Sorry Colomé, you don’t have the highest vineyard in Argentina anymore.
The circle of life is more than apparent in Uraqui 2016, a Malbec/Syrah/Merlot (70/20/10) blend sourced from vines planted 2,750 and 3,329 metres above sea level in Uquía, province of Jujuy.
Using organic grapes is a circular no-brainer but what Claudio Zucchino didn’t know before planting vineyards in the fertile Quebrada de Humahuaca (which formed part of the Inca Road) was that his father used to work in the very mine that now houses Claudio’s wine cellar for 1,000 wines, located at a breath-taking 3,700 masl. (Not for the claustrophobic, but where better place to overcome that fear, glass of something delicious in hand?)
That’s a double whammy of sky-high wining. Claudio’s Uraqui project doesn’t just take the accolade of the highest vineyards in the world; he also boasts the highest cellar. Previously known as the Moya Mine, it’s now home to Claudio’s wines as well as those from neighbouring wineries – and a few hummingbirds’ nests. Ever seen an angry colibri? They hated us for blocking the entrance to their home, frantically flapping and zipping about our heads. But you, too – after a rocky and mind-blowing 10km drive that takes 70 minutes to the top, stopping off at the refuge and vines on the way, spotting chinchilla, egrets and alpaca clans – can taste his single vintage up near the clouds.
Uraqui translates as terroir in the Aimará (Aymara) language (spoken more commonly in Bolivia than in Argentina). Here, fertile green pastures merge into vibrant mountains (the most famous in the Quebrada is the Siete Colores (Seven Colours) in nearby Purmamarca), shocking reds dominating turquoise and yellow hues in the morning sunlight. You have to steer your view away from the obvious for a greater, more intense panorama. The sky is intense, the clouds a florescent white, the light fierce but ideal for admiring a wine and its reflections. And above the mountains – and on the drive up to the ex-mine wine cellar, you start near the base of La Pollera, a red and yellow formation shaped like a coya’s skirt before soaring above it – a pure jagged horizon.
Uraqui is a pure expression of this vibrant, rich, valley – where chewing coca leaves to cope with 2,500 masl altitude is the norm – that was granted Geographical Indication by Argentina’s INV in 2015. It’s definitely a region to watch.
Naturally, Claudio is opposed to using barrels for Uraqui: “Why would I want any outside influence on my wine?” I agree. What he has here, in this rocky, colourful terroir that’s challenging rather than totally inhospitable, is unique. Keep it honest and let the Quebrada sing out in the glass!
Tasting at altitude is unusual: oxygen is in shorter-than-usual supply. At first, the 2016’s nose is intense and stuffed with raspberry, before slipping away. The mouth, direct, an intense fruit injection. But with time, as the wine adapts to the oxygen levels (or rather, lack of them), the nose makes a comeback to offer up more mineral and floral notes while the mouth rounds out and converts some of the berries and red fruit into vegetable, bell pepper, notes. It’s well balanced.
But the most magical part is tasting Uraqui accompanied by that view at 3,700 masl. Above La Pollera, looking down at the splash of green vines, across the Quebrada, down at the toy cars buzzing further north up to Humahuaca and La Quiaca, the Bolivian border, about 150 km away.
This could be the most magical tasting of my life.
Uraqui tasting paired with cheeses at 3,700 masl: US$70.
Tasting, lunch, dinner and overnight stay at the refuge at 3,320 masl : US$250.
Claudio also runs a five-r00m lodge: Doubles from US$65.
Contact him by phone or text message (or you won’t get a response): +54 9 11 3794 3667