Last November, Dan and I traveled to Western Uruguay to visit Dan’s favorite winery – Narbona! Prior to our trip, however, I really knew nothing about Western Uruguay, and not really not that much about Uruguayan wine. But, to our lovely surprise, Western Uruguay is home to a handful of vineyards and has even been referred to as the Tuscany of South America by the New York Times!
That being said, and while we had an absolutely wonderful time, I found it incredibly difficult to plan our winery visits in Carmelo. Aside from that old New York Times article, there is not much information online about Western Uruguayan vineyards, and even less in English. After doing tons of research on the area, lots of Google mapping, and Facebook messaging vineyards in broken Spanish, we successfully visiting five vineyards, and here is my guide to wine tasting in Carmelo, Uruguay!
The Carmelo/Western Uruguay Wine Region
The Carmelo/Western Uruguayan wine region is located in Western Uruguay and is centered around a small and somewhat unexciting town called Carmelo. Carmelo is 3ish hours from Montevideo and a 1 hour drive from Colonia, Uruguay (which is a 1 hour ferry from Buenos Aires). A ferry also arrives in Carmelo from Le Tigre, Buenos Aires on certain days.
The greater Carmelo area is home to around 5 established vineyards, and one of the region’s most popular wine is made with the Tannat grape. For those unfamiliar, Tannat grapes are old vines that were brought over from France pre-phylloxera. While not very popular outside of Uruguay, Tannat is all the rage here and usually makes big, delicious reds!
While home to a handful of wineries and the fact that we traveled all the way to Uruguay to visit it, the Carmelo/Western Uruguay Wine Region is actually not the most popular wine region of Uruguay – that is located right outside of Montevideo in the Canelones Department.
Carmelo, or in actuality, the outskirts of Carmelo are home to somewhere between 5 and 8 wineries. I was only able to find 5 visitable wineries, but there may me a few more tiny producers or new or recently closed vineyards in the area: Narbona, El Legado, Bodega Campotinto, Almacen de la Capila, and Familia Irurtia. If you have a car and are willing to drive an hour or so, there are a few other wineries scattered throughout Western Uruguay.
We did not have a car and took a taxi to the various vineyards. This was expensive and not ideal, but it was the best way for us to tour the wineries. On our visit, we stayed at Narbona for 4 nights (so tasted and toured Narbona generally during our stay), we went to El Legado for dinner on a Friday evening, and we toured Familia Irurtia, Campotinto, and Almacen de la Capila in one wine-packed Saturday! It is also possible to rent a bike in Carmelo and bike between all of the vineyards except Narbona.
As you will see below, I highly recommend planning your wine touring in advance in Western Uruguay. The entire area is verrrry laid back, there is not a lot of English spoken, and everything runs a bit slower that you would expect. This is definitely not a bad thing and can be very relaxing, but it does require some advance planning if the purpose of your trip is to visit many wineries and try a lot of wine (and honestly, there is not much else to do).
1. NARBONA WINE LODGE – where we stayed on our trip!
Narbona is an established Uruguayan vineyard that also has a restaurant and vineyard in Punta del Este. Narbona is probably the most-well known of the five Carmelo wineries outside of Uruguay, as it exports to Europe and the US. Narbona is also the furthest geographically from the other five vineyards, meaning not really close to any of the others (about 25 minutes away by car). In addition to making wine, Narbona Wine Lodge is a full scale Relais & Chateaux property with a proper sit down restaurant. A visit to Narbona was the prime reason for our trip to Uruguay, so we stayed at Narbona – our stay was great and you can read about it in this post!
If you are staying at Narbona, you will receive a complementary tour of the property and wine making area shortly after your arrival. You will also receive a complimentary 3 wine and cheese tasting with the winemaker or sommelier that lasts about 30 minutes. You can schedule the tasting at your convenience. I won’t go into a ton of detail because I wrote about it in my previous blog post but, as you can see in the photograph below, the tasting was quite lovely.
