I have to admit, I never thought of Uruguay as an important wine region. I also didn’t know anything about a grape variety called Tannat. That’s until I met Francisco Carrau, a wine maker and one of the five siblings running Carrau’s family wine business in Uruguay. It was an exciting discovery for me, and I am happy to share it with you.
Listening to Francisco, describing his family vineyards in Las Violetas, (located only 15 minutes from Montevideo or 30 minutes by plane from Buenos Aires), I wish I was there. Not only he told me everything I wanted to know about this grape variety, but I also had a chance to taste some of the best examples of Tannat, made by Carrau family.
There is a reason why Bodegas Carrau is considered to be the best wine producer in Uruguay. And, since Tannat doesn’t grow in too many places in the world, It might very well mean that Carrau family is the best producer of Tannat in the world.
Why do I say that? Well, there are facts supporting my claim. Francisco’s family originally started their wine making journey in the famous regions of Cataluna, Spain back in 1752. Ever since, the family is one of few in the world that have devoted their entire lives to the wine making tradition. That is now representing ten uninterrupted generations of wine producers.
The family has been receiving rewards for their wine already back in 1888 and 1892 at international exhibitions. Since 1930, when they moved to Uruguay, Carrau family leads the way in producing the top quality wines. For Francisco the most important commitment is to respect the nature and honor more than 250 years of wisdom generated by his ancestors in the art of winemaking. When he says that, it doesn’t sound like a cliché.
His family now owns approximately 35 hectares of vineyards (the oldest of family’s vineyards is planted with 90 years old plants of Nebbiolo of Vilasar), another of their single vineyards (where their signature Tannat Grand Reserva called AMAT comes from), is considered the highest altitude vineyard in Uruguay.
Why is Tannat so special? This red grape is very tannin and therefore have an excellent potential for a long wine aging (great news for wine collectors). On the other hand, it could be harsh and not easily approachable when young. In French Pyrenees, where Tannat is also grown, it is mostly used for blending – to improve the age potential of French wines. I am not sure, but Carrau family might be the only one in the world producing 100% Tannat wines.
What it is, that makes one winery better than the other? Definitely the never ending personal commitment. Not only to honor the family tradition, but also making sure that the land is preserved for the future wine making generation. Francisco’s family is very active in sharing their experience and helping others as well.
They actively participated in a research project made in cooperation with the University of California during 1973-1975. The purpose of this study was to plant vineyards in the most appropriate soils for high quality grapes. Shortly after, the family built the most innovative winery in South America in 1997. The located it inside the hill, where wine making technologies are used in harmony with the environment. Thanks to a natural gravity and minimum wine handling after the harvest, Carrau family created ideal conditions for their wine.
But it didn’t stop there. Constantly improving its respect for nature, Uruguay today is one of the top countries based on research of Yale University, being number one viticulture region in the world. Their 2005 Index of Environmental Sustainability was ranking nations on their success at maintaining or improving air and water quality, maximizing biodiversity or cooperating with other countries on environmental problems. See more details of the study here
Over 70 years of winemaking in Uruguay, family Carrau’s unique vineyard’s soil, terroire, wine making experience and personal approach to the nature have created quite a reputation: “Bodegas Carrau achieved another landmark in the young history of Uruguay’s great Tannats. Amat is the best of the country and the New World” as it has been described by Austral Spectator best wines of South America Guide.
If you have a chance to taste any of their wines, do not hesitate. It is quite an experience! And that doesn’t apply to Tannat wines only. Lately, their incredible Sauvignon Blanc “Sur Lie” made a impressive entry into American market. Please visit my reviews on Bodegas Carrau wines:
Bodegas Carrau AMAT, Tannat Grand Reserva 2005
Bodegas Carrau Tannat de Reserva 2005
Visit Bodegas Carrau website
Grape varieties grown on Carrau’s vineyards: Tannat, Nebbiolo (some of the oldest clones of this varietyl in South America), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc