Technological Wonder

2006.Feb.28 Tuesday · 1 comment

in Drink

Bodegas Bouza - tannat vineyardMontevideo – Sated from our little asado lunch (they made me take second helpings of both lamb and beef), we piled back into the van and headed generally towards Montevideo. Our remaining goal, two more wineries, but with a minor twist to help us pack a little more tasting into our remaining time – we were only going to visit one of them, the other was going to bring their wines over and we’d taste both together. Good in some respects, i.e., the whole saving time thing, and we were definitely wearing out; but, on the other hand, meant I wasn’t able to either take photos at the second, nor get any solid human or family feel to it. Next visit…

Bodegas Bouza - trains in the yardImagine if you will, the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Gleaming consoles, light panels blinking, computer screens flashing information, glass, plastic, and chrome. Okay, it’s all in a 10’x10′ room, but stepping into the control room of Bodega Bouza was surprising, because from the outside, with its beautiful older buildings and the rickety lines of old train cars on the grounds, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of technology. The train cars, by the way, are planned to be “either a tasting room for special functions or a sort of boutique sales area”. While a cool idea in some respects, I’m not sure why they would do either – the winery is just four years old, and they’ve got a beautiful brand new tasting salon and wine shop on premises.

Elisa de Bouza discusses the tannat grapesIt was raining out, but Elisa de Bouza and I tramped off into the vineyards to take a look at the grapes. Most of Bouza’s vineyards (a total of 40 acres) are located a bit further north in Las Violetas, but here the Tannat was nearly ready for picking and the juices were sweet and rich as we sample a berry or two. Like many winery owners here, one of her biggest concerns is the intensity of the sun – in the world of fine wine grape growing you want to remove many of the leaves from the vines as leaves not only generate, but use up resources that are better destined for the grapes. Pick too few and your grapes don’t develop. Pick too many and your grapes shrivel up and burn in the heat of the sun (think of a grape skin, in some ways, as a little spherical magnifying glass focusing the sun’s rays on the fruit inside). So, one good option is to not pick quite as many, but find a way to reflect light and heat back to the grapes from underneath.

Taking a cue from Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, in France, where the vineyards are filled with galletas (large reflective stones), Uruguayans place reflective stones beneath the vines that reflect light to the undersides of the grapes during the day, and retain heat, and then release that heat during the night, keeping the grapes warm. I realize that I meant to mention this the other day in pointing out the scattered quartz beneath the vines at Los Cerros de San Juan. Here, it’s not so much scattered as heaped, and Elisa uses broken up granite rather than quartz. You can see the differences between the two approaches below.

Los Cerros de San Juan - scattered quartz beneath the vinesBodegas Bouza - heaped granite beneath the vines

We continue into the gleaming fermentation tank room, temperatures controlled by those ever vigilant computers. From there, down a ramp to the subcellar, where rows of new oak barrels are lined up, wines fermenting or aging away. It’s not all fancy machine run technology, there’s a strong element of human intervention in everything they do here. You can see someone has a sweet tooth, here one of the winemakers is using old dulce de leche jars to mix up yeast solutions and add them, jar by jar to each of the barrels that have just been filled with fresh Chardonnay juices (see the funnel in the barrel towards the back?).

Bodegas Bouza - fermentation tanksBodegas Bouza - yeast being added to the barrels

We adjourn to the tasting room and begin to taste through the bottles. Elisa, her teenage son, and her tasting room sommelier, yes, she has a sommelier on site to guide visitors through the tastings and sell them wine, wine books, and paraphenalia, line up a row of bottles and start opening them. As we begin, one of the owners of the Ariano Hermanos winery and her assistant from the export department arrive and add a few bottles to the mix. Again, a shame we didn’t get to drop in on them while we were in Las Piedras, so close, yet no more time left in the day. Though the Bouza’s have provided a tray filled with local cheeses and sausages, the Ariano’s have also brought their own tray. The Bouza’s bring out sliced loaves of bread – “semi-homemade” (bought par-baked and frozen from a local bakery, then finished baking at home, technology at work once again), and despite being full, we nibble as we taste wines.

