Don’t fly for me Argentina
- Credit: Archant
Mountain wines grown 1,000 feet up beneath the Andes don’t have to be picked by helicopter like some, and the entry prices are down to earth
Low, flat places aren’t good for vines: it’s hard to think of any great wine that originates on them. Instead, the best growers look for slopes and higher sites.
But how steep can the slopes be, and how high the altitude?
The answer to the first question can be seen along Germany’s Mosel river or in Switzerland’s Valais region, for example – vineyards there can be dizzyingly near-vertical, with grapes sometimes helicoptered off to the winery as no wheeled or even four-legged transport can reach them.
High is another matter. A very few European vineyards top 1,000 metres, but in South America vines flourish at three times that height. That’s a bit extreme, but drop to Argentina’s Uco Valley, 1,000 metres and more beneath the Andes, and there’s a lot going on.
Big in that culture of “mountain wines” is Zuccardi, whose spectacular new Uco winery helped the company win the World’s Best Vineyard title both this year and last.
The winery was built from 1,000 truckloads of stones retrieved from the vineyards, and materials for the concrete fermentation vats were also sourced there.
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The project is the inspiration of winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi, whose grandfather founded the company in 1963.
Water is at a premium in this “high altitude desert”, says Sebastián, who planted the family’s first Uco vineyard 16 years ago. What little rain there is comes in uneven surges, and snow melt contributes only a fraction of irrigation needs.
But there is much that’s good, especially the 300-plus days of intense bright sunshine coupled with cool high-altitude temperatures that “give our wine distinction”.
The picture is immensely complicated, Sebastián adds. The weather varies; the stony alluvial soil, originating from a chaotic mix of chalk and granite, is even more diverse – 40 types have been identified.
There can be big differences in sites as little as 500 metres apart. The future, he suggests, in not in regional appellations but in village ones.
Zuccardi’s Uco Valley wines reflect all that, expressing place and people. Grape varieties include chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, bonarda and very fine cabernet franc (Apelación, £17, oxfordwine.co.uk).
But malbec is the main focus. It reflects where it grows, Sebastián emphasises, as pinot noir does in Burgundy. Los Olivos, concentrated yet fresh and elegant, is the introductory bottle to Zuccardi Uco malbecs (£10.50-£11, dulwichvintners.co.uk, noblegrape.co.uk).
Then you can soar up and up, just like the Andes: the biggest selection (in 6-bottle cases) is at vinvm.co.uk.
Sebastián makes a very telling point: “I am a drinker before a wine maker.”
And these mountain wines are a huge pleasure to drink.