Grand Scale

2006.Feb.24 Friday · 2 comments

in Drink, Life, Restaurants

Irurtia wineryCarmelo – This community along the western edge of Uruguay has a population of a mere 16,000 people (including the “weekend ranch” of Argentine diva Susana Gimenez). The town is, simply, dominated by the winery Irurtia, the giant bottles of which are scattered here and there throughout the town. Dante Irurtia is the present day owner and a descendant of the winery’s founder, Don Lorenzo Irurtia, who launched the winery in 1913. Dante has been the sole owner since 1954, though he has clearly turned more and more of the Dante, Carlos, and Marcelo Irurtiaday to day details over to his two sons and one of his daughters, who are active in the business. Irurtia is at the opposite end in terms of style from Los Cerros de San Juan, reviewed in my last post. In comparison to Los Cerros’ 2400 acres (4 square miles), of which 110-115 are planted to vines, Irurtia has a 9000 acre property (14 square miles), the vast majority of which is planted to vines; and with the exception of a small planting of Nebbiolo from Italy, all the vines are French varietals. Dante is a former senator for the province of Colonia, in which Carmelo is located, and as such is a well respected, well liked, and well known figure in the area.

Irurtia - 151,500 liter epoxy fermentation tanksIrurtia - 50,200 liter epoxy fermentation tanksIrurtia - pushing the grapes into the giant crusher
Fermentation in large, epoxy lined cinder block tanks is de rigeur here, with tanks weighing in at anywhere from 12,500 to 151,500 liter capacity. The aging tanks range from 3,000 to 9,500 liters, plus the winery maintains a small supply of 225 liter barriques. Two large refrigerated rooms are used for wines that need to be fermented slowly in a cold environment – one for stainless steel tanks, the other for barrels. The winery also produces a selection of grappas, and in fenced in areas alongside the family homes, raises goats and ñandu (the South American ostrich, or rhea), for, respectively, cheese and meat.

Irurtia - wagon full of grape pomace for grappaIrurtia - grappa stills

Irurtia Sauvignon Blanc 2005 – strong flavor of grapefruit rind, light grassiness, good acidity, good length, overall quite good.
Posada del Virrey Viognier 2003 – canned peaches in syrup, honey-graham crackers, slightly metallic, cloying finish, not a winner in my view.
Posada del Virrey Pinot Noir 2004 – very intense raspberry flavor, soft tannins, and a black pepper finish, fairly good.
Posada del Virrey Tannat 2004 – blackberry fruit, light cinnamon, good acidity, slightly cough syrupy on the finish, but good.
Reserva del Virrey Malbec 2002 – an interesting and very up front note of clay from the soil, soft, amarena cherries, and a peppery finish. quite good.
Reserva del Virrey Tannat 2002 – blackberries, cinnamon, good acidity, soft tannins, noticeable oak, still, quite good.
Irurtia “Botrytis Excellence” Gewurztraminer 2002 – mushrooms, roses, litchis, very sweet, with a bitter citrus rind finish and high alcohol, decent but not a favorite.
Irurtia Grappa de Pinot Noir – tasted right out of the still (you can see it being drained off in the picture above), intense berry fruit, smooth, very well balanced, excellent quality.
Irurtia Grappa de Tannat – dark berry fruit, toffee, a bit of a bite, great lenght, also excellent quality.
Irurtia Grappa de Gewurztraminer – soft, light floral notes, and just a hint of tropical fruits, an interesting exotic quality, but clearly has lost its defining Gewurztraminer character, still, quite good.

Melia Confort hotel room

Montevideo – It is quite common on press and PR trips for journalists to find themselves put up in hotels that are of, shall we say, dubious quality. I think the general attitude is that, hey, we paid your airfare, we’re getting you food and wine, we’re driving you all around, we’re going to save some money on accomodations. I remember going on a trip to Alsace with a dozen or so other writers and finding myself in one hotel where I had to climb onto the roof and cross it to get to my room, which was an old turret on the building, not exactly the height of luxury. Uruguay is clearly pushing for journalists to be taken care of, and if they’re smart, they’ll keep doing it. After our later winery visit we headed east to Montevideo (about a 2½ hour drive) where I found myself deposited at the Meliá Confort hotel, a 4-star luxury business and tourism hotel at R. Héctor Miranda, 2361 in the Punta Carretas section of town. Four nights here in a room big enough to be an apartment, high speed internet, a shower bigger than my bathroom at home, and it’s own private outdoor sunbathing area (not that I’m here during the day to take advantage of that).

Mediteraneo - vegetable soupHaving arrived late, a little after 10 at night, we decided not to head out to a restaurant, and Laura headed for her home. I opted to have a light dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, Mediteráneo. A party of five was just finishing after dinner coffee, so I quickly found myself the sole occupant of the dining room. I hate to judge a restaurant from a mere two dishes, and without having a chance to have seen the staff in action, so to speak, but sometimes you can tell a lot from a few simple things. I started with the day’s special soup, a vegetable soup. The broth itself had good flavor, a deep, rich, mixed greens sort of broth, almost like a traditional southern pot licker, dotted with a bit of olive oil. But it was little more than just the broth. There was a thin layer of finely grated carrots and celery on the bottom of the bowl, but no more than a few spoonfuls of solid matter. Overall, the flavor was good, but either the execution was flawed, or it needs to be described better. [Both the restaurant and the hotel have closed and been replaced.]

Mediteraneo - chicken fricasee with potato rostisThe chicken fricasee, on the other hand, was a testament to an attempt to get away with poor cooking. The chicken itself was tender, though the mushroom sauce that accompanied it was floury and underseasoned. It was accompanied by three potato rostis, but rather than what they should be, tender rounds of potato shreds browned on the outside (sort of like a giant flat tater tot), these were thin and cooked until as dried out and crisp as a dietetic rice cake. And, to make matters worse, the two that are partially hidden by the presentation were completely burned on the buried portions. Overall the dish was basically inedible, and I nibbled at the chicken, pushed the rest around on the plate, and gave up. I declined dessert and headed up to my room for a good night’s sleep. My negative impression was backed up this morning with a revisit to the dining room for an undrinkable cup of burnt, acidic coffee, and dried out, flavorless croissants.


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