As the flagship variety of Argentina, Malbec hasn’t always gotten its fair shake. Full-bodied, tannic and deeply coloured, it’s often confused with other grapes such as Cabernet Franc and its sister variety grown in other regions, such as south-western France. Frequently a part of varietal blends, it can take a back seat to more popular grapes varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
All this has changed in recent decades thanks to the increased appreciation for fine wines from New World regions. This has been credited to the evolution of more elegantly styled wines coming from Argentina, notably those from well-known producer Bodega Catena Zapata. Yet, in Asia, high-end Argentine wines remain less frequently seen alongside premium labels from California and Australia, and even less so next to France and Italy.
Photo credit: Catena Zapata
With a vast portfolio of both affordable everyday wines and high-end prestige labels, Catena Zapata covers the gamut when it comes to representing the potential of what Argentine wines have to offer. As a fourth-generation vintner who proudly doubles as the brand representative for her family’s wines and the ambassador for her native country’s wines, Laura Catena Zapata is largely credited for helping to reposition Malbec to the rest of the world. Yet even she admits the need for a better way of communicating what Argentine wines have to offer to wine drinkers and top collectors in Asia. Thus comes the impetus for her recent decision to add Catena Zapata wines to the high-end roster represented by premium Bordeaux négociant network La Place in Asia and Europe.
To continue bucking this trend, the indefatigable vintner was recently in Hong Kong to promote the latest releases of Catena Zapata’s premium wines including Nicolás Catena Zapata 2015, Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2015, White Stones Chardonnay 2016 and White Bones Chardonnay 2016.
Bordeaux lovers looking beyond French wines will want to try the Nicolas Catena Zapata 2015, a majority Cabernet blend named after Laura’s father. According to Laura, the 2015 vintage was a “Bordeaux-like year in Argentina, with colder, rainy weather and lower yield”. The result is a lush, structured blend with the highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon to date for this wine. Strong black fruit aromas balanced by soft tannins and good acidity indicate that the wine has high ageing potential and cellar quality.
As a region defined by altitude, Argentina’s best vineyards are planted at 1,000-plus metres above sea level, with careful vineyard management to help in protecting the grapes from intense sunshine, spring frosts and potential hail in summer. Soaring above at 5,000 metres, Catena Zapata’s prized Adrianna Vineyard enjoys the advantages of high altitude and a cooler climate, resulting in the elegant Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec and White Stones and White Bones series of Chardonnays.
As a nod to Laura’s roots as a biologist, the Mundus Bacillus Terrae (“Elegant Microbes of the Earth” in Latin) is named after her beloved microbes, or what she fervently calls “the caretakers of the vineyard”. Those lucky enough to get their hands on a bottle of Mundus will enjoy soft, velvety tannins with subtle red and black fruit and a hint of the herbs and spices that are characteristic of Malbec from this region.
The White Bones and White Stones Chardonnays had previously been blended together but have been separately vinified since 2006. The two wines now have entirely distinct characteristics owing to being planted in a vineyard that is now a dried riverbed with different micro-terroirs. Our favourite, the White Stones Chardonnay leans toward minerality, with chalky yet balanced floral aromas, lemon and lime accents and refreshing acidity. For those who prefer fuller, rounder Chardonnays, we recommend the White Bones Chardonnay for its aromas of ripe fruit and vanilla, nuttiness and balanced acidity.