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Thwines of Catena Zapata, Mendoza, Argentina

SEE A MORE RECENT REVIEW OF THESE WINES BASED ON A VISIT IN MARCH 2008

Interesting fact from Catenaís website: Argentina is the only country in the world where you can find both monkeys and penguins. Fascinating stuff. Itís also ranks fifth in the world in terms of wine production, making five times as much wine as neighbour Chile. The problem has been that much of this wine has been of low quality, from heroically yielding vines fuelled by Andean irrigation water. But back in the 1980s, Catena took the revolutionary step of aiming for higher quality wines by lowering yields, and is now widely regarded to be Argentinaís leading producer. Certainly, at the top end Iíve never had better from this country. The international success of Catena has occurred under the direction of NicolŠs Catena, grandson of the founder, and things still seem to be moving forward. Last year, a sparkling, grandiose new winery was opened, and the first release of the new flagship wine, Zapata, took place to much critical acclaim (and media hype). And the wines? There are four different levels. Things donít really start to get exciting until you get to the Catena-labelled wines: the Malambo and Argento wines are so-so; the Alamos wines merely good in an international style. Things really move up a notch in quality (and, alas, price) with the Catena wines, and the Catena Alta wines are brilliantly made, possibly without peers in their homeland. Unfortunately, the £40 Zapata wasnít available for tasting on this occasion.

Malambo Chenin/Chardonnay 2001
Very bright fruit Ė itís fresh and accessible with good concentration and a touch of citrus and spice on the palate. Nice stuff. Good/very good (£3.99 Sainsbury)

Malmbo Bonarda 2001
Bright cherry fruit on the nose. Soft, juicy palate. A light glugger, but clean and quite attractive. Good/very good (£3.99 Sainsbury)

Argento Chardonnay 2001
Regulation Chardonnay nose with some tropical fruit and a touch of nuttiness. Attractive texture on the palate. Quite savoury and manages to stay in balance. Impressive for the price. Very good (£4.99 Sainsbury, Tesco, Oddbins)

Argento Malbec 2001
With some oak influence from barrel staves. Bright purple colour. Quite a simple wine with ripe berry fruit and a touch of savoury, spicy structure on the palate and a hint of sweetness. Good/very good (£4.99 Sainsbury, Tesco, Booths, Coop, Majestic)

Alamos Chardonnay 1999
Nice rich nutty/toasty nose is quite rich. Powerful savoury palate, showing lots of oak and some nutty fruit. Good concentration but a bit over the top and crude. Very good (£5.99, Unwins, Oddbins, Majestic)

Alamos Bonarda 2000
Fresh, bright nose is herb-tinged with cherry and plum fruit. The palate is rich and juicy with a medicinal/herbaceous edge, and some tannin. Very good (£5.99, Oddbins)

Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Assertive nose of bright blackcurrant fruit with a herby edge. Juicy palate with some tannic structure and just a touch of herbaceousness. Very good (£5.99, Sainsbury, Majestic)

Alamos Malbec 2000
Fresh, lively fruity nose with some spicy oak and chocolatey fruit. Good density of spicy, savoury berry fruit on the palate with a lovely rich edge. This is tasty stuff. Very good+ (£5.99 Majestic)

Catena Chardonnay 2000
Creamy, bready nutty nose is a little lifted. Classy, richly oaked palate with good acidity. A very rich style and quite savoury. Very good+ (£8.99 Waitrose; £9.99 Majestic, Oddbins)

Catena Malbec 1999
Thereís a spicy, roasted edge to the bright fruit on the nose, which is rich and quite complex. The palate shows a good concentration of spicy fruit and oak, with good density: high acidity and  some tannin keep things nicely savoury. Very good/excellent (£9.99 Oddbins, Unwins)

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Intense berry and blackcurrant fruit on the nose, which leads to a juicy, rich, spicy palate. Great concentration, and the oaking works well with the full-on fruit. Smooth and supple, and kept fresh by high acidity. Very good/excellent (£8.99 Sainsbury, Tesco, Majestic)

Catena Alta Chardonnay 1999
Really intense nose Ė a supercharged version of the Catena Chardonnay Ė with lifted acidity and bready, toasty and spicy notes. The palate is rich and concentrated, displaying lots of fruit and oak (although this is well integrated). Spicy and full, yet still quite elegant. Very good/excellent (£19.59 Bibendum, Harrods)

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Mendoza, Argentina
Lovely refined nose: very tight and classy, with creamy, cedar-laced blackcurrant fruit and a subtle leafy edge. Almost Bordeaux like. The palate shows a good density of ripe fruit with an attractive texture and good tannins and acidity. Very refined and well judged, this is one of the best wines I've tried from Argentina. Excellent (£21.54+ Bibendum, Harrods)

Catena Alta Malbec 1999
Dense berry fruit on the nose, with a savoury, spicy edge. The palate is rich and full: itís chunky, with attractive savoury berry fruit. Great concentration. Although itís a little bit tight and closed at the moment, thereís good potential here. Very good+ (£21.54 Harrods, Wine Society, Bibendum)

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Wines tasted: January 2002