Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Insane meat parties with delicious Tannat: This must be Uruguay

This is not lunch for four -- it's HALF of lunch for four, not counting side dishes
I'm in Uruguay visiting wineries, drinking some very good Tannat as well as some other interesting wines I'll comment on more later.

A world-class wine, intense and delightful
The first takeaway is that a lot of investment money is flowing into Uruguay's wine scene. One of the main impacts of money on wineries is tannin management, and this is the biggest issue with Tannat, the grape actually named after tannin; the grape that provoked the creation of micro-oxygenation.

A couple decades ago you might expect to scrape your tongue dry with a glass of Tannat. This week I've already had several delicious wines with plenty of fruit, great freshness and good structure. The climate here allows the wines to get quite ripe without excessive alcohol, so the best of these are really excellent, world-class wines, nothing like the Tannat you may have tried elsewhere.

But that's all I want to say about the wines tonight, in my Montevideo hotel room, only halfway through my week here, after coming back from a desperate hunt for a salad with only a little meat on it.

Uruguayans are proud of their cattle; more than one person has told me they have the best beef in the world. I'm still in the country so I'm not going to comment on that. I will say that Uruguayans rival their neighbors in Argentina for their enthusiasm in serving a lotttt of meat.

The Uruguayan peso is very strong, because the economy is thriving, so unfortunately these insane meat feasts aren't as cheap as they are in Argentina. But that doesn't appear to stop anyone from their accustomed way of ordering. That platter of meat at the top -- you see heated platters like that arrive at tables for four all the time. If you like your meat rare, as I do, you need to let them know that early and snatch your share off the platter right away, because it continues to cook in front of you. Sauces are popular, probably for this reason. I have had some excellent, mildly spicy chimichurri.

Uruguayans butcher the cow differently than most. Instead of long ribs with delectable (and fatty) meat alongside, they cut across the bone, so you get short knuckle-like ribs; you can see some in the plate at the top. These are still the best pieces but please don't tell Joe Roberts or Richard Jennings that.

The national dish is the chivito: a sandwich with grilled beef, bacon, hard boiled egg, mayonnaise and lettuce on a mildly sweet roll. We stopped at a highly regarded roadside place called American Bar for the sandwich at left, and it cost about $10 US -- and this was the cheapest one we've seen. It's a decent sandwich, but the appeal of chivitos historically was that they were cheap. My colleagues had lesser chivitos our first night for about $16 each. I balked and ate supermarket empanadas, and even those were $5. So while the wine in Uruguay compares very favorably with the wine in Argentina, for travelers, budget-wise, be advised.

One of Alto de la Ballena's formerly two toilet frogs. Sorry!
One last traveler's point: I'm sorry, froggy, for flushing your spouse down the toilet. I didn't know he/she was in there. Both of you startled me when I flushed and suddenly there you were, fighting a tidal wave for a foothold on the porcelain. The froggy in the picture made it out, but his/her spouse went down, all four limbs battling the whole time. The owners of Alto de la Ballena winery told me afterward that you two are always in there (if only they'd warned me), so I have to assume that your spouse has some way of crawling back up the pipes. Poseidon Of The Yellow Tsunami is not how I wish to be known in the frog community.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook. And be kind to frogs, wherever you find them.


DAPZ said...

Great post,
I'm a big fan of Uruguay, its people, food and wine.
I grew up in the southern tip of Brazil at a very small and equal distance to both Uruguay and Argentina and can attest to the rivalry they have as to who has the best meat. They are both excellent.
Looking forward to hearing about the wines!!!!

El Lector Compulsivo said...

still in Uruguay, go to Mercado del Puerto an sit at the bar, in front of the parilla and select the piece of meat you want.

IN front of the Zoo you will find a little, no so clean, parrillada with the best prize/qulity asado, the only problen is they don't sell wine.

Near there, 20 blocks away in front a yatch club you will find the more expensive parrilada, with a buffet of 13 meats, don forget to taste picanha uruguayn beef butchered at brazilian style.

Unknown said...

Blake, I was recently fortunate to participate in a tasting of the Marichal wines, with Juan Andres Marichal leading from Uruguay, via Skype. He was incredibly knowledgeable and a great ambassador for the wines of Uruguay. I too was impressed with their top Tannat. If you get a chance, try their Pinot Noir/Tannat blend, Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend, as well as the straight Chard and Pinot. Interesting.

Unknown said...

Having lived in Uruguay for 5 years and heading back to the States soon, we have seen the prices increase tremendously. The funny thing though is you can get all classes of food for about $10 - 200 pesos. From a McD combo meal to a chivito to a pizzeta to a nice cut of meat in a decent restaurant. However, at one time you could really eat out for $250 pesos per person and now it is $450 to $500.

Wine is still a great deal when dining out, with mid-range wines at less than $20 U.S. and really good ones for less than $30.

The Mercado del Puerto is really neat but about 50 to 80% more expensive than eating in the real neighborhoods.

VinoEnology said...

Great post!