Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Cabernet Franc
The story of Bodega Catena Zapata is a tale that travels from 19th-century Italy to the limestone soils of Mendoza. Nicola Catena, Nicolas Catena Zapata’s grandfather, sailed from Italy to Argentina in 1898, leaving behind his famine-stricken European homeland for a land of plenty and opportunity.
Nowadays, it’s impossible to talk about Argentinean wine for more than a few minutes without someone mentioning either Nicolas Catena or one of his wines. No-one has done more to put Mendoza on the map, or to raise the profile of Malbec from Bordeaux reject to one of the world’s most fashionable grape varieties.
His journey to the top hasn’t been easy, however, and plenty of people were sceptical when Nicolas started planting Malbec at ever higher altitudes in the Andes. Eventually the results of his experiments spoke for themselves and others quickly followed in his footsteps. The family’s commitment to research and development continues apace with Nicolas’ daughter, Laura, now at the helm.
Laura, a biologist who graduated with honours from Harvard University, decided to instil in the winery team the method of research and study, what she calls “the science of understanding nature”. They created the Catena Institute of Wine, enabling the team to conduct research aimed at getting a better understanding of the Argentine terroir, the characteristics of Mendoza, and to study every aspect of their vineyards with the ultimate goal of making Argentine wines that can stand with the best of the world.
With its inaugural 1997 vintage, Nicolás Catena Zapata became the first luxury cuvée from Argentina to be exported around the world. The wine recreates the “Original Bordeaux Blend” of the 18th and 19th Centuries, when Malbec dominated over Merlot and was in equal standing to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Médoc. Prephylloxeric Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon massale selections of ungrafted vines give rise to this wine, opening a window to the past from the mountain vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina
The harvest is done by hand, and some parcels are fermented as whole bunches to enhance tannic structure and freshness. The fermentation takes place in 500 liter oak barrels, concrete and stainless-steel tanks, at temperatures of 26-28ºC for about 10-15 days. The post-fermentative maceration lasts between 5 and 10 days. The wine carries out its malolactic fermentation and is then aged in French oak barrels for 18 months.
The 2016 Nicolás Catena Zapata is a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Franc from Gualtallary and Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley. It was aged with painstaking precision and presents an alcohol content that reflects the cool year. Perhaps its best quality is the delicate nose of red fruit and floral aromas, which features blackcurrant, plum and lavender notes. Relaxed on the palate with thoroughly polished tannins and measured juice, the texture grows even silkier when the well-integrated freshness comes into play. A dusting of chalk makes a late entrance to coincide with the return of the fruity flavors. This is a layered, increasingly profound and nuanced wine. Drink 2021-2036. 96pts Vinous.