Argentina > Mendoza > Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza

Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza

Country: Argentina
Region: Mendoza
Producer: Bodega Catena Zapata
Grape variety: Malbec
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines & Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquor Store (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $12.99 – $19.99

About the region: We’re staying in Argentina this week, but now make our way from last week’s visit to Salta in the far north of Argentina to Mendoza, which is situated more centrally in the Eastern foothills of the Andes mountains. Mendoza produces ~75% of all Argentinean wine and with about 400,000 acres of area under vine, it’s one of (if not) the largest winemaking region in the world. Conditions here are arid and hot, so two conditions are required to produce quality wine: melt-water from the mountains and (similar to Salta) altitude. In general, the higher the vineyard is situated, the higher the quality of the wine it produces.

About the wine: Over the course of the last few years, Malbec has slowly but surely started to push Shiraz aside as the red grape variety of choice for many. And what’s not to like? It’s generally full-bodied, loaded with dark fruit, spicy notes, and often more balanced than Shiraz. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and several others, Malbec was brought to Argentina from the Bordeaux region in France, where it is now hardly grown anymore, since it doesn’t always fully ripen in Bordeaux’s cooler climate.

Nicola Catena planted his first Malbec vines in Mendoza in 1902, after having moved there from Italy 4 years earlier at age 18. He, and his son after him, expanded from there and mostly produced high volumes of Malbec for the domestic market, same as every other winemaker in Argentina. In the 1960s, Nicola’s grandson, Nicolás was pursuing an academic career when Nicola and his wife were killed in a car crash. Nicolás decided to abandon his academic ambitions and returned home to help his father in the family business. It was his academic approach that put Argentina on the map: he tirelessly experimented with different Malbec clones, at different altitudes, and in different micro-climates to figure out which combination would produce the best quality grapes and as such, the highest quality wine. His impact on Argentina’s wines cannot be exaggerated. As recent as 2003, Wine Spectator wrote:

“Catena’s portfolio, from the value-priced Álamos line up through the Catena, Catena Alta and Catena Zapata wines, provides the country’s broadest and best-scoring range of quality, with many of the wines made in ample quantity. The question facing Argentina now is, can Catena’s colleagues follow suit, or will the wine industry there be a one-man show?”

Over the past decade, others have followed suit, but Catena’s pursuit of affordable quality still stands out, which explains why this wine makes it into Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 wines year after year (the 2009 sat at number 58). It is sourced from several of Catena’s high-altitude vineyards and aged for 12 to 14 months in a combination of French and American oak. The 2010 lives up to the reputation of its predecessors, showing a beautiful dark purple color, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit, licorice, and subtle cedar notes. Smooth tannins and solid acidity, medium bodied, and very well balanced.

In Susanne’s words: Smells yech, tastes like things I don’t like, but not horrible. (can you tell she hasn’t gotten on the Malbec bandwagon yet?!)

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Argentina > Salta > Terrazas de los Andes Torrontés Reserva

Terrazas de los Andes Torrontés Reserva

Country: Argentina
Region: Salta
Producer: Terrazas de los Andes
Grape variety: Torrontés
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Co-op Wines & Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $14.49 – $15.49

About the region: Despite being the fifth largest wine-producing country in the world and a history in winemaking that stretches back approximately 450 years, Argentina is one of the most recent additions to the international world of wine. Until the mid 1990’s, virtually all its wine was consumed domestically. Before then, we were missing out on Argentina’s fabulous Malbec, Bonarda, and the grape variety covered here, Torrontés. Much of this was due to Argentina’s political instability, so since that has improved considerably over the past couple of decades, Argentina’s export market and foreign investment has exploded.

Similar to how Alberta lies in the “rain shadow” of the Rocky Mountains, Argentina lies in the “rain shadow” of the Andes. Much of Argentina is therefore extremely hot and dry. The key to successful grape growing in Argentina is therefore altitude: most vineyards lie between 2,000 and 4,600 feet in altitude, which ensures that the grapes experience sufficiently cool nights to develop the desired color and taste. In the Salta region in Northern Argentina, vineyards are planted at over 6,500 feet above sea level, which allows for sufficiently cool sites to exist in a location not too far from the equator and which makes it the world’s highest vineyard area. Due its extreme altitude (and consequently, extreme climate), this region has the potential to produce wines of great purity and concentration.

The combination of dry, sunny conditions and low labour costs allow for wineries to grow large quantities of ripe, healthy fruit at a low cost, which translates into great value for us as the consumer.

About the wine: French producer Moët & Chandon was one of the first foreign firms to spot Argentina’s potential, so they set up shop in Mendoza in the 1950s to produce a sparkling wine. Due its success and as the political climate improved, they launched the Terrazas brand in 1999 to start producing still wines. Vineyard selection and strict quality control in the vineyard as well as the winery ensured that those became an instant hit.

Their Torrontés Reserva is grown at an elevation of 5,900 feet. That’s 1,400 feet above Banff’s elevation (at 4,500 feet)! It is unoaked, which implies that fruit flavours dominate, making this an ideal wine for a (yet-to-come) summer day. It’s showing floral notes, which is characteristic for Torrontés. There’s also some melon and canned asparagus, supported by solid acidity. The finish lingers quite nicely.