Reflections: A Libation from Each Nation


International wine
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.

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–they all hold a special place on my shelf.

I buy the local specialty that unique to where I am, or whatever best reminds me of my time in that location.

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.

The bottle of Malbec Roble was my souvenir from a little village in Uruguay called Carmelo.
The bottle of Malbec Roble was my souvenir from a little village in Uruguay called Carmelo.

Popping the cork of a long anticipated libation is a good 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 stayed. It brings me back to Carmelo.

Only a hop away from the cities 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?)

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.

My husband and I visited the vineyard one hot summer afternoon. 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.

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. 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 and explain the passion and art of wine making.

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.

The wine barrels at Irurtia.
The wine barrels at Irurtia. Photo by Bethany Smith

He showed us the dark, dry cellar where the wines age until they reach peak maturity and the tasting room, where we had the opportunity to sample each of the award-winning wines along with some local cheeses.

While sampling, Hugo chatted 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 visit.

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 trip.

Its tattered red label has reminded me daily, that 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 and in celebration of upcoming journeys. The taste of the spirit is as ephemeral as our time spent at its place of origin. It’s a beautiful, nostalgic souvenir and as the intense flavor lingers on my tongue.

I savor the memories of my last voyage and look forward to exploring more of this incredible world.

May there always be a road before you bordered with vines of grapes of the warmest color and the deepest taste. Cheers!