In addition to the standard 3 wine tasting, Narbona also offers the Narbona Marriage – a five wine tasting paired with 5 small tapas-style plates. We also did this tasting and absolutely loved it! This tasting showcases some of Narbona’s nice wines, including their upscale Tannat, Luz de Luna, and is enough food for a meal. Again, you can read more about it on my previous post!
If you are not staying at Narbona, I email Narbona (contact info below) and ask to set up a tasting at the property and having a meal at Narbona’s restaurant after your tasting. The restaurant is generally open all day every day until about 9 PM. You do not need a reservation for the restaurant, but I would highly recommend a reservation for the wine tasting (a MUST for the Marriage tasting), as they really take pride in setting it up in a gorgeous location and the people who do the tasting are not always on site or available to do the tasting.
No matter how you visit Narbona, do not miss the Luz de Luna and their Pinot Noir. Narbona’s pinot noir is probably my favorite pinot noir that I have ever had. If you happen to miss Narbona, Narbona does have a restaurant in Punta del Este that is open only in high season and you can find Narbona in wine shops and restaurants in Montevideo. I recommend a visit to Carmelo’s Narbona for those looking for a good meal or those en route to Puerto Camacho (a small port just outside of Carmelo).
2. BODEGA EL LEGADO – we had a tour and dinner here on a Friday night!
El Legado is a small, family run winery located about 25 minutes from Narbona by car, and not too far from Campotinto and Almacen de la Capila (10 minutes by car). Bodega El Legado produces tiny batches of wine and they have won a number of awards! El Legado welcomes guests and offers the option to do a wine tasting with cheese and cold meats for $25 USD/person or a whole wine dinner, pairing El Legado’s wines with cheese, cold meats, grilled meats, and vanilla ice cream with Tannat sauce for $60 USD/person. We opted for the full dinner wine pairing and made reservations via Facebook message (El Legado is very responsive via Facebook).
Our El Legado experience started on a rainy Friday evening with a tour of the vineyard by the owner and winemaker. We were shown the vineyard and the grapes, as well as the wine making equipment inside. This is definitely a small, family operation, and we met all of the winemaker’s sons (who would later grill our dinner!).
Our meal started after the vineyard tour with our first wine, a syrah, and a large plate of cold meats and cheeses. We’ve never really taken to syrah wine before, but this one was extremely flavorful and inspired us to try more syrahs!
After our large plate of meat and cheese, the winemaker’s son had finished grilled our dinner and we were presented with the below-pictured plate of meat and potatoes. On the grilled plate were sausages, perfectly grilled steak, ribs, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, tomatoes, and grilled onion. In any case, this meal was one of the best that we had in Western Uruguay. It was paired with another glass of red wine – this time the Tannat Reserva.
We tasted a few more wines at El Legado and ended our evening with vanilla ice cream topped with a sweet sauce made from the Tannat grape. Dan took a quite fancy video of the dessert!
In sum, we very much enjoyed our dinner and tasting at El Legado and recommend a visit to anyone in the area. The winemaker is very friendly and they make a high quality product that you will not be able to purchase outside of Uruguay. Recommended to visit for those who know a bit about wine. You will definitely appreciate El Legado’s wines.
3. FAMILIA IRUITRA – our first stop on our Saturday wine tour excursion
Familia Iruitra is the oldest vineyard in Carmelo, dating from 1913 (!), and, like Narbona, its established and produces a large production (for the area) for consumption all over Uruguay. You’ll know you have arrived by way of their larger than life wine bottles dotting the property.
Irurtia offers guided tours daily at 11h and 15h in Spanish. English tours are offered on certain days at 11 (Saturday is a common day English tours) and you should confirm in advance. The tour lasts about an hour and is followed by a good wine tasting. Of all the vineyard visits in Carmelo, this was by far the most organized and standard wine tour.
