Published 21st September 2016
‘Catena might be the most important winery in Argentina, producing both quantity and quality, which is something uncommon. There is a very wide range of wines offered at very different price points, with the entry-level offering very good value and the high-end delivering world-class wines. My favorites come from their famous Adrianna vineyard in Gualtallary, the most fashionable appellation at the moment, where they were pioneers. Anything wearing the Catena name is guaranteed to deliver what the label says: grape, vintage and place. Why can't all large producers be like Catena?’ Luis Guitterez, The Wine Advocate, erobertparker.com, August 2015.
Occasionally, you taste wines that change perceptions… wines that push the boundaries of quality. This is part of the joy of our industry.
One region that fascinates me in this regard is the Tupungato region of Argentina and, more specifically, the Gualtallary district. The producer that intrigues me above all other Argentinian producers is Catena Zapata. We offer the 2012 Fortuna Terrae at £150/3 bottles in bond and the 2011 Mundus Bacillus Terrae at £335 per 3 bottle case in bond.
Last week, we had the chance to taste two exceptional Catena Malbec from the Adrianna Vineyard. Named after Nicolas Catena’s youngest daughter, this vineyard lies at an altitude of 1450 metres and consists of alluvial sandy soils, with gravel and limestone deposits evident over a markedly rocky base. Catena has recognised many distinct parcels within this vineyard, thereby enabling winemaker Alejandro Vigil to craft remarkably fine Chardonnay ('White Bones' and 'White Stones' – both previously offered by Atlas) and Malbec, amongst other varietals.
Malbec, a variety of French descent, has been an exceptional standard bearer for the wines of Argentina. Here, it is championed as a varietal wine rather than a blend. To some degree, Malbec has been a victim of its own success and it is often associated with incredibly reliable wines between £8 to £10 per bottle. It has become a remarkably popular variety with its dark hue and juicy damson and rich plum fruit. Yet Malbec is capable of so much more than standard, everyday fare. With their range of single vineyard wines - such as the impressive Nicasia or Adrianna Malbec - Catena has done much to elevate the standing and highlight the potential of the variety. The two wines we tasted last week elevate quality further still.
I must confess to being staggered by just how good these two wines are , far and above the finest Malbec I have tasted. I am struck by the remarkable fruit purity, fine structure and the potential for complexity to evolve in bottle over the next 10-15 years. These aren’t everyday bottles at everyday prices… this is Malbec in a whole different league. Undoubtedly the wines of Catena are some of the finest Malbec that money can buy – the only issue being the very limited supply.
The notes and comments from various critics go some way to expressing just how highly these two wines are regarded. Beneath each I have included my own tasting notes for reference.
2012 Malbec, Fortuna Terrae, Vino de Parcela, Adrianna Vineyard, Catena Zapata
£150 per 3 bottle case in bond
Literally meaning ‘Luck of the land’, the Fortuna Terrae comes from a five-hectare parcel and is aged for 24 months in barrel and is 100% Malbec.
100 points, James Suckling, jamessuckling.com
Incredible purity of malbec and clarity. So much wild flower and stones. Full body, firm and silky tannins and an incredible depth and precision. Tangy acidity. Yet ethereal and dream-making. La Tache of Argentina. A definition for malbec. 3,000 bottles made. Try in 2018 and onwards.
Brighter in hue than the Mundus with a violet-like note to the deep red fruit aromas. This is fine in the truest sense of the word; flowing, sleek, textural, with creamy coated succulent red fruit of striking purity. There is a more lifted blueberry character to the fruit here....bright, vivid with a long, lingering mineral infused finish. There is that singular tangy, almost citrus note that seems common to certain reds from this vineyard. This is very finely expressed as - despite its evident richness - it comes across as a wine of elegance and poise. Like no other Malbec I have tasted. Drink: 2020 to 2029.
2011 Malbec, Mundus Bacillus Terrae, Vino de Parcela, Adrianna Vineyard, Catena Zapata
£335 per 3 bottle case in bond
From a 1.4 hectare parcel, aged for 24 months in barrel, this Malbec is co-fermented with 1-3% of the white grape variety, Viognier.
