I've never tasted wine from Uruguay as it's not yet widely available in this country. And since I never need any form of encouragement to go to a wine tasting, I accepted my friend C's invitation in about 0.8 seconds flat - she was going to one at the Uruguayan London embassy (Belgrave Square - very posh!). C is half Uruguayan and, as well as being the best cook I know, is always attending interesting foodie events and inviting me along. However, this wine tasting had to be one had to be one of the weirdest events I'd been to in a long while. I was picturing handsome S American butlers passing around goblets of oaky vino and, of course, trays of Ferrero Rocher stacked in pyramids, because I have a juvenile sense of humour. But the evening didn't pan out quite like that...
Entering the embassy building with a sense of giddy excitement, I queued on the stairs amid a well-heeled crowd of older ladies and gents. I admired the lofty ceilings and the grand staircase. The carpet looked a little moth-eaten. But no matter - I was chatting merrily with my friends and was happily anticipating my first glass of wine after a particularly arsey day in the office.
We entered the wine tasting room - all dark oak furniture and chandeliers - and then spent a considerable amount of time queuing to get to the long tables behind which Uruguayan wine producers poured out samples. The room was stifling. I noticed many ladies of a certain age with frosted bouffant hairdos, pearls and boxy jackets, and that their long suffering husbands were all wearing suits and looking very serious. I squeezed in between two ladies dripping in jewellery, one braying to the other about having to fire their cleaner, and managed to get a very small glass of Uruguayan Chardonnay from a producer called 'Bouza' (ho ho). It was delicious, but a mere thimble of wine. I then had to queue for a thimble full of red wine made with the Uruguayan Tannat grape - a bit of a tannic mouthful. By now I was seriously thirsty, but persevered in the queue for another couple of thimbles of this and that. The measures were beyond meagre, and I estimated that my total thimble intake would have added up to half a full glass of wine - jeez!
Then, lo! We were summoned to stand to attention by a well-spoken gentleman with a luxuriant grey carpet of hair and a pink tie - two Uruguayan wine producers were about to give a presentation. From that moment, everything turned rather surreal. The men spoke very fragmented English, and clicked through a halting Powerpoint presentation depicting rural scenes from their country - gnarly faced farmers picking grapes, cattle drinking from streams - all animated by 1970s Abba-style split or rotating screens, with the laptop playing a tinny soundtrack of South American music in the background. I felt sorry for them as they soldiered on with their fragmented English:
"And now you sees the farmers in our countries the same as his cow."
"The cow is drinking water very natural; our country is live for nature." (sic)
And so on...
I had to dig my nails into my palms to keep from shaking with laughter. My eyes filled with tears. I felt awful for them as people rudely continued their conversations at the back of the room. A painfully stilted auction ensued, with one of the Uruguayan wine producers trying to entice people to bid for bottles, starting at £60. Nobody really seemed very interested - the auction tailed off with a maximum bid of £75. If only I'd had the means I would have bid, and most people in the room looked fairly wealthy. Bah humbugs.
Afterwards, we retreated to the pub to enjoy full glasses of wine. The Uruguayans would probably be horrified by our hardened London drinking habits, but I thought it was a shame not to have been able to taste the wine properly, and also a wasted opportunity not to have been able to buy any of the wine on offer. But now at least I know to look out for it...a glass of Bouza Chardonnay or Viognier on a hot evening would be a very nice thing indeed.
Bodega Bouza, Uruguay