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zuccardi and santa julia from argentina--great taste with prices to please

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Living in central Palm Beach county in the winter, it takes a lot to induce us into traveling the 45 miles south through the traffic of Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) and onto the always jammed up freeways and side roads of Miami/Dade County. But when you get a notice from one of the country’s best wine PR firms, Folsom and Associates in San Francisco, that a luncheon of interest will be held at one of Miami’s premier restaurants, Ortanique on the Miracle Mile, you know that the inconvenience of the round trip drive will likely be more than offset by the experience. And that premonition proved to be right when I joined the elite of Miami/Fort Lauderdale wine and food writers for a memorable afternoon. Sara, unfortunately, had an unshakable previous engagement and could not attend.

Our host for the afternoon was Julia Zuccardi, an attractive wisp of a 28 year old woman whose family owns the giant (1.5 million cases) Zuccardi winery in Argentina. Miami is the first stop for Julia as she tours the east coast to promote the family’s Santa Julia label, the collection her father named for her in 1994. Accompanying her on the trip is culinary school trained Ana Rodriguez Armisen, the sous chef of the Zuccardi family’s oft awarded restaurant. Together, the two women are showing off the broad pairing capabilities of the Santa Julia wines. Interestingly, this was Julia’s first full day in the States – her junket will then take her to Baltimore, Washington, Annapolis, Atlantic City, and New York. As all of her activities will be strongly food, wine, and press related, it will be interesting to hear her comments about America in a couple of weeks.

The affable and talented owners of Ortanique, Chef Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley, were on hand to greet everyone, along with Julia and the Zuccardi brand ambassador, Leandro Lowi. Chefs Cindy and Ana had planned a side by side food presentation for each course so that we could best sample more than one style cuisine with each wine – a clever and highly practical idea.

While awaiting the invited entourage (has there been a function in recent years where everyone had the courtesy to arrive by the called time?), we were treated to a glass of the NV Santa Julia Brut Rose’ ($13), a sparkling composed of 100% Pinot Noir, and created in the Charmat method, meaning the second fermentation was in the tank, rather than in the bottle a la methode traditionnelle. I’m not usually a fan of Charmat created bubbles, nor Rose’s, nor any $13 sparkler, but this one was a surprise. Small bubbles in my glass were the first clue that I might enjoy this offering, and when the familiar Pinot Noir flavors of cherry and strawberry caught my palate, the deal was cemented. A lovely, lively bottle, especially on a warm Florida day, and particularly when paired with the delectable spicy conch (no doubt from Cindy) being passed.

As we sat, we were poured a glass of 2010 Santa Julia Chardonnay ($11). Bone dry at first tasting, it emitted green apple and honey aromas, and showed flavor nuances of banana and pear. Vinified totally in stainless steel, and at this incredibly low price, I was again skeptical as to how good it could be. Another surprise. It was an excellent pairing with both Cindy’s Jamaican Oyster Rockefeller and Ana’s Pate’ of Trout over mushrooms. The Chard superbly cut through the creaminess and sauces of the food, acting as an attractive counterbalance.

Of course, if Argentina is known for any particular grape, it is Malbec, so we were all in great anticipation of the 2009 Santa Julia Reserva Malbec ($12) - I had not yet looked at the tech sheet in my press package so I had no idea it was so inexpensive before I sampled it. Paired with Ana’s grape and raisin bread with goat ricotta cheese, and Cindy’s cocoa and coffee encrusted wild salmon, I would have preferred a slightly larger mouthfeel and a touch more tannins, but this was certainly a nicely crafted wine destined, in my opinion, to be one of the preferred wines by the glass in restaurants the world over. The nose emits clear black fruit and almost Middle Eastern aromas of date and figs, while the flavors smack of both chocolate and vanilla. With a nice finish, this is an interesting wine that will more than please most who like a good Red. In fact, given the quality to price ratio, I don’t see how the wine buyer for any business can taste this one and not put it on the establishment’s wine list.

We have long written that truly good Cabernet Sauvignon simply cannot be made for less than some price approaching at least $30. I wish I could say my opinion had been changed by the 2009 Santa Julia Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($12), but (and not surprisingly) it had not. I did not dislike this wine, but it was too easily overpowered by Cindy’s venison chop, and did not, itself, have the “chops” to stand up to Ana’s magnificently prepared grilled beefsteak. Still, it is imminently sippable and probably identifiable by many as a Cab, though I am having a difficult time selecting something it might accompany. Perhaps a roasted chicken or skirt steak would work.

I was glad that the dessert wine was more to my liking. No writer wants to finish an article about likable people who treat him to such a nice event with negative thoughts, especially when most everything presented was on such a positive plane, and when this Bodega has such promise. So I was pleased to find that the 2008 Santa Julia Tardio late harvest ($13) was smooth on the palate, had a nose of rose petals, and emitted flavors of apricots and honey. Comprised of 85% Torrontes (the traditional white grape of the country) and 15% Viognier, it was a well thought out pairing with cheese and a native Argentine dessert called Vigilante (provolone cheese topped with quince paste). For a dessert wine of such a modest cost, it was amazingly full and possessed a long finish.

It probably does not need to be said that all of the wines mentioned were from the famed Mendoza region of Argentina, a place we have not yet visited. Plans are thus in the making for harvest (March) of 2013. This region is just too good to miss and Julia, who has degrees in English instruction and translation, and who oversees the tourism division of Zuccardi, has offered to be our contact and promised to make sure we visit only the best places. I think she will be terrific and so we accept.

I should also mention that Zuccardi wines are all organic. The family believes, as do so many winemakers/vintners/growers in the States, that organic and sustainable farming practices promote better fruit, and thus better wines. While the jury was out on that for many years, it is now clear that wines produced under those guidelines can at least be as good as wines that are not. Are they in fact better? I don’t think we can yet say that with any confidence. But whatever they are doing at Zuccardi for the Santa Julia line of wines is working well.


Phone in Argentina: 261 44 10000

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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