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Grapes grown at the foot of the Andes in Mendoza, the Uco Valley benefit from its cold and dry climate and wide temperature range.hernan4429/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Located at the foot of the Andes in Mendoza, the Uco Valley is an oasis cultivated at high altitude. Grapes grown here benefit from its cold and dry climate and wide temperature range.

Those conditions helped to produce two strikingly different red wines that are featured among this week’s recommendations.

An affordable pinot noir from the Salentein winery might surprise some wine-lovers, given the tremendous focus on malbec produced in the Uco Valley, throughout the Mendoza region and across all of Argentina’s vineyards.

Depending on their location in the Uco Valley, growers can successfully cultivate malbec, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and tempranillo. White varieties thrive here as well, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and semillon. Malbec’s success casts such a long shadow these other varieties have been less recognized.

The other Uco Valley selection’s surprise comes in the glass. On the surface, there’s nothing novel about a red wine labelled as Uco Valley Malbec. But for those accustomed to the conventional style of Argentina’s popular malbec brands, which offer generous ripe fruit flavours that gain richness and complexity from aging in oak barrel, Zuccardi’s Q Malbec displays a different style.

When the family opened the doors to its new winery in 2016, visitors to the cement-and-stone facility that mirrors the mountainous environs weren’t greeted by the usual palatial barrel aging cellar. The use of oak is curtailed here, with only older and larger barrels in use for a gentler oak influence.

Concrete is the fermentation and aging vessel of choice, which helps Zuccardi craft more elegant and fresh styles of red wine from malbec and other varieties. Critics and sommeliers have reacted positively, with Zuccardi chalking up numerous accolades including being named the World’s Best Vineyard, based on the nominations of nearly 600 wine, travel and wine tourism experts from across the globe (polled by the World’s Best Vineyards Awards) for the third consecutive year in 2021.

Zuccardi Q Malbec offers all the ripeness and character of the grapes grown in the Uco Valley, without any of the vanilla, caramel or cedar notes associated with aging in new oak barrels. There’s so much going on in the glass that many tasters don’t miss that crutch of supporting, secondary oak derived notes, but some consumers still associate a strong presence of smoke, toast or coconut as a marker for quality winemaking. It’s a matter of taste.

I’m sharing the reviews here, alongside some other current releases that truly impressed in the glass, as a recommendation and a celebration of the continuing evolution of the modern-day wine industry.

Château Pey La Tour Réserve du Château Bordeaux Supérieur 2017 (France)

SCORE: 90 PRICE: $22.95

Made by Bordeaux négociant Dourthe since 1990, Château Pey La Tour is one of the most consistently reliable Bordeaux Supérieurs on the market. This vintage shows a riper profile, with nicely balanced ripe fruit and savoury flavours that are supported by bright acidity and polished tannins. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario at the above price, $27.99 in British Columbia ($25.49 until March 31, 2022), $21.99 in Manitoba, $22.35 in Quebec.

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 (France)

SCORE: 94 PRICE: $59.95

Télégramme is produced with the younger vines grown on the Brunier family’s estates in the Rhône Valley. Its style is similar to Vieux Télégraphe La Crau, one of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s most celebrated red wines, but made to be approachable and ready to drink in comparison to its age-worthy big brother. This is a remarkable red that delivers fragrant ripe fruit notes with floral, savoury and cedar notes. It’s a serious red wine with lovely aromatics and generous concentration. Drink now to 2030. Available in Ontario at the above price, $75 in Nova Scotia (2018 vintage).

Invivo Graham Norton’s Own Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (New Zealand)

SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95

New Zealand’s Invivo has attracted attention with a well-made portfolio of wines that includes celebrity partnerships with Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker as well as Irish comedian Graham Norton. Norton’s Own Sauvignon Blanc is no joke. It’s a crisp expression of sauvignon blanc that effectively balances the grape’s grassy and herbal notes with its citrus, apple and tropical notes in a refreshing and fragrant package. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario.

Portillo Pinot Noir 2021 (Argentina)

SCORE: 87 PRICE: $14

A simple and affordable pinot noir coming from vineyards in Mendoza’s Uco Valley is proof of the diversity of growing conditions in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Portillo’s light and fruity character is easy to appreciate, especially when served chilled. Vegan friendly. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $14.99 in B.C. ($12.99 until March 31, 2022), various prices in Alberta, $16.29 in New Brunswick.

Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2017 (Italy)

SCORE: 92 PRICE: $49.95

Introduced in 2014 to market Chianti Classico’s top wines, the Gran Selezione classification requires wineries to work exclusively with grapes grown on a single estate. Released as a five-year-old red wine, this is still showing youthful character, with intense cherry and plum fruit rounded out by cedar and spicy notes. It’s built for the cellar. Decant for best enjoyment if you’re planning on opening soon. Drink 2023 to 2030. Available in Ontario at the above price, $48.99 in B.C., various prices in Alberta, $47.25 in Quebec, $59.99 in New Brunswick.

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2018 (Italy)

SCORE: 92 PRICE: $34.95

The impressive second wine from Sette Ponti is based mainly on sangiovese and made in a rich and extracted style. A red wine with tremendous depth and complexity, this offers a mix of polished cherry and plum flavours with cedar, tobacco and pepper notes. There’s structure to mature gracefully. Drink now to 2028. Available in Ontario at the above price, $39.99 in B.C., various prices in Alberta, $29.95 in Quebec (2019 vintage).

Township 7 Provenance Series Merlot 2019 (Canada)

SCORE: 90 PRICE: $26.97

Merlot grapes grown in estate vineyards in North Oliver, Okanagan Falls and Naramata contribute to this concentrated and correct red wine. Aging in American and French oak barrels developed a mix of vanilla and spicy flavours that add interest to the core of juicy cherry and plum fruit. This approachable and enjoyable red is ready for your next barbecue. Drink now to 2027. Available in B.C. at the above price or direct, various prices in Alberta.

Zuccardi Q Malbec 2020 (Argentina)

SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95

Since its launch in 1999, Zuccardi Q has become more refined and expressive each vintage. Grapes grown in the Uco Valley are fermented by soil type in concrete containers and components are aged in concrete and neutral oak barrels to maintain the ripe fruit and floral aromas and flavours in this full-bodied wine. The resulting character is bright and engaging with structure and intensity. Drink now to 2026. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in B.C. and Alberta, $23.99 in Manitoba.

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