Catena: Man (and Daughter) of the Year
The talented and driven Laura Catena was in Toronto recently, promoting the Argentine wines of Bodega Catena Zapata. Her visit was part of the ongoing celebration and promotion of her father’s – Nicolas Catena’s – recently bestowed honour as Decanter magazine’s Man of the Year – the first time a South American has received the award.
Catena and their Canadian importers, Calibrium International, have partnered with several restaurants in Toronto and Ottawa to create special prix fixe menus showcasing Catena wines. Available from Monday, October 26 until Sunday, November 8 at Amuse Bouche, C5 at the ROM, Niagara St. Café, Victor, Delux, and The Harbord Room in Toronto, and Navarra in Ottawa.
But the real stories are Laura Catena herself and the work being done with the high-end portfolio presented at a Calibrium media tasting. As well as being VP of Catena, Laura works as an ER physician, has two kids, and has written a book, out next fall, about Argentina and its wines. She has all the energy and intelligence of her father, who earned his Decanter recognition for putting Argentina’s wine industry on the map in the late 1980s .
With its focus on quality and its determination to explore the full potential of high altitude viticulture in the exciting Valle de Uco (a sub-region of Mendoza), Catena remains one of the touchstones of the industry, having lost no ground to the swell of new wineries in the world’s fifth largest wine-producing region.
Catena produces some lower-end wines (Alamos and Catena), but the focus of this tasting was the high end of their portfolio: the single-varietal Catena Alta wines that are blends of fruit from premier sites; two single-vineyard high-altitude malbecs that have been produced only since 2004; and the icon wines — the Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino and the Nicolas Catena Zapata Bordeaux blend.
Malbec is Argentina’s calling card to the world, and Catena Zapata achieves something very special with it, but to my mind the standouts of the tasting were the chardonnay and the Nicolas Catena Zapata cabernet/malbec blend. Interestingly, quality chardonnay and cabernet were what Nicolas Catena always dreamed of making, and they were his first plantings — he cultivated malbec only because he thought he owed it to his father. He feels that as the high altitude cabernet vineyards in the Valle de Uco mature they’ll give great wines, and at some point the market will discover them. And if malbec’s best role is to play support to cab, is there any real shame in that?
Catena Alta 2006 Chardonnay ($39, February 2010, Vintages). Laura takes obvious pride in this wine — she insisted it be included in the tasting. It’s gorgeous, with a very refined nose of citrus, mineral, subtle buttered toast and a slight oxidative, bruised apple character. It opens to reveal floral notes of wild honey, blossoms and butterscotch. The palate is dry and elegant: it’s smoky and creamy, with excellent fruit concentration balanced by terrific acidity. Very well integrated, top quality oak. Perfectly balanced, lively and zesty, it will continue to develop for several years. Outstanding finish.
Catena Alta 2006 Cabernet ($50, November 2009, Vintages). Shows the same refinement as the chardonnay. The nose is ripe and herbaceous with concentrated black fruit, savoury cedar and inky blueberry. On the palate it’s very concentrated without being heavy handed. It’s medium to full bodied with a distinct freshness and brightness. There’s a perfect balance of fruit, acidity and fine-grained tannins. Excellent length. (Review of 2005 vintage)
Catena Alta 2006 Malbec ($56, November 2009, Vintages). This demonstrates the power and complexity that malbec’s capable of. Inky purple in the glass, the nose is complex with violets, tobacco, coffee and black fruit. There’s a woodsy rusticity that adds to the intrigue. On the palate, plummy sweetness is nicely offset by powerful tannins. Smoke, leather and licorice add savoury character. Full bodied yet restrained, with bright, bold fruit and great power. Excellent finish. (Review of 2005 vintage)
Catena Zapata 2005 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec ($70, private order). Nicasia is located in the Altamira sub-region of Valle de Uco and sits at 1200m. The nose is perfumed, delicate and very refined, with lifted cedar, pepper, violets and ripe fruit. A creamy texture and fine-grained tannins give it a very elegant mouthfeel. There’s none of malbec’s frequent heaviness at the centre, and it’s very balanced across the palate. Medium to full bodied, with perceptible – but not ungainly– warmth on the outstanding finish.
Catena Zapata 2005 Adrianna Vineyard Malbec ($70, private order). The Adrianna Vineyard is located in the Tupungato sub-region of the Valle de Uco, and, at almost 1500 m, it is the highest altitude malbec vineyard in all of Mendoza. Intense sunlight produces thick-skinned grapes and wines with big flavour and aromatics. The Adrianna is headier than the Nicasia but conveys more power than perfume. Black fruit, graphite, chocolate and violets are prevalent. The palate is rich, fleshy and concentrated with leather, black cherry and sweet plum. Powerful tannins give excellent grip, but they’re perfectly balanced by the fruit. This could easily age another five years. Outstanding length.
Catena Zapata 2005 Malbec Argentino ($83, private order). A blend of fruit from the Adrianna and Nicasia vineyards. As with all Catena’s high-end wines, the picking is done in three separate passes through the vineyard, but here the percentage of very ripe grapes from the third pass is higher, giving it a lush, extracted character. The floral perfume blends with deeper black fruit and licorice. The palate is powerful, dense and macho, with cassis, cedar, sweet spice and smoke predominating. Outstanding length.
Nicolas Catena Zapata 2005 ($83, LCBO virtual). A blend of cabernet sauvignon (78%) and malbec (22%), this wine is stunning. The appeal is immediate in the complex nose of cedar, tobacco, subtle black fruit, toast and spice. Lifted and harmonious, it has the careful balance of good Bordeaux. On the palate, ripe, very well integrated tannins perfectly counter the black currant and plum fruit. Leather, tobacco and delicate spicy toast give it a restrained, classic style. Outstanding length and excellent quality.
Lesley Fraser is working with David Lawrason as an editor, writer, and wine educator. She is a certified sommelier, through the International Sommelier Guild, and has completed the Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s Diploma with Merit. She has a background in hospitality and wine sales and is Director of Education for Brix Wine.