It’s been a little while since I wrote anything about Argentina, but I did pull a few bottles out of the cellar and I look forward to telling you about some beautiful Malbec in the not too distant future. However, before I get to that, the wine for today is something of a curiosity, the Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Innovación Aglianico 2006.
I’ve been to Argentina twice, but it was only on the most recent trip a few years ago that I was able to explore Mendoza, where this wine originates. It’s about two or three hours by plane to the west from Buenos Aires, putting it much closer to Santiago, Chile, though on opposite sides of the Andes. It’s a beautiful place, and the classic photo is of vines in the foreground and snow covered mountains behind. Mendoza is the name of a province and the capital city of that province, but also of the wine region.
I’m not honestly the biggest believer in terroir as the term is generally used, or at least not in all the claims of “unique terroir”. Yes, every place in the world is unique, but if everything is special, then nothing is special, right? I’m sure people claim my home turf of the Adelaide Hills is “unique terroir” for some reason or another, but really it and the vast majority of wine producing areas I’ve visited have a great deal in common with at least one other area somewhere else in the world. That said, if anywhere can claim to have fairly unique conditions, it’s Mendoza.
It’s a continental climate, which in itself isn’t too special, nor are the alluvial soils of sand over clay. Seasons are mild, without extreme temperatures or frost danger, though early summer hail, La Piedra, is a persistent threat. What’s interesting is that it’s pretty much a desert, with roughly 200mm of rain each year. On top of that, it’s high up, with vineyard altitudes ranging from 600m to 1,100m. I’m not an absolute authority, but it seems fairly unique to me, with perhaps the Columbia Valley AVA in Washington, USA being the nearest thing but with more rain and less altitude. Growing grapes in the high desert may seem like a somewhat counterintuitive thing to do, and it’s only the Andes themselves that make it possible. While they put Mendoza in a rain shadow, their snow pack melts off more than enough water each spring to keep every vine in the region happy.
The region is famous for its Malbec, and some of the best in the world are produced there, but as with so many other regions with a hero grape, there are many other varieties grown, but often not widely exported. Cabernet Sauvignon is the second most important grape in the region, with plantings of Chardonnay and Tempranillo making inroads. A quarter of plantings are two grapes used for bulk wines or grape concentrates, Criolla Grande and Cereza, both believed to have been introduced to South America by early Spanish settlers.
Familia Zuccardi is a large producer based in Mendoza. It was founded by Alberto Zuccardi, grandson of Italian immigrants from Avellino. He began experimenting with irrigation systems in 1950, going on to plant his first vineyard in 1963, and then constructing a winery in 1968. His son José Alberto joined the business in 1976 and the company started to shift in 1980 toward the production of high quality grape varieties. The company has grown and their holdings now constitute five estates. Their range of wines is spread across four distinct brands, Zuccardi, Fuzion, Malamado, and the line from which this wine is drawn, Santa Julia, named after the only daughter of the founder.
Even within the Santa Julia line there is a range of seven wine tiers, from very high end Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend, through an organic group, sparklers, and everything in between. This wine is part of the Innovación line of varietals, which include many vines that Zuccardi have brought into Argentina themselves. It includes some better known varieties such as Grenache and Mourvèdre but also the less common Fiano and Touriga Nacional and the downright obscure Ekigaina, a Tannat X Cabernet Sauvignon cross.
Aglianico is a dark skinned grape most commonly found in southern Italy, including Avellino, original home to the founder’s grandparents. The name is possibly derived from Ellenico, or Hellenic, referring to its Greek origins. It buds early, ripens late, and can produce fierce tannins and considerable acidity. In Italy, it is the grape of the Aglianico del Vulture DOCG of Basilcata and Taurasi DOCG in Campania, as well as Aglianico Taburno and Falerno del Massico. The grape has made its way to the USA in California and Texas, and there are small, experimental plantings in a number of regions across Australia.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a deep ruby colour, though somewhat brick coloured on rim. It has thick legs with some colour of their own. On the nose it’s clean with notes of blackberry, liquorice, anise, and dark chocolate. It’s of medium plus intensity with a developing character. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, and medium flavour intensity. It has notes of dark chocolate, liquorice, sour cherries, and some pencil lead, with a medium plus length, and a pencil shavings finish.
This is certainly a good wine, though not quite very good. It opened up a lot with time, and I liked the contrast between the sour fruit and the secondary characteristics. It was a bit more intense on the nose than on the palate, but still a fairly concentrated wine. I think what I liked best about this wine was what it was and where it was from. I enjoy alternative grape varieties, and typically they’re obscure Old World wines that someone has managed to import, or they’re experimental vines in Australia. This is one of the few lesser known grapes I’ve had that’s from the non-Australian New World, and it was well worth carrying back across the Pacific even if it meant I was able to bring one less bottle of Malbec.