Monday, July 18, 2011

A Libation From Each Nation!

Pop! The cork pops from a 2004 Reserva Del Virrey, Malbec Roble. The bottle opens with gusto, the wine eager to sense the air and be enjoyed by adoring lips. It’s been a year and a half that I’ve kept this bottle of Malbec, a token treasure of my time in Uruguay, the place of its origin.

2004 Reserva Del Virrey, Malbec Roble
It’s one of my travel traditions; I buy a bottle of local spirit or wine when abroad and bring it home to remind me of my time there. I keep the bottle unopened and drink it only after I’ve purchased tickets to my next destination.

Cachaça from Rio de Janeiro, palm wine from Accra, Thai rice whiskey from Bangkok, mango wine from Queensland, Raki from Istanbul... I buy the local specialty- something unique to where I am or whatever best reminds me of my time there. When I return home I look at the bottle every day and dream of when I can open it, sample it, and am transported back to wherever I was. Popping the cork on a long anticipated libation is a great way to reminisce about a bygone journey while celebrating the beginning of a new adventure.

The bottle of Malbec Roble was my souvenir from a little village in Uruguay called Carmelo. While Medio y Medio (a Uruguayan invention of white wine and champagne) or Tannat (Uruguay’s national wine) would have been more ‘Uruguayan’ per se, Malbec was what I drank at the estancia where we were staying and brings me back to Carmelo.

Streamscape Estancia Tierra Santa
Only a hop away from the metropolises of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Carmelo seems light years away. The quiet pastoral countryside swarms with water fowl, song birds, and raptors. Brawny Criollo horses trot along dirt roads, stopping every now and then to sample their favorite grasses. A man passes in a horse drawn carriage and waves, asking Roberto the ranch hand, ‘Hola amigo, ¿Cómo es tu madre?’ Hi Friend, how is your mother?
'Hi Friend! How is your mother?'
It’s a small town and everyone seems to know one another. ‘Have you visited Dante at Irurtia?’ we’re asked on several occasions by people throughout the village. Irurtia Winery has produced wines of distinction since 1913 and is renowned for producing some of the finest in all of Uruguay.

A hot summer afternoon my husband and I visited the vineyard. We made the short drive from the estancia to the winery and snapped photos under the large wine bottle at the entrance. We were greeted by an old man, with white hair and kind eyes, who we later found out was the owner Dante Irurtia. He didn't speak English and used only gestures to welcome us. No one at Irurtia spoke or understood English which accentuated its traditional, small town, family feel.

Irurtia Winery- Carmelo, Uruguay
Mr. Irurtia led us to his antique Ford car and insisted we get in to pose for photos. He then searched the premise for someone who could give us a tour. Hugo was given the task of showing us around. He was a short, slim, older Uruguayan man. He was friendly, warm and passionate about the art of wine making. Hugo gave us a wonderful tour in Spanish. We don’t speak Spanish but we got the gist of it. Hugo used gestures, pictures, body language and intonation to express himself outside the confines of language.

Dante Irurtia and his Model T
Hugo showed us the vineyard where 850 acres of vines grow and the winery where the 1,162,000 gallons of wine are produced every year in stainless steel tanks and French oak barracks. He showed us the dark, dry cellar where the wines age until they reach peak maturity and showed us to the tasting room where we had the opportunity to sample each of the award-winning wines along with some local cheeses.

The Vines

The Barracks

Que Rico!
While sampling, Hugo rambled on in Spanish as if we understood every word. The experience was deliciously unpretentious and relaxed. We were treated as if we were old friends just stopping by for a chat.

Me and Hugo
Before we left the winery we purchased a bottle of 2004 Reserva Del Virrey, Malbec Roble. We brought the bottle home and clearly displayed it so we would see it every day to remind us of Irurtia and to inspire our next journey. I’ve spent a year and a half looking at the beautiful bottle of wine. Its tattered red label has reminded me daily, ‘it’s time to see somewhere new. It’s time to explore and see where the wind blows me next’.

Our glasses clink, ‘Salud! Cheers to Irutia, Uruguay, and to our next adventure!’ This complex, rich Malbec was manually harvested, slowly fermented, and aged in French oak. It has captured the terroir of Carmelo; at the crossroads of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers at the estuary of the Rio De Le Plata. I can taste the chilly nights and the warm days, the clean crisp air, and the pure, smooth soil. Sipping the wine brings me back to Carmelo as I literally drink the essence of the place.

We drink together in appreciation of our experiences in Carmelo and in celebration of our upcoming trip to…Cuzco, Peru to see Machu Picchu! Pisco Sour anyone?

Please comment and tell me if you have any travel traditions to savor a place long after you've returned home. Do you have any rituals that help you celebrate new adventures? Would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. This looks really good! When I was on my holidays I went to the Christmas Markets in Bruges and they had barrels of brew about that size! It makes for an awesome night out!

  2. Well done travel site-very interesting/informative..nice photos.


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