From $11.89, £12.50, 473 Taiwan new dollars, €14.50, 18.50 Swiss francs, NZ$29.99
Argentine Malbec comes in all shapes and sizes, as I discovered on my trip to Mendoza earlier this month, but there's an increasing number of wines that show the move away from extreme ripeness, concentration and those winemaking styles that tend to obscure a wine's region of origin (for example, heavy extraction during fermentation and heavy oaking thereafter).
Argentina’s vineyard sites are so nuanced by elevation, climate and soil type that it is a real shame to make wines that do not reveal those nuances. In the last five years or so, many producers have been experimenting with increasing confidence, making Malbec, and other varieties, with a much lighter hand in the winery and an eye set firmly on expressing the clear differences between vineyard parcels. This has led not only to an increasing number of single-vineyard wines but also to efforts to gain official recognition for subregions such as Gualtallary in the Uco Valley. Paraje Altamira is one that has already been recognised as a geographical indication.
While Familia Zuccardi’s Serie A Malbec 2015/2016 Uco Valley is a blend of fruit from several vineyards on the west side of the valley – the locations they find 'most interesting' (Altamira, La Consulta, Vista Flores, Chacayes, Los Arboles, San Pablo and Gualtallary) – at this price it is a great advert for the growing finesse of Malbec wines made in the irrigated desert that is Mendoza, and in particular the Uco Valley. (Zuccardi have many more Malbecs that express their origins very precisely and I will include reviews of those in my forthcoming article on Mendoza.)
Anyone reading this site regularly will know that concrete is making a comeback as the material of choice for fermentation vessels, whether in the big square format of pre-stainless-steel days or in the more trendy shapes of eggs or amphorae and various other curvaceous forms. Sebastian Zuccardi, along with his Italian winemaking friend Alberto Antonini, is a big fan of concrete, as is pretty obvious as soon as you set foot into the new winery in Altamira (pictured below).
The Serie A Malbec – Serie A being the first level in their hierarchy of wines, designed to showcase the best match between region and variety – is given a period of cool maceration before it is fermented and aged in concrete, with a small proportion aged in used barrels (just 10% in 2016, 25% in 2015). As the back label explains: ‘Serie A stands for Argentine Series as the way of expressing our most representative grape varieties by recognising the best growing regions specific to each, and selecting top vineyard sites along the foothills of the Andes mountains.’
I was very taken with the 2016 vintage when I visited Zuccardi at the start of this month and made the following note as I looked out over the vineyards that were on the eve of harvest:
Fragrant with small, wild, dark berries but without excessive fruit sweetness. More elderberry than cassis. Super-dry texture and so fresh and utterly drinkable. Fine chalky texture – lively and full of energy. Elegant, almost delicate but long too. Very, very good value. Limpid and fragrant. Delicious. I could drink this all evening. Mouth-watering and scented on the palate.
Since the 2016 vintage is not likely to be available until May, I tasted the 2015 on my return to the UK. Both are from cooler vintages, which has enhanced their freshness and eminent drinkability. The only differences were that 2015 was a little less homogeneous across the vineyards and a slightly higher proportion of (old) oak was used for ageing. The 2015 seems a little more smoky and peppery but has similar wild-berry fruit flavours, excellent freshness and those chalky-fine tannins. If anything it seems a little more closed than the 2016 and might benefit from aeration (just pour it into a jug and then back into the bottle), and the 2016 has perhaps a touch more intensity but both are excellent value for money.
Both are examples of the perfectly possible combination of pure fruit, freshness and elegance that can be achieved, at a very reasonable price, with Malbec from top vineyards and in the hands of an ever-experimenting perfectionist winemaker with great vineyards at his disposal.
Zuccardi Serie A Malbec 2015 is widely available in the US and the UK and also sold in Taiwan, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand (follow the Find this wine link to Wine-Searcher to find retailers near you). In the UK it is available from the stockists listed by Wine-Searcher and also by Cambridge Wine Merchants, Corks Out and The Hampstead Butcher and Providore. If you can’t get the 2015, the 2016 is worth waiting for.