Exploring Zuccardi: Terroir-Driven Wines of Mendoza, Argentina

By | 4 May 2024

Website: https://zuccardiwines.com/en/

Sebastian Zuccardi was in town, showing off his exciting wines. It was delightful to have a reunion and sample the current releases of what is, undeniably, one of Argentina’s top wineries.

Sebastian, a product of the 1980 vintage, started his work at the family-owned establishment in 1999. He explained how his father gave him the nod to produce sparkling wines, something that a youthful Sebastian deeply enjoyed. To add to it, his first venture into winemaking beyond Argentina was in Champagne, at Doyard in Vertus. We jumped right in by tasting Zuccardi Blanc de Blancs 2017 from a vineyard located at 1550 m in the north of Mendoza. It was Sebastian’s journey for high-acid grapes for his sparkling wines that drove Zuccardi into the Uco Valley – at the time he joined, they had no vineyards there, but now they boast ten.

In 1999, Sebastian directed his primary attention toward vineyards, having studied agriculture and not winemaking. ‘The vineyards are my passion,’ he announces. ‘I initiated my family business role working in the vineyards. Transitioning from the vineyard to the winery is surely simpler than the reverse.’

Sebastian’s full immersion into the vineyard operation brought about numerous changes, affecting everything from vineyard location to wine style. He credits his freedom to experiment to his father who had always hired winemakers rather than doing it himself. ‘Everything changed, except for the identity my father built,’ explains Sebastian.

The modern approach of Zuccardi is all about embracing concrete over oak barrels (Sebastian hasn’t purchased a barrel since 2014), advocating for an earlier harvest and minimizing extraction. Sebastian states that this shift was made possible thanks to his father’s trust and the outcomes have been astounding.

Sebastian perceives Argentina as a blend of both old and new worlds, not in terms of the wine’s style, but its history. The Argentine wine tradition owes much to the immigrants from Italy, France, and Spain. Serious winemaking began in Argentina during the mid-19th century, but export didn’t take off until the 1990s. As a consequence, the region developed a unique identity, cultivated by its locals. The rise of Malbec wasn’t the result of a marketing strategy, but rather a natural evolution in the field.

Argentina is fortunate enough to have an adapted massal selection of Malbec grape, well-suited for the local conditions. ‘The grape reflects the terroir and is the most transparent medium for expressing the uniqueness of our region.’

The inception of Zuccardi was quite unexpected. It begins with Sebastian’s grandfather, a builder by profession, who invented an effective irrigation system. Consequently, he acquired a plot of land, planted a vineyard to showcase his creation, and unexpectedly became passionate about winemaking. When his son, Sebastian’s father, came aboard, they abandoned the construction business and focused solely on viniculture.

Mendoza, the place where Sebastian and his family create their wines, offers special conditions which contribute to the characteristics of their wines. Wines produced here are referred to as mountain wines, grown in cool temperatures at high altitudes, under intense sunlight, and with ample water available from the Andes’ snow runoff. The formation of the Andes is also relevant to their wine production: the mountains consist of both igneous (granite) and sedimentary rocks, such as limestone. These rocks tumble down from the mountains, creating colluvial fans, and river transportation leads to them becoming alluvial. The mixture of granite and limestone with large stones dispersed throughout, creates unique soil for the vines. Moreover, the mentality nurtured by living near these majestic mountains shapes their perspective. In the words of Sebastian, “We are mountain people, the mountain is forever in our thoughts.”

When it comes to white wine production, their approach is straightforward. It involves direct pressing, allowing the juice to oxidise, cloudy fermentation with wild yeasts, then the addition of sulfites to prevent malolactic fermentation. Fermentation isn’t strictly monitored, temperatures range between 20-24 degrees Celsius. Majority of their wines are matured in concrete vessels – this applies especially for their red wines. The cellar, a thing of beauty, houses variously shaped concrete containers to accommodate different batches. Whole bunches selected for red wine production, are crushed underfoot to prevent excessive carbonic notes.

Zuccardi Blanc de Blancs 2017 Mendoza, Argentina
Possessing a 12.5% alcohol content, this wine hails from Carrera, situated at 1550 m in northern Mendoza. It’s a 100% Chardonnay with no malolactic fermentation. The wine is matured on lees for 5 years. It boasts a rich aromatic profile with notes of toast, spice, peach and pear. The mouthfeel is rich and dynamic with pleasant structure and depth. Profoundly assertive with a trace of saltiness and pleasing acidity, it scores a 92/100.

