Founded in 1902 by the current proprietor’s grandfather, who, after emigrating from Italy four years earlier, planted the first Malbec on the foothills of the Andes in Mendoza. Catena Zapata helped establish Argentina’s reputation for quality wine.
After enduring difficult times in the 1960s and 1970s as the country’s economy suffered inflation and economic stress, the current proprietor – Nicholas Zapata – took a sabbatical in Berkeley in California. Based on what he saw of California wine production, he returned to Catena Zapata with a newfound conviction to produce only wine that could compete qualitatively with those of France. The bulk wine business was sold off and the focus became entirely on Bodegas Esmeralda, the fine wine branch of the family.
Nicolas had been less sure about the merits of Malbec than had been his father and grandfather, but in 1994 the winery produced a Zapata Malbec from 85-year-old vines in the Angelica vineyard. This wine was a huge success. Favorable press brought international attention to the winery. But Cabernet Sauvignon remained Nicolas’ primary focus, and in 2001 a wine called Laura was released from the 1997 vintage. This wine was thought by many to be on a par with some of the greatest wines made in Bordeaux. A premium Chardonnay was also produced.
Today, numerous different bottlings are produced by this family estate. Among six vineyards owned today, one, the Arianna Vineyard at 5,000 feet altitude on alluvial, gravel and limestone soils, is unquestionably regarded as one of Argentina’s greatest vineyards.
The old River Stones has seen its name simplified to 2019 Adrianna Vineyard River. This is an exceptional vintage for this bottling from a very stony part of the large Adrianna Vineyard in Gualtallary close to the dry river. It's the equivalent to the White Stones white with a north-facing exposure the warmer exposure which in cooler years like 2019 works nicely. The wine has harmony and subtleness insinuating violets and wet stones with a rare combination of power and elegance with minerality and spice precise focused and harmonious. The tannins are abundant but very fine and ripe with a chalky sensation in the finish. It has 13.8% alcohol and very good freshness acidity and healthy parameters. 5520 bottles were filled in December 2020. I also tasted the 2017 2015 and 2012 of this wine and they are developing slowly. The 2017 has very strong notes of thyme and aromatic herbs; 2015 has nuances of paprika and is ripe and powerful; and the 2012 which I had never tasted before is serious reaching its plateau and showing a moment of transition from barrel to foudres. Some of the vineyards from Catena are suffering from phylloxera and parts of some vineyards have to be grubbed up and replanted.
So bright and aromatic with flowers and blackberries as well as some black olives. Full-bodied with lots of tannins yet they are so fine and integrated and spread across the palate. This is all whole-cluster fermentation and 18 months in large oak casks. Needs about four or five years to come together.
The 2019 Malbec Adrianna Vineyard River Stone comes from a parcel off the Adrianna Vineyard in Gualtallary planted at an altitude of 4400 feet in a dried river bed. Aged for 20 months in new and used French barrels it is a rich purple in the glass thanks to the intense sunlight. The nose offers plum sour cherry and blueberry with herbs lavender hints of balsam and oaky aromas such as cedar and sandalwood. The compact palate has fine taut tannins; more lean than muscular overall. This is a balanced and remarkably energetic high-altitude wine all solar energy concentrated soils and the untrammeled freshness that comes with a cool region. - By Joaquín Hidalgo on November 2021js