Carrying on up the coast from Montevideo towards the region of Maldonado, the muddy brown waters of the immense estuary of the River Plate eventually gives way to the deep blue sea and crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, creating a unique climate for cultivating grapes. This is very much the promised land for new ventures, with intense new planting and the use of the latest cellar techniques, funded by serious investment from neighbouring South American countries rather than the sweat and toil of Italian immigrants. And while Tannat may still be the benchmark for quality, it is Portugal and Spain’s white Albarino grape that flourishes the best in Maldonado’s soil and climate.

The perfect place to begin a search for the roots of this region’s wine heritage is Vinedo de los Vientos the historic winery of Pablo Fallabrino. This is genuine wine tourism, a face-to-face tasting with Pablo himself, a tour of his sustainable vineyard, and delicious dishes cooked by his wife, Mariana. The vineyard is located in Atlantida, officially still part of Canelones, but the salty winds whipping in from the Atlantic beaches, give hints of the character of Maldonado.

From the Italian winemaking region of Monferrato, Piedmonte, Pablo’s grandfather arrived here a century ago in 1920. The family planted vines and built up one of Uruguay’s biggest bulk wineries. When Pablo inherited the original 30 hectare family estate just by the coast he proceed to plant 12 hectares but with a weird and wonderful selection of grapes; Nebbiolo, Arneis, Barbera, Dolcetto. “These are Piedmont grapes,” he exclaims, “planted as a hommage to my grandfather and because they grow perfectly in this part of Uruguay.” Using no sulphites, natural yeasts, no fermentation and little maceration, Pablo explains that, “I am an anarchic winemaker, an outsider who never studied oenology. So I have no preconceptions, just making wine with the one essential element, the grapes.” The results may not be for everyone, but they make for a sensational tasting session – Notos, a raw, vibrant Nebbiolo, with no ageing just immediate bottling, a bubbly PetNat blending Arneis and Chardonnay, Anarkia, a 100% Natural Tannat, unlike any other Tannat you will taste in Uruguay.

Pablo’s neighbour is Bodega Bracco Bosca a small 11 hectare vineyard recently brought back to life by another ‘figura’ of the Uruguay wine scene, Fabiana Bracco. Wine influencer, promoter, publicist and media personality, Fabiana took over the family vineyard when her father passed away, and has rapidly transformed it into a niche boutique brand selling 70% of production overseas, to 18 different countries. Make the effort to visit and you discover an idyllic setting, rolling hills surrounded by swaying eucalyptus trees, the Laguna del Cisne eco-zone, and the Atlantic Ocean just ten minutes drive away. Her hipster cellar mixes modern technology with eye-catching street art murals, a rock&roll sommelier conducts tastings, and while the Petit Verdot is a delightful surprise, pride of place goes to the fruity, fresh Moscatel, another of Uruguay’s signature grapes.

Nothing quite prepares you for the spectacular first view of Maldonado’s latest and most revolutionary eco-friendly winery, Vina Eden. The rolling hills and plains of the pampas rise up steeply at the village of Pueblo Eden, and sitting atop Cerro Negro, an 800 foot rocky outcrop is a futuristic, almost surreal metal and glass winery. Rising up three levels to maximise the force of gravity during vinification, Vina Eden also features two wind turbines which provide power for the bodega and local village, while crisscrossed with the neat parcels of vines down below are graphic screens of solar energy panels. The huge investment for this groundbreaking project comes from Brazilian entrepreneur Mauricio Zlatkin. Innovation extends to the cellar too, where Tulip-shaped cement tanks for ageing, not coated as is usual with epoxy, dominate the winemaking process. And quality is high, with just 60,000 bottles produced each year from the7 hectares that have been planted since 2009. I tasted a surprising Pinot Noir rose, crisp and fruity, along with the smooth unoaked Tannat Cemento, but it is the zero-dosage Brut Nature Method Champenoise that stands out during a tasting.

