Category Archive: Wines Around The World

10 Things You May Not Know About Wines From Uruguay

Posted on December 1, 2018

Uruguay Wines

I recently returned from an intensive wine exploration trip to Uruguay with INAVI, the government sector for wine tourism in Uruguay.  They invited 4 Americans to experience this emerging region first hand. My travel companions were Matthew Kaner from Bar Covell Wine Bar in Los Angeles, Alexander Murray from Legal Seafoods based in Boston and Max Kuller owner of Estadio, a Spanish tapas bar in D.C..  The four of us spent a bit over a week visiting wineries throughout the different regions of Uruguay.

I was blown away by the quality of wines being produced in the country of only 3 million people. Most people do not know where Uruguay is. And if they have heard of it they associate it with the guy who bit the Italian player in the World Cup, Luis Suarez. They might have heard of Pepe Mujica, the progressive socialist ex-president who drives a VW bug, legalized Marijuana and same sex marriages. And if you are in the wine world, you think of that grape Tannat which you probably had many years ago and chose never to revisit it again. Times have changed. Here is a list of 10 things you may not know about wines of Uruguay.

Uruguay Map

1)  MORE THAN JUST TANNAT:

Tannat is not the only thing growing in Uruguay. We encountered high quality Pinot Noir, Marselan, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Albarino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and dry red Muscat. All showing unique characters which can not be found any where else.

Many Grapes

2) TANNIN FALLACY:

Tannat is not the tannic bomb it used to be. A new approach to Tannat has taken the country by storm. Long are the days of extended maceration taught by the French. Instead the wines are carefully treated so to not over macerate and bleed tannin. Instead the tannin are still present giving wines structure and the ability to accompany the type of food eaten in Uruguay. Think beef, blood sausage, grilled provolone, empanadas and believe it or not, even vegetables. In fact, our vegetarian of the group, Max, ate pretty well while he was there.

food of Uruguay

3) CLIMATE & TERROIR:

Uruguay has a coastal Mediterranean climate with a Mediterranean continental interior. There is much rain throughout the year, they do struggle with humidity and fungus. However, there is no need for irrigation. The soils are of clay, calcareous limestone, decomposed granite and schist. This mixture of Mediterranean sun, cool ocean influence, old vines, excellent drainage make wines unlike any other place in the world, wines that are fresh.

Soils

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5) JUXTAPOSITION:

There are few places where a wine can have intense color, grippy tannin, expressive fruit, but stay lean on the palate with bright acidity. Typically a fruit forward wine with rich tannin are wines of a higher ABV 14%+ and lower acidity. In Uruguay we get wines that fruit forward, even if they reach 14% they are light on the palate and driven by acidity. Most of the wines stay below 14%.  Best of all these wines are not only enjoyable when young, but can withstand quite a bit of age. We tried 1989 Carrau’s “1752” from Cerro Chapeu, a Bordeaux Blend, the fruit was lively and wine was very balanced.

Cerra Chapeau

5) MODERN FACILITIES:

There are about 150 wineries in Uruguay and many are small boutique wineries. There are also many larger wineries where large production is possible, they instead invest in modern equipment to make a smaller production of high quality wines.  In many other parts of the world, large scale wineries invest in equipment to produce large quantities. In Uruguay we see these facilities invest in quality and not quantity.

Modern Wineries

6) LONG HISTORY:

We may think of Uruguay as a new region, however; it has been producing wines since the beginning of the 19th century. Uruguay is made up of immigrants from Spain, Italy, Germany and France. It is one of the most colonial countries of South America. These immigrants brought wine making with them. Today we still see family run wineries with a long history of producing wines in their regions. Many wineries still use their grandfathers approach with the use of cement tanks and large boti barrels, but they also merge their ancestors’ techniques with modern stainless steel and gravity flow wineries.  Although Uruguay started producing modern style wines in the 1970-80’s they have had their hands in the earth for centuries.

Historical Uruguay

7) SPARKLING WINES:

In a region where humidity can be a concern, many decide to pick early. These early pickings make for spectacular sparkling wines. And in typical Uruguayan fashion, they do not cut corners with their sparkling wines, they produce them in the Traditional Method. Each bottle is hand riddled, hand disgorged and cellared. These wines are bright and rival any other sparkling wines of the world, with a much better price tag.

