The grapes for Catena Alta Malbec come from a select block of Catena's more than 60 year old Angélica vineyard. Named after Nicolás Catena's mother, the Angélica vineyard is Catena's premier Malbec vineyard. The soil and climate of the Angélica vineyard are ideal for growing Malbec. Clay soils with a rocky sub-soil allow for excellent drainage, and the continental climate of warm days followed by cool nights allows for even ripening and a prolonged hang-time.
The vines destined for Catena Alta Malbec undergo a detailed thinning process aimed at leaving only select, isolated clusters. Harvest generally occurs in the later half of March, and the decision to pick is based not on numbers, but on tasting for fruit maturity. The grapes are harvested by hand into small (800kg) containers. After destemming, the fruit undergoes a cold maceration of four days, out of a total of 28 days. Fermentation takes place between 30 and 32 degrees centigrade with a light pumping over to saturate only the caps. The new wine is then aged for 13 months in 100% new French oak from Taransaud.
The 1999 Catena Malbec has a dark violet/purple color with black notes. It has a ripe nose of blackberry fruit with hints of vanilla from oak aging. This full-bodied wine enters softly into the mouth and finishes with sweet, velvety tannins. Catena Alta Malbec will only be made in exceptional vintage years. No Catena Alta Malbec was made in 1998.
Bodega Catena Zapata is one of Argentina's high altitude Malbec pioneers. The Catena family began making wine in Mendoza in 1902. Nicolas Catena, third generation family vintner, was one of the first to see the potential of Mendoza's mountain vineyards for producing high quality Malbec. In 1994, he became the first Argentine to exprot a world-class bottling of Malbec under the Catena label. Nicolas is joined by his daughter, Dr. Laura Catena, in their relentless pursuit of world-class quality from the family's high altitude vineyards. Laura has done extensive work in introducing Malbec and other varietal plant selections, soil and climate analysis, and sustainable practices throughout Mendoza. Head winemaker, Alejandro Vigil, has been at Catena Zapata since 2002 and works with Laura and Nicolas to make wines that express the family's vineyards and palate.
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Now fifth in the world for wine production, Argentina is catching up in the quality wine sector. A long time wine producer, Argentina used to make wine in order to drink it, not export it. And so the wines produced were quaffable and rustic and made for the local's everyday dinner. Yet it's hard not to get caught up in the wine market of the world and some winemakers decided it was time for Argentina to show their stuff. Better winemaking technology was brought in, new winemaking techniques were learned and good viticulture practices flourished. The result? World-class wines with unique style and variety.
Unlike its Chilean neighbor, Argentina's vineyards are spread out around the country. The best known region is Mendoza, almost parallel to Santiago to the west. Mendoza contains the sub-regions of Maipu (pronounced MY-pu) and San Rafael. Grape-wise, the most important white is Chardonnay, making wine similar to California's style on the variety. Another fun white grape to try is Torrontes. Almost only grown in Argentina, Torrontes makes wines that are crisp, aromatic and easy-drinking. Some of the best versions of this wine come from the northern region of Salta, with very high altitude vineyards. As for the reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is the main grape for many wines leaving the country, but Malbec, the grape Argentinians like to call their own, makes very distinctive wines that are structured, dense and velvety. Many more varieties happily grow in the country, but for export, and consistent quality, these are the primary grapes.
Young, organically farmed Carmenère at Chile's De Martino estate vineyard
Chile & Argentina are the regions producing the most wine coming out of the continent. The wines from this area are good value with a distinctive taste. They create new world wines with old world character.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Crisp
Light to medium bodied wines that are high in acid and light to medium fruit. Typically no oak.
Fruity & Smooth
Light to medium bodied wines with lots of juicy fruit, typically medium acid and medium oak.
Rich & Creamy
Full bodied wines that have typically undergone malo-lactic fermentation and/or spent time in oak.