The Old Castle

2006.Feb.26 Sunday · 4 comments

in Drink

Castillo Viejo - the start of the processingLas Piedras – Thursday afternoon found us sated from our veal and potato lunch and semi-dozing in the van as we headed for our next stop, Castillo Viejo outside the town of Las Piedras in the province of San Juan. This is another big operation, with about 325 acres of vines planted, and producing slightly over 1 million liters of wine, half of it bulk table wine, half of it fine wine (of which 75% is exported to 20 different countries). Note the start of the processing – a large garage like room with stainless steel tanks underground, and machinery that handles all the pressing and crushing and then wine is pumped into the various and numerous tanks via a very organized, computerized system, something necessary given the volume of production. Founded in 1927 it is still a family run operation – in fact, I learned, that with the exception of one winery in the country, all of the 280-ish wineries in Uruguay are owned and operated by individual families.

Castillo Viejo - tasting roomOur experience at Castillo Viejo was somewhat different than at the first three places we visited, and the two I’ve visited previously. This was the first time that we weren’t met, and guided around, by someone either from the family that owned the place, or someone directly involved in the wine-making process. Instead we had a couple of the winery’s marketing people meet with us. Although both quite nice people, the problem when a winery chooses to handle journalists (or any visitors for that matter) this way is that most of us have lots of questions, and generally about the details of the wine, and as we walk around, about various things we might notice. We are also influenced by the very style of communication offered by whomever is our guide. Owners, winemakers, and cellar-masters tend to have a deep passion for wine and for what they are doing – it’s why they do it. They are also generally well versed in the technical details and have a good handle on pretty much everything going on. Marketing people tend to have a cursory knowledge of those sorts of things, though they’re often quite good with details about sales and various figures. They also, I’ve found, rarely have a passion for wine – for them, it’s just the product they happen to be pushing. The spiel is canned. Questions outside the basics are often left unanswered, or with a clearly made up guess. In fact, the young man who was the head of marketing spent most of the time peppering me with questions about where and how to advertise their wines. You can tell the difference.

Catamayor Sauvignon Blanc 2005 – grassy, lemon and lime peel, good acidity, good up front, but a very short finish, on the other hand, it’s a $6 bottle of wine.
Catamayor Cabernet Franc 2005 – light, simple, cherry bubblegum, and a bitter finish, another $6 bottle, but just not worth the price.
Catamayor Merlot-Tannat 2004 – a 60:40 blend, showing the Merlot quite clearly with black plum and cinnamon flavors dominating, a touch of dark berry fruit, generally well balanced, but slightly harsh wood tannins, a decent wine for the $8 price tag.
Catamayor Cabernet Franc-Tannat 2004 – the most interesting of the Catamayor line (the “entry level” wines), another 60:40 blend with wild cherry flavors, a touch of dried weeds, a strong note of black and blueberries on the finish, very fruit forward with well integrated oak, overall quite good.
Castillo Viejo Merlot Reserva 2004 – nutmeg, red plums, milk chocolate, and a strong note of white pepper on the finish, really very good, especially as Merlot is not generally one of the better grapes grown in Uruguay.
Castillo Viejo Tannat-Cabernet Franc Reserva 2004 – wild cherry fruit, bittersweet chocolate, blackberries, cinnamon, and a touch of clove; well integrated oak, good length, a very well made and quite delicious wine, and a good example of a blend that isn’t just aimed at the “international style.”
Castillo Viejo Tannat Reserve of the Family 2004 – blackberry fruit, cinnamon, milk chocolate, somewhat closed, with harsh tannins and high alcohol dominating, this wine needs at least another year in bottle before being drunk, but I expect it’s going to be really excellent once it softens and integrates.
Castillo Viejo Cabernet Franc Reserve of the Family 2004 – wild cherry and nutmeg, soft tannins, noticeable but not domineering oak, fairly closed at this point, also needing probably another year or so in bottle, and quite good.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

ksternberg February 26, 2006 at 11:58

I guess the winery’s owner is so accustomed to seeing American wine writers that they see no need to meet them anymore. From your tasting notes, it seems like the communications staff may be making some of the wines.

dan February 26, 2006 at 17:08

I doubt they’re accustomed to wine writers visiting – it’s a pretty unusual thing in Uruguay and really just beginning (exportation of Uruguayan wine only began six years ago, and until about two years ago was limited to about 3-4 wineries of larger size, like this one) – after all, that was the purpose of this trip! I think the problem is just simply that this particular winery is more focused on volume business, and the “higher end” wines are new for them – not really any different than any other large winery in the world. As to the owners not being there, who knows? Maybe they thought that the marketing director, because he speaks English, was a better ambassador – that was one of the things that seemed to surprise the people at every single winery we visited, that I, a norteamericano, could actually speak Spanish. Then again, to be fair, it surprised me how many of them could actually speak English… Though, I insisted for the entire trip in operating in Spanish, it was buen practica for me to have that level of conversation in my newly acquired tongue!

ksternberg February 27, 2006 at 00:24

Yes, Dan. Of course they do not see many American wine writers. I was using the ancient and honored art of sarcasm. Seems like you had a really nice trip, all in all. I feel like I was almost there in spirit. But I think I’d forget that steak temperature flag gizmo and continue to rely on how a steak feels as I’m cooking it.

dan February 27, 2006 at 07:46

I just want to see if I can get one or more of the bands to turn orange!

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