8) LITTLE INTERVENTION:

Many wineries are making wines with as little intervention as possible. Although many need to spray for mildew, most are organic in other practices.  They do not have irrigation, so the vineyards make the vintage every year. They do not need to add acid since their grapes have great natural acidity. Producers let the vineyard make the wine. They also hold off on the use oak and let the fruit be more expressive. There are others experimenting with natural wines and carbonic macerations. These wines are fresh and fantastic.

Carbonic Tannat

9) INFLUENCE FROM THE NEW WORLD:

Argentina is known for being influenced by the likes of Paul Hobbs and Michel Rolland. Both are consultants known for pushing ripeness and producing California style wines in Argentina. Both have been major influences in Uruguay. However, wine makers here have taken some of their advice but decided to make Uruguay wines and not California wines. The wines are lean, savory and driven by refreshing acidity rather than oak and fruit we find in Argentina.

Uruguay Wine regions

HOME GROWN LEADERS:

Since there has been a long history of wine making in this country, traditions have been passed down from father to son/daughter. There are quite a few leaders which share practices with other wineries. They work together as Uruguayans rather than keeping secrets to themselves like the Spanish.  Francisco Carro who makes wines in the Northern part of the country is a wealth of information and leader in the Uruguayan wine community. Their Government agency, INAVI is forward thinking and promotes the region as a group of winemakers rather than individuals. The up incoming young winemakers study abroad and work with each other to help improve each other’s wines. The region is small but united they can be giants.

Uruguya People

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Wine from an Unknown Region

Posted on November 3, 2018

Uruguay wine

Sommeliers are always on the search for new unique wines. They race to be the firsts to add them to their menus. I am not sure if this is driven by their egos, or if they legitimately look for wines worth sharing with the world. Somms are in a way, the gate keepers to undiscovered wine regions.

Today, I find myself in this situation. I am about to board a plane taking me to one of the most southern wine growing regions in the world, Uruguay. Sure the wines are not undiscovered, but they certainly are not very accessible in the marketplace. Most people don’t know where Uruguay is. They only know of Cavani, Suarez and Forlan when they pop up in the world cup every 4 years. Other than that, it’s a country that gets confused for Paraguay. And even then many Americans have no idea in which continent it lies.

Uruguay is the reminence of the Spanish influence in the Americas. In the beginning of the 20th century, they experienced a huge Italian immigration. Both, the Spanish and Itaian cultures bleed wine. So naturally Uruguay’s veins must circulate wine through its populous.

The country borders 2 prominent wine nations, Argentina and Brazil. You may all know Argentina because of their incredible Malbecs. However, you may not know that Brazil is the largest producer of wine in South America. The Brazilian wine giant, Miolo, is one of the largest wine companies in the world. Gallo is the other. Coincidentally, the Gallo and Miolo families both immigrated to the Americas from the same small town in Northern Italy.

Uruguay shares the Campanha growing region with Brazil in the north of the country. However, most of Uruguay’s wines are from the southern coastal regions. They are known for Tannat, a French grape once common in France pre-phyloxerra and now is limited to the Basque regions in the South of France such as Madiran. It only makes sense that the Uruguayans use Tannat, it is a powerful tannic wine which matches their famous meat dishes such as churrasco and parelladas.

Since they are a coastal region, they also produce wines which fare well with seafood. They are not as well known for their Chardonnays and Rose’s, however they should be, as they produce fantastic whites.

Well, I am about to board my 24 hr flight. When I return I promise to share some of the stand out wines. Hopefully they will be in distribution and you will be able to find them at some of the Cohn Restaurants.

To be continued…

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Running with the wines: Arinzano

Posted on August 14, 2017

I was invited by the folks at the Stoli Group to go to Navarra Spain for a visit of the Arinzano Estate.  Senorio de Arinzano was purchased by Yuri Shefler, owner of Stoli vodka from the Chivite family in 2015.  Yuri happened to vacation at Arinzano just outside the city of Pamplona and fell in love. He decided to do what any sane billionaire would do, he bought it.  What! Vodka and wine? How could that ever work?  What does a Russian vodka producer know about wine? Absolutely nothing! Guess what? It works.

Arinzano Rose

Can’t have enough rose, especially in a place like this.

