Selling en primeur is usually the domain of fine wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy, but Uruguay is about to join the ranks with its first en primeur release launched by Bodega Garzón. Last week during Vinexpo Bordeaux I was invited to a handsome dinner party in the grounds of Château de Lantic where Garzón winery launched their new ‘icon’ blend, Garzon Balasto. This limited release of the 2015 vintage will be sold via negociants in Bordeaux and Hong Kong, making it one of the first South American wines and few New World wines to be sold en primeur (pre-release).
Garzon Balasto: a new direction for icon wines in South America
The wine is the culmination of over a decade of research and $85 million dollars worth of investment in Bodega Garzón, a 200-hectare vineyard and winery owned by Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni in the coastal Maldonado region of Uruguay. The blend of Tannat (45%), Cabernet Franc (25%), Petit Verdot (20%) and Marselan (10%) has been put together by consultant winemaker Alberto Antonini and head winemaker Germán Bruzzone and will be sold at an estimated price of $100USD per bottle.
It is often the case in South America – and much of the New World – that the ‘icon’ wine (meaning the most expensive in a winery’s portfolio) is aged for significant time in new oak and it is usually quite undrinkable for several years. I was pleasantly surprised then at how elegant and understated Balasto is: it had concentration but also tension, spice and fresh fruit flavours. I love this style, especially for Uruguayan Tannat, and it embodies the new attitude of South American winemakers in favouring less oak and brighter wines.
2015 is the first vintage and the wine was fermented in concrete before being aged in (untoasted) oak barrels. The young vines are planted on a decomposed granite soil which has great drainage, which is important in this maritime region with over 1000mm rain each year. The potential of the terroir is what attracted Antonini most when joining the team and he believes that is what gives the wines an intensity of character while retaining a fresh acidity. Coastal Maldonado has become the most heavily-invested new wine region in Uruguay today with exciting wines coming from Garzon, Pan de Azucar and experimental plantations on the slopes of Cerro Catedral.
Only a few hundred bottles of this 2015 Garzon Balasto vintage will be released and most of them will likely be snapped up by the Asian market. Although General Manager Christian Wylie assures any local readers that a few bottles will be kept back for sale at the winery in Uruguay (at around $500 USD a pop!) In many ways it is a shame that there will only be a lucky few who will get to try this wine because it marks an exciting milestone for not only Uruguay, but for South America.
Consultant winemaker Alberto Antonini on Garzon Balasto
Garzon Balasto launch event gallery:
Photos by Seattle Wang and Tom Mullen