“Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.”
ERNEST HEMINGWAY, attributed, The Grape Escapes
And he was right. No matter where you go in this world wine will always bring people together.
We are several days into our arrival in Montevideo; a once unknown city in my mind and a place I soon hoped to call home when Sarah, our sponsor calls us down to her car full of friends for a trip and taste of Uruguay. “Have you ever had Tannat wine before?” Sarah asks as she weaves in and out of typical lazy Uruguayan traffic with drivers straddling lane lines while enjoying open cups of steaming Mate. “Mate,” pronounced (Ma-Tay) drunken heavily and throughout the day in Uruguay, consists of pouring boiling water from a metal thermos into a small gourde like cup full of loose grounds of Mate leaves. It’s no easy task while driving and would put the McDonalds’ coffee burn lady to shame. We pass several groups of locals carrying thermoses and sipping the drink while walking along the water looking for the perfect spot to place their beach chairs. Others carry purses and bags with their Mate and head towards the mall instead.
With car windows down and a light river breeze, we continue our conversation and drive on the Rambla; a 2 lane highway that hugs the Rio de la Plata and edge of the city. We pass by the old city, a part of town hosting the old thearter, tango halls, Plaza de Independencia, and Mercado del Puerto. Beautiful as it may be, I can’t help but notice all of the boarded up shops, and empty century old buildings. Obviously once rich in architecture and commerce, the area now feels a bit forgotten in its weathered and rundown appearance.
After a short drive we exchange the city streets for open stretches of pasture and turn onto a dirt road marked for Bouza. Having only gone wine tasting once in a first world I didn’t know what to expect in a 2nd. Except this. Located just 20 minutes outside of Montevideo, Bouza Bodega Boutique is a property that will surely match any of your favorite wine getaways. First built in 1942 after a french chateaux, the buildings have since been restored by the Bouza family. My first impressions from the parking lot are far different then those from the dilapidated downtown streets of the city. The Bouza property extends through an area rich in water and natural resources making the grounds lush and fertile. The Melilla Stream in fact runs through the back of their property, adding extra nutrients and beauty to the soil. I quickly realize why so many embassy employees have raved of their visits here.
At 11am we join the vineyard tour which of course is given in Spanish. Our first real world test with the language. Kent fairs better then I in understanding. Uruguayan Spanish (unless you speak castilian Spanish) is known to have a difficult accent to decode. Spoken with a mix of dropped letters, rapid speed and a “shh” sound replacing double L’s; most visitors and their spanish skills find themselves reduced to simply using “Como?”
Showing us the vines, vinifcation room, and wine cellar; our guide explains the first step in creating beautiful wines is to individually hand pick the berries. A slow process by any standards but an important stage in securing only the best flavors. Malolactic fermentation in oak barrels (after a french model) is also explained as the process is heavily used with the Tannat blends. Although there are many other classes of grapes, and blends made at Bouza and in Uruguay, Tannat seems to be the star child of the century. Uruguay’s beloved embrace of Tannat started in the 1900’s when the vine was first introduced by French Basque settlers. Uruguay today proudly claim it as their own and is the number one producer of the wine in the world.
The tour finishes in a vintage car museum. For decades the bouza family have been collecting and restoring classic cars and motorcycles since the 1920’s. Now with their collection growing past 30 pieces including several Ford Motel T’s, and recognizable models from cinema history; this winery even has some entertainment for the historical car enthusiasts.
Our group of embassy employees and fellow peers reconvene in the dinning room as lunch and our tasting begins. Hours go by unnoticed as we dive into sweet, earthy, and rich flavors of red and white wines accompanied by playful conversations about what life in Montevideo is really like. We order a bounty of appitizers. Plates of cured meats, Colonia cheeses, hour old baked breads with rock salt, citrus salads, and a full octopus doused in local olive oil and herbs arrive with speed to our table. They disappear into our bellies just as fast. A piano player sits down to play in the center of the room playing notable classics and an occasional surprise like the theme to Titanic. “Music to die to.” Is that what was said in the movie? -Death by overeating with pleasure in our case.
The main course dishes are just as impressive and range from fish, lamb, and chicken, to seafood pastas, and mushroom and truffle risottos with steak. With 2nd term food babies already ripe in our stomics we give in to order glasses of wine favorites and a bit of dessert. Thomas, one of the guys seated at our table and clearly a person to hang out with in the future considering his festive and infectious approach; takes the liberty of ordering the entire dessert menu so we each can pass and taste all that Bouza has to offer.
Apparently Bouza has much to offer in addition to the fine wine and flavorful meals. We waddlle out for some fresh air after lunch and discover a band of live animals hanging around the property. The more imporessive of the bunch and native to Uruguay is the Capybara. Rodemnts of unusual size for those who know of the movie Princess Bride from their childhood; the Capybara physically is a cross between a pig and a very large rodent with the demeanor of a house cat. Bouza has “kept” this Capybara on the property for years bating him with late afternoon treats of sugar cubes and belly rubs. When he comes right over to Sarah and plops himself down for a rub we are only to happy to oblige. –