Last week, my boss and I were privileged to be two of only six guests for dinner and a tasting of some exclusive (higher-end) wines from the Bodega Catena Zapata of Argentina.
Anyone who knows me, will know that Argentine wines are never my first go-to, and my least favourite grape is Malbec. However, my mind is always open and I tasted some fine wine from this iconic winery along with some brilliant food, prepared for us at The Glass Monkey, a busy little restaurant in south Edmonton.
Andrea Nuñez, Sommelier and Export Manager for Bodega Catena Zapata was our host for the evening, walking us through the featured wines of the Adrianna Vineyard, along with wines from the Alta line and the Zapata line.
The Catena family has been around for generations, founded by Nicola Catena. After leaving Italy in 1898, his hope was to find a more prosperous land and escape his famine stricken homeland. With his family, he sailed to (what he later referred to as) the promised land of Mendoza in Argentina. In 1902 the first family vineyard was planted to Malbec, which Catena believed would thrive as a single variety rather than the blender grape it was typically known for in Bordeaux. His son Domingo took over the reigns and took the business from a single vineyard to a family with the largest ownership of land in the country. Third generation Nicolás, a young 22-year old just finishing a degree in Economics, was starting to help out his father during the country’s downturn of the 1960’s. During this time of depression, it was extremely difficult for the family, and they almost didn’t pull through. Nicolás urged his father to just leave the grapes on the vines, rather than pick and make wine as doing this would likely turn out to be a loss of income, rather than just leaving them on the vines.
Political challenges remained in the country, along with high inflation rates and overall instability. Taking over the family business during such lean times would be daunting to anyone, but Nicolás’ focus was on expanding distribution to the entire country. But the question was how to bring the wine to the next level? Nicolás did that with a job offer at University of Calfornia’s prestigious Berkeley campus, teaching Economics as a visiting scholar. There with his wife and youngest daughter Adrianna, they would spend weekends visiting wineries in the area, studying soils and arming themselves with information to take back to Argentina. His plan was grandiose: make world class wine, to rival both California and France on the world stage.
With a reputation preceding the country of much bulk wine production, Nicolás Catena set out to refute the moniker and make wines worthy to be tasted among the worlds best. He set out to find the best vineyards for growing grapes, and to do so, sold all of his bulk wine production areas, much to the locals dismay. Catena felt that he needed to push the limits of vine cultivation to new levels, and purchased Gualtallary Alto in the Uco Valley of Mendoza. At close to 5000 feet in elevation, it is the highest and most western spot in Tupungato. He named the vineyard Adrianna, after his youngest daughter.
Even his own workers worried that Malbec might not ripen at such high altitudes, but it did, and beautifully! According to Catena, high altitude vineyard sites provided unique flavour profiles and more powerful aromas, along with higher levels of acidity. Ironically, poor soils are exactly what a grapevine needs to survive and thrive, and these were no exception. Yields were naturally low, giving wines that had softer tannins and greater balance of flavours. Unlike his father and grandfather before him, Nicolás didn’t bestow upon the virtues of Malbec, especially when Cabernet Sauvignon was revered so much throughout much of the rest of the world. However, it was important for him to have a Malbec stand up and receive its due. Time and patience rewarded Catena, as his first quality Malbec from the 1994 vintage came with kudos and accolades from none other than Robert Parker Jr, and a ranking of Argentina’s #1 Malbec in the Wall Street Journal.
Cabernet Sauvignon was next on the list to perfect and with the 1997 vintage, the Catena Nicolás Catena Zapata, which daughter Laura Catena named after her father, was released to rave reviews in 2001. The wines from Catena have proven time and again that they can stand up to some of the world’s best. This is a family passing down knowledge from generation to generation through heart and passion, and now with state of the art science from a new world of viticulture. Now, run by fourth generation Laura Catena, this family has (almost) single handedly put Argentinian wine on the map.
We started out the evening with the 2013 Catena Alta Chardonnay. A gorgeous wine with dense fruit of baked apples and mangoes, a mouth coating creaminess from oak and MLF, but with rich, mouth-watering acidity. A Chardonnay that I would most assuredly recommend to any lovers of creamy, oaky, fully bodied Chards! Here at the store for $38.95.
The wines just kept getting better and better as the evening went on, as we had opportunity to taste some of the more premium offerings of Catena, that prior to now, have only been offered on-premise. 2013 Catena Zapata Chardonnay White Stones and 2013 Catena Zapata Chardonnay White Bones, come from selected rows in the Adrianna Vineyard and are named for the soil types the vines are grown in. White Stones has a soil of gravel with round white stones which was the source of an ancient river bed. White Bones refers to soils of limestone deposits that have the appearance of crumbled bones. Back and forth I went between these two Burgundian style Chardonnays, pairing it with various cheese, buttered prawns, and the homemade pasta we were served, swirling and waiting; tasting it at several intervals of the evening, and my favourite came in the form of White Stones. I loved the fresh minerality, along with beautiful baked apples, stone fruits, hints of cinnamon and nutmeg flavour, with integrated oak. Suggested retail for White Stones is $120/bottle and White Bones at $144/bottle. Absolutely classy, stunning Chardonnay.
Of course we can’t forget about the Malbec! It may not be one of my favourite wine varietals, but it IS Argentina’s signature grape, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and depth of these Malbecs. They paired well with the smoked ham, the short ribs and the heavier cheeses. Besides the Catena Alta Malbec, the Catena Zapata Nicasia, the Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino (both 2011) and the Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae (2012) were all tasted, then promptly consumed! Because I was seated beside Andrea, she would lean over, and ask how I liked the wines and which ones I preferred. I told her my (slight) aversion to Malbec, however, she was pleased to hear that I enjoyed the rich plum, coffee, smoke and black cherry aromas and flavours of the Nicasia. Smooth tannins, and well balanced with acid and alcohol, I would happily drink this Malbec if served to me.
The ultimate wine for me for the evening, was the 2011 Catena Nicolás Catena Zapata, a beautifully balanced, rich cuveé of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, this vintage with 25% Malbec and 75% Cabernet. Unbelievable with notes of cassis, smoke, cigar box, cloves, pencil shavings and undertones of menthol; the tannins were smooth, the oak refined with structure and concentration o’plenty! Wow…I was impressed with not just this wine, but all the wines tasted in the evening. Suggested retail for this wine would be about $140.
To top things off, the owner of the Glass Monkey, Rob Filipchuk, brought out some wine from his cellar, sharing with us the 2002 vintage of Malbec, grown from the vineyards of Altamira and Adrianna. The colour on both of these wines was still an intense deep ruby, with development of a rich bouquet nose. The Altamira seemed to be faring a bit better with loads of fruit on it yet with mocha notes, herbaceous sage, along with forest floor, graphite and cedar. It was fantastic! The Adrianna had more of a dried fruit characteristic, reminiscent of prunes, figs and dried cherries with a great deal of earthiness on the nose! Thanks Rob for sharing your hidden gems!
I cannot say enough of how impressive these wines were. It’s decision making time at Hicks Fine Wines, as we settle on what wines would suit the store best and which ones we would like to grace our shelves! In the end, no matter what we choose, we’ll be winners, and so will the consumer should they decide to take any one of these wines home to indulge in. Salud!