The smartest business people in the world know how to invest, the most successful surround themselves with experts and let them do the hands on work.  This is exactly what Yuri did. Yuri hired Manuel Louzada, the man behind Numanthia as chief winemaker and CEO. Most importantly, he gave him carte blanch to “make Arinzano great again”.  Manuel is probably the most well known and respected winemakers in Spain. While Yuri was shopping around for side projects, he came across an equally as prestigious winery on the other side of the world, Achaval Ferer in Argentina. Manuel took control of this project as well. The vodka tycoon left Manuel in charge of two of the most important wine estates in the world.  What do you suppose Manuel did?

Manuela Louzada

The enthusiastic Manuel Louzada with Cabernet wine maker, Miguel  tasting us through old vintages of Arinzano.

Manuel has been around. He spent many years with Moet Chandon and brought greatness to the Toro region with Numanthia Termanthia.  He did not do it alone, he always had a solid team around him. I am not sure if it was his outgoing spirit, his pursuit for perfection or his generosity; but he was able to drag his sales and winemaking team to Arinzano with him.  Bring a strong team together to a property where it is impossible to grow bad grapes, throw in a fat check book and you are bound to get some of the best wines in the world.

Team Arinzano

Team Arinzano!

Arinzano is the first Vino de Pago in Northern Spain. A Vino de Pago is a classification given to unique estates which produce high quality wines outside the DO because of its soil, climate or terroir is so unique and cannot be matched elsewhere. Arinzano’s vineyards are devoted to mostly Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  It is nestled within hillsides facing North where a cooling wind blows continuously across the vineyards.  The soils are of decomposed granite with limestone. A small mountain range to the North protect the Pago from moisture and humidity.

Arinzano vineyards

Northern mountains blocking sea moisture

 

rocky soils

rocky soils

Manuel inherited an estate known for making incredible wines. He took the estate and perfected it. He changed canopy management on the Cabernet which removed the green pyrazine and increased the fruit flavors.  He changed the barrel program and now uses a mixture of coopers. Each barrel brings a unique attribute to the final blend. He invested in moving winery walls and machinery so that wine making is clean and efficient. I am talking about millions of dollars invested with the sole purpose of producing world class wines.

arinzano barrel room

Arinzano barrel

What I learned from this trip is that wind, soil, vines and sun are not the only things important in making quality wine. What is equally as important is culture. The folks at Arinzano embrace this and made sure that we understood.  Instead of staying at the winery and discussing viticulture and oenology, they also showed us how important the Navarra culture is to the wines at Arinzano. We spent the day in Pamplona. We watched the running of the bulls, sat through a bullfight and enjoyed an amazing local meal in a Michelin star restaurant. We danced with the people of Pamplona at 10 in the morning, we danced with them in the afternoon and continued dancing in the midnight hour.  The culture is festive with a love for live.  We also visited San Sebastian where we got to see where the locals vacation.  More importantly we got to stand and look out at the vast ocean, feel the wind blow on our faces. The same wind which 150 km away is blowing on the vines at Arinzano.  Great wines are made by great people, great cultures and great places. Arinzano is one of those wines.

running with the bulls

running with the bulls

dancing in pamplona

Dancing at 10 am in Pamplona

San Sebastian

San Sebastian where the Arinzano winds originate.

Pago Arinzano

The Arinzano Estate

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What You Might Not Know About Aussie Wine

Posted on August 1, 2017

I thought I knew Aussie wine. I knew that it wasn’t only that wine with a yellow Aboriginal drawing of a kangaroo and boomerang. Isn’t it high quality Shiraz/Cab blends from Barossa Valley?  The wines are big fruit bombs, right?  Or maybe austere Clare Valley Rieslings. They are light, fresh, petrol and lime driven, right?  My perception of Australian wine was turned upside down after the James Busby Travel trip I took in October. I felt like Doctor Strange entering Kamar-Taj for the first time. What I thought I knew slapped me on the palate and turned my olfactory bulb inside out. Here is what Australian wine is all about!

Cool Climate Terroir

Bill Downing makes some of the best wines in Australia.  His wines are all about terroir, wines made in the vineyard.  Most of his fruit is sourced from specific bio-dynamic growers.  His approach to making wine is not making it, but letting it become what it intended to be.  It is a hands-off approach resulting in unique mind-blowing wines.  Bill believes terroir is much more than just growing grapes in a particular soil type, but it is about the people, the climate, the animals and plants in that place which influence the wines.Winemakers in the Mornington Pennisula struggle with cool wet weather. Pinot Noir does extremely well.  With a minimal approach, whole berry and cluster ferments, they make wines that are aromatic and elegant. Story and Garagiste Vineyards source grapes throughout the Mornington and the Grampians.  Best part of cool climates is the ability to make sparkling wine. And I am not talking about Sparkling Shiraz, but proper method Champenoise with Pinot and Chardonnay.

