A Mix of Grapes and Cultures

2006.Feb.27 Monday · 3 comments

in Drink, Food & Recipes

Juanico - wineryJuanicó – It’s kind of fun to find out little interesting tidbits of history as you travel around. For example, did you know that France was in such bad shape during World War II that they turned to Uruguay for help? At the time, Uruguay was a country that had been built up by many wealthy European expats, and they lent a hand to the French people in the form of food (primarily beef), wool, timber and agricultural products. Unable to repay its debt directly, the French government showed up in 1946 and built this amazing 2,000 acre gravity fed winery – an architectural curiosity (take away the red roof in the picture, which is a very recent addition, and it looks a bit like a giant concrete UFO on stilts), showed the Uruguayans how to make wine and how to distill the wine to make… Cognac. Juanico - a look over the vineyardsAnd yes, Cognac, a controlled appellation name in France and worldwide – with one exception… Uruguay. Uruguayans are allowed to produce brandy, from the classic Ugni Blanc grape, and call it Cognac… and even ship it to the European Union! At one time, this property was dedicated to the growing of Ugni blanc and production of Uruguayan Cognac.

In 1979 the winery was bought from the Uruguayan government by the Deicas family, who uprooted and replanted the vineyards with various other varietals (there is still a smallish plot of Ugni blanc grown, but they no longer distill their own brandy). Primarily a “bulk wine” producer at 70% of their production (which totals more than 4.4 million liters), the Juanicó winery; named for the first Spanish owner who bought the property in 1830 – the railway station and then the town grew up around it and took on the same name; in fact, the railway station and the police station for the town literally flank the gates to the property. Juanico - a team of seven folk sorting the grapes by handThey buy quite a bit of their grapes from other growers under a managed vineyard program, as, of the 2,000 acres only about 500 are currently planted with grapes. According to the Export Manager (yes, we got treated to another team of marketing folks, though these guys were a bit more knowledgeable about the vineyards, facts, and figures), a charming and loquacious gentleman from London, the winery is “semi-organic” in that they do spray to prevent botrytis (a type of rot that affects grapes in a humid climate), but other than that leave everything to natural balance – things like insect control via other insects and birds, complete waste recycling onsite. (There is only one certified organic winery in Uruguay, La Cruz, a small, 75 acre vineyard.) Despite their size, and all the equipment, the work for the fine wine is still done by hand, like this seven-person manual sorting line to pick out the rotten grapes and stems.

Juanico - Cru Garage vineyardJuanicó is actually two separate properties, a mile or two apart. The main vineyards are planted to a wide variety of grapes, including an entire section devoted to experimentation. The winery is also located there. The second property, shown here, is significantly smaller, and is planted specifically to Tannat. This property is a joint venture with the Magrez family (Château Pape-Clement and others in Bordeaux) to produce a wine called Cru Garage, after the garagistes in Bordeaux. While they currently don’t actually make the wine in a garage, or even in a small winery, the idea is a much more handcrafted, high quality wine. The house on this site is being renovated, along with its garage – and the plan is to turn the latter into an onsite winery and make the wine completely separately from the main production.