On our visit, we arrived about 10 minutes early ready for our tour and tried to check in in the main shop. However, while they had our reservation and were expecting us, no one spoke any English. Eventually, someone was able to tell us just to wait about 10 minutes, which we did. Promptly at 11, the winemaker came out to lead our tour, as she spoke English (and may be the only person there who does). Our tour, which was comprised of 6 people and conducted in English (a separate Spanish tour also took place at 11), started with a tour of the vineyards and an explanation of the harvest.
We next moved indoors and learned a bit about the winery’s history and roots, as well as the bottleing process. Our guided tour ended in the cellar, where there were wine bottles dating back to the 1970s. Dan boldly asked if we could open a 1985 tannat, his birth year, and the winemaker surprisingly agreed and opened it on the spot, decanting it herself in the cellar. Despite a bit of cork breaking into the bottle, the 1985 tannat held up really well and Dan was SUPER happy.
After the tour, we took our tasting outside under some gorgeous trees. We opted for the 5 wine tasting, which came with a platter of olives, meats, and four types of cheeses. The wines that we tasted were (1) a vingonier; (2) a pinot noir; (3) a tannat; (3) a grand reserva; and (5) a late harvest wine. My favorites were the Vingonier and the Grand Reserva, and of course the 1985 Tannat!
If you are simply looking to taste without the tour or to just buy wine, the shop is open daily and offers two tastings – a 3 or 5 wine tasting. You should not need reservations for a simple tasting. I recommend a visit to Irurtia if you are looking for full wine tour with much explanation on the wine making process.
4. BODEGA CAMPOTINTO – where we went after Irurtia.
Bodega Campotinto, from my research, is one of the more well-known Carmelo wineries to visitors. Part of this is because Bodega Campotinto also runs a nice hotel and restaurant along with its winery. We visited Campotinto right after Irurtia and had initially planned to walk from one to the other (about an hour). However, we met a nice couple tat Irurtia were going to Campotinto as well, and they drove us! And, looking back, I think walking between the two could be confusing and are no sidewalks or anything of that sort. I would plan to ride a bike or call a cab.
The Campotinto complex is located about a 10 minute drive from both Bodega El Legado and Familia Irurtia, and about a 25 minute drive from Narbona. If you’re driving to Bodega Campotinto, the restaurant and hotel are near the swimming pool, while the wine tasting is located on the opposite side of the property – directly across from Almacen de la Capila We ended up parking at the restaurant and walked to the tasting room (about 10 minutes). The walk was actually gorgeous!
We arrived at the vineyard about 10 minutes after parking at Campotinto’s restaurant and decided on the 3 wine tasting with meat empanadas. We also took a look around the interior of Bodega Campotinto’s small tasting room and saw some of the awards won by Campotinto!
Due to the gorgeous weather that we were having, we took our tasting outdoors with our new friends who drove us from Familia Irurtia!
As you will see from my pictures, Bodega Campotino is probably the prettiest of the vineyards in Carmelo and really reminded me a lot of Tuscany, Italy. A few minutes after we ordered, Bodega Campotinto brought out the 3 wines that we would be tasting and poured our first glass, coming back throughout our tasting to pour the second and third wines. Our empanadas came out around glass two and while they were certainly frozen, they were a good snack after so much wine!
You can really stay at your tasting for as long as you like – no one rushes you. For tastings at Bodega Campotinto, I recommend confirming Campotinto’s tasting hours via its website and Facebook prior to visiting. If you plan to eat at Campotinto’s restaurant, reservations can be made directly with the restaurant. And, to be clear, the restaurant is totally separate from the tasting room and reservations at the restaurant do not equal reservations at the tasting room and vice versa!
5. ALMACEN DE LA CAPILA – where we went after Bodega Campotinto
Almacen de la Capila AKA the “General Store” is located directly across the street from Bodega Campotinto’s tasting room (seriously, a 1 minute walk), making it ideal to pair with a tasting at Bodega Campotinto. This is exactly what we did on our big day of wine tasting!
