Four years ago, my wife and I visited the Southern Cone countries of South America: Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. Most of the trip was first-rate, never more so than in Mendoza, the high, arid province where 75 percent of Argentina's affordable, world-class wines are produced. Over several days, we visited maybe half a dozen wineries - bodegas. We wound up our touring at Familia Zuccardi, a sprawling, family-owned spread at the foot of the magnificent Andes - which were still wearing a spring cloak of snow when we visited.
While touring the property with a company guide, we spied a table in the vineyards, set with cutlery on white linen. "Wouldn't it be incredible to have glass of wine there?" I said to my wife, nodding toward the table. "You will,'' our guide interjected. "That's your table.'' So, we did have wine there - Zuccardi wines, of course - some made from grapes grown in that very vineyard, along with fresh bread, cheeses and Mendoza olive oil.
Yesterday, I did the next best thing to traveling back to Mendoza; I attended a press luncheon in California for Zuccardi Wines. Zuccardi's vintages are becoming increasingly available in the United States, which the company counts as one of its primary global markets. Chicago's Winesellers Ltd. (www.winesellersltd.com) imports the wines, which retail in the $9-10 USD range in the U.S.
Over lunch at the South American-themed San Francisco restaurant Destino, we tasted sustainably produced vintages - some of them organic - from the winery's new Santa Julia (+) line. It wasn't the same as being in Argentina, to be sure, but the presence of Julia Zuccardi - the line's namesake - helped bring a bit of Argentina to us. Julia, fluent in English, heads up the winery's active tourism division (www.casadelvisitante.com.ar) and plays a key role in marketing. Also on hand to help out with the meal was Argentine chef Ana Rodriguez Armisen, from Famiia Zuccardi.
The wines were supple, rounded and, as the saying has it, fruit-forward, with a smooth finish not often associated with wines in that modest price range. They were also markedly better than most organic wines I have tasted - which are finally getting better, as more producers gain experience making them. Her family's winery, Julia Zuccardi says, has been embracing sustainability for 10 years, making Zuccardi one of the earlier exponents of "green'' winemaking.
We tasted Santa Julia (+) Brut Rose, a Torrontes, a Malbec and a Santa Julia Organica Cabernet Sauvignon and Santa Julia Organica Chardonnay, among others.
Back when my wife and I visited Familia Zuccardi, we followed our wine and appetizers in the vineyards with a full lunch and tastings in the bodega's restaurant. All told, we tried no fewer than 14 wines at lunch that September day. (We had a hired car and driver to take us around.) I didn't try that many wines yesterday, but the California luncheon - organized by Zuccardi's U.S. public relations agency, Folsom and Associates - did as much as anything could to bring back the flair and generosity we experienced in Mendoza without my actually being there.
That, I hope, will happen another day.