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I recently ran a giveaway on my Instagram account to giveaway a bottle of Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2019, plus the chance to taste the wine on Zoom with Dr. Laura Catena herself. I am a big fan of Catena Wines and I jumped at the chance to collaborate with Laura and with her brand. Laura has just been named Woman of the Year by The Drinks Business Magazine. She is a vintner and physician, splitting her time between San Francisco and Argentina. 

Laura Catena

Founded in 1902, Bodega Catena Zapata is known for its pioneering role in resurrecting Malbec and in discovering extreme high-altitude terroirs in the Andean foothills of Mendoza, Argentina. Laura is a physician, managing director of Bodega Catena Zapata, and the founder of Catena Institute of Wine. She is the fourth-generation vintner in the family (at least in Argentina), plus two more generations back in Italy, where most Argentine’s are descended from. Myself included! My family on my paternal grandfather’s side originally comes from Potenza, Basilicata in the south of Italy, whereas my paternal grandmother’s family on one side goes back generations and generations in Argentina, as far back as we’ve been able to trace. 

Adrianna Vineyard Tupungato

Our giveaway winner is Jacob Stensberg, the newly appointed Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, who has been my client for many years. Bottom line, there are lots of connections here for me, between Argentina and my work with LGBT non-profit organizations. Such a treat!

Let’s taste the wine!

Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2019 $119.99 (Mendoza, Argentina)

Let’s start with this stunning bottle. Four female figures can be found on this label. Eleanor of Aquitaine represents the birth of Malbec. She is a strong, Old World presence, lingering at the bridge in Cahors, where Malbec came into its own. Next, the Immigrant symbolizes the movement to the New World and the unknown explorers and adventurers who connected Europe with the Americas. Phylloxera personifies the death of Malbec in the Old World, which enabled its rebirth in the new. Finally, there is Bodega Catena Zapata, represented by Adrianna Catena, who depicts birth, earth, and motherhood, sharing the riches of the New World. This wine is rich, opulent, and elegant with grapes coming from Old Vines from the Catena Zapata Family Vineyards, Nicasia and Angélica. This wine is a prime example of elevated, elegant, and complex Malbec. A far cry from most people’s experience with more value-priced, easy-drinking Malbec. This is a special bottle!

I asked Laura: how do you describe Malbec? This is paraphrased from her response: Malbec is exuberant with lots of aromatics, a dark color, and density. But what’s so interesting about it, is that with all that in mind, the palate is smooth like a Pinot Noir, but with great power and concentration. The velvet glove, she says. A perfect description if I ever heard one. 

I invite you to grab some Argentine empanadas, a bottle of Malbec, and tune in to Malbec: The Musical. You heard it here first!

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.

My family is from Argentina. I spent many summers and school breaks there as a child/teenager and one thing I remember is how there were always tumblers of wine on the table for lunch and dinner. Soda water and “cubitos” (ice) are generally added to red wines, especially at lunchtime. Argentina has a very European culture/mentality towards wine. It’s free-flowing, it’s inexpensive, and it’s to be enjoyed daily. Such a healthy way to think about alcohol, versus in the US how we view alcohol as a bad thing (a vice), something to be controlled, and less of a daily enjoyment. We moderate most of the time, yet when we get our hands on it, we tend to drink more at one sitting (binge) and suffer the effects later. I propose we all enjoy 1 glass of wine a day and get in tune with the “healthy” Europeans/Argentines!

When people think of wine in South America, they think of Malbec from Argentina. In South America, Malbec is as ubiquitous as water, generally inexpensive, and flows freely at most lunches and dinners. In the Mendoza wine region of Argentina, Malbec is KING. But did you know that many other grapes are grown there? The major wine-producing countries in South America are Argentina and Chile. Uruguay is making a name for itself. And we can even find wines from both Brazil and Bolivia.

With the diversity of wine-producing countries and their respective regions with different altitudes, climates, and soils, we have some very diverse grape growing in South America.

One grape that you can find in many wine-producing regions of South America is Cabernet Sauvignon: the king of all red grapes. With a grape-like Cabernet Sauvignon comes marketability and consumer familiarity. If you’re a wine drinker you have probably heard of Cabernet Sauvignon and feel comfortable ordering it at a restaurant or picking it up in bottle at a wine shop. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known to command higher prices than regional grapes. It is the most well-known international red variety, and for that reason more is planted and prices skew higher.

One of the most well-known winemaking families in South America is the Montes family. In 1987 Aurelio Montes Sr. (and partners) started Viña Montes with the goal of producing wines of a quality far superior to what was coming out of Chile. Their Montes Alpha “M” Cabernet Sauvignon became that first super-premium wine to come out of Chile.

Aurelio Montes founded Kaiken in 2002 in the Uco Valley of Mendoza. The name comes from the “caiquén” which is a Patagonian wild goose that is found in both Chile and Argentina. A nod to Montes’ Chilean heritage. The vineyards are biodynamically farmed with over 3 million cases produced annually.

We will now taste three very different expressions of South American Cabernet Sauvignon.

Montes Alpha M Red Wine 2012 $90 (current vintage: 2015)

Directly from the website: Production of Montes Alpha M is extremely limited and vintages are only released if our head winemaker, Aurelio Montes considers that the quality of the wine is up to demanding standards. Production starts by selecting individual grapes at harvest time. This wine, from Colchagua Valley, it´s one of the best and most awarded wine from Chile.

My notes: This wine is a Bordeaux-style blend (80% Cab Sauv, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot). I get red fruit (plum and raspberry), black fruit (black currant), and vanilla. On the palate, I also get licorice and caramel/toast. A beautifully made, balanced wine.

Kaiken Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $17

Boy has this wine got bang for your buck. At $17 this wine feels and tastes much more expensive. The wine is deep ruby in color with garnet hues. Aromatic notes include: red fruit (plum, raspberry), black fruit (blackberry), fresh cracked black pepper, spice box (cinnamon, clove), vanilla, and cedar closet. On the palate, I get a stronger presence of black fruit, including blackberry and cassis. Mocha fo sho (that perfect combination of chocolate and coffee). As the wine opens up the black fruit softens and spice comes to the forefront, particularly black pepper.

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $20

This wine is medium ruby in color with a perfumed/floral nose. There is a full bouquet of aromas and flavors on this wine: red berries, vanilla (from the French oak), tobacco, spice, and bitter dark chocolate. The tannins are soft and well-integrated.

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