How Scion Of Top Argentina Wine Family Helped Malbec Earn Its Reputation For Quality

Posted: Jan 24, 2018

Trained as a physician, Laura Catena felt unable to step away from the family business, and today divides her time between medicine and winemaking. We try three of Bodega Catana Zapata's wines, all for under US$25 a bottle

As a child in Argentina, Laura Catena was always on the move, so much so that her grandfather called her "little mouse". Her passion for science and desire to help people led her to a career in medicine, and she envisioned “working as a doctor and mostly drinking our family's wonderful wines", she says.

However, there was a dilemma of duty to loved ones and homeland. “I realised that my father and my country needed my help,” she says, “because Argentine wine was virtually unknown outside Argentina, and nobody knew about the beautiful, age-worthy wines that we could make in Mendoza at high altitude.”

Catena’s solution was to join the family business as winemaker while continuing with her job as an emergency physician.

Harvest time at Bodega Catena Zapata. Picture: Alamy

Catena sees similarities in the worlds of wine and medicine. “Both professions live in a space between art, instinct and science,” she says. “A good doctor has strong instincts and knows how to put many things together. She is part artist, part scientist. A good winemaker is the same. I do a lot of work on vineyard research, and the medical research I did in college and at medical school at Harvard and Stanford [univer­sities] helped me under­stand what good, serious research is.”

Move over, malbec, it’s time for torrontés wines from Argentina

Founded in 1902, Bodega Catena Zapata was a pioneer in Argentina’s wine industry. Although the winery also makes wines from other grapes, including chardonnay and pinot noir, the efforts of Catena and her father, Nicolás, have helped Argentinian malbec earn an international reputation for quality.

Catena describes malbec as having “rich aromatics, sometimes floral, some­times of dark fruits, depending on the origin, and a rich, complex, smooth mouthfeel. It ages beautifully but is also delicious young.”

The Catena Malbec 2015.

Catena Malbec Mendoza 2015

Studies have shown there are enormous differences between grapes grown at lower altitudes and those grown higher up. There is an average temper­ature drop of one degree Celsius for every 100 metres, and a large difference between day and night temperatures helps retain grape acidity.


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Research conduct­ed at the Catena Institute of Wine shows that grapes at higher altitude have higher levels of tannins, which act like sunblock, protecting seeds from harsh rays. High-altitude wines are often more intense and elegant, with more precision in structure and tannin profile.

Forward ripe blackberries, with mulberries and savoury, meaty notes. Medium-bodied and balanced, with soft, velvety tannins. An elegant, easy-drinking malbec. HK$165 (US$21)

The Catena Chardonnay 2016.

Catena Chardonnay Mendoza 2016

The chardonnay grapes are sourced from four high-altitude vineyards, ranging in elevation from 950 to 1,450 metres. Fruit undergoes fermentation sur lies in barrel and stainless steel using indigenous yeast. Some 60 per cent of the wine goes through secondary (malolactic) fermentation, adding complex­ity and layers to the flavours. Further ageing in French oak for 10 months in a combination of first, second and third-use barrels.

Citrus, spicy, creamy, nutty notes. Quite full-bodied, round with ripe fruit intensity, crisp acidity and a spicy finish. An approachable, well-made chardonnay. HK$165 (US$21)

A bottle of Luca Pinot Noir.

Luca Pinot Noir, Tupungato Mendoza 2014

This wine is named after Catena’s eldest son, Luca. She used grapes from old vines and persuaded growers to reduce yields for higher quality grapes.

The wine is made from 20-year-old pinot noir vines at an elevation of 1,300 metres and aged for 12 months in French barrels, of which 25 per cent are new and 75 per cent second-use.

Vibrant summer fruits, with strawberry, raspberry, red currants. Medium-bodied and juicy, with ripe fruits, crisp acidity and some firm underlying tannins. Medium-long finish. Shows purity of fruit and good varietal expression. HK$188 (US$24)

By Sarah Wong
January 24, 2018
Source and Image Credits: SCMP

The wines are available from Watson’s Wine,

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