A relentless desire to test the limits of malbec drove producers in the 1990s from the flat, loamy clay vineyards of the Luján de Cuyo region near the city of Mendoza to higher elevations in the Uco Valley in search of stonier sites and cooler temperatures.
The Zuccardi comes from the Paraje Altamira area in the southern part of the Uco Valley while the Altos Las Hormigas comes from Gualtallary, farther north in the Uco. The grapes for the Catena come partly from Luján de Cuyo and partly from the Uco, including its Adrianna Vineyard, a pioneering high-altitude site at almost 5,000 feet in Tupungato.
I found each of these wines far more interesting than the typical inexpensive jammy malbec. The Zuccardi was dark and plummy, with an aromatic note of leafiness. On the palate, it was earthy and focused, with a touch of unsweetened licorice. I thought it was lovely.
The Altos Las Hormigas had flavors more of red fruit. It was also earthy and dry, yet deep and rich. The Catena Alta was the most tannic of the three, and the most reticent despite being older. It, too, was plummy and earthy.
One thing they all had in common: On the day after I originally opened the bottles, they each got better, deeper and more detailed. The Zuccardi developed mineral flavors, as did the Altos Las Hormigas. The Catena developed complexity and the tannins softened.
What does that mean? None of these were simple wines. They each showed an ability to evolve, in the glass, in the bottle and, I’d wager, in the cellar if you left them to age a few more years. You would not see that in ordinary, inexpensive malbecs.
I was not the only one to notice this improvement in the bottle.
VSB of San Francisco drank a bottle of Zorzal 2016 Eggo (it’s aged in concrete eggs) from the Tupungato area, and said the contrast between the wine on the first day and the next was striking. Dan Barron of New York noticed a similar evolution in the Catena Alta.