Almacen de la Capila serves wine made at Bodega Casona (so you will see the name Casona a lot), which is also just down the road but does not offer tours or visits. Unlike the other vineyards in the area, in addition to wine, Almacen de la Capila has the cutest store selling lots of edible goods from Western Uruguay! Its really cute and a great place to buy allllll of the souvenirs (yes, they take credit card!). In fact, this is one of the only places on the Carmelo wine route that has a good selection of actual souvenirs that you can take home, including magnets!
Tastings take place in the back of the property in a truly gorgeous setting. For our tasting, we just went with “the tasting” and were sat at a cute little table by the winemaker’s husband. Shortly thereafter, we were served so, so many wines, as well as a lovely plate of Uruguayan meats, olives, and cheeses!
About half-way through our tasting the winemaker came out, and she was so nice and told us all about her winemaking and the vineyard. And yes, the wine maker is a woman, as is the case with most winemakers in Uruguay! Very cool!
In terms of our wine tasting, the “tasting” is not exactly set at we tasted at least 6wines, ending with a liquor de Tannat – a liquor made from Tannat grapes! Here is a selection of some of what we tasted!
Advance reservations are not necessary at Almacen de la Capila – you can just show up for shopping or a taste. The winery also runs a small cabin nearby if you are looking for a place to stay! I recommend a visit to Almacen de la Capila for those already at Bodega Campotinto, those who like to shop, and those who want a fun, laid back tasting experience!
Tips For Wine Tourists In Carmelo
- In visiting Carmelo, do not expect everyone to speak English. Most tourists are from Uruguay or neighboring Argentina and Brazil. If you do not speak Spanish, its very, very important to confirm before visiting that someone at the winery will be able to converse with you in English.
- All of the vineyards except El Legado took credit card. However, bring cash if there is something that you just must have.
- Make reservations in advance. These wineries are small and old-school and not necessarily keep “regular hours” always.
- A car is by far the easiest way to get around; however, the driving limit for alcohol is 0%.
- There is no Uber/Lyft in Carmelo as of November 2017
- Wine sample servings are large. Plan accordingly.
- If you are coming from Argentina or other parts of Uruguay and only have a day, the Borravino offers 1/2 day tours around Carmelo.
- If you are heading to Chile after Uruguay (or on any part of your trip), note that Chile is very particular as to what you can bring into the country with regard to food. Wine is ok, but I would read up on it before spending a lot of money on edible Uruguayan souvenirs.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Narbona Wine Lodge: Ruta 21, km. 268, Carmelo, Uruguay. Open daily from about 12h – 21h. T.: (+598) 4544 6831 E: firstname.lastname@example.org. Email to set up a tasting or drop in for a meal.
Bodega El Legado: Located close to Bodega Campotinto. Open daily 11 – 19h. T: 098 307 193 or 099 111 493. Facebook Bodega El Legado to make reservations for a tasting of the grilled meats extravaganza! Reservations definitely required for the dinner. Cash only.
Familia Irurtia: Avenida Dante Irurtia sn, Carmelo 70100, Uruguay. Open daily 10h – 16h, with tours at 11h and 15h. E: email@example.com. Email for a tasting reservation (required for English tours).
Bodega Campotinto: Caminos de los Peregrinos, Carmelo, Departamento de Colonia, Uruguay. Open daily 11h – 19h. Reservations not required.
Almacen de la Capila: Open daily 11h – 20h. Ruta 21 km. 257, Camino de los peregrinos y Ana María Carpi de Cordano. Reservations not required.
ON A BUDGET
To save money in Carmelo, stay in Carmelo. That will be much cheaper than staying at a vineyard. Also, plan to rent bikes in Carmelo to get around. Much less expensive than cars. In terms of tastings, tastings were not exactly cheap but they all came with a lot of wine and solid snacks. Wine bottles were quite reasonable and often in the $10 USD – $20 USD range.