 

Bill Downing

Save our Souls

Pinot NoirOcean Eight Sparkling

The Yarra Valley

The Yarra is located in Victoria and divided into the lower Yarra and the upper Yarra.  The region was once planted with grapes to make sparkling wines, today we find some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can be found here.  Yarra Chardonnay is unique and coming into its own. Tim Wildman gave 12 reasons why Yarra Chardonnay stands out: cooler sites, early picking, better clones, hand harvesting, whole bunch press, smaller ferments, old oak to mature, larger oak formats, no batonage, do not force malo, use of screw caps, sulfites are set in vineyard and natural winemakers are looking for textural Chardonnay.  The Yarra is home to some of the best wines in Australia, DeBotoli, Luc Lambert, Gembrook, Mac Forbes, Giant Steps, Yarra Yering and many more.

 

Sarah Crowe

Sarah Crowe, winemaker for Yarra Yering

DeBotoli Vineyards

Mac Forbes

Winemaker Mac Forbes standing in Denton Vineyard

Gembrook

A little friend in the Gembrook vineyards.

High Quality Dessert Wines

The first wines made in Australia were ports. The tradition goes back almost 200 years. As modern wine-making techniques began to develop, more and more wineries began creating dry still wines. Today there are a handful of wineries still focusing on their family traditions. Many of these are in the Rutherglen and Barossa Valley.  Muscat is the grape most commonly used. Wineries such as All Saints, Campbell’s and Seppeltsfield pride themselves on fortified dessert wines of high quality.  Today, some young winemakers are looking back and experimenting with fortified wines with a natural twist.

 

All Saints

Solera System and large format barrels at All Saints.

Campbell's Solera Muscat

Campbell’s Solera Muscat

Seppeltsfield

Drinking my birth year port at Seppeltsfield

Adelina

Natural winemaker Cole of Adelina in Clare Valley sharing Amphora Sherry.

Old Vines

Old vines is a loose term. In some places it can be a 10 to 20 year old vine. California may have 50 year old vines. France might have some 70 so years old. Both of these regions were devastated with phylloxera. Australia has been phylloxera free due to it’s isolation from the rest of the world and sandy soils. Some areas like the Yarra Valley are under threat, phylloxera has started showing up. However, in places such as the Barossa. McLaren Vale and Grampians there wines being produces from vines which were planted on the 1840′-60’s.  This old plant material produces very little juice, but the little it does produce is heavenly. If California calls wines from vines planted in the 80’s old vines, then Australia should call them ancient vines. Stand out wineries producing old vine wines are Tahbilk, Darenberg, Best’s, Langmeil, Cirillo, Penfold’s and Yangarra.

 

Best's

Mixed planting of old vines at Best’s in the Great Western.

Best's Pinot Meunier

Old Vine Pinot Meunier planted in 1868

Cirillo 1850

Marco Cirillo showing off his Grenache basket pruned vines planted in 1850.

Langmeil Old Vines

Langmeil Shiraz vines planted in the Barossa in 1843

Bio-dynamics & Natural Wine Movement

If there is one thing that stood out for me in Australia was to see how far ahead the Aussies are in regards of organic viticulture and natural wine-making.  You may have experienced natural wines from different regions in the world, but what many forget is that in order for a natural wine to succeed in the glass, its process needs to begin in the vineyard. Most of the young winemakers in Australia have embraced this concept. Their wines are not faulty, but fresh and bursting with acidity. Winemakers from all over Australia are fed up with flabby fruit juice called wines and are in search of structure. The Adelaide Hills are filled with garage winemakers producing some of the best Pinot Noirs on the planet. Their hands off approach to wine-making is best seen in their big reds, where the alcohol and fruit does not over power the pristine acidity and ripe fruit.

Gemtree

Alpacas in the bio-dynamic vineyards of Gemtree in McLaren Vale

biodynamic farming

The bull horn filled with fertilizer, essential in biodynamic farming

Ochota Barrels

One of the best wines I tasted in Australia, Ochota Barrels.