While Vina Eden is inland from Uruguay’s famed glamour beach resort of Punta del Este, you need to go further up the coast as far as the latest fashionable seaside hideaway, Jose Ignacio, to discover another new creative and innovative winery, Bodega Oceanica Jose Ignacio, a project that encompasses art and architecture as much as wine. Marcelo and Natalia Conserva made a second start to their lives after successful business careers to build a dramatic rusty-red metallic gravity-led cellar, commissioned immense sculptures by local Uruguayan artists for both their vineyards and olive groves, while even the wine boxes are collage-like works of art. 22 of their 30 hectare property produces award-winning olive oil, while the 7 hectares of vines are predominantly Albarino and Pinot Noir. Their multinational Flying Winemaker, Hans Vinding Diers, is based in Patagonia, and while supervising the 2020 harvest, tells me that, “we are making clean, precise wines that speak of this unique ocean terroir – easy to drink, not needing to be aged, with a saline, maritime character.”

The winery that defines Maldonado and for many defines modern Uruguay winemaking is Bodega Garzon. It is certainly a unique state-of-the-art project that has already been elected top winery in South America. While the two driving forces creating and inspiring Garzon wines are Uruguayan – agronomist Eduardo Felix and cellar manager German Bruzzone – the financing and unique concept of Garzon comes from Argentinian, Alejandro Bulgheroni , who owns 15 wineries across the globe, from Mendoza and Napa to Bordeaux and Tuscany. Garzon was a dusty rural pueblo before he invested in 1,000 hectares, recognising the tremendous potential of Maldonado to produce high quality wines. It is no coincidence that the rolling vine-clad hills are known as Uruguay’s Tuscany, and the 240 hectare vineyard he has planted so far already produce some 2 million bottles. I follow Eduardo round the vineyrad as he scuttles between tiny parcels of immaculate vines, sipping Uruguay’s other favourite drink, Mate, from his metallic mug, vacuum flask wedged in his elbow. He was the winemaker who first planted Albarino in Uruguay, and is rightly proud of their Petit Clos Albarino, harvested at night, fermented in cement tanks then aged in a unique cigar-shaped Vicard barrel. An exceptional wine.

Winelovers can easily spend a whole day enjoying Bodega Garzon, from hiking and picnicking in the vineyards, creating your own blend with an oenologist or a cooking lesson with the Bodega’s gourmet restaurant chef, Ricki Motta. The cuisine here is under the watchful eye of Argentina’s world renowned chef, Francis Mallmann, who has his own restaurant and hotel in Garzon village. My last memory of this Uruguay wine trip was a memorable wine pairing lunch looking out over the vineyard with my Garzon and Inavi hosts. Wonderful wines, delicious food, great company – every reason to plan a return trip as soon as the world returns to some kind of post-Covid normality.



Barely 50 kilometres outside Montevideo lies the region that is the historic heart of the Uruguay wine industry. The pastoral plains and fertile hills of Canelones accounts for  over 60% of the nation’s production, including some of the best Tannats, with some 80 wineries, many of them offering tastings, accommodation and restaurants for enthusiastic wine tourists.

The perfect place to start a tour is at the discrete, respected Bodega Marichal, one of the historic Canelones vineyards. Juan Andres Marichal’s family roots go back to France, where an ancestor serving in Napoleon’s army settled in the Canary Isles from where his great grandparents emigrated to Uruguay in the early 1900’s – in fact many winemakers around here come from the Canaries. He is the fourth generation, and this is still very much a family affair with 91 year-old grandmother Tesita, tending the flower gardens, his parents living on the estate and an auntie making the best empanadas I have ever tasted to accompany tastings. And the wines are surprising, from a gourmet Rose to a robust Pinot Noir blend, but above all, the Tannats, where Juan Andres still make a lot of use of the cellar’s original 1938 cement tanks, not even coated with epoxy, producing light, modern wines, not too heavy on tannins, not over macerated.

A fifteen minute drives takes me to the gates of Establecimiento Junico, home of the Deicas family, a big business vineyard covering some 200 hectares, whose brands range from Uruguay’s most well known name, Don Pascual, to the fine wines under Familia Deicas and the more recent Bizarra label, a funky experimental project that includes testing a one hectare certified organic vineyard, a rarity in Uruguay. Bizarra is the initiative of the latest generation of the family, oenologist Santiago Deicas, who bubbles with enthusiasm as we taste his Viognier, macerated as a genuine Orange wine, and a truly Natural, no-sulphite Tannat aged in a terracotta amphora. Winelovers enjoy a memorable day here, visiting the 18th century vaulted barrel cellar, built by Jesuit priests, and feasting off the cuisine of Santi’s chef sister, Mechi, whose brasserie menu spans creative and vegetarian dishes alongside the juicy steaks of a traditional Uruguayan asado barbecue. 

