Ernesto Catena of Argentina’s Alma Negra Winery – the Breakaway Kid

Ernesto Catena is a winery owner with a mission – to induce consumers to like wines not because of labels, brands, or terroir, but because of how they taste. It’s contrary to the way wines are marketed worldwide currently, but he just may be onto something. In conjunction with winemaker Bernardo Bossi, Ernesto Catena is producing some fine wines from the wine estate he founded in 2003: Alma Negra.

Ernesto is a renegade and our WineBow group was totally unprepared for Alma Negra Winery and Ernesto – at least, I was. Ernesto’s philosophy is his own, and an amalgam of biodynamics, Zen, and just plain common sense. Regardless of his independent style and attitude, Ernesto is part of the Nicolas Catena winemaking family and has wine in his bloodline and passion in his enterprise, just as you would expect from a Catena. He founded his wine estate in 2003.
The grapevine labyrinth
Ernesto and family

Ernesto supplies his media visitors with a CD full of great photos, wine technical sheets, and a biography that attempts to explain this complex young man. Here are excerpts: “Ernesto Catena would like to live in the here and now, doing the things he likes doing, like roaming through the vineyard, cooking for his family, playing instruments, harvesting, tasting wines, sleeping naps under the shade, other words, living the life of an artist, or at least of an artist as he sees it. Being far from perfect, Ernesto has a weakness for symbols, icons, and all kind of representations of beauty, dead or alive, which is why he runs an art gallery with his wife Joanna, and can never stop adding labyrinths, gardens, and exotic trees to his farm.”

An idyllic life, yes, but Ernesto is practical too. The apple does not fall far from the tree, and making good wine is important to him. The bio acknowledges this: “Luckily, there are other people in the company who are very adept with breaking through the challenges of commercial winemaking, and thus free Ernesto and company to the more enlightning and rewarding chores of wine making.”

Outdoor tasting in the
pergola by the lake
“Beauty is my guiding star, most of the times,” notes Ernesto. And his wines have a beauty of texture and taste that reflect his philosophy. One part of his philosophy is NOT to emphasize varietals: “It’s scary how much weight people give to varietals,” he said at one point in our tasting.

Storage and racking
From our tasting
Ernesto Catena Vineyards grows many varietals, and our group believed that they detected hints of the following varietals in the Alma Negra we-don’t-reveal-the-varietal-therein blends, including Malbec, Bonarda, Syrah, Viognier, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery produces 120,000 cases total now. You can enjoy their wines in the USA, as they are imported by WineBow. Our wine tasting was focused on five wines: Alma Negra Malbec Rose 2011, Alma Negra Misterio Blanco 2011, Alma Negra “M” Blend 2010, Alma Negra Misterio 2009, and Alma Negra Gran Misterio 2009. Of these my favorite was the Alma Negra “M” Blend 2010.

Alma Negra Malbec Rose 2011 was a refreshing citrusy wine, perfect for enjoying with appetizers in the Pergola near the winery. The composition is 85% Malbec and 15% Pinot Noir, with all grapes coming from the Mendoza appellation and in particular the vineyards of Tunuyan, Vistaflores; Ernesto Catena vineyard; Tupungato; and Adriana. 60,000 bottles made. 12.7% alcohol.. $24 suggested retail USA.

Alma Negra Misterio Blanco 2011 is a white wine with a minerality and somewhat citrus taste. $24 suggested retail USA.

Alma Negra “M” Blend 2010, my personal favorite, had aroma of cherry and taste was savory but of very fresh fruit. Soft tannins and a nice mouthfeel. A blend of Malbec and BonardaThis is a high-elevation wine, with elevation averaging 3,600 fee for the vineyards from which the grapes are sourced: Tunuyan, Vistaflores; Ernesto Catena vineyard; Tupungato; Adrianna Vineyard. . Just delicious! 120,000 bottles made. 13.5% alcohol $24 suggested retail USA.

Alma Negra Misterio 2009 had the darkest color of all the reds. A blend of Bonarda, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. 13.7% alcohol. $34 suggested retail USA

Misterio bottle: image
Alma Negra Gran Misterio 2009 had a briary-brambly-raspberry aroma. Cherry was the predominant flavor, and this is a bold and full-bodied wine. A blend of Bonarda, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. 14% alcohol. $90 suggested retail USA.

The Ernesto Catena vineyards and Alma Negra winery in Vistaflores, Mendoza, Argentina are accessible. Ernesto and company welcome visitors, as they did the day our WineBow group visited. The visitors on this particular day were friends of Ernesto, all business owners and artists of various kinds, and all riding vintage motorcycles on a long trip around Argentina. Alma Negra was a planned stop for a barbeque, wine and just general blowing off steam after a day on the road. If you visit, keep an open mind… ring the bell, and, who knows, you might be offered a glass of wine, a ride on Ernesto’s motorcycle, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to ride his horse.

Llama herd at the winery;
Andes in the background

Ernesto and his bike

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