Catena is a true pioneer, one of a handful of men and women around the world who have broken new ground with their wines opening up new regions and markets. Inspired by the work of Robert Mondavi in the US, Catena has lifted Argentina up from a bulk wine producer to the home of some of the world’s best wines, and he did it by going up in the world. His eureka moment was deciding to plant vineyards high up in the Andes mountains and in so doing he literally took Argentinian wines to new heights.
He sited his new vineyard 4,600ft up in the Andes in 1993. No one thought that grapes would ripen that high up and even his vineyard manager disagreed with the project. However, the wines Catena subsequently produced would begin a Gold Rush among Argentinian wineries to plant higher and higher vineyards.
The grape that fuelled this trend was malbec. A largely forgotten grape in its native Gascony, malbec had been a workhorse grape in Argentina until Catena‘s high-altitude vineyards turned it into something extraordinary – and crucially into a unique selling point for Argentinian wine. Having discovered that the unique climatic conditions up in the Andes produced outstanding fruit, Catena used a rigorous scientific approach to isolate the factors that were determining malbec’s success.
Now, here comes the science bit. The high altitude has two main effects. First, it means much cooler night-time temperatures than daytime ones, which helps keep the grapes’ acidity and aromas intact, so the wine is racy and fresh rather than baked and cumbersome. Secondly, these altitudes enjoy intense UV light that produces the thickest, ripest grape skins on the planet. And thick, ripe grape skins produce wines stacked with colour, fruit flavour and cashmere soft tannins. The combination of floral aromatics, racy acidity and soft, juicy black fruit can be absolutely thrilling. Especially if there is a big slab of steak joining it. In a few years malbec went from bit-part player to one of the hottest properties in wine.
Catena’s top malbecs are now generally regarded as among the world’s very best wines. He has a joint venture with Bordeaux First Growth Chateau Lafite and the big critics are full of praise for his wine. Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate regularly showers Catena’s top wines with scores of 95 or more out of 100, while Jancis Robinson frequently praises them for their bordeaux-like freshness and elegance. His work was honoured this year when Decanter magazine made him the first South American to win their prestigious Man of the Year award.
Excitingly, Catena believes that the best is yet to come. His wines may already be world beaters but his research suggests that some of the best vineyard land has only been identified and planted recently. These vineyards still need to mature and won’t be producing their best wines for another decade or so. For Malbec lovers, the future is very bright indeed…
Find out for yourself at: bibendum-wine.co.uk