“The most important thing is the place, and Malbec is the vehicle to express our region all around the world”
Malbec wine really is having its moment in the sun all around the world. A leading new generation winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi is the man behind the wines for Familia Zuccardi Winery in Argentina. He talks exclusively to Artisan Malbec Wine Club and reveals why this Argentinian favourite has become such a global phenomenon.
“Up until now it was all about the variety of the grape, but now the first ‘terroir wines’ from Malbec have started to appear”
“Consumers always associate Malbec with Argentina and what characterises us like tango, soccer, beautiful landscapes and our meat. Malbec reflects all of what Argentina is made of”
AM- How would you define the key reasons that make Argentinian Malbec wines so unique and popular around the world?
SZ-We actually make "mountain wines". So, the Andes defines all the characteristics of our region, like the climate, water and soils. Mendoza is isolated from any oceanic influence and is one of the most continental wine regions in the world. Its proximity to the mountains, its altitude and the light intensity are also key. Mendoza is a desert, so water is a limited resource – in the Andes, we mainly obtain water from the melting snow. Mendoza also sits on alluvial soils, which originated through movement of alluviums from the Andes; so we are cultivating on material that was in the mountain millions of years ago.
Malbec undoubtedly found its place in the world in Argentina due to our unique climate and soil; but the most interesting driver of its popularity (along with many other varieties) was immigration. Generations of viticulturists who followed in the footsteps of those who first arrived on our shores began to grow and select Malbec until it became the most-planted variety in Argentina. Malbec is especially adaptable to our region, and the high quality of the wines it produces is why Malbec became synonymous with Argentina – especially through exports.
AM- What is the Malbec trend at the moment and what style is famous within the new consumers?
SZ- In my personal opinion, the future is in the place – in thinking of the variety as a vehicle to express each one of the different regions. Malbec is an important reason why Argentina is recognised as a leading wine producer. Each region boasts a unique and unrepeatable combination of climate and soil and also of culture of its people. And the only thing that can define that is the name of the place of origin and the name of the producer.Due to its great adaptation, Malbec is very transparent in order to express the characteristics of each place, which means that we can have an amazing diversity of wines
AM- What style of Malbec do you personally prefer?
SZ - I prefer those that show the identity of the place of origin – wines that avoid over-ripening of the grapes, over-extraction and overuse of oak – to preserve that region’s uniqueness. For me a wine has to talk about the story of the place, the world view of the producer and of the vintage.
AM - Tell us a little story about José Zuccardi Malbec, available on www.artisanmalbec.com.au from this month.
SZ - I believe that wine is both place and people; that's why I try to make wines that tell stories.
José Zuccardi Malbec is a wine that I make in honour of my father because, today, as a family, we are able to make this quality of wine, because someone dreamed about it and started a path in this direction. The grapes come from two very special places of the Uco Valley, Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary. They are fermented in concrete vats with native yeasts and aged in used French oak barrels for two years before being bottled. We employ a traditional and simple winemaking process, akin to the history of winemaking in this region.
All around the world, Zuccardi’s bestselling Malbecs are premium wines, including labels from La Consulta and Paraje Altamira. Although the two premium styles come from quite near to each other, their landscapes are geologically quite different resulting in quite distinctly different key characteristics.
The stonier, more alluvial-rich soils of Paraje Altamira’s region give it more of a red fruit profile, with structure and remarkable tannin texture, whereas La Consulta has deeper, less stony soils, so their wines tend to have black fruit and produce wines that are greasy on the mouth, with good volume.
AM - Have you had the chance to taste Australian wines? Did you enjoy them? Do you have any opinion about Australian market?
SZ - Yes, but it was a long time ago. I know that there is a huge trend towards the production of wines that express the origin in Australia, and a great diversity of regions with different interpretations, but I need to make another trip to understand what is going on nowadays.
The Zuccardi family built a new winery a few years ago in the Paraje Altamira area of the Uco Valley, about a 90-minute drive south of Mendoza. Zuccardi uses concrete tanks for fermenting and ageing the reds – Sebastián believes that this is the ultimate way to produce Malbec that is most expressive of its terroir. Oak barrels, he argues, add flavours that mask a wine's true character.Australian travellers will be awed by the mountain landscape, which has inspired the famous winery and enabled it to integrate with its environment, using stone and sand of the region and water sourced from the Tunuyán River. A similar eco-conscious theme runs through the José Zuccardi winemaking process itself. Sebastian says, “We wanted to use traditional materials like concrete to preserve the identity of the place, that is why all of our vats were built using elements from the place and with a circular shape.”
The ancient landscape is more than an inspiration to the Zuccardi family, it’s the wellspring of their wine itself, which Sebastian proudly describes as "mountain wines".