Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Dec 8th, 2018

South America’s Giants are Drilling Down

By David Lawrason, with notes from Michael Godel.

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

With VINTAGES’ tastings recently divided into New World/Old World camps, I have drawn the assignment here in Part One of highlighting the New World recommendations. As I made my selections among the reds, I found myself going to the values from South America, where increasingly exciting and terroir-driven wines are being made at good prices.

Argentina and Chile’s historic value reputation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is a compelling reason to keep searching out wines that over-perform, of which there are many. On the other hand, it sets up a general expectation that they may not be sophisticated or likely to inspire, or engender gratitude when presented as a Christmas gift.  This is compounded by a perception that South American wines – although very flavourful and robust – are simplistically ripe, fruity and oaky.


Enter two of South America’s largest wineries – Zuccardi of Argentina and Concha Y Toro of Chile – who are involved in serious investigation and elaboration of wines from specific regions, sub-regions and even single vineyard plots. Within the last week there have been two seminars/tastings led by their leading winemakers, who travelled (separately) all the way here to help me, and you, understand that South America’s geography is as diverse and fascinating as anywhere else on the planet. From a wine perspective it only requires that winemakers understand, dial in and embrace that simple fact.

Zuccardi of Argentina

Sebastian Zuccardi is a leading terroir hunter of Mendoza, and specifically the Uco Valley, that high altitude area that nestles just below the eastern wall of the Andes. Terroir is on everyone’s lips nowadays with good reason because so many “new” terroirs are being explored. But Sebastian Zuccardi isn’t lip-synching. He plans by terroir, lives by it and delivers very well both in the bottle, and to anyone who gets his enthusiasm.

“Wine is a product of place and people,” he said. “All the information about how to vinify a wine is in the vineyards. And I don’t just want red and black fruit aromas, or oaky flavours in my wine, and I refuse the current trend toward sweetness. I want to smell the landscape of a particular place with its vegetation, its rocks and soils,” says Zuccardi.

But what does that mean to you?  Well, it means that his wines are different and rather unexpected, and you may or may not enjoy the difference. The early take on Argentine malbec was that it should be a big, hearty, soft, oak, fruity and high alcohol red. Zuccardi’s reds are not lighter per se, but fresher and so well integrated and savoury that they may come as a surprise.

Sebastian is the fortunate son in a large family enterprise – that has brought us Fusion, Santa Julia and Zuccardi wines, at any price and quality tier you might wish to name. His wines range from $14.95 to $135.00.  Within 48 hours in Toronto, he presented to two LCBO groups, two media groups and two consumer audiences, before flying to Vancouver to do the same.

He was here to support the large range of wines now on shelves, which makes it the best time for you to take Zuccardi family wines for a spin. The Zuccardi Q Malbec is being re-released on December 8 (reviewed below), a signature well-priced, only 30% oaked malbec 100% from the Vista Flores sub-region of the Uco Valley.

Zuccardi Q Malbec 2015

In previous releases this fall, but still available, we have seen Zuccardi Poligonos 2015 ($19.95), entirely from a vineyard in the San Pablo region only 200 metres from the first rock face of the Andes.  Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2016 ($40) is 100% concrete aged and fermented, from the Altamira region with its concentration of large stones and boulders. In a shout out to the more traditional wines of his father, with more oak and a traditional Euro ambiance there is the Jose Zuccardi Malbec 2014  ($44.95)

And those who attended the VINTAGES Zuccardi event on Wednesday night also had a chance to purchase the suave, seamless and deep 2013 Alluvional Altamira Paraje ($80), plus a mighty, deep and firm Finca Piedra Infinita ($150) from the new winery that Sebastian has sculpted out of the Uco Valley desert. Any unsold bottles will go into distribution in the weeks ahead.

Concha Y Toro of Chile

Due west of the Uco Valley – up, over and below the western wall of the Andes – lies one of the most well-established sub-regions of Chile, called Puente Alto. Within it lies a single vineyard of 127 hectares that makes Chile’s most famous red wine, Don Melchor.  First made in 1987, it now sells for $130 here in Ontario, with the 30th Anniversary 2016 vintage set for release through Vintages Classics Catalogue on December 6.  See my review at Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2016.

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Concha Y Toro is the largest winery of Chile, and ranks in the top ten in size in the world. And sure, it makes wines of every price and style for both domestic and export markets. But at the pinnacle stands Don Melchor, nowadays made by a young woman named Isabel Mitarakas, a “rising star”, who in short order has worked through several positions in Chile to be named Don Melchor’s custodian.

Before a lunch at Richmond Station in Toronto Mitarakas presented a seminar and blending exercise, with bottles from three different plots within the Don Melchor Vineyard. It was largely for our entertainment as we tried to group-think the proportions of each that we would like to see in a final blend. I was much more interested in the idea that they drilled down to isolate parcels in the first place, and that given vagaries of sites, age of vines and vintage she would have to blend the final wine from dozens of samples to create one wine.

This is the Bordeaux model of winemaking, which is the foundation of many of the New World’s iconic, cabernet-based reds. It is based on terroir and a single vineyard – and the resulting wine should be distinctive from its peers from other sites – but by blending all the bits to make one consistently styled and expected wine of excellent quality, it is not quite as focused or individual – or for me as intriguing – as the higher end Zuccardi wines. And when spending a lot of money on one bottle I want intrigue, not just greatness.

The New World Recommendations

Whites and Sparkling

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blancs, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($44.95)
David Lawrason – I often use this wine in the Fine Vintage Canadian Wine Scholar course, and it is a hit with students every time. It is a very fine chardonnay blanc de blancs with generous, complex, well woven flavours of baked apple/pear, honey, hazelnut and brioche. There is great acid ballast here. The length is excellent.
Michael Godel – Talk about benchmark, here is your guide to Ontario’s most prominent, knowable and classically styled sparkling wine. This is from the cloud covered, top quality 2013 chardonnay vintage in pure blanc de blanc from. It’s as dry as you’d want it to be, full on intense and rendered through the conduit of low developed ripe fruit and supportive spice. This is it.…

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And that’s a New World wrap. John returns next week with our Old World selections, which will likely include a few decent Champagnes for your consideration.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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