Bodega Catena Zapata, in Mendoza, Argentina, traces its establishment to 1902, when Italian immigrant Nicola Catena planted his first Malbec vineyard in Mendoza. The family grew grapes for more than 50 years, although the tumultuous Argentine political and economic scene of the 1960s and 1970s made it difficult for the winery to stay afloat. In the late 1980s Nicolas Catena, a professor of economics and heir to the winery, refocused the winery on making higher quality wines rather than the bulk wines it had made for most of the century. By the early 1990s the winery’s Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Chardonnays and Malbecs were earning high praise from such critics as Robert M. Parker Jr. who awarded the 1996 Catena Alta Malbec 94 pts. More recent vintages have earned 98+ pts from Parker. In 2009 Decanter magazine named Nicolas Catena “man of the year” for his success in producing world class wines in Argentina.
Mendoza on the western edge of Argentina is the nation’s largest and most important wine producing region. With about a billion acres under vine, the region of Mendoza alone has nearly half as many vineyards acres as all of the United States. Located on the edge of the Andes, vineyards here are high, usually 2,000 to 3,600 feet above sea level, yet they enjoy a relatively temperate climate and four distinct seasons. The soil is sandy and alluvial with clay underneath and moderate rainfall encourages growth. Historically Argentina, and Mendoza, grew pink skin grapes for slightly sweet pink or white wines. Those grapes are still grown for bulk jug wine. Since the late 1980s, however, Malbec has been Mendoza’s most important grape, since it makes a rich, dark, robust, age-worth red. The second most important red grape is Bonarda, which is thought to be the same grape that California growers know as Charbono. Italian and Spanish red grapes including Sangiovese, Barbera and Tempranillo were brought by immigrants, and they are grown today. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Torrontés and numerous other red and white grapes are also grown successfully.
This grape produces a dark red wine with plenty of tannins. It is one of the six grapes allowed for blending red Bordeaux wines. Malbec is also the flagship variety of Argentina. The grape needs a lot of sun and heat to mature. It adds complexity and intensity to blends.