Sauvignon Gris from Uruguay, Casa Filgueira
One of the most intriguing things I found when I was in Uruguay was how willing the winemakers are to take chances with their wine. Quite a few times a winemaker would be explaining a new wine or discovery they had made and when I asked them how or why it came about, they replied, it was an accident! An accident that happened to work out.
Uruguay is a country of soft, rolling hills and a sky that seems to take up most of the vista. The majority of Uruguayan vineyards are located in the department of Canelones which is about 35 kms north of Montevideo. Roughly 80% of all the vines are there with the remainder up north in Salto or to the west near Colonia. The climate is maritime and they get a lot of cloud cover so even if it’s a hot day, it can still be cloudy. One of the winemakers told me it’s not uncommon for the 60% of the sky to be covered in clouds. It was hot and sunny day while I was there so both me and the vines had to put up with the sun. Another thing I noticed was the use of the lyre system to train the vines. There is a lot of humidity in Uruguay and the growers often have to contend with unwanted botyrtis or mildew. Sebastian Dellorio, Marketing Manager of Filgueira explained that they use the lyre system to prevent the vines from developing all those nasty ailments. Unlike Argentina, there isn’t much need for irrigation and most wineries only use irrigation if it’s been a very dry year. Otherwise, the vines are left to fend for themselves.
One of those surprising accidents I drank was a sauvignon gris. The first winery I visited in Uruguay was also one of the most well regarded, Casa Filgueira. Filgueira was founded in the early 1900’s but it wasn’t until the early 90’s that the current generation, Dr. Jose Luiz Filgueira and his wife, Martha revitalized the vineyard. It was the couple’s idea to produce quality wines. Dr. Filgueira is a cardiovascular surgeon so as often happens in vineyard lore, it fell to the wife to take over and run the winery. The couple traveled to France to find just the right clones and picked a chateau in southern France to import their clones. As it so happened, the vignerons in France scooped up everything willy-nilly, threw them in a box and shipped them off to Uruguay. When the vines arrived, they were planted and lo and behold, the sauvignon gris was discovered mixed in with all the other varietals. Marta decided to plant it and they now have about 2 hectares in their vineyard.
The s. gris was part of a wider tasting I had at the winery. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this wine but it was very well done. We tried the 2010 Sauvignon Gris Very aromatic, the aroma of white flowers was almost overpowering. At first I wondered if it was going to be a torrontes twin but on the palate it was most decidedly it’s own wine. Full of pineapples, ripe yellow peaches, mandarin orange and a refreshing citrus finish to it, a quite voluptuous wine, I think I let the word sauvignon get the better of me and I was expecting a much lighter and more citric wine on the palate. We also tried the 2008 Reserva S. Gris which had spent 18 months in oak. Surprisingly, it was almost water clear and this despite the fact it had spent so much time in oak, the wine had a caramel, honey and slightly smoky quality to it on the nose. The palate was the same with a touch of dried white fruits as well. What a surprise! I love finding wines off the beaten path. Unfortunately, they only make a very small production of this wine and don’t export it as far as I know. Sebastian suggested pairing this wine with cheese and fortuitously there was a platter of cheeses and cold cuts to hand. It was a good match with the milder white cheddar cheese of Uruguay.
Of course we had plenty of tannat to try. Tannat is the major grape of Uruguay. Their Classic line of tannat is unoaked and the aim is to showcase the fruity qualities of the wine. Sebastian pointed out that tannat is always opaque and it was true, I couldn’t see my fingers through the wine at the bottom of the glass. Filgueira uses a machine called a Vinimatic that mixes the juice and must much quicker then traditional “punching down” and this allows for less maceration time because otherwise, the wine would be pitch black much like the wines of Madiran which are also made from tannat. Another advantage is that the wines are much more approachable young as opposed to having to wait 10 years for them to mellow out.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we tasted a 2007 Tannt Reserva, 18 months in oak, 1 month fermentation, malolactic and micro-oxigenation, there wasn’t much not done to this wine to make it a smooth customer. The result,a wine with a very distinctive nose, membrillo (which is a similar to quince jelly) vanilla, black plums and marmelade notes all blending together. Tasting it, a complex mouthful greeted me, ripe red fruits, sweet spice, vanilla again and a hint of tobacco before ending in a decidely dried red cherry finish. A very well balanced wine, soft and round tannins with very good acidity. Sebastian suggested I try it with the jamon crudo and it was a brilliant match, black cherry flavours bursting in my mouth.
Both of the tannats were unexpected surprises. I certainly wasn’t expecting these lovely wines. I’d be more then happy to buy these wines back in England. Uruguay is indeed full of surprises. The next vineyard I was off to grew pinot noir. Now we’re getting even more interesting…..