What is the first name that comes to mind when you think about Uruguay? Luis Suarez the soccer player? Opeth the rock band?
Not “El Tano”, Fernando De Lucca? Pablo Fallabrino? Santiago Deicas? Or Brian Ravitzky and Jonathan Chaplin?
The first three gentlemen make some of the best wines made in Uruguay. And the last two, with a warehouse Groskpopf, California are Uruguayan wine ambassadors who run “Brazos Wine Imports” and specialize in the very best of soulful Latin American single vineyard, small production, and eco-friendly wines.
Ravitzy was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Florida. He now lives in Brooklyn. Denver-based Jonathan was born in Germany but grew up in northern Virginia.
It’s their mission to make Pablo Fallabrino a household name. And persuade more Americans to try the Japan and Switzerland of South American wine-making countries.
Uruguay is roughly the size of the state of Washington with a population of 3 million. In general, Uruguay produces a more European style of wine with less jammy fruit, less alcohol, more acidity, and structured tannins.
It is the fourth largest winemaker in South America behind Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. It is producing superb wine but is virtually unknown.
The Brazos team hopes more terroir-curious wine lovers will one day soon also explore the “licorosas” (sweet wines) and discover new grapes like Tannat, Albarino, Gamaret, and El Carmen as well as new wine-growing regions like Durazno, Garzon, Lavalleja, and Progreso, Canelones near the capital Montevideo and next to the world’s widest river, Rio de la Plata. In addition to new shallow limestone, calcareous-clay soils, and water-storing Quaternary era sedimentary rock. The country’s main wine-producing areas are on the 34th parallel south, the same as Santiago, Mendoza, Stellenbosch, and the Barossa Valley -the equivalent in the north being Lebanon and Los Angeles. The highest point in Uruguay is comparable to Bordeaux or Margaret River.
Viñedo de los Vientos (The Vineyard of the Winds) has been in the Fallabrino family since 1947. Current winemaker Pablo Fallabrino’s grandfather came from Piedmont. In the last 17 years, the vineyards have been completely replanted. Its Estirval 2018 is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Moscato Blanco. It’s Nebbiolo and Tannat Notos has a hint of Nag Champa incense and unoaked Anarkia fresh bread and sage as well as plum and cassis. Pablo also makes a delicious Barbera. Another label to look out for is Marichal. Originally planted by immigrants from the Canary Islands, Bodega Marichal has been a family boutique winery for over seventy years, located in Etchevarría, Canelones, in south Uruguay. Now run by oenologists Alejander and Juan Andres, its Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot Noir-Tannat and Gran Reserva A Tannat 2015 are worth seeking out.
The Deicas family has a special vineyard called ‘Suelo Invertido’, meaning ‘Inverted Soil’, where the soil was turned over so that the fertile topsoil was at the bottom of the soil profile and the calcareous subsoil is now the topsoil.
The Familia Deicas offer an incredibly diverse selection of wines which includes white, red, rosé, sparkling, and orange wines. Átlantico Sur is the entry line and the result of fifteen years of work. Extreme Vineyards is a limited edition single vineyard range which breaks with the conventional vineyard sites and methods.”The icon wines of Familia Deicas are Cru D ́Exception and Massimo Deicas, which are boutique productions of no more than 1,000 bottles. Cru D ́Exception consists of a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Uruguay, a Malbec from Argentina, and a Saint Émillion blend from France.
Massimo Deicas is the best Tannat Preludio, released after two years in oak and three years in bottle.
Santiago Deicas, a third generation of the family, worked closely with consulting winemakers Michel Rolland, Paul Hobbs, and Gerardo Michelini. “The best wines,” he says “ are those where the place dominates the winemaker.”
But Atlantida and California are the best places to begin your Uruguayan wine journey.