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.
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