On my third winetasting day in Mendoza in Argentina, I was lucky that my Park Hyatt hotel concierge Charlie had managed to book a visit for me at Zuccardi Winery Piedra Infinita in the Uco Valley, the second and newer winery of this successful family wine producer. Of all the top restaurants which I evaluated in Argentina, this winery restaurant was by far the best I ate at in the country. I learnt while writing this article that this winery was awarded the honour of Best Vineyard in the world earlier this year!
In Argentina you cannot just go on a winery drive, and do a winetasting at a winery, and hope to obtain a table at the winery restaurant if it has one available. Everything is pre-booked, and tastings and tours are quite pricey compared to those in South Africa.
We arrived a little late for our appointment time, a drive partly on gravel road, and considering speed limits. We arrived at the beautiful winery building, having won the Great Wine Capitals Global Architecture award in 2016, immediately intrigued by its silver egg-shape dome, and design, the stone and other materials used for the building all coming from the wine estate. The winery was designed by architect Raganato Fernando. I have added an article about the architecture to the end of this post, to provide detail about the building and winery design. Earlier this year the winery won the World’s Best Vineyard Award, for its overall Winery experience.
My driver and knowledgeable winemaker and distributor Fernando Szczorowski and I arrived just as an English group of visitors was shown to the vineyard, so I ran after them to join them. The winery representative showed us two sections of soil, not more than five meters apart, with very different soil structures, despite the close distance. We were told that this has led winemaker Sébastien Zuccardi to make single vineyard wines from small pockets of vines. We were shown inside the Winery too, starting with a poem about stones and rocks, which reflects their winery, and choosing the name for it, translating to Stones Unlimited. Fermentation and maturation tanks are specially designed and built concrete amaphorae, allowing the wine to develop naturally without any influence of wood. We were shown a cellar with a large rock in its centre. We climbed up a circular staircase, to a Tasting venue with a view of the vineyards and the spectacular Andes mountains in the background, no doubt used for presentations too.
Whilst being shown to the vineyard, I was told that the Zuccardi Restaurant lunch consists of four courses. The Zuccardi visit had been booked by the Park Hyatt Hotel inclusive of lunch. As I had been eating all week, I did not think that I could manage another large lunch, having experienced how large the portions are in Argentina. I told the staff member that we would settle for a winetasting. When we returned from the tour, I was told that Sébastien had invited us to try the restaurant and enjoy a tasting of five of their wines, each course paired with a Zuccardi wine. I took a look at the menu, not offering options, but each course sounded delicious from its description. Three different pairing options are offered, but the restaurant selected our pairings. We could not resist such an offer.
The Restaurant space is large, and faces the vineyard and the snow-capped Andes, through glass, being 30 – 40 km from the Andes mountains, and 1000 meters above sea level. I loved the chairs, light wood with leather strips, reminding me of our riempie chairs. Tables are square, but I chose a round one, as the winery tour host told us how important circles are in nature, and hence the circular design in the winery too. A flight of Riedel glasses was set up on the table, and the cutlery requirements for the meal too, a steak knife KDS sourced locally, and the other cutlery being stainless steel by VOL F, made in Vietnam, my first encounter with this brand. Added was a sideplate and a good quality white napkin. The kitchen is very large, open plan, as well as an extra preparation room. There is a massive fireplace for cold winter days, and separates the restaurant space from a lounge seating area, and the reception area. The presentation of the menu in an A5 booklet spelt quality in its grey cover, and presentation inside it. The waiters are dressed like chefs, with white shirts, black slacks, and long white aprons. One waiter was dedicated to explaining each of the wines to us, impressively telling us fermentation and maturation information about each wine.
The first wow was the bread plate, and it was its presentation more than content which surprised me. On a wooden board were slices of white country bread baked with beef fat inside it, seeded bread with sage, focaccia, and the most attractively presented dark brown spears made from crushed carob seeds to create the flour. With it was a bottle of Zuccardi olive oil, and a bowl of white beans. I requested butter, and it arrived without question.
Course number one was the most unusual preparation and presentation of aubergine I have ever experienced, the black peel removed and laid out in its full length in the plate, including its stem! It had been prepared in their clay oven. With it was plated pomegranate pips, crispy croutons, greens, and a small drizzle of lemon and honey sauce. I had been told afterwards that all their ingredients are sourced from their own property, and are organically grown. This reflected in the greenery on the plate. It was an exciting start to this eating journey.
