Updated: Mar 25, 2019
With long days (and nights) filled with the busy tasks of harvest, it is easy to loose sight of the final objective - that of the finished wine. So, as a reminder and to reinforce what we’ve been learning and doing in the vineyard and in the winery, lead winemaker Laura Principiano lead a group of us through a tasting of 12 wines.
Before tasting she explains the general winemaking philosophy at the winery, basically that of transparency. Sebastian’s credo is that wine should express it’s variety, but beyond this the nuance of place. As I explained in the posting from March 2, both the agronomy and enology teams intgrate practices and technology so that the wines express the unique characteristics of the site. There are many complex details that go into this, but top on the list is a desire not to over-ripen the grapes and to use a light oak regimen. This also results in more lifted and fresher wines with complex aromatics and bright acidity.
In the 'reviews' below, I refer to many places in the Uco Valley, so I included a map to assist. As you can see, there are three districts within the Uco Valley, going from south (3,200 feet above sea level) to north (close to 5,ooo fasl): San Carlos, Tunuyan and Tupungato. Within each there are different subregions that are defined by geological and climatic differences.
And the wines...
Zuccardi Poligonos San Pablo Verdejo 2018, SRP $30 (2017 current in USA)
The Poligonos range is a selection of specific vineyard blocks, frequently small production varieties planted in exacting places which express both the place and the variety. Zuccardi has been working with Verdejo in a limited format for some time. They felt that the high altitude vineyard (over 4,500 fasl) near the mountains in the northwestern district of Tunuyán would provide a cool place for this variety to ripen slowly and develop the character aromatic complexities of the variety. While I have had more effusive versions, the wine had all the tell-tale signs of Verdejo: white flowers, citrus zest, minerality, stone fruit, along with a richer yellow fruit profile. All of this was lifted by alcohol of over 13%, yet retained a crisp acidity which kept the wine fresh and long.
Zuccardi Poligonos San Jose Sauvignon Blanc 2018, SRP $30
Not yet a commercial wine, this Sauvignon comes from a small site high-up in the north of the valley in the Tupungato district. The wine saw 5 days of skin contact in order to concentrate the pyrazine and flavonoid levels. Then, like the Verdejo, it was fermented in concrete. This resulted in an extremely aromatic version of SB with intense vegetal and green aromas like geranium and tomato leaf accented with a musky pungency. On the palate, the wine reveals underripe tropical fruit with a searing acidity. Certainly a unique wine with over the top varietal expression that left me wanting to pair it with mango ceviche.
Zuccardi Fósil 2018, SRP $59 (2017 current in USA)
Like the Verdejo, this wine hails from the estate vineyard in San Pablo. Planted on soils with trace amounts of actual fossils, the wine expresses a new world minerality at it’s core. In true Zuccardi fashion, the wine is not left to it’s own. Like the previnous wines, it is fermented in concrete and never saw any oak or malolactic fermentation. The resulting wine is pure and clean with a striking backbone of acidity, yet maintains a texture and expresses minerality thanks to the calcium carbonate in the soil. Fresh fruit flavors of tree fruit like red apple and bosc pear continue through the mid palate. Think new world Chablis.
Zuccardi Q Cabernet Franc 2016, SRP $20 (coming soon to the USA)
Cabernet Franc (CF) seems to be the new 'hot' varietal. In fact 3 of 9 reds we sampled were either 100% CF or had a percentage in the blend, with good reason. CF is as 'transparent' as Malbec, meaning it expresses it's terroir well and is sensitive to small temperature and soil differences. This bottling is a combination of two sites - Altamira (a 'warm' site) and San Pablo (a 'cool' site). On the nose, I get prototypical CF notes of lifted, fresh red fruit along with that tell tale sign of CF pyrazine, which to me is frequently an earthy herbal/dead leaf aroma. All of this is supported with some toasty oak which fills out the aroma. The palate shows some darker fruit notes with red plum skin complimented by sweet spices like clove from the oak all on a medium/medium full-bodied frame. Bright acidity keeps the wine even fresher and elegant as do the sweet, chalky tannins.
Zuccardi Poligonos Altamira Cabernet Franc 2016, SRP $30 (not available in USA)
While the Q CF expressed a quite grace, this wine explodes on the nose and in the palate with darker fruit like cassis and cinnamon oak tones. Structurally, this wine doesn't resemble the Q with far more tannin and alcohol. It's a completely different beast and leaves me wanting to taste the Poligonos San Pablo CF to see the other side of the Q blend.
Zuccardi Tito 2016, SRP $35 (2015 current in USA)
Named after Sebastian Zuccardi's grandfather and founder of the winery, this blend will always be sourced from vineyards around the new winery in Altamira. While past blends have contained some pioneering varietals (like Tito himself), 2016 takes a different interpretation - 85% Malbec and 15% CF. The CF is evident on the nose and reveals a savory, almost meaty quality, which mingles nicely with subtle toasty oak. Underneath, there is loads of darker fruits like plum, cassis and berry. All of this carries through to the palate with a strong tannin structure. Though young, this wine already shows nice integration and should drink even better with short-term bottle aging.
Zuccardi Jose Zuccardi 2015, SRP $45 (2013 current in USA)
Named after Sebastian's father, this wine is the evolution of an older generation of icon wine. Though Sebastian has been fine-tuning this wine for some years, the name change marked the first year the wine was fermented in unlined concrete. Now in it's third vintage, the label reads 'Malbec', but it contains 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon (CS). Like its namesake, the wine is more 'traditional', with higher levels of ripeness, extraction and oak influence (2 years in mostly used 500L barrels). It shows a classic Malbec profile with black fruits and a deep, dark plum note, hints of leather and a certain high-tones 'green' Malbec character. Structurally, it is a powerhouse with medium-plus tannin, acid, alcohol, body and overall intensity. Drop this in the cellar for a few years to see what complexities are hidden and have yet to develop.
All the soils in the Uco Valley were brought to the region by water from the Andes mountain range which looms tall on the western front. However, within the valley, the soils are very diverse. Each place has a unique profile which is translated into the wine. Zuccardi Aluvional is a range of wines from specific sub-regions that are intended to express the unique identity of that place.
For example, near to the mouth of a large alluvial cone close to the Andes in the San Carlos district, Altamira topsoils are typically very shallow and the next layer, often quite deep, consists of rocks brought by flooding waters from a melting glacier in the Andes. These rocks retain extra heat and provide water drainage leading to 'extra' ripeness, but more importantly are covered in calcium carbonate. This limestone coating retains precious water and the thirsty roots attach, soaking up what little water might be present. This contact with the high pH coating provides the wine with more lifted aromatis, fresher fruit, brighter acidity and more tannin - what is referred to as a 'vertical' wine. Further from the mouth of the alluvial fan in La Consulta, sand and silt topsoils tend to be deeper with fewer large stones and, as a result the atea tends to produce more 'horizontal' wines.
Each place has its own identity and the Zuccardi use Malbec as the varietal to communicate this. Sure, Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina, but it is also a very ‘transparent‘ grape, meaning it is sensitive to and expressive of the terror in which it is grown. These wines are more about place than varietal, so Malbec is only listed on the back label.
Zuccardi Aluvional Altamira 2015, SRP $85 (2013 & 2014 current in USA)
The Altamira 2015 comes from very stony soils with large rounded rocks near the mouth of the alluvial cone in the southern district of San Carlos. Aromatic red and purple fruits along with purple flowers emenate from the glass. On the palate, it remains fresh and bright with medium-plus acidity and chalky tannins. Very elegant, yet powerful, this is another one for the cellar - maybe forget about it for 5-8 years.
Zuccardi Aluvional Gualtallary 2015, SRP $85 (very limited amounts of 2013 can be found in the USA)
From the Gualtallary region in the northern Tupungato district, these grapes are planted at upwards of 4,500 feet. The wine is far more expressive than the Altamira with a denser, brooding nose filled with dark fruits, wild herbs and spices. Some coffee-like oak notes complement the palate which is broad (horizontal) and eventually clamps down with drying tannins. Though another 'baby’, this Aluvional provides more hedonistic enjoyment currently than the Altamira, but would be well-served with bottle aging.
The Finca range is a collection of wines made from very specific plots from prime Zuccardi estate single vineyards. To date, the three Altamira sites (Piedra Infinita, Canal Uco and Los Membrillos) have been utilized, but I expect this to change in the future as the Zuccardi team further understands the true potential and identity of their other estate vineyards.
Zuccardi Finca Piedra Infinita 2015, SRP $125 (2014 current in USA)
The 35 hectare Piedra Infinita (‘Infinite Rock’) vineyard that was planted in 2009 is directly adjacent to the winery. Aromatically, this is the most complex wine of the reds we tasted today. It shows integrated aromas of waxy red and dark fruits, flowers, spice, leather, earth and a herbal note that tells you, 'Malbec'. All of this is confirmed in the palate with an emphasis on red fruit. Another 'vertical' wine, this one will age and I can only hope to taste this wine again (and again) as it develops in the bottle.
Zuccardi Finca Canal Uco 2015, SRP $125 (2012 current in USA)
Planted a little further from the tip of the alluvial cone, the soils have smaller rocks at greater depth with a deeper topsoil of sand and silt. This translates into a more 'horizontal' wine. It has a heavier, darker fruit-driven aroma that is lifted by medium-plus alcohol. It shows more body with rounder, sweeter dark fruit in the mid-palate. To be properly appreciated, this wine will take time for its components to come together.
Zuccardi Finca Los Membrillos 2016, SRP $125 (2013 current in USA)
The vineyard takes its name from the membrillo (quince) trees which surround this large plot that was planted exclusively to CS some 40 years ago, which is still irrigated by furrows. This wine reminded me of right-bank Bordeaux on steroids as it conveyed aromas and flavors of cassis, dark cherry, pencil lead, spicy oak and just the slightest hint of pyrazine (herbal/green notes). However, the intensity, body and structure was far greater than any rational winemaker would expect in France. Despite all this, there was balance, which makes me think this might be the most long-lived of all the wines we tasted.