Argentine Malbec is well-known among American consumers as a significant value: a ripe, full-bodied and juicy red wine that overperforms in its category. Increasingly, as the wine industry in Argentina becomes more advanced and sophisticated, Malbec is starting to take its place among the great wines of the world.
Bodega Catena Zapata is in the forefront of this movement. The winery is far from new, having been founded by Nicola Catena in 1902. The country was prosperous at that time, and the Argentines were dedicated Francophiles. Malbec was a grape native to Bordeaux, where it had rarely ripened properly; transplanted to the warmth of South America, the variety took root and blossomed. Catena Zapata survived the tumultuous Peron years and is currently headed by Laura Catena, the fourth generation of the family.
Under her leadership, Catena Zapata has stayed in the forefront of the Argentine wine revolution. The winery offers consistent quality in their product line, which begins with Alamos ($10-15) and continues up the scale to single-vineyard offerings selling for ten times the price. Most importantly, they have pioneered high-altitude sites such as the Adrianna Vineyard, located in a cool climate at nearly 5000 feet. Originally planted in 1992, the vines are now fully mature and yielding impressive results.
If you want to discover exactly how good Argentine Malbec can be, open a bottle of the 2013 Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae ($140). The wine enters the mouth with a burst of juicy black fruits, enhanced by good acidity. Flavors of black raspberry, plum and black currant virtually sparkle on the palate, framed by supple tannins and the vineyard’s signature mineral base. It’s an absolute pleasure to drink, with or without food.
Chardonnay is a variety not usually associated with Argentina, but the Adrianna Vineyard produces two memorable bottlings. The 2013 White Bones ($100) displays a range of lemon, lime and quince flavors framed by a strong mineral structure. This is a profound Chardonnay: complex and distinctive, with mouth-watering acidity and a memorable palate imprint. The long finish contains floral notes and hints of white pepper. The wine takes its name from the soil underneath the vines, which is layered with fossilized animal bones in addition to limestone.
The 2013 White Stones ($100) The wine is more high-strung and lyrical than White Bones, filled with concentrated lemon flavors, rich stone fruits, and an unctuous texture balanced by all the acidity promised on the nose. It is deeply satisfying from start to finish, with those fruit flavors resonating for nearly a full minute. Either wine would easily be mistaken for a top-flight white Burgundy.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.