Reinaldo DeLucca and his uniquely Uruguayan wines
“I hope you brought your camera because the cafe we’re going to for lunch is very interesting. ” I could say the same about Reinaldo DeLucca, the very interesting winemaker of his eponymous Uruguyan winery.
When I mentioned I was going to Uruguay to try their wines, my trip was usually met with incredulous looks and much shaking of heads, especially in Argentina, but I had encountered much the same reaction in the UK before I left. Needless to say, I was full of trepidation when I boarded the ferry for the short 50 minute ride across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay from Buenos Aires. What would I find? Would there even BE wineries? Would the wine be drinkable even?
Happily, I found not only wineries that had been founded as far back as the 19th century but a variety of wine styles and some rather avant garde winemaking but more on that later. First my lunch with Reinaldo.
Reinaldo’s family has been making wine since the 30’s and he grew up in and around the vineyard. He possesses an impressive amount of degrees, Univ. of Uruguay, Masters from Penn State, Masters from Montpellier, PhD from France as well, he’s no country rube. He’s also spent considerable time in wineries around the world, including a stint at the Viña Mina winery in Israel. This guy gets around! He counts France as one of his biggest influences in the vineyard.
We were lunching at Los Porros, a tiny stucco building built in the 1800’s in a one horse town somewhere in Uruguay. Other then adding electrical wiring, I think the place has pretty much stayed the same. Gustavo, the proprietor, could be found wandering around, sitting and chatting with regulars ( and everyone but me seemed to be a regular, and a man) I felt like I was in the Godfather or something. The cafe was more like his personal living room then a restaurant. I loved the decor, a mishmash of vintage toys, signs, tools, cukoo clocks. whiskey boxes, football posters,you name it, everything was probably first put there when it was new and quietly waited to become “vintage”.
That day was pasta day. I was slightly disappointed to not be tucking into a juicy steak but on the other hand it probably did my arteries good. 4 courses of pasta, a bit of overkill but we weren’t there for the food, it was all about the wine. The wine of Uruguay is tannat and Reinaldo does vinify that but he also makes a few other wines and we started with a marsanne/roussane blend. A dusky coloured wine, I had to give him credit for planting a grape that’s not well known outside it’s French homeland. Dry and full bodied with a floral nose and a dried fruit finish, it was a unique wine. Reinaldo believes that you should adapt the vineyard to the grape and he seems to be getting the Uruguayan terroir to work with the marsanne. Reinaldo doesn’t use pesticides or insecticides and allows his vineyards to be overrun by the natural vegetation. The vegetation providing a haven for natural predators as well as giving the vines competition for water so they don’t become too vigorous. He also has his vines trained not in the typical lyre style that is quite prevalent but in the rather a single guyot style. He thinks the lyre trained vines become too vigorous which he wants to avoid.
Besides tannat, he also grows syrah and the 2009 syrah was an extremely aromatic wine. I could smell it from the other side of the table as he was pouring it. A fruity, stony, lean and stark wine but stark in the sense that each of it’s components stood out but were in balance. Not too fruity or jammy, good acidity, smooth round tannins but you wouldn’t mistake this for a Northern Rhone wine or an Australian one for that matter.
His 2009 Maduro Reserva Tannat was more like what I was expecting from Uruguay, a rustic wine with great tannic structure, lots of dark fruit flavours and a dark chocolate finish. Where was a steak when you needed one? Reinaldo’s flagship wine is the Rio Colorado and he had on hand the latest release, the 2006. A blend of tannat, merlot and cabernet, it was a lovely ruby red with plenty of sweet spice along with leather and gamy, savoury notes floating about. This wine was still beginning and would definitely live on for at least another 10 years. The Rio Colorado is a “parcel” wine in Reinaldo’s words. He uses the same sites every year and believes it is the sum of it’s parts. He doesn’t make it every year but when he does, it is the wine he’s most proud of.
As we were leaving, Reinaldo turned to me and said he wants his wines to reflect the true Uruguayan character, not to be clones or knockoffs of Old World wines. When you drink his wines, you should be able to say, “yes, this is a wine from Uruguay.” I can safely say that Reinaldo’s wines are absolutely wines of Uruguay.
First in a series of my Uruguayan wine adventure, more to come….