Argentina’s Malbec Pioneer

16 Feb 2012
3 min read
FOUR International discovers how one family with a vision for world-quality wines changed the face of Argentinian viticulture

These days when we think of Argentinian wines, we think of Malbec – that rich, full, fruity red wine that’s become synonymous with the best wines from this long and varied terroir.

But it wasn’t always this way – in fact, when Nicolás Catena took over the wine making at Catena Zapata, the winery established by his Italian immigrant grandfather in 1902, Malbec was mostly being used as a blending grape, rather than the elegant, complex stand-alone wine we drink today.hese days when we think of Argentinian wines, we think of Malbec – that rich, full, fruity red wine that’s become synonymous with the best wines from this long and varied terroir.

While his father and grandfather had followed the old traditional Italian oxidative style of wine making, Nicolás spent time in the wineries of California in the 80s, picking up ideas for how New World wines could compete with the best French wines, and when he returned home it was with a vision to elevate his nation’s wine to the quality we’ve now come to expect. Nicolás abandoned the production techniques accepted by the Argentinian domestic market and introduced new, small French oak barrels to impart flavour. But undoubtedly the most important of Nicolás’ moves was to seek out cooler climes for his vines, planting vineyards at high altitudes, at elevations where no one in the region had done before.

“I discovered that by going to the high altitude regions of Mendoza I could I could make profound and distinctive wines,” says Nicolás, who was voted Decanter Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2009. “But I was not sure if we could make a wine of importance with our Malbec grapes. It was my daughter Laura that persuaded me to put our best efforts into increasing the quality of our Malbec. History should recognise her for this vision.”

Today the Adrianna Vineyard, located in the district of Gualtallary at 1500m (5000 ft.) elevation, is the pride of the Catena Zapata family, and Nicolas’ daughter Laura – a Harvard graduate – continues the family tradition, researching and investigating the terroir of Mendoza. For the first time in the region, the effects of sunlight intensity in high altitude vineyards is understood, and Laura works by obtaining maximum quality through a rigorous selection, in each harvest, of those Malbec vines that produce the best wines that can compete with the most prestigious in the world.

With its high altitude vineyards, permanent dedication to investigation and its family tradition, Bodega Catena Zapata is the pioneer in the production of internationally recognized Argentinian wines, and has won many national and international awards – including being named best New World Winery and 98 points from wine expert Robert Parker.

Wine crush: Taittinger Prélude Grand Cru NV

A modern Grand Cru take on a prestigious house style

This delicious tipple was first introduced especially for the Millennium in the form of the seriously glamorous Taittinger Millennium magnums – magnums with a fabulous Grace Kelly-esque image on the front – but following the success of its concept, a Grand Cru play on the house style – it was released for sale in early 2004.ittinger’s origins can be traced back to 1734, when the house was founded by one Jacques Fourneaux (later to be bought by Pierre Taittinger in 1931), but the ‘Prélude’ is an altogether more modern wine – being the house’s Millennium blend.

Made only from the first pressing of the fruit grown in Grand Cru vineyards, Prélude has a brilliant, pale yellow colour with silvery highlights, reflective of the high proportion of Chardonnay that Taittinger is known for. The blend is made from 50% Chardonnay grapes from the Côte des Blancs (including Avize and Le Mesnil sur Oger) and 50% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims area (including Mailly, Ambonnay) and it’s the Grands Cru aspect that brings precise characters to the wine such as its wonderful minerality, because Grands Cru grapes come exclusively from the 100% rated vineyards of Champagne. There are 17 of these and they cover approximately 14% of the vineyard’s total surface area. Prior to release the wine is aged for a minimum of 4-5 years on lees (the residual yeast), sometimes more.

Tasting notes

The bubbles are fine and form a lasting and delicately creamy mousse, and the nose is understated and fresh. The initial mineral aromas quickly develop into green, floral scents with hints of elderflower and spicy cinnamon overtones. Flavours are dominated by intense fresh citrus fruit which then give way to a much fuller, well-bodied and mellow taste with flavours reminiscent of white peaches in syrup. The finish is long, rich and extremely expressive.

Food Match

Drink as an accompaniment to grilled and roasted white meats, or with fish and shellfish, particularly fine fish like Dover sole. Or you could just enjoy as a super indulgent apéritif…

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