98 points, Luis Guitterez, erobertparker.com
The 2011 Malbec Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard is Malbec from the eponymous vineyard in Gualtallary close to 1,500 meters altitude fermented together with some Viognier exclusively from the plots where the soil is rich in calcium carbonate. The vineyard is planted at high density, 12,000 plants per hectare. If all the vintages of Adrianna are to dream about, this could be the most balanced, harmonious, elegant and mineral of them all. The sense of place here is tremendous, it transfers you to the Gualtallary vineyards at the foot of the Andes with its stony, chalky soils. There is a sense of harmony and subtlety like you rarely see. The wine dances on the tongue and seems light on its feet, yet has a hidden power and concentration that is noticeable on the finish. The flavors stay forever on the finish and the lips are salty. Otherworldy. Words do not do justice to this beauty. It goes far beyond the variety, I didn't think about Malbec, I thought about the place and forgot about the grapes. The flavors linger in your mouth forever. I'd love to encounter this wine again in ten year’s time. Drink : 2015-2028
Deeper in hue with a ripe, dusky fruit to the fore. The initial impression here is of a beautifully expressed fruit, layer upon soft layer. Generous, harmonious with a black fruit quality; cassis, damson allied to discreet notes of spice and almost a graphite-like minerality. There is a striking sense of symmetry here and that tell-tale racy character that seems peculiar to Gualtallary. Very refined and markedly different to the Fortuna Terrae. Another exceptional example of Catena’s skill. Impeccable. Drink 2020 to 2032.
I concur entirely with Luis Guitterez’s comments on the sense of place; as with the greatest wines, I found myself fixated by the contrasting characters of the two wines, almost disregarding the clichéd, typical attributes of Malbec. Simply put, these are two extraordinary wines that highlight the special attributes of Gualtallary and rare skill of Catena.
Please let us know of your interest.
As Simon is explains, at Atlas we don’t like to commit to taking wines of numerous estates year in, year out. It doesn’t fit with our view of the wine world where good and indifferent vintages are pitched to clients regardless of quality or suitability. Of course, there a number of exceptions, but we always look to balanced and not overloaded. One of those exceptions is Bekkers in the McLaren Vale.
From the very first time I tasted their impressive wines I was stunned and there has been no weakening of this impression in subsequent vintages of their headlining Syrah. We offer the 2014 Syrah at £320 per 6 bottle case in bond. Once, more this is an Atlas exclusivity.
Why? Well, frankly it is a more sophisticated style than many – the purity of the fruit is exceptional and there is a sense of detail and clarity that I find lacking in so many examples of Australian Syrah/ Shiraz. This is a seriously clued up producer. As James Halliday, regarded as a leading authority on Australian wine, puts it; ‘This brings together two high-performance, highly experienced and highly credentialed business and life partners. Husband Toby Bekkers graduated with an honours degree in applied science in agriculture from the University of Adelaide, and over the ensuing years has had broad-ranging responsibilities as general manager of Paxton Wines in McLaren Vale, and as a leading exponent of organic and biodynamic viticulture. Wife Emmanuelle was born in Bandol in the south of France, and gained two university degrees, in biochemistry and oenology, before working for the Hardy’s in the south of France, which led her to Australia and a wide-ranging career, including Chalk Hill.’
The critical acclaim for Bekkers just keeps ticking along. Recently Sarah Ahmed wrote a piece in Decanter magazine on a ‘Style shift in Australian reds’ (July 2016) in which she comments that ‘There will always be a place for big, burly Barossa Shiraz and high-octane McLaren Vale Grenache…..But following a visit Down Under, it’s clear that restraint, tension and balance are the new buzzwords in these warm-climate regions.’ This rather aptly sums up the attributes of Bekkers, who produce impeccable McLaren Vale Shiraz and Grenache as well as a blend of the two. Unsurprisingly, Toby Bekkers is cited in the article and he talks of the challenge of reducing density and improving a wine’s fragrance and spice. Due to this additional refinement and added complexity, Bekkers Syrah scores highly and not just with me, but with a growing number of critics who are gradually getting the chance to taste these hugely impressive wines.
The 2014 vintage was an interesting one in the McLaren Vale; a heat spike that rapidly escalated ripening was eased by cooler, late season conditions that allowed for a more even maturity. For me, the 2014 ranks as one of the finest vintages yet for Bekkers and I’ll be fascinated to see how this evolves in bottle, provided I have the requisite patience. Certainly the harmony on show bodes well for future evolution as the suggested drink dates below reveal. This is another knock-out vintage.
2014 McLaren Vale Syrah, Bekkers
£320 per 6 bottle case in bond
95+ points, Lisa Perrotti-Brown (The Wine Advocate)
Deep garnet-purple colored, the 2014 Mclaren Vale Syrah gives a profoundly scented nose of plum preserves, blueberry tart and blackberry preserves over notes of Indian spices, beef drippings, menthol, licorice and cloves. Full-bodied and packed with taut, muscular fruit, it gives layers of spicy, perfumed blue and black fruit flavors supported by grainy tannins and finishing with a satisfying savory character. Drink to 2030.
96 points, James Halliday (Australian Wine Companion)
Dense, deep crimson-purple; grace with power, varietal expression at once fine yet intense. The balance and mouthfeel are exceptional, and it will cruise serenely through decades to come. To 2039.
To request a wine, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Atlas team. We can be reached on +44 (0)20 3017 2299, firstname.lastname@example.org or by submitting the form below. Please note that stock may be limited and is always sold on a 'first come, first serve' basis.