In 1902 Nicola Catena planted his first vineyard on 4 hectares in Argentina; today his heirs own 500 hectares of estate vines on 5 vineyards throughout Argentina, have made long term deals with countless other growers, and their name stands at the top of all Argentinean wineries. Today we met with the personable and gregarious Laura Catena, whose father Nicolas has just been named Decanter Magazine’s 2009 Man of the Year. She took us on a tasting tour of Catena’s high-end wines and explained the reason for Catena-Zapata’s success: high altitudes and a pioneering spirit.
According to Laura, most Argentinean wineries aren’t interested in single vineyard production, or even showing the concept of “terroir” (sense of place) in their wine; but, she argues, if any country should be showing off it’s terroir it’s Argentina, and that is due to the uniqueness of the ‘terroir’: “We should be more Terroir-ists than they are in Burgundy,” she claims, “it’s because of our soils that we should be concentrating more on showing off our terroir.” She explains about the make up of Argentine soil vs. that in France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). Because it rains so much in these French locales the soils have a way of settling and layering: sand on one level, then lime, clay, and rock; but in Argentina they have far less rain, so the soils remain mixed together – they have the same components, they just have a different pattern and no layered stucture.
Tasting Terroir …
We tried 7 wines that showed both terroir and blends that showed a mix thereof, none more compelling than the Malbec line from the Nicasia and Adrianna Vineyards. Both wines are treated the same way: 18 months in 100% new French oak, they have the same alcohol level (14%), same acidity and only a 0.05 difference in their pH levels. The Nicasia Vineyard is a southern vineyard at 1180m of elevation, has cooler climate conditions and poorer soils than it’s counterpart Adrianna, which is on the eastern part of the vineyard and is located at an elevation of 1500m. These two wines could not be more different though. The Nicasia Malbec is the more feminine of the two: sweet blueberry and vanilla aromas; creamy smooth mouth feel with a juicy entry, a mix of red and black fruit and a beautiful spiced-cherry finish – real elegance in the glass. By comparison the Adrianna Malbec is angular and bold, it’s more closed off, has more pepper and power and feels chunky in the mouth … it truly is the difference between night and day. The other wine in this line up blends the wines made from these two vineyards and give them 24 months in oak. You can actually taste the influence of each vineyard in the glass. It combines the smooth-creaminess from Nicasia and the peppery angles from Andrianna to great effect. The two single vineyard wines retail for $70 each, while the Argentino (blend) is $83.
Other wines of note …
Catena Alta Malbec 2006 ($55.95) – a nose of blackberry, raspberry and other spiced red berries; leads to a juicy black and blue berry palate that’s delicate and flavourful with a dry, slightly tannic finish that feels and tastes like a spoonful of cocoa powder.
Catena Alta Chardonnay 2007 ($39.95) – fruit mostly sourced from the Adrianna vineyard, a vineyard Laura claims is the best Chardonnay vineyard in Argentina. The nose is toasty and buttery, while the palate offers up lots of mouth watering acidity and a very dry finish. Also look for vanilla, butter and nutty flavours with bit of spice on the tongue.
Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($50.00) – blackberry, coffee cream and toasted cinnamon smells; juicy blackberry and cassis upon entry, mid-palate doles out lots of spice finishing with spiced raspberry and good acidity.
Nicolas Catena Zapata 2005 ($83.00) – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (78%) and Malbec (22%) taken from three vineyards. This wine has power and heft from beginning to end – the nose has chocolate, blackberry, white pepper and black cherry. Upon entry into the mouth the wine has a creamy smooth feel with sweet jammy fruit, the finish is juicy with black fruit and a fine pepperiness. This wine has it all: pepper, fruit and chocolate, the 3 basic wine food groups … What do you get the wine that has everything? A glass.