The wine paired with this dish was Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2018, made with grapes from Tupungato. Fermentation was done in the concrete amaphorae, and 30% of the wine was matured in French oak barrels and 70% in the concrete amaphorae. The wine was harmonious, flavourful, not wooded in taste, refreshing, and an excellent accompaniment to the aubergine Starter.
The second course was oven-baked Rainbow Trout from Los Chayalles, slices of potato, radish, greens, bell peppers, pimento, and a lemon mustard sauce. The plating may have been a little overdone, and it was a shame that the trout was not visible underneath the greenery, for the visual appreciation of the dish, as well as its photography. The texture in the dish came from the radish and the crunchy green leaves.
The Trout dish was paired with Zuccardi Fosil Chardonnay 2018, grapes coming from the San Paulo area with a higher altitude. It was fermented in concrete amaphorae, and aged in the amaphorae (75%) and 25% in 500 litre barrels. It has a good balance of sweetness and acidity, fresh, giving wet stone and minerality.
Fernando told me how innovative Sébastien is as a winemaker, having done a study of the different soil types in the vineyards, by means of electricity conduction. I am sorry that I did not ask him for information on this technique. We chatted, and it came home to me how many variables can influence a wine: the weather, rainfall, fermentation, maturation, harvesting, the soil, bottling, the cork or closure, and blending, if applicable, and more.
I learnt that Zuccardi produces 1 million litres of wine across all the Zuccardi brands and sub brands.
A steak knife was laid at our place settings, made nearby in Tupungato. The third course was a meat lovers’ feast, a wooden board so beautifully presented that one wanted to climb in and start eating immediately, just from the presentation. Rib eye steak from the La Pampa, cut into slices, served Medium Rare, was offered with two large potatoes cooked in milk, and then roasted in the oven, crispy on the outside and as soft as mash on the inside, red pepper, eggplant, a chimichurri sauce, and finished off with greens. Fernando and I shared this massive board. It was the most delicious steak that I had eaten in a very long time, even better than that of Don Julio, at which I had eaten in Buenos Aires, the 34th Best Restaurant in the world.
The wine waiter brought two wines for us to taste, both Malbecs, as a pairing with the steak. The first red wine was Concreto Malbec 2017, grapes used being from Piedra Infinita. The wine was made with whole bunch fermentation and aged in concrete amaphorae for twelve months. The tannins were more aggressive in this wine, and it had a cocoa butter nose. The second wine was Zuccardi Piedra Infinita Malbec 2015, with grapes sourced from the same vineyard, fermentation done in concrete amaphorae, and maturation spread over concrete amaphorae (70%), and 500 litre oak barrels (30%). It was round and soft, a delight to drink.
We were a little rushed for time, having to leave for our next winery appointment, so we requested the dessert, another surprise, being a baked red apple, English sauce (custard), mascarpone, mint, and caramelised nuts and dried fruit. Once again the presentation was perfect and created appetite appeal. With this dessert Zuccardi Soleria was served, a delicious sherry-style fortified sweet wine, a perfect marriage.
Throughout our lunch American jazz-style music was played. The waiter requested feedback after each course, commendable, not usually a waiter trait. We received business cards before we left, for Julia Zuccardi, the sister of Sébastien, who does the marketing for Zuccardi. I went to Chef Matias to thank him for the outstanding meal, and he was beaming in receiving the praise, and when I photographed him. I saw the passion and love in his dishes. I was impressed with his unique ingredient combinations, with his superb plating (with the exception of the Trout dish in covering it completely with the greens), and how well the wine pairings worked. With only two waiters on the floor, there were some time gaps in moving onto the next course, given that we had another appointment. It was the most professional winery service and food experience that I experienced in the three days of my visits to Mendoza wineries.
The cherry on top of visiting Zuccardi Piedra Infinita was meeting Pia Vogel and Guy McGrath, a couple living in Chile, but with Australian connections. We met whilst being shown around the winery, and kept running to each other’s tables to share an extra piece of information. Then the surprise was that they invited me to visit them. I was heading to Santiago from Mendoza the following day, and made a plan to spend two days with them, of which one day was spent visiting wine estates in Casablanca with them, and getting to know each other better.
Congratulations to Zuccardi for its recognition in being on top of the world, as the best winery in the world, and for its excellence in the restaurant that is an important part of its offering.
Bodega Zuccardi Piedra Infinita Valle de Uco, Uco Valley, Costa Canal Uco, Paraje Altamira, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina. Tel +54 261 441 0000. www.zuccardiwines.com Instagram: @zuccardivalledeuco
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein