February 14, 2022. 80°F/26°C
What’s wrong with wine before noon? Nothing!
Uruguay, situated at the same latitude as central Argentina and Chile, has a wonderful climate for wine, but a much smaller production than either of those countries. What makes the climate so perfect? Our tour guide today suggested taking a paper map of the world and folding it in half at the equator. Uruguay is the same amount south of the equator as Bordeaux is north. Hmmm.
Today a group of us took an excursion to Viña Juanico Winery, owned for three generations by the Familia Deicas. The site was a Jesuit winery dating back to 1745, and the original cellars are still being used to age wines.
The Deicas family bought the land in 1979, and grandfather Juan Carlos still has a home here, although it is now his grandson who is winning awards for his winemaking.
One of the interesting stories we were told about this winery relates to why they are able to produce Cognac, using the actual Cognac appellation. During World War II, Uruguay was a major supplier of corned beef to the Allied armed forces. France was the only country who couldn’t afford to pay their bills, so as “payment” they allowed Uruguayan vintners to use the name “Cognac”. Our tour guide suggested that, in hindsight, they should have held out for the rights to “champagne” as well.
The Deicas family have 300 hectares (740 acres) of vines, and grow 27 varieties of grapes in 3 terroirs in Uruguay and one in northern Argentina. The location we visited grows primarily Chardonnay, Tannat (Uruguay’s iconic grape), and Lacrima Cristi grapes. It is harvest season right now, which means up to 700 workers harvesting grapes by hand. Each year this winery produces 6 million litres of wine!!
We drove out into the vineyard proper and picked deep purple Lacrima Cristi grapes, sweet and juicy, leaving inky stains on our hands. We also tasted the dark Tannat grapes, with their distinctive tannic – yet sweet – flavour.
Then it was time to tour the cellar. It’s down about 20 steep stairs, and as you descend you can almost imagine robed monks amid the vaulted stone ceilings, checking on their sacramental wines. One of Viking’s sommeliers was on our tour and seemed quite at home among the casks and bottles!
Our first wine was a 2021 Albariño white. Its fresh tropical flavours were suggested as a match for the breaded shrimp and the layered flatbread with cream cheese (the swirl in the centre of the plate). We were told that this was was “dual terroir” wine, since the grapes are grown both in the village of Garzón’s mineral soil and in Juanito’s clay soil, and blended.
Our second wine was Uruguay’s iconic Tannat, a very tannic red that they suggested we pair with the broccoli croquette. This wine is aged 5 months in oak casks, and served almost cool at around 14°C. I enjoyed the croquette but found the wine far too tannic – almost puckeringly so – and didn’t finish it.
Our third taste was a 2016 Progreso, Canalones single vineyard/terroir but multiple varietal red blend wine. It had a lovely full almost raisiny smell and was very smooth on the tongue, especially after the Tannat. We accompanied it with the salty prosciutto as well.
Our fourth taste (and they were generous pours!) was the Preludio barrel select red. Grandfather Juan Carlos chose this blend of grapes for their characteristic of aging well. In 1992, it won a gold medal in Italy. The wine is composed of 6 varietals, and is aged in American and French oak for 26-30 months, after which the family holds an event to choose the best blend and then ages that for another 2 years. It is a favourite served with red meat – and Uruguayans do love their beef!
Our final taste was of the 2018 Liquor de Tannat, a Port style wine created by adding alcohol at day 3 in the cask, resulting in a sweet 20% alcohol content wine. It was absolutely decadently delicious with the honey-dipped peeled fig (served in the little ramekin).
Despite having drunk only half of what was poured, I got back to the ship feeling a wee bit lightheaded, and ready for an afternoon nap!
As I was napping, our ship departed Montevideo, headed for a long stretch of sea days.
Even though Ted and I don’t normally celebrate Valentines Day, we had no doubt at all that there would be themed festivities aboard the Star. True to form, it was an extravagant evening: a tomahawk steak & lobster Surf & Turf dinner served under the stars, and lots of live entertainment. Of course there was a special dessert of raspberry mousse cake in the shape of a heart, and special themed cocktails.
After dancing the night away, we returned to our room to find a long-stemmed red rose and 2 strawberry macarons. Do we feel pampered? A resounding YES !!