A very different experience awaits at the neighbouring Vinos de Lucca , the rambling farmhouse and seemingly-chaotic garage cellar of Reinaldo de Lucca. Forget about organised, sophisticated wine tourism. Here you come face to face for a tasting with the wonderfully knowledgeable, grumpy and opinionated Reinaldo, alongside Agostina, his charming, feisty and equally opinionated daughter. It is a rollercoaster ride, sampling totally unexpected wines for Uruguay; Nero d’Avola and Aglianico, grapes originally from the family’s heritage in the south of Italy, the French Cote du Rhone varietals, Marsanne and Syrah, that draw on Renaldo’s experience studying oenology at the famed Montpellier University, and rich, velvety  Tannats, expertly aged in traditional oak barrels, while Agostina experiments with a fresh, fruity Natural cuvee. Reinaldo tells me that “the soul of my wine is in the vineyard. You can have all the latest technology and gadgets in the cellar but that is no guarantee you will make a good wine.” 

A solemn black and white photograph of the Pisano family, who arrived in Uruguay at the beginning of the 20th century,  takes pride of place in the homey tasting room at Bodega Pisano. Planting their first vines in 1914, the winery dates back to 1924, and today is run by three fourth generation brothers – all big personalities, producing equally big, quality wines. Tastings are a long, expansive and bon vivant experience, but visits are restricted to wine professionals, a shame as enthusiastic winelovers would enjoy the experience of this genuine artisan bodega. The family shy away from the trend of  the  single vineyard ‘cru’ concept, preferring to vinify dozens of parcels separately before blending, which creates intense, complex wines, especially their Tannats. Just when you think you have tried all the Pisano wines, the latest family oenologist, Gabriel, brings out his own creations, under his new Vina Progreso label. A modern-day Flying Winemaker, Gabriel buys in grapes and vinifies in murky corners of other bodega’s cellars. “I have created what I call a Bodega Experimental, with absolutely no rules,” he explains, “so, for example, I can make a Sangiovese, something unheard of here, while my unoaked Tannat is called Barrell-Less.” Primarily making sulphite-free wines, using natural yeasts, it is still a surprise to taste his Black Sparkling, a Methode Champenoise made with Tannat grapes, probably the only one of its type in the world.




A 2500 kilometre journey across the length and breadth of Uruguay; the hidden secret of South America, that surprises visitors with remarkable wines, incredibly welcoming winemakers, stunning landscapes of pampas, palm trees, vineyards and wild ocean coastline. Tasting the nation’s signature Tannat red wine, introduced by Basque immigrants 150 years ago, and the crisp, fruity white Albarino, brought this time by new arrivals from Galicia, I travelled through the main winemaking regions – Colonia and Carmelo, Montevideo and  Canelones, Maldonado and a hair-raising small aircraft flight across to Rivera by the border with Brazil. Wineries are generally small, family affairs, where winelovers are warmly received, with many vineyards offering comfortable accommodation, fine dining and casual restaurants, alongside extensive tastings and cellar visits. In the vineyard, sustainable cultivation is the order of the day, while in the cellar,  tradition sits comfortably alongside innovation, ageing in traditional oak barrel, cement and steel, even amphorae. And I was not expecting such a wide variety of grapes………Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet but also Tempranillo, Nero d’Avola, Touriga Nacional and Nebbiolo……..Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Viognier but also Moscatel, Traminer, Riesling and Arneis. The first part of the Wine Trail covers Colonia, Carmelo and Montevideo


A swift ferry from Buenos Aires across the majestic River Plate transports me to Uruguay’s oldest settlement, the charming 17th century colonial town of Colonia del Sacramento. A lazy hour’s drive through flat pampas leads to the main wine-making district around sleepy  Carmelo, where everyone you meet seems to be of Italian origin. Two ancient bodegas sit side by side, Campotinto and Alcamen de la Capilla, the perfect introduction to wine tourism in Uruguay. While the 19th century cantinas look similar, they could not be more different. Campotinto today only dates back to 2013, when Señor Vigano, an Argentine whose grandparents came from near Fiesole, decided to recreate a corner of Tuscany in Uruguay, encompassing vineyard, luxurious posada lodging, restaurant and pool, plus a rustic farmhouse for wine tastings. Newly-planted and spreading over just 4 hectares, Campotinto are beginning to make some interesting barrel-aged and  Tannat  as well as a fun bubbly Medio y Medio, blending Uni Blanc and Moscatel de Hamburgo. Wealthy winelovers can even buy a tiny plot allowing Campotinto’s oenologue to create their own personal vintage. There is a much more old-fashioned ambiance across the road, where five generations of the Cordano family have been making simple, honest wines. They created this ‘alcamen’, general store, in 1855 as a meeting point for Italian immigrants making a new home here. Unchanged today, it is perfect for a tasting accompanied by cheeses, salami and olives produced by neighbouring farms.