Bouza Albariño 2005 – the only Albariño being grown in Uruguay, at least commercially, this grape comes from Galicia in Spain, and is one of the grapes used in better quality vinho verdes from Portugal; here, with 60% of the wine aged in two year old barriques, notes of slightly underripe pineapple and rosemary combine in a remarkably intense wine that has just a touch of an interesting brininess, good acidity, long finish, excellent wine.
Bouza Chardonnay 2005 – with 80% of the grapes fermented and aged in new French barriques you’d expect this wine to be a bit on the oaky side, but they’ve managed the time in barrel carefully and this wine is fruit driven, with juicy green apple and mineral flavors, good acidity, and just a touch of oak, but, for me, somewhat lacking in intensity, a problem I find throughout this tasting, and mostly, I’m sure, due to the youth of the vines (grapevines begin to produce useable fruit at three years old, but really begin to come into their own at five years and beyond, most of these vines are a year short of that), still, a good, easy drinking wine.
Bouza Merlot 2005 – green tobacco, red plums, and a green, astringent flavor from the too young vines, I can taste the structure and potential in the wine, but it’ll be another year or two before the fruit is ready to produce quality Merlot.
Bouza Tempranillo-Tannat 2005 – Tempranillo, the grape of Rioja in Spain, is among my favorites, here blended 60:40 with the local Tannat; the problem remains the same, good structure, nice cherry fruit and spicy flavors, a hint of old leather, but not developed, and bitter tannins, I’d love to like it more, but don’t.
Bouza Temparnillo-Tannat 2004 – The vintage, despite the vines having been a year younger at the time, gives this wine more depth than the 2005, the fruit is more intense, and the extra year of age has softened some of the harshness of the tannin, I like this wine better, and it gives a clearer sense of the potential in another year or so.
Bouza Tannat-Merlot 2004 – A 70:30 blend, the Tannat shines here, with blackberry, plum, and cinnamon flavors; while the wine is a touch tannic, again, the depth of the fruit from 2004 helps, and this wine is pretty good.
Bouza Tannat 2004 – Whether it’s that the Tannat was picked from a different vineyard, or just that the Merlot in the blend above was thinning the wine out and giving it a slightly green edge, this wine takes a leap forward in quality. Possibly Tannat vines just produce higher quality fruit sooner than other varietals, it’s something to explore one day – earthy, blackberry, cinnamon, and a touch of oak and cocoa on the finish, this is the first of the reds that I’d ramp up into the quite good category.
Bouza Merlot “B9” 2004 – one of two “single plot” wines that Bouza makes, the grapes and the processing are much more manual labor intensive for the production of these wines – raspberry and red plum flavors, a touch of ginger, really good structure, a long finish, slightly high alcohol that will probably tone down with aging, and only the merest hint of the green-ness that characterized the other Merlot, really a quite good wine.
Bouza Tannat “A6” 2004 – this is the only one of the wines from the parcel of Tannat located here at the winery, the others being from the Las Violetas vineyards – and, it’s the best of the reds – soft tannins, no astringency at all, good balance, good length, black and blueberries, with a nice touch of cinnamon, very good wine.

Bouza is definitely a place I’d love to return to when the 2006’s are in bottle, with the fruit that we tasted in the vineyard, and the now five-year old vines, I expect that with the care they’re taking at every stage of the game the wines are going to show a marked step up in quality that will hopefully continue beyond that.

What I can tell you about the Ariano winery is pretty much just that it’s a bit larger, with 74 acres of vines in Las Piedras in the Canelones region, and another 173 or so in the province of Paysandú, up in the northwest of Uruguay. They produce about 1.2 million liters of wine, though only 40% of it is fine wine, the remainder being bulk table wine.

Viña Constancia Ariano Merlot 2005 – sweet, juicy berry fruit, tobacco, cocoa, a touch smoky on the finish, the flavors slightly green – common for Merlot in Uruguay, but a good wine.
Don Adelio Ariano Tannat-Cabernet Franc Reserva 2004 – barrique aged, this 50:50 blend is dominated, in a good way, by the Cabernet Franc – tobacco, dry grass and weeds, and red fruit flavors are the hallmarks of this parent of the more well-known Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s one of my favorite grapes – this wine has great structure, and the Tannat adds more depth and complexity to the Cabernet – quite good. As a note, I’d also tasted their pure Cabernet Franc back during the Salon del Vino in October and liked it quite a bit.
Don Adelio Ariano Tannat Reserva 2004 – also barrique aged, this wine showcases the Tannat with blackberry, black plum, and cinnamon flavors, it’s got soft tannins and good length, though I found it to be a trifle high in acidity, a good wine.

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