Once you’re in the Uco true, which takes around a couple of hours from the city, you’re in a different world. The mountains surround you like silent guardians. You are so close to them; it feels as if you could reach out your hand and scoop snow from the tops. They’re never imposing though, they just stand so beautifully. Endless contours and textures capture the eye, and the heart, and you can easily lose yourself to history. The mountains were formed in the Eocene period. 50 million years ago volcanoes and earthquakes pushed the seabed high into the air, forming these mountains. Through the ages, they took greater form through ice age deposits and the carving effect of the Tunuyán river.
You’re standing on ancient ground. It feels like the hustle and bustle of city life is not only far away in distance, but also in time. You won’t get much mobile phone signal here. And it’s beautiful. Like the last bastion of solitude. It’s not just peaceful in the Uco, it’s pure. The air is clean, the breeze is fresh and untroubled by pollution. This is a place of freedom. It’s no surprise the vine thrives here. I often lose myself in the beauty of wine but when I’m in the Uco I lose myself in a deeper way. I hold rocks in my hand that form part of these unique vineyards and I can’t help but imagine what history these rocks possess.
The Uco itself divides and sub divides into smaller and smaller areas, each with its own distinct features; features that are borne out in the wines. It’s this finesse, and nuance, that Nicolas Catena was striving for. He found it. This is where the future comes in, and we also return to one of the original ‘Three M’s’, Malbec. We think of Malbec as a full bodied, richly black fruited wine, often with toast and spice character. Oh, it’s so much more than this.
Malbec is capable of communicating a great deal more than we’ve understood before. As knowledge of the many sub regions becomes greater, Malbec is starting to reveal greater depths of its own personality. Like a teenager discovering their favourite band or artist, Malbec is starting to come to life and really show its personality. This is what makes a trip to the Uco so worthwhile. Not just the incredible surroundings and scenery, but the opportunity to explore Malbec and its many facets. Taste and spot the differences between Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary. When you taste and you see simultaneously, wine, and its beauty, become so much clearer.
There are many great producers in the Uco Valley but a visit to Zuccardi’s Piedra Infinita vineyard and winery in Paraje Altamira is an absolute must. Winner of the World’s Best Vineyard award, this winery is built entirely from material found in the area. It almost camouflages itself into the mountains. Here, winemaker Sebastién Zuccardi has truly pioneered understanding of soil and earth. In the vineyards outside are 6 foot trenches so you can climb down into the ground itself and understand why this geological history is so important as well as beautiful.
The Uco Valley divides into 3 primary areas, each of which breaks down further. There are a total of 29 sub regions across the whole Uco. It’s a bit like Burgundy but without the Napoleonic laws of inheritance or price tag. I’d also argue the wines are more reliable too (don’t worry, I am a huge Burgundy fan). The furthest north of the 3 primary regions is Tupungato. Gualtallary is in Tupungato and it’s here that Adrianna is located. South of here is Tunuyán, home to Los Árboles and Vista Flores. Finally, furthest south and sitting on the tip of the ancient alluvial cone (come on, we all love some rock chat) is San Carlos. Here you will find La Consulta and Paraje Altamira; two of the most admired sub regions in the whole country.
As I head back to the city from a day in Uco, I hold my piece of contraband (I always grab a rock to keep) and wonder at how much history has passed by the Uco Valley and where the future will take the glorious wines produced here.
Remember: It’s just grapes.
See other articles on South Africa and Sancerre in the Journal Section.