The modern wine industry in Uruguay dates back to 1870, and the wine industry was started by immigrants of mainly Basque and Italian origin. In 1870, Tannat was introduced to the country by Don Pascual Harriague, a Basque.
When the Mercosur free trade association started to take shape in the late 1980s, Uruguay took steps to increase the quality of its wines and stepped up its marketing efforts, due to fear of being out-competed by Chilean wines and Argentine wines, which had lower production costs.
There are two levels of classification for Uruguay wines:
- Vino de calidad preferente (VCP), a "quality wine" category. Wines must be made from Vitis vinifera varieties and are required to be sold in bottles of 75 cl or smaller.
- Vino común (VC), a "table wine" category. VC wines are often sold in demijohns and tetra paks, and much of it is rosé.
Most of the vineyards of Uruguay are located in the hills north of the capital Montevideo, in particular in the departments Canelones, Montevideo and San José, but there are at least some vineyards in 16 out of 19 departments.
Among the vinifera grapes, Tannat is the most common (36%). Other common varieties are Merlot (10%), Chardonnay (7%), Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Sauvignon blanc (6%), and Cabernet Franc (4%). Muscat Hamburg is still a common variety for VC-classified rosé wines.
Much of Uruguay's vineyards have previously been planted with American and hybrid grape varieties.
- "Wine production (tons)". Food and Agriculture Organization. p. 28. Retrieved 2011-02-11.
- Jancis Robinson, ed. (2006). "Uruguay". Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 723. ISBN 0-19-860990-6.
- Uruguay - South America's 'other' wine country, Wink Lorch, wine-pages.com, accessed 2011-03-06
- Uruguay is wine world's rising star, The Telegraph 2010-03-19