, in Uruguay wine was happily being harvested. The hundred-years-long history of the Bodega Familia Irurtia shows how remote the country is and therefore detached from the world’s skirmishes. Good for the wines. One rarely finds wines from the two World Wars’ vintages today.

1930s wine harvest machine

1930s wine harvest machine

The founder Don Lorenzo Irurtia came to Uruguay from the Basque region in Spain in the  late 19th century.Together with other immigrants he pioneered planting of the French Tannat grape, that still today thrives in the south-western France (particularly in Madiran). The person credited with brining the grape to the country was Don Lorenzo’s fellow citizen Pascual Harriague after whom was the Tannat locally named. It is said today that Tannat in Uruguay today is more similar to that one long time ago popular in France, where now Tannat stays in the shade of the Cabernets, Merlots, Chardonnays, Syrah and a much longer tail of preferred varietals.

Don Lorenzo Irurtia and his wife

Don Lorenzo Irurtia and his wife

Modern wines

Nonetheless, it was not until the 1970s, that Uruguay produced fine wines. María Noel Irurtia admitted saying: “We still have vines cultivated by my great grand father Lorenzo Irurtia, then more than 100 years old. This plants produced grapes and wine, but this is not for wine because of regulations, this are not recognised varietals for wine production.”

She further said: “Even our older European vines, between them Cabernet Sauvignon, my father imported in the early `70.” Still having vines over 40-years-old yields high quality wines as Ms Irurtia confirms: “This is an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon we use in our better blends of fine wine.”
Dusty 1985 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon

Dusty 1985 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon

Today the family employs modern winemaking techniques and quality standards to their wines so they can be sold far abroad particularly to Canada and as far as to Hong Kong (the Bodega participated in the Vinexpo Hong Kong last May 2012).

The sleek and modern Km.0 (Kilometro zero) range of wines confirms that the wines from Irurtia are worth a try. Notably, I was intrigued by the beauty of the Viognier, that one would not expect in the country known mostly for its fruity yet bold highly tannic Tannats.

Awards

María Noel Irurtia said: “The international prize we are really proud is our first prize, in Sofia- Bulgary in 1966. My father received the “Ordre du mérit Agricole” from the France Ministere De Affaires Agricoles.”
It is not the only the Tannat or the multiple awards reaping old-vines Cabernet Sauvignon that the family prizes the most. Ms Irurtia confessed to me: “Our most prized wine is the Botrytis Excellence Late Harvest 2002 which obtained many Gold and Great Gold Medals and our Reserva del Virrey Tannat 2002.”

Irurtia Km 0 wine rangeI tried both of these highly awarded wines, and although not in the 2002 vintage, I was impressed especially by the Botrytis Excellence. This sweet honeyed grape nectar was so luscious with good acidity necessary to make this style of wine excellent. The winery indeed achieved excellence with its Botrytis Excellence.

Reservation by mail at turismo@irurtia.com.uy – Visits everyday at 11AM & 3PM.

The address and location are specified on the Bodega’s website.

 

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