Basket Range

A line up of natural wines in the Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills.

Sacredness

Lastly, there are few regions in the world which make wine from sacred sites. We can say that the vineyards of La Tache or DRC in Burgundy are sacred since they were once owned by the church. We might throw Elqui in the high desert in Chile as being sacred, however I haven’t had wines from there that taste sacred. I came across one of the most interesting vineyards in the world, the Bindi vineyard in the Macedon ranges on the slopes of Mt. Gisborne in Victoria. Upon our arrival to the winery there were herds of kangaroos chilling and watching us approach as if they were guarding their sacred land. The soils are composed of quartz and rocky earth. There was a sense of serenity in the vineyard. At dinner our group bonded when we discussed what brought us into the world of wine. This sharing was magical. But to top it off the wines were outstanding. We tasted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from 1991 to 2015, and each wine was divine.  This has got to be one of the most memorable tastings of my life.

Bindi Vineyard

Walking through the quartz vineyard with winemaker, Michael Dhillon

Bindi

The magical vineyards of Bindi

 

To learn more about my journey in Australia visit THE BUSBY TRAVEL JOURNAL. 

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Australian Wine Journey

Posted on October 15, 2016

Australia Wine

The time is here and I am about to embark on a journey to the land down under.  It has been 15 years since the last time I visited.  Back then I was in a van driving from one coast to the other.  Although I did get to see some vineyards, the purpose of that trip had very little to do with indulging in the wine culture, rather experiencing the nightlife culture.  Today I am older and more mature and look forward to revisit Australia with brand new eyes. This time, a bit less glassy-eyed.

Maurice in Australia 2001

traveling for 6 months in a van back in 2001

Tim Wildeman MW takes 12 people from around the world each year on travel throughout South Australia.  I am honored to be selected among such an esteemed group of wine professionals from around the world. I am looking forward to this adventure.

Australian wines have received a bad reputation over the past ten years as these labels with animal graphics invaded our bottom shelves of our supermarkets.  It is similar to what happened to Merlot in the 90’s.  Merlot was the “it” grape and everyone wanted to be seen with her.  So much so that wineries sacrificed their integrity and populated the bottom shelves with cheap Merlot.  This gave Merlot a bad name, and when Miles came out and said, “I don’t drink no F…’n Merlot”, it was the end.  Merlot is a fantastic wine, but it will take years before she rises to the top again.  Well, the same could be said for Australian wine.

merlot

Those animal printed bottles gave a bad name to Australian wine.  It is unfortunate to see a nation with a long history of producing high quality wines come to decline because of a Kangaroo with a boomerang.  A few weeks ago, Matt Stamp MS, gave a seminar in San Diego. He blind tasted us on an Australian Semillion.  The wine was outstanding! It had racing acidity, expressive fruit and confused everyone for French Chenin Blanc. I was blown away.  I am looking forward to discovering more wines like that.  I can’t wait to taste Grenache from 80-year-old vineyards, Riesling with mouth-watering acidity and take a peek at the craft beers.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you.  Hopefully I will have a new fondness for the land down under. Cheers!

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36 hours later

Finally arrived in Australia! All my flights had a delay but I made it to the meeting point in the nick of time. I met up with my group in Melbourne and immediately jumped on a bus headed for Gibbsland to meet Bill and Rachel Downing of Downing vineyards.  What a surprise! We arrived in this farmhouse wine making facility in the countryside. I immediately knew this was going to be a good trip.  Each of the large barrels had a name, one of them was Maurice.  Coincidence?

Maurice

Bill Downing focuses on small production Pinot Noir from Gibbsland, Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula.  He is a natural wine maker. He is focused on the vineyard.  The vines are small and kept low to the ground.  There are native grasses and plants throughout the vineyard creating biodiversity. It is dry farmed bio-dynamic vineyard. Bill believes in biodiversity and says he makes his wine in the vineyard and not the winery.  Wine making is easy, he just presses the juice and puts it in barrels, the rest is up to the grapes. This hands off approach was a relief to see, especially since when I think of Australia I think big opulent wines.  Downing wines are austere, yet elegant and true to variety.  I think he would correct me and say they are not true to variety, but true to place.

Downing Vineyards

If this is an indication of what is to come, then I am in for a magical two weeks.

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