Uruguay is a multi-ethnic country where innumerable influences have merged to create a modern, tolerant society. Nine out of ten Uruguayans live in a city, four out of ten in Montevideo and three quarters of the population live in the South of the country. One of the country’s strong points is its outstanding educational system. Every child has a laptop and there are no fees for attending a school or university. So no surprise, then, that the majority of the 3.4 million inhabitants belongs to the middle class, though this can be divided into upper and lower. There is very little poverty while unemployment is only 5% and on a downward trend.
Life is good in Uruguay and the eating and drinking too. Naturally Uruguayans swear by their country’s outstanding beef and lamb from the farms inland and by their wine. People love football 24 hours a day, horses passionately, and the beach. It’s how they occupy their free time, not only on holidays and the weekends in summer but in the evenings after work.
A HERO CALLED TANNAT
Uruguay has produced wine for more than 250 years and is home to more than 200 wineries, all family-owned and whose management is passed down from generation to generation. Most of these winegrowers descend from Spanish and Italian immigrants.
There are around 9,000 hectares of vineyards, with the largest concentration in the southern coastal region regions of San José and Canelones, less than an hour’s drive from Montevideo. There are other vineyard areas in Montevideo and west near the lovely old town of Colonia del Sacramento, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and more scattered around the country including interesting outposts in Rivera on the Brazilian border with and in the east near the famous tourism destination Punta del Este on the Atlantic coast. The vineyards are generally like much of the country, on flat land or very gently rolling hills. Exports of bottled fine wines are growing rapidly and are currently consumed in more than 60 countries.
For Uruguayan winegrowers, the world-renowned red varieties have without a doubt become their strong suit. The winegrowers here have continuously enhanced their know-how in handling these grapes and getting great wines from them. Uruguay, out of only a handful of countries worldwide and with plantings exceeding that of all other countries combined, is the main cultivator of French-origin Tannat, brought over by Basque immigrants from its original home in the western Pyrenees of France,. Other well-known varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Petit Manseng also have homes here.
The wines are produced by utilizing strict quality control procedures that are carried out with modern applications yet with an eye to traditional values, guaranteeing a superior and high quality product. Grapes are harvested by hand which brings multiple benefits including a improved aromas and flavors, improved attention to varietal blending the result of which small scale production practices may provide. This allows Uruguayan wines to be produced with currently recognized technical standards without losing the unique bouquet and flavors associated with traditional wines.
In the world of wine, Tannat has become Uruguay’s business card. The country’s winegrowers have understood how to make the most of their great opportunity. When they first began modifying the conditions in their vineyards in the mid-1980s, in order to produce fine wines and then create an export market, the Tannat grape in the New World was like a blank page. The only country where Tannat was, and is, planted on the grand scale is Uruguay: a good quarter of the country’s present hectares of vineyards is under Tannat. While neighbouring Argentina was backing Malbec, Uruguay put Tannat on its coat-of-arms and it has proved the right decision. At that time, too, interest was growing for sound but original, deep-hued red wines. From 1870 on, the grape variety was brought over by Basque immigrants from its original home in the Western Pyrenees of France. The variety’s erstwhile European capital is the town of Madiran where planting Tannat goes back to the 13th century. Its name first of all suggests high tannin content though ”tanned”, on the other hand, is related to the idea of darker colour – in fact, both characteristics jointly are its hallmark. In France, on account of the angular structure of its wines, Tannat was often blended with other varieties. Alain Brumont was the first to show with Château Montus 1985 that 100 percent Tannat possessed real class and triggered a new and strong interest in the grape. Meanwhile, Uruguayan winegrowers have come to understand how to tame Tannat and really bring out its highly attractive qualities.
It is obvious that in Uruguay Tannat has found terroirs that suit it. Thus, first and foremost it is an Atlantic grape variety that in order to flourish needs a certain amount of moisture. In Tannat, drought stress during the growing season generates harsh tannins. Many vineyards with their loamy soils provide excellent conditions. Thanks to the cool breezes off the Atlantic the Tannat grapes enjoy a long ripening period. Thus, the crop’s potential alcohol is limited while it maintains a certain natural acidity. The resulting wines, displaying balance and lively freshness, are nowadays in ever-increasing demand by wine lovers.
A profile for the future
To develop such a profile and to perfect the requisite practices in vineyard and winery are the tasks facing Uruguayan winegrowers for the future. Certainly the very ripe, highly-concentrated prestige wines which have emerged over recent years are impressive. They show that the Tannat’s very prolific nature can be mastered. Moreover, they have very ripe, soft tannin and a seductive velvety structure. These wines have been highly praised, and rightfully so, as they are the outcome of a real commitment to high quality. But their level of alcohol is often no less than that of their international competitors. Important though these wines may be in the current context for their own and the general image, Uruguay’s actual potential has not yet been exhausted.
TANNAT: a Brief of its Nutritional Properties
Uruguayan Tannat enjoys a unique situation:
1. It has significantly higher polyphenol content than other red grapes, making it the most bioactive variety with regards to oxidative reactions in food functional properties. Doctors recommend Tannat as being the best wine grape for the cardiopulmonary system as it contains a large amount of the antioxidant procyanidin, a chemical which helps bolster blood vessels and increase oxygen flow to red blood cells, ultimately helping to avert many cardiovascular diseases.
During the past decade many epidemiological studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet appears to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular diseases, which have has been labeled as the 'French Paradox' [St. Legere et al, 1979]. These studies have also indicated that dietary habits could influence the incidence or evolution of pathologies such as neurodegenerative disorders [Youdim et al, 2002], in which oxidative stress has been identified as a main contributor. The regular and moderate consumption of wine, especially red wine, appears to be one of the main reasons for these potential health effects. Flavonoids contribute to the major antioxidant activity of red wines in the prevention of LDL cholesterol oxidation [Teissedre et al, 1996]. The amount of flavonoids in red wine depends upon the grape variety, cultivation area, sun exposure, wine-making technique, and wine age [Auger et al, 2004; Burns et al, 2000; Dell´agli et al, 2004]. Stilbene derivatives present in red wines such as resveratrol are also postulated as the compounds responsible for the 'French Paradox'. The measurement of resveratrol levels in Tannat wines found an average of 2.7 mg/l, a higher value than reported for Pinot Noir, Merlot. and Cabernet wines [Gu et al, 1999].
In other research Uruguayan Tannat wines were shown to have one of the highest levels of phenolic compounds reported for vinifera grape varieties [Boido et al, 2011]. The anthocyanin profile of grapes, young wines, and wine aging have been characterized and compared with other grape varieties [Alcalde-Eon et al, 2006; Boido et al, 2006]. More recently, the profiles for different polyphenol families and OPC present in Tannat grapes (skins and seeds) and wines were determined all along the maturation process of the grapes in Uruguayan vineyards [Boido et al, 2011].