Don Pascual Brut Extra, N.V. – a 90:10 blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, this sparkler is very light, high in acidity, and bone dry, the Viognier is not noticeable, surprising given its aromatics, but this makes a nice, hot day sort of bubbly.
Don Pascual Viogner Reserva 2005 – very strong notes of toast and yeast, I was surprised to find that this wine is unoaked, and I’m not sure where the toastiness comes from, other flavors of canned peaches and light spice are pretty well hidden beneath that, the wine is a little high in acidity, truthfully, I wasn’t fond of it.
Don Pascual Chardonnay-Viognier Roble 2005 – barrel fermented, 60:40 blend, showing light oak, green apple and winter pear, a touch of ginger, with good length and good acidity, quite good.
Preludio Barrel Select Lote No. 1 2004 – 95% Chardonnay, 3% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Viognier, aged in barrel – this is the winery’s flagship white, with a limited production of 5,000 bottles – toasted coconut, butter sauteed golden delicious apples, ginger, good length, acidity, great structure, a truly delicious wine.
Bodegas del Sur Tannat 2005 – Bodegas del Sur is the export name for the Don Pascual line and has a fancy art label (the Deicas family is big in supporting the arts, displaying works of many local artists, and sponsoring art students in school and in competitions) – blackberry, black plum, cinnamon, light black pepper notes, very smooth, medium length finish, a bit simple, but good.
Don Pascual Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2004 – tobacco, black currant, sweet fruit, good acidity, slightly cloying finish, high in alcohol, didn’t really work for me – I haven’t tasted many Cabernets that I like from Uruguay, and I’ve been told that it ripens so late that generally the rainy season has started before harvest time and so grapes are picked either before they’re ripe to beat the rain, or during the rainy season and therefore resulting in watered down flavors.
Don Pascual Pinot Noir Reserva 2004 – soft cherry fruit, a hint of violets, the fruit a bit sweet, the wine a little thin on the finish, not bad but not great.
Don Pascual Shiraz-Tannat Reserva 2004 – blackberry, black pepper, and cloves – very “stemmy” and astringent and not at all integrated, I truly didn’t like this one.
Don Pascual Tannat Roble 2004 – this one is also exported under the Bodegas del Sur label – soft tannins, smoky, blackberries, black plums, a touch of oak, quite good structure and length, I liked it quite a bit.
Bodegas del Sur Selecion de Barricas 1999 – As we moved into lunch we started in on the winery’s premium range – this is a blend of 40% Tannat, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Merlot, all aged in barrique – raspberries, toasted coconut, a whole spice box full of flavors, juicy fruit, and bittersweet chocolate and toffee on the finish, a really delightful wine.
Preludio Barrel Select Lote No. 60 2002 – 40% Tannat, and then a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Marcellin – spicy, berry fruit, smooth oak flavors, coconut, cocoa, juicy, great balance, great length, a truly world class wine.
Familia Deicas 1er Cru Garage Tannat 2000 – intense blackberry and black plum fruit, almost viscous, nearly inky in color, bittersweet chocolate, toffee, amazing length and structure – this is a wine that shows what’s possible out of Tannat, absolutely amazing.
Familia Deicas Botrytis Noble Cosecha Tardia 2000 – An odd blend of Gewurztraminer, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, all late harvested – candied ginger, cinnamon, nectarines, good acidity, good body, but a somewhat short finish, quite good, I just would have liked a little more length out of it.
Familia Deicas Licor de Tannat 2003 – A port style (and production method) of Tannat that I really wanted to like because it was the pet project of two of the owner’s sons, the teenager of the two bringing the bottle in and telling us the story of how he and his brother were given this as a project by their father, and being very proud of having produced his first wine – flavors of prune, dried cherries, ginger, cinnamon and toffee – it was a nice effort, but way over the top in sweetness, almost syrupy, though, if you like that style of wine, there’s certainly a lot of complex flavors going on in this one.

Juanico - the cellar table setup for lunchFor lunch we launched into a pretty much classic asado or mixed grill, thankfully not with quite the range of the usual version as we had more visits to make and time was growing short. We ate at this beautiful table in the cellar of the main house, starting off with cheeses and meats, a salad that could have been a meal in itself, followed swiftly by a delciious selection of chorizos and mollejas (sweetbreads), then lamb shortribs and slices of lomo, or sirloin, and moving on to a slightly underdone but quite good apple tart served with vanilla ice cream and a mixed berry sauce.

Juanico - lunch saladJuanico - chorizos and mollejasJuanico - lamb shortribs and sliced lomoJuanico - apple tart with vanilla ice cream and mixed berry sauce


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

dan February 28, 2006 at 08:32

More on this, as this story develops – but my friend Ken couldn’t find any official info on the whole Uruguayan cognac thing I talked about above, which initiated a lively search through the internet and some inquiries sent out to various and sundry. We shall see what more info we dredge up. I found numerous references to Juanicó Cognac, including pictures of bottles, and even including Mercosur’s export product page, which lists two different blends currently for export from South America. I also found a resolution by the national assembly of France to, if my French isn’t completely off-base, “put a stop to these trademark usurpers” (which also included Chilean Armagnac and Chilean Calvados) and having passed a resolution two years ago to do so. It goes into effect in typically swift French fashion, in February 2015.

greis kaarvaliksen September 1, 2013 at 11:46

The gift of the vineyard from the french government was given after WWI. not WWII, I have visited the vineyard many times there and Juanico Cognac is available in restaurants and liquor stores and supermarkets throughout Uruguay.

dan September 1, 2013 at 12:55

I’m basing things on the information they gave me at the winery, part of their press materials and in an interview for the article I was writing, where they specifically stated WWII – which also kind of fits with the 1946 date of the French arrival to assist with the vineyard. And, while the internet is not the be all and end all of the record, there are numerous references to it being the 2nd, summed up by this: “The only other place where Cognac can be made is in Uruguay. After World War II, France paid its debts to ANCAP of Uruguay with Ugni Blanc, know-how for making Cognac, and the right to use the denomination.” – which came from the ANCAP website.

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