Monday, February 11, 2008

Days of Wine and Cachilas

One of the wine world's best-guarded secrets is Uruguay, where a handful of family-owned boutique wineries specialize in the deep red Tannat, originally from the French Basque country, in the vicinity of Montevideo. I'm spending the next several days in and around Montevideo, visiting seven or eight of them in the process, to update and expand the coverage in my Buenos Aires guidebook, which includes excursions to the Uruguayan capital.

One of those wineries is Bodega Bouza, barely ten minutes from downtown Montevideo but a world apart where verdant vineyards surround handsome brick buildings that now include a stylish restaurant and tasting room. On cruise ship days, it can serve upwards of a hundred people, but today I had it almost to myself.

Wine isn't everything here, though. In a custom-built addition, there's also an automobile museum where Juan Luis Bouza has assembled a fleet of classic cachilas, as Uruguayans call the cars that were imported for so many years (unlike neighboring Argentina and Brazil, tiny Uruguay never had an automotive industry). When I last visited Bouza, three years ago, most of these cars looked like wrecks, but now they seem as if they just came off the assembly line. Bouza's collection also includes a sample of vintage motorcycles.

All cars imported prior to 1946 used right-hand drive as, with the strong British influence here, Uruguayans originally drove on the left. Immediately after World War II, though, Uruguayans started to drive on the right and all newer vehicles have left-hand drive.

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