The must-do visit in Argentine wine country- Catena Zapata

Absolutely positively no visit to the wine region of Argentina is complete without a visit to Catena Zapata. I hardly know where to begin, but if you read Laura Catena’s book, Vino Argentino,  you’ll begin to sense what I mean. That inkling of just how important this winery is was blown into full awareness when I visited Bodega Catena Zapata located not far from Mendoza, Argentina. This visit courtesy of WineBow, which imports these fine wines into the USA.

Nicolas Catena and daughter Laura
The wine library
When Nicolas Catena set out to make Argentine wines, and his wines in particular, able to compete with other world class wines, he was very serious. One index of his determination is the Wine Library he has created at the Bodega. In it are 5000 wines from all around the world, selected from the best growers and regions. These he uses as his comparison and benchmark.

The vineyard profile brochure which Catena Zapata provides to visitors explains the characteristics of the soils in the 6 districts from which they source their wines: Angelica (Lunlunta District), La Piramide (Agrelo District), Adrianna (Gualtallary District), Domingo (Villa Bastias District), Nicasia (La Consulta District) and Angelica Sur (Eugenio Bustos District). Part of the legacy which the Catena Zapata family leaves to Argentine winemaking is that they pioneer viticulture in undiscovered regions for grapegrowing – the Adrianna Vineyard at 5000 feet elevation in the Andean foothills is one example.
Red ribbon for
special vines

Known for their Malbec, time and again the family selected the highest quality Malbec vines to nurture. When our group visited the vineyard near the Bodega, we saw this practice still in action, as Zapata Vines are still physically marked with a red ribbon to assure great attention to detail. Grapes from these carefully-nurtured vines form the foundation of the Catena Zapata wines.

Vineyards with Andes backdrop

The architecture of the winery is wondrous. The structure blends with the backdrop of the Andes, with a strong nod to ancient South American religions.

I can go on and on, but seriously, you should read the book. The history is fascinating, and there are recipes and restaurant recommendations as a bonus! Let me just end the dissertation with a direct quote from Laura Catena, a fourth-generation Catena Zapata Family vintner:

“We are a family winery with 100 years of experience growing Malbec in Mendoza. From father to son, brother to sister, we have passed on the tradition of tending vines and winemaking. In the 1980’s Nicolas Catena changed the history of Argentine wine when he dared to believe that a wine could be made in Mendoza that would stand with the best of the world. Planting Malbec at an altitude where no one thought it would ripen, studying climate and soil to the smallest detail, developing the first ever clonal selection of Argentine Malbec, my father and I have embarked on a journey to make a wine with soul, a wine of character, a wine that will age for generations to come, from our five cherished vineyards: Angelica, La Piramide, Adrianna, Domingo and Nicasia.”

Of course the talented winemakers at Bodega Catena Zapata make more wines than just Malbec. Our WineBow group tasting included the following:

• Catena Alta Chardonnay 2009
• Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
• Catena Alta Malbec 2008
• Catena Zapata Malbec Nicasia 2008
• Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna 2008
• Catena Chardonnay 2011
• Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
• Catena Malbec 2010
• Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2008
• Nicolas Catena Zapata 2008 (a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Malbec)
• White Stones Chardonnay 2008 (available only at the winery)
• White Bones Chardonnay 2008 (available only at the winery)

All of these wines were world-class, but I have zeroed in on the few that I particularly enjoyed.

Catena Alta Malbec 2008. MY TOP PICK. This is 100% Malbec, sourced from several of their vineyards. It’s a dark violet color, Winemaker notes: “The nose offers freshly ground, ripe berry fruits with layers of wild flowers, mocha and tobacco. The mouthfeel is full with excellent weight and concentration with a soft and silky texture. The mid palate offers rich cassis and black currant fruit flavors interwoven with hints of chocolate, vanilla and black pepper. It finishes with a wonderful minerality, finely grained tannins and lively acidity.” 14.% alcohol, $55 suggested USA retail.

Catena Zapata Malbec Nicasia 2008. When the money tree falls on me, this will be my house wine! Grapes for this very special wine are selected from clusters plant-by-plant, and the grapes are manually de-stemmed. That begins to give you an idea of how special this wine is. Winemaker notes: “Catena Zapata Nicasia 2008 is a dark red violet Malbec. Ripe black fruits, sweet spices and thyme are some of the aromas that we can appreciate from this special malbec from one of the Catena´s highest family vineyards. Very complex and expressive palate, with lovely violet flavors, dark berries, licorice, bitter chocolate and spicecake.” 14% alcohol. $135 suggested USA retail price. It is now being pre-sold on some internet sites for ~$100, but doesn’t ship until after tax day. Use your refund money and get some of this great wine.

I found one wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, from the Catena line to be spectacular and well-priced. The Catena line is the core of the winery’s portfolio. The vintages of 1990 and 1991 created waves in the worldwide wine industry, and some say that these vintages changed Argentine wine history.

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, with grapes sourced from vineyards at three different altitudes above 3000 feet. The rocky soils in the Lujan de Cujo and Tupungato vineyards, combined with the high elevation, have resulted in a wonderfully aromatic wine. Tupungato region vines contribute spicy aromatics and pepper notes of the Domingo vineyard (3,700’ elevation): notes of black pepper and sweet spice, medium body and well-structured tannins. Lujan de Cuyo region vines contribute the black currant and cassis fruit flavors and ripe, sweet tannins of the La PirĂ¡mide vineyard (3,100’ elevation) and provide a full yet soft mouthfeel. 13.5% alcohol. $18 suggested USA retail.

Top it all off with lunch at a grassy area near a pond where Laura Catena’s children play hide-and-seek in the soft Mendoza autumn… a spectacular experience.

1 comment:

  1. I took your recommendation, and ordered a bottle of Nicasia. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! Thank you!