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Argentina - The home of Malbec

Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world, and growing on a yearly basis. It is famous for it's Malbec, in red and Torrontes, in white. Malbec started it's life in France, however, since it is a late ripening grape it struggled in Cahors to show it's full potential. This was due to the lack of heat and sunshine. In Argentina this is not an issue, with long sunny days and little rain; the conditions are perfect. Malbec really puts Argentina (or should I say Argentina put Malbec) on the wine map. What is even more encouraging is that even though Malbec grows perfectly in Mendoza, they also have world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. I visited Mendoza earlier this year, let us see what they had in store for me. 

Points on Wine - Top Argentinian Wines 2018

I visited two vineyards whilst in Mendoza; Catena and El Enemigo. I was very impressed by Catena. Probably the most famous vineyard in Argentina, Catena is really a world class vineyard, and after visiting, I knew the best is yet to come. Agostina was our guide, and whilst talking to her I could really feel the passion and love towards the wine they produce. Catena produces entry-level, premium and ultra-premium wines at an extremely high level rarely seen outside of Europe or California. The highlight for Agostina was the Adrianna vineyards where the ultra-premium wine was grown. It was founded by Nicolas Catena, and located at 5000 ft. The Adrianna vineyard is planted with Malbec, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals. It is by far the most interesting terroir in Argentina and is easily the equivalent of the Burgundy Grand Cru of the south. This terroir was beyond special. 

Catena has both domestic and international products. I found it interesting that they produced different wines for the domestic market compared to the international one. Agostina mentioned that certain wines sold better domestically compared to internationally. Since most of my readers are located outside of Argentina, I will focus mainly on international products. Catena produces the following ranges:

  • Catena Appellation - Regional village wines

  • Catena wines - These are blends of different vineyards 

  • Catena Alta - Premium Catena wines which are hand selected and are produced in a limited quantity 

  • Catena Zapata - Ultra-premium wines, mainly focused on high altitude vineyards

  • Adrianna vineyard - Ultra-premium wines solely focused on the Adrianna vineyard, located at high altitude 

 

Catena is constantly in the learning stage, Agostina informed me. There was a  huge wine cellar of different Catena wines which would be opened every 5 years or so to understand how wines develop and age. This would then be fed back into the winemaking process. They are already making world-class wines, however, they felt they could achieve so much more. I left feeling that this vineyard will only get better and better. The attitude they have shows that they do not want to just produce the best wines in Argentina, but the best wines in the world. They are definitely heading in the right direction.

 

Next stop was El Enemigo, a project started by Adrianna Catena and Alejandro Vigil. The focus of El Enemigo was to elevate the fascinating grape of Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc has always been the little brother to Cabernet Sauvignon, however, in 2009, Adrianna and Alejandro vowed to change that. They wanted to do what Argentina had done for Malbec but to Cabernet Franc. El Enemigo makes a range of wines, sourcing the grapes at different altitudes. These wines are made using mainly Cabernet Franc. Alongside Cabernet Franc, they also make Bonarda and a Chardonnay. Overall, I found these Cabernet had a lot more depth and they felt fresher compared to their Loire counterparts. I could not think of a better style of wine to go with the some fantastic Argentinians steak. The standouts for me were the El Enemigo Chardonnay (94 points) and The Gran Enemigo (93 points).

Bottom line

I came for the Malbec, however, left with a deeper understanding of how advanced Argentina is. I expected to be impressed, however, I was blown away by how seriously they were taking their winemaking. They were pushing the boundaries of winemaking and were constantly looking at ways of improving. Malbec was not the only grape though, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Pinot Noir. were being produced Argentina is just getting started and they are already producing world-class wines. I cannot wait to see what they produce in the coming years.

Top Argentinian wines

Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2013

95 points

 

 

Fantastic flowery aromas with blackberry and cherry. On the palate more black and red fruits with dark cherry, velvety chocolate. Fantastic lively tannins and amazing acidity for a Malbec. Enjoyed this from start to finish. Great length. 100% Malbec taken from Adrianna and Nicasia vineyards. 24 months new French oak aging. This is a wine that makes you stop and re-think what you know about Malbec. 

Bodega Catena Zapata Nicolás Catena Zapata 2013

94 points

 

Fantastic nose of violets, blackberry, on the palate this wine was deep and complex, full-bodied with notes of black fruit, spices with smooth tannins. Excellent finish. 78% Cab Sauvignon and 22% Malbec. 24 months in new French oak.

Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Angélica Zapata Alta 2011

93 points

 

Spicy notes along with black fruit, mint, eucalyptus, high but balanced tannins, needs time. 100% Cab Franc. 24 months in new French oak. Adrianna vineyard.

Bodega Catena Zapata Chardonnay Catena Alta Historic Rows 2015

93 points

 

Notes of peach and tropical fruit on the nose, this turned to creamy notes of vanilla, peach, and nutmeg. Very aromatic with good balance. Caramel aftertaste, medium length, low acidity.

Bodega Catena Zapata Chardonnay High Mountain Vines 2016

92 points

 

Wow! Pretty shocked at how good this wine is. Vanilla, apricots and medium acidity. Excellent quality for the price. Drink now or keep for a couple of years

El Enemigo Chardonnay 2016

94 points

Fantastic nose of tropical fruits, creamy on the palate with ripe peaches, nutty, layers of vanilla. 12 months of French oak. Long finish. Awesome Chardonnay!

El Enemigo Gran Enemigo 2010

93 points

 

Deep red color, a nose of dark red fruits, on the palate quite closed still, this needs time to breathe. Great balance of spice, mushrooms, earth and dried strawberries. good complexity and finish. This will last for another 10 years and will just get better. This was a blend of Cab Franc and Malbec.

El Enemigo Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard El Cepillo 2013

92 points

Much better acidity as we increase in altitude, now at 4205 ft. This is a much better balance with strawberries, smooth dry tannins. This is enjoyable to drink with black fruits, tobacco, and vegetal notes as well. 

Bodega Aleanna Malbec El Enemigo 2013

91 points

 

Violet on the nose, dark blackberries, chocolate and a medium finish, too high tannins compared to Chilean Malbec.

El Enemigo Cabernet Franc Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard Gualtallary 2013

91 points

 

Dried strawberries, fresh earth, dried herbs, M+ tannins. Smooth finish

El Enemigo Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard Agrelo 2013

91 points

 

At an elevation of 3051ft, a blend of 85% Cab Franc and 15% Merlot. Nose of dark fruit, the palate was very dry with blackberries, dry tannins, and dry earth. 

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