Zuccardi Fósil Chardonnay 2021 San Pablo, Mendoza, Argentina
This Chardonnay originates from one of the coolest areas of the Uco Valley, with a prominent base layer of silt that extends over granite and limestone. The composition of the wine involves 80-90% of it maturing in concrete, shunning the malolactic process. It is definitively mineral with an undertone of pineapple and citrus, punctuated by sharp acidity. The purity of this wine is apparent in its acidic profile, with an exceptional focus. 95/100

Zuccardi Botánico Chardonnay 2021 Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina
Exhibiting a substantial amount of caliche in its compositional soil that entails a mixture of sand and limestone, this Chardonnay originates from Monasterio. Maturing process constitutes 80-90% in concrete with the remainder in old barrels. Flavor profile is vibrant and vivid with notable citrusity, delicately laced with traces of mint. A hint of pineapple and pear envelope the palate, finished with a lime twist. Mineral chalkiness is a nice touch to the mesmerizing tension. 94/100

Zuccardi Aluvional Altamira Malbec 2018 Mendoza, Argentina
Originating from 1100 m altitude, an abundance of large stones are apparent in the soils rich in limestone. It accommodates 80-100% of whole bunch. Aromatic subtleties are well-refined but tend to be somewhat restrained, with soft undertones of black cherry and blackberry. The elegance translates into pleasing stony details interspersed with cues of olive and herb. The elegance is palpable, contributing to its unanimous likability. 94/100

Zuccardi Aluvional Gualtallary Malbec 2018 Mendoza, Argentina
At an elevation of 1400 m, the stony profiles come to the fore along with caliche. Whole bunch represents 30-50% of its composition. It’s a concentration of sweet black cherry and blackberry that highlights its stone-laden, mineral heart. A grainy edge adds an almost gravelly attribute. It’s characterised by an expressive bouquet that includes blood, iron, and tapenade. Absolute thrill! 95/100

Zuccardi Finca Piedra Infinita 2020 Mendoza, Argentina
This winery, located at the altitude of 1100 m in Altamira, underwent a rigorous stone-cleaning process, requiring the removal of a thousand truckloads of large stones. The property spreads over 42 hectares, with 39 hectares planted and divided into 46 parcels, each representing unique soil type, contributing to an exceptional diversity. Around 30 to 50 percent of harvest is whole bunch. The resulting wine is characterized by freshness, chalkiness, and a well-balanced structure. The vivid, stony fruit with a grainy quality is exceptionally fine and expressive. The wine also shows good tannins and fleshy texture, perfectly balanced with subtle hints of chalk and olive. The overall score is 95 out of 100.

Zuccardi Finca Las Cerilladas 2020 Mendoza, Argentina
This winery is based in Monasterio in Gualtallary, at an altitude of 1400 m. It covers a total area of 32 hectares, with 19 hectares under vines and the rest are home to native vegetation. The wines produced here are also from 30 to 50 percent whole bunch. The wine shows a strong structure, underlying the floral notes of black cherry and plum fruit, accentuated with a grainy texture. Hints of herbs, olives, blood, and seashore add complexity to the wine. The finish is grippy and the structure is remarkable, reflecting great precision and finesse. The score for this wine is 96 out of 100.

Written in retrospective in August 2023

Zuccardi is presently perceived as one of the most dynamic wine producers in Argentina, offering several wine ranges, each built around a unique theme. I had the opportunity to taste a selection of Zuccardi wines at the Texsom conference in August 2023, and I was genuinely impressed by their quality.

Zuccardi Polígonos Semillon 2021 Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina
This product is mainly fermented and aged in an unlined concrete setting, with a bit of foudre. Semillon plays a significant role in Argentina and thrives in this environment. It has a delightful juicy pear and lemon fruit taste, with a hint of dried herbs. This wine has a slightly abrasive and stony aftertaste. 93/100

Zuccardi Fósil Chardonnay 2022 San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
This high altitude product is fermented and aged in unlined concrete. It’s vibrant and lively, with a mild hint of cabbage smell intermingled with the bright fruit aroma. The palate reveals a fine spicy touch juxtaposed with pure citrus fruit and an exquisite mineral character. It’s expressive in nature. 94/100

Zuccardi Polígonos Malbec 2020 Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina
This wine, thrived in soil rich in caliche, is aged in unlined concrete. The nose picks up a hint of reduction, while being pliant with fresh raspberry and strawberry tones. The mouthfeel is refreshing with massive drinkability. This is a very fine wine featuring juicy red fruits with some substance. 94/100

Zuccardi Aluvional Gualtallary Malbec 2018 Mendoza, Argentina
Aged in unlined concrete, this wine offers lovely focus and concentration with dense flavors of blackcurrant and blackberry. It has stony and mineral characters, amazing details, and notes of spice and wet stone. This wine displays brightness and density in unison. 95/100

Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2021 Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina
Sweetly aromatic blackcurrant and cherry fruit. Very fine and expressive with a juicy character and some stony minerality. Combines sweet and savoury beautifully. Well defined with lovely balance. 95/100

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