“Uruguay?! They make wine?”

“Uruguay?!” I questioned, last week, as I picked up a wine bottle, “they make wine?” 

Still being somewhat of the new kid on the block, I was unaware that Uruguay produced wine.  Uruguay is not your run of the mill wine exporting country like its relative South American neighbors, Argentina and Chile, which produce and export a vast collection of wine to North America.  This was my first in-counter with Uruguayan wine.  Upon exclaiming my question, I was quickly informed that ‘yes’ Uruguay does produce wine and that their ‘national grape’ is tannat, which I held a bottle of  in my hand.  Further, some really great tannat comes from Uruguay.  Gina went on to tell me that last year we had an Uruguayan tannat in the shop that was, as she says, “DE-lic-IOUS!”  The bottle of last year sold for about $20 a bottle and this bottle, clocking in at only $10.99, made us all a bit wary of this new Uruguayan tannat.
Feeling very curious, I had never had Uruguayan wine, let alone never seen one, and figuring at $10.99 a bottle, I didn’t have much of an investment to lose, so I bought a bottle to try at home.

A few days later, on a mellow Monday night, I decided to give the Uruguayan tannat a try.  And I was pleasantly surprised.  The tannat had a nice strong backbone from the tannin, though less tannic and softer than its sibling French tannat, followed by dark berry fruits of blueberry and blackberry and a hint of warm cinnamon spice in the finish.  For a laid back Monday night pasta dinner, the Uruguayan tannat made a great and affordable easy drinking wine.  Curiosity and novelty drove me to this Uruguayan tannat and after trying, quality and value will keep me coming back to it.  I think it is going to make a regular appearance in my line-up of affordable and enjoyable go-to wines.

Pueblo de Sol 2009 Tannat $10.99 | Mixed Case $8.79 


Neil Ellis & Pinotage (South Africa)

Neil Ellis came to Portalis for a tasting in the summer of 2009.  Warm weather, though, is not when we sell Pinotage and a visit from a winemaker of this magnitude merited its proper spot in the featured lineup, with the proper spot being deepest winter … so here we go:

We are always delighted to have winemakers in for tastings, but this was a special one & we were all solemn with excitement. (Can that be?)  We had sold thousands of glass pours of Neil Ellis Pinotage and along with a hard core following of customers who love this wine, we were so excited that we were a little nervous.  And rightly so.  Mr. Ellis was not that jokey-jokerton, engagingly accented funny story-teller from former British colonies who often shows up (much to our delight, I might add).  He was a solemn, professorial man, with a lovely, understated sense of humor, who sat on a stool with the tasting participants around him and modestly shared his history (starting out with KWV, a huge South African wine co-operative, with stints at the Groot Constantia Estate & Zevenwacht, before striking out on his own in 1986 & making a name for himself as the rogue, entrepreneurial producer he has become) as well as his philosophy on wine, wine production & the role of wine in life.

Pinotage is just one of many wines in Neil Ellis’ lineup, but it’s one of our favorites and is excellent Pinotage for the money. Pinotage has an unusual history.  It’s a cross between Pinot Noir & Cinsault, grown as an experiment at the University of Stellenbosch in the 1930’s, forgotten & then rediscovered later in an overgrown patch of vines.  It’s known for its dark brambly fruit with notes of smoke and even bacony flavors.  Wine from this grape makes a statement & customers tend to really like it or really not like it.  The likes win by far, and Pinotage at Portalis has a sizeable fan club with Jens leading the charge (he loves this grape!).  So if you’ve never tried it & are open to this style wine, go exploring.  Neil Ellis was European in his belief that food belongs with wine and every meal is enhanced by a well-paired combination of the two.  Pinotage pairs beautifully with all kinds of grilled red meats & game.  It’s a lovely sipper, though, too.  And with evenings by the fire in front of us, we highly this wine.

Neil Ellis Pinotage is solid year after year and is excellent wine for the price.  Jens is also a big fan of Southern Right Pinotage (a little bigger fruit) & the Kanonkop which is a huge wine made from old vines, but also commands a higher price:

Neil Ellis 2008 Pinotage  (Stellenbosch)
$21.99  | Mixed Case $17.59
Spice Route 2007 Pinotage (Swartland)
$21.99  | Mixed Case $17.59
Southern Right 2007 Pinotage (Walker Bay)
$24.99 | Mixed Case $19.99  
Kanonkop 2005 Pinotage (Stellenbosch)
$37.99  | Mixed Case $30.39

Pinotage Blends (with Cab Sauv/Merlot combinations):
Kanonkop 2006 Kadette  (Stellenbosch)
$17.50 | Mixed Case $14
Warwick 2005 Three Cape Ladies (Stellenbosch)
$27.99 | INSIDER $22.99 | Mixed Case $18.39   
Spice Route 2004 Malabar (Swartland)
$73.99 | Mixed Case $59.19  

Enjoy & cheers!