Catena delivers wines with altitude

The wines from one of Argentina’s ground-breaking vintner’s, Nicholas Catena, were highlighted by BlackBeard’s at a dinner at Abacus on 27 April that was billed ‘Wines with Altitude’. 

Just 20 years ago, virtually no one in North America – and by extension the Caribbean – knew anything about Argentine wines, even though the South American country was producing it in high quantities. 

One Argentine man, Nicholas Catena – with some inspiration from American winemaker Paul Hobbs – discovered that Malbec could thrive in Argentina. That discovery helped revolutionise the country’s wine market, to the point where Argentina is now the fifth largest wine producer in the world. 

The quality wines of Nicholas Catena – pronounced ‘ka-tay-na’ – were highlighted during a five-course tasting meal at Abacus. 

Blackbeard’s wine professional Lee Quessy told guests that the acclaimed Catena winery is known for its high-quality wines. 

“Pretty much every wine they make is 90+ points,” he said. 

Quessy said that Catena wines are made from grapes grown at high altitudes and that was the common thread of the wines that would be featured during the dinner. 

“All the grapes that are in the wines we are going to be drinking are grown at 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level,” he said, adding that growing grapes at higher altitudes prolongs the growing season, allowing the grapes more time to ripen and mature, thus giving them more concentration of flavours.  


White wines 

Although Argentina has become better known for its red wines, it also makes quality white wines. One of the white wine grapes that can thrive at higher altitudes is Chardonnay and the dinner featured two of those wines. 

The 2011 Catena Chardonnay is made with grapes grown at three different vineyards, with the lowest one at 3,117 feet and the highest at 4,757 feet. The wine picks up various flavours and characteristics from each of the wineries – tropical fruit flavours and a rich texture from the lower-altitude vineyard; white stone fruit and citrus notes from the middle-altitude vineyard; and a strong mineral character and a floral aroma from the upper-altitude vineyard. 

The 91-point wine has a retail price in Cayman of $17.09. 

“You can’t beat this for the price,” said BlackBeard’s sales representative Jeremy Corday,  

The wine is best paired with seafood and white meats and Abacus paired it with snapper ceviche with lychee and local papaya. 

The second wine served was 2010 Catena Alta Chardonnay [Retail: $25.59], a wine that earned 93 points from Robert Parker. 

The grapes from this remarkable Chardonnay come exclusively from Catena’s Adrianna vineyard – the highest vineyard in the world – that rests at 4,757 feet in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The pebble-covered soil is perfect for growing Chardonnay and imparts a unique minerality to the wine, giving the wine characteristics in the middle of the spectrum between Old World and New World Chardonnay. 

The wine was paired with tender triple tail fish served with local tomatoes and Kalamata olives and this was arguably the best pairing of the night. 


Red wines 

For the final three courses, red wines were served, but before guests could try some of Catena’s famed Malbec, they were first served one of Catena’s Cabernet Sauvignons. Although Malbec has certainly stolen the wine show in Argentina, it is increasing producing some quality Cabernet Sauvignons, many with affordable prices. The 2009 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon [Retail: $34.59] is a 92-point wine that uses grapes from small estate vineyards between 3,117 feet and 3,675 feet. The wine is blended with 5 per cent Cabernet Franc. The result is a wine that isn’t as big and fruity as California Cabs, but not as subtle and austere as French Cabs.  

Paired with duck, this wine displayed aromas of smoke and dark berries and the earthy flavours imparted by the higher altitude.  

The next wine, paired with Lamb Wellington, was the phenomenal 95-point 2008 Catena Zapata Nicasia Malbec [Retail: $78.59]. 

“This is the Mac Daddy wine of the night,” said Quessy. 

Zapata, which is the highest quality of Catena wines exported commercially, is named after Nicholas Catena’s mother. The Nicasia Malbec is made from the best grapes from the Catena family’s Nicasia estate vineyard, which sits at an elevation of 3,593. The wine is made in very limited quantities.  

Dark red violet in colour, this wines shows how expressive Malbec can be, with ripe black fruit flavours and notes of sweet spices. It is a very complex and refined wine, one that probably has the French asking why they abandoned Malbec as a primary varietal so many decades ago.  

Since there wasn’t a Catena dessert wine, the dessert course of chocolate and cheese was paired with 2010 Catena Malbec Mendoza [$17.09], a solid 91-point offering that has made the Wine Spectator Top 100 wines for a combination of quality and value multiple times. 

This wines comes from four vineyards that range in elevation from 3,018 feet to 4,757 feet, making it a wine with good balance and a unique Malbec expression. 

The wine paired particularly well with the cheese, a pairing that Corday thought was the best of the evening.  

Although the food dishes were served in tasting sizes, the five tasty courses paired with five high-quality wines made for a very satisfying dinner, which, for a cost of $65 plus gratuities, was a welcome treat for all.