In beautiful downtown Luton our thoughts are turning to our annual tastings at the end of January and the introduction of new wineries to our list – and we have an absolutely beauty on the way.
Zorzal is a boutique Argentine winery founded in 2008 by the renowned Michelini brothers, definitely one of the most passionate winemaking families in this land of passion. We’ve been seeking to get a piece of their action for some time now, so this is cracking news. Winemaker Juan Pablo Michelini, a kind of new generation “can-do” iconoclast, will be attending our tastings and I know our customers will love his zeal and fervour.
Juan Pablo’s philosophy is grounded in an absolute respect for terroir. His is a non-invasive winemaking philosophy that seeks purity of fruit before power. These are fantastically individual wines with a quite amazing minerality running through them (the notion of salted caramel keeps recurring every time I taste them).
They are in Gualtallary, 1,350 metres above sea level at the foot of the Tupungato volcano, on calcareous soil, with stones streaked with chalk – which may partly account for that minerality. A combination of altitude and desert climate make it an ideal place to cultivate grapes of exceptional quality.
The winery has the lot – state-of-the-art technology in crushing, fermentation and ageing. It was designed on four levels to move grapes and wines by gravity. It has an automatic system of temperature control from New Zealand, which can be operated via the internet from anywhere in the world. Juan Pablo and his brother Matias believe in roll fermenters and egg-shaped vats, as well as staggered harvesting and micro-vinification in casks.
We are concentrating on the Eggo range. As the name suggests, these are wines vinified in eggs made of cement. Look out for a flinty Sauvignon Blanc, a gunpowder and graphite Pinot Noir, a piercing Bonarda, an herbaceous Cabernet Franc and an absurdly fresh Malbec.
All this is very well, but another Argentine producer on our list? Yes, I know. But, listen, trust me, these really are individual wines. Juan Pablo’s desire to stress maximum terroir means these wines are very different to the sometimes more power-driven Argentine offerings. It’s that minerality thing.
Argentina. Amazing country.
It’s funny how these things pan out, but a week or so ago I opened a bottle of the Malbec and drank it while reading Angels With Dirty Faces, Jonathan Wilson’s brilliant new history of Argentine football, which I’d been given as a Christmas present. It got me thinking: who would be the footballing equivalent of a Michelini? A bit daft, really, I thought, but the Malbec was beginning to work its magic. So, who was it to be? Maradona? Obvious, but, crikey, he comes with a lot of baggage. Messi? Another salient choice. But you could argue that, for all his dribbling brilliance, Messi hasn’t changed the way the game is played. So I rifled through the pages some more. And then it hit me. From another era, the man described by Sir Bobby Charlton as the greatest he’s ever seen: Alfredo di Stefano. Of course! He did change the way the game was played, as the fulcrum of the great Real Madrid team which forever transformed the face of football.
But I wanted further proof – and I got it, via the daily motion website.
So here is a mighty suggestion from the portfolio director bloke: open your own bottle of Zorzal, click on this link and watch di Stefano’s destruction of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup Final. Take a sip and watch. There we go – see di Stefano’s delicious shimmy at 12:14 – was that the Sauvignon Blanc moment? Then comes his first goal at 21:34 – he starts the move in his own half, then is on the end of a cross to turn it in at the far post – the famous still picture of him balletically falling backwards in the art of scoring was to be reproduced all over the world – this is a Bonarda moment, I feel. Blink and you’ll miss it as he pounces like a cheetah! at 24:00 and scores his second goal – that would be the Cabernet Franc. And then watch his double step-over at 35:44, taking him past two clogging Frankfurters – yup, that’s the Pinot Noir moment. Finally – at 1:06 – that goal, the 40-yard sprint followed by a thunderous shot past the hapless Frankfurtonian keeper into the bottom left hand corner: definitely the Malbec moment.
I watched all night, God, what a player.
No doubt about it, Wilson’s book and the grainy black and white video, they are both life-affirming. But not as life-affirming as the bottle of Malbec. Definitely not as much.
A week or so later, typing this account, I am more convinced than ever that this is an outstanding addition to our already brilliant line-up comprising Andeluna, Doña Paula, Matias Riccitelli and Piattelli. Our Argentine list is now arguably the most comprehensive in the country – in fact some people (the stock controller, for instance) would say that it’s a bit bonkers. But, you know, sometimes when you are faced with something this good, you need to stand up, be counted and bet like men!