And no visit to the Carmelo region is complete without a stay at Narbona, a luxurious 5 room wine lodge where tradition and modernity effortlessly merge: vinifaction takes place in a state-of-the art winery with large casks and barriques,  using new and used wood,  while tastings are held in the original 1909 cantina surrounded by wheels of slowly ageing parmigiano cheese and artisan-cured prosciutto. While wine may be Narbona’s flagship, this is fully functioning farm, producing olive oil, yogurt and jams, homemade gelato and arguably Uruguays best dulce de leche, a sticky-sweet treacly caramel. While the red wines, including the Luz de Luna Tannat and an excellent Pinot Noir, are best discovered in the subterranean cellar, for the Sauvignon Blanc and other whites, guests can enjoy a special treat by taking a selection to taste out on a boat at a nearby yacht club that sails out into the immense waters of the River Plate just as the sun is setting.


I discovered that some of the country’s best wineries can be visited while based right in the heart of  Uruguay’s fascinating capital city. Montevideo boasts everything from the Sofitel Carrasco, an opulent palace hotel right on the seafront, to the funky Casa Sarandi bed&breakfast for those looking for a bohemian, insider’s experience. I missed out on a tour of the unique boutique winery, Artesana, whose two women winemakers produce Uruguay’s only Zinfandel, but made up for it with a whole day at Bodega Bouza, founded by a family who follow the philosophy of  “we only do things if we can do it well”. Three generations of the Bouza family, whose roots are from Galicia in Spain, still work together today, from the 91 year-old grandfather making cheese for the restaurant, to the father who originally founded a pasta business, and the two sons Jose Manuel and Juan Pablo who run the estancia on day-to-day business under the crucial guidance of one of Uruguay’s top oenologues, Eduardo Boido. This was where I first tasted an unoaked tannat, fresh, fruity and very different from the more mellow, barrel-aged vintages, while lunch at their gourmet restaurant was the moment to discover an outstanding Riesling and Albarino, and a Tempranillo made from a single parcel of vines.

Rather than a taxi, it was a twin-engine Cessna that flew me from Montevideo’s airport right across to the country to the Rivera region that nestles on the border with Brazil. A long, amazing aerial journey with incredible vistas of Uruguay’s natural beauty brought me to another landmark winery,  Cerro Chapeu, overseen by guru oenologist, Dr Francisco Carrau, one of the pioneer founding families of the modern Uruguay wine industry.

The road to Cerro Chapeu follows a dusty red path – the  Camino de la Linea Divisorio, slipping numerous times back and forth across the Brazilian frontier. Seemingly in the wild middle of nowhere, it is a shock to discover such an exciting, modern winery, stretching over 40 hectares planted on sandy, volcanic soil. For sustainability, sheep are used for weeding instead of insecticides, Francisco built the first gravity-fed cellar in South America, and tells me that, “we are always doing trials here, be it using Native yeast, tasting grape juice must, fermenting techniques, and I don’t even know how many different grape varieties we grow – maybe 25!”


Cerro Chapeu’s tasting room is decorated, like almost every one in Uruguay, with proud black and white photos of immigrant relatives who arrived from Europe to create a wine industry. Francisco stands next to his forefathers who arrived here in 1929 during the Grand Depression, selling up the family vineyard in Catalonia that dated back to 1752, a date that still figures on their bottles. A Sauvignon left on the lees for 6 months, a crisp mineral Chardonnay and a surprising blend of Viognier with the little known Petit-Marseng preceded the arrival of a mouth-watering asado grill of rib-eye steak that was perfect to appreciate a vertical selection of barrel-aged Tannats, culminating in a wonderfully smoky, elegant  1992 vintage