Uruguay may be small compared to its Goliath neighbours (Argentina and Brazil!), but for what it lacks in size it makes up for in diversity. Uruguay has no less than 99 classified soil types and has wine regions that range from rocky coastal hills to humid pampa.
In order to help you navigate your way around and taste through the different regions and wines of Uruguay, here is an essential guide to Uruguay’s wine regions:
The biggest and most important wine region in Uruguay, Canelones is home to over 60% of the country’s wine production. Just on the outskirts of Montevideo, it is perhaps because of its location that Canelones became the capital of wine production – for its convenient close proximity to the consumers.
Canelones has rich and heavy soil with some calcareous soils, and is renowned for being the home of Tannat. There are actually many different varieties planted here (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Albariño, Pinot Noir, Viognier… the list is almost endless) however in the survival of the fittest it is Tannat that came out trumps. Tannat happily withstands the humidity (Canelones and all of Uruguay has an average of 1000mm of rain a year) and produces consistent wines with great colour, acidity and structure each year. The heavy soils suit varieties like Tannat.
Some of the older wineries are still located in Montevideo, but with the urbanisation of the capital city, most of the vineyards have moved outside of Montevideo to accommodate the growing population there. Four in ten Uruguayans live in Montevideo!
However for those that remain on the outskirts, the conditions are very similar to Canelones and most of the vineyards are right on the border.
While Canelones is the past and present of Uruguayan wine, Maldonado may well be the future. No other region has the same extent of new development and investment, and it is easy to see why Maldonado has become such a hot spot for Uruguayan wine.
The soils are poor, with better drainage, and have a mix of granite, rocky, and sandy soils. The climate is fresher with more of a maritime influence and the hills are higher, meaning the cooler temperatures and wind reduce the humidity and can help make more aromatic wines with higher acidity.
Varieties range from fresh whites like Albariño, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, through to light reds like Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, and darker reds like Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Tannat of course.
Strictly part of Canelones, Atlantida is sandwiched between Montevideo city and Maldonado on the coast. This is a small wine region but it shares the same climatic characteristics of Maldonado vineyards with the coastal breezes and cooler temperatures than Canelones. You will find a mixture of varieties and the area is suited equally to both white and red.
Recommended producers: Viñedo de los Vientos
Rocha is the easternmost coastal region, continuing on from Maldonado towards Brazil. It shares the same characteristics as Maldonado but is little explored in terms of vineyards so far.
Between Colonia and Montevideo, San Jose is Canelones’ little brother. The soils and slight hill formation is similar with a light influence from the estuary. Sharing similar characteristics to Montevideo and Canelones it is known for its Tannat and also its Sauvignon Blanc.
Just across the river from Buenos Aires, Colonia faces a large body of water but the Rio de la Plata is much warmer than the Atlantic sea, mitigating the maritime effects. Colonia is also a hotspot for vineyard development at the moment, however the new investments are much smaller and lifestyle orientated. Colonia is a growing tourist destination and the wine always accompanies the good life!
This is both a historic and new wine region and has a mixture of regions within a very small distance. A bit further inland, the soils are rich and fertile – making them more suited for reds; however right on the riverbanks crushed fossils leave calcareous stone pockets which have proved good for Sauvignon Blanc among other varieties.
Right in the middle of Uruguay, below the Lago Rincon del Bonete, Durazno is a small wine region with a warmer climate that allows good ripening of the later-maturing varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The clay and sand soils have reasonably good drainage and the harvest is always a couple weeks earlier than Canelones, meaning the grape ripening cycle finishes before the Autumn rains.
Recommended producers: El Capricho
In the far north east of Uruguay, Rivera borders Brazil and its wine region Campanha. The soils are much poorer, with good drainage, and the warmer temperatures also allow later-ripening varieties to mature well. The region is well suited to Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Recommended producers: Carrau (Cerro Chapue)
Paysandu, El Salto, Artigas
These three regions line up the north western front of Uruguay along the Rio de la Plata. You have a mix of soils here with lots of organic material and streaks of stones and calcium carbonate. The climate is warmer with high humidity. The majority of the wines here are destined to table wine, and the region is best known for Tannat.