Masters of Wine
The MWs Series: Robin Kick
Robin Kick became a Master of Wine in 2014 and has worked in the wine industry for almost 20 years. Although Robin was born in the US, she has spent most of her adult life living in France, the UK and now in Switzerland — where she currently resides.
Her prestigious career has included being the wine specialist for Christie’s in California; working for some of the UK’s top wine dealers and merchants; and acting as a wine judge in illustrious international competitions.
Amanda Barnes interviews on her perception of Uruguayan wine following her visit in 2018 and the opportunities it might have in the European market.
AB: What is your impression of Uruguayan wine and what makes it unique as a wine producing country?
RK: Before I visited Uruguay, I really had no idea what to expect. Once I was able to taste through a number of Uruguay's wines and speak with some producers, Uruguay definitely surfaced as a country that is already capable of making some really interesting wines with genuine character, though one can also tell that it is still growing in terms of finding its voice.
Uruguay feels like one of the more unique places to grow grapes. As one producer said, they have a lot of sun but also large differences in day and night temperatures and cooling breezes from the ocean so the grapes are able to retain a good amount of natural acidity. They irrigate very little which is uncommon in New World countries.
It was also explained that Uruguay has a Bordeaux climate but with Burgundian soils with lots of limestone-clay, also fairly unusual. One of the producers told a story about how his family is always getting gallstones due to the high limestone content in the soils!
Uruguay’s ability to produce excellent quality Tannat that does not require years cellaring before being consumed is an additional unique factor. Madiran is arguably one of France's most challenging wines to sell and though the quality can be excellent, many of them require years of cellaring.
“Uruguay feels like one of the more unique places to grow grapes.”
AB: What regions, styles or varieties were you particularly excited about or interesting in on your recent visit?
RK: It is hard for me to talk about regions because my trip there was not so long and we were not able to visit all regions. But the styles that I preferred were those that captured lovely fruit ripeness but retained the grapes' natural freshness and then were aged in a way that allowed its personality to shine. Some were aged only in stainless steel or the more serious ones in oak, but the oak was nicely integrated and became woven within the wine.
“Uruguay’s people are warm, friendly and discreet. It is a place that I would love to return to.”
Based on what I tasted, Tannat was the stand out variety, but I also tried some interesting blends with Piemontese varieties and that was eye opening as well.
AB: What do you think are the greatest opportunities for Uruguayan wine in the export market in the future?
RK: Due to its strength with Tannat, I believe it is Uruguay's biggest opportunity, a bit like Argentina has had with Malbec. Once that path is paved, I do think there are a number of other opportunities that could present themselves. Nebbiolo from other areas outside of Piemonte - like Australia - is getting much attention these days and with Uruguay's strong Piemontese background, I think the country could easily be a contender with this variety as well.
In terms of export markets, the US and Canada could easily be more developed but also various European countries as well. Wherever Argentine Malbec has worked well, Uruguayan Tannat also has a strong chance.
“Due to its strength with Tannat, I believe it is Uruguay’s biggest opportunity, a bit like Argentina has had with Malbec. ”
AB: What wines are on trend in Europe at the moment, or what is the market looking for?
RK: It is difficult to give a blanket answer for an entire continent, but I think it would be justifiable to say that people are looking for authenticity these days, and that can easily be applied to wine markets beyond Europe.
Consumers who want to know more or are curious are looking for wines that are truly reflective of where they have come. You can also see this in menus at restaurants (where they name the local farms from which their ingredients were sourced, for example).
The interest in indigenous varieties has soared in recent years and while Tannat isn't indigenous to Uruguay, it has become its adoptive home and calling card. Plus, consumers really want to hear stories. Not marketing gimmick stories, but real stories behind the wines, the producers. This is far easier to share when the estates are small and family-owned and in this way, Uruguay is rich.
AB: What styles and wines from Uruguay do you think might have the best future in the European market?
RK: I think it really depends on the actual market in Europe. The UK has quite different needs from Germany or Switzerland, for example. The British tend to like more classic styles similar to Bordeaux. The same could be applied to the French market.
“ I also tried some interesting blends with Piemontese varieties and that was eye opening as well.”
While in Switzerland, the German-speaking population, which happens to be the largest population in the country, tends to like bold wines with a lot of fruit and often new oak. But the French-speaking areas have similar palates to the French. So, I do think there is potential for a number of different styles, depending on the country.
AB: How was your experience in visiting Uruguay and getting a taste for the local culture and people?
RK: I was told that Uruguay is considered by many to be the "Switzerland of South America". I was not sure what this meant exactly though someone did mention that many banks are based in Montevideo and its small size and success as a nation enables a higher standard of living than many other countries in South America.
I was amazed at how different it actually is topographically from other South American countries I have been to. Its green, rolling hills and beautiful villas on the oceanfront give it a calm beachy feel reminiscent of Galicia or the Basque area of Spain. Uruguay’s people are warm, friendly and discreet. It is a place that I would love to return to.
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