AT A GLANCE:
Position: No 5
Name of wine estate: Bodega Catena Zapata
Wine region: Mendoza
Standout points: Pioneers of Argentine Malbec; owner of the Adrianna vineyard – ‘South America’s grand cru’
Winemaker: Alejandro Vigil
Wine style: European winemaking, high-altitude Andean terroirs
Thanks to the tireless work of Nicolás Catena Zapata over the past 40 years, and latterly his daughter, Laura Catena, Argentine Malbec wine now stands with the best wines of the world, and it’s the elegant Malbecs born of extreme high-altitude terroirs in the Andean foothills of Mendoza that made their name. So Malbec lovers – of which there are a great many – might well consider a visit to Bodega Catena Zapata, in the Mendoza sub-appellation of Agrelo, as an act of pilgrimage.
The generation game
The winery was founded in 1902 by Italian immigrant Nicola Catena and was passed to his son Domingo. Inspired by the Napa Valley wine revolution, Domingo’s son, Nicolás Catena Zapata, was one of the first to introduce European winemaking techniques to Argentina and pioneered Malbec and vine growing in high altitudes. Currently, Laura Catena, who has been called ‘the face of Argentine wine’, now runs the winery. She is also in charge of the pioneering Catena Institute of Wine, which focuses on the study of terroir, sustainability and other research aimed at further elevating Mendoza as a quality wine region.
The winery itself is surely unique in the world, distinguished as it by its pyramid-like design inspired by the architecture of the Mayan civilisation. The atmospheric barrel cellar – where you can taste wines straight from the barrel as one of several tour options – leaves a lasting impression as well. Today, the wines of Catena Zapata are sourced from six historic estate vineyards: Angélica, La Pirámide, Nicasia, Domingo, Angélica Sur and Adrianna.
When it comes to those tour options, if you’re after a deep dive into Malbec history, opt for the Renaissance of Malbec Visit. This tour includes a guided barrel tasting and a further tasting of four of the estate’s top wines. Alternatively, the Adrianna Vineyard Grand Cru Visit focuses on the wines of Adrianna Vineyard. At almost 5,000ft above sea level, this is surely one of the most visually arresting vineyard sites, and has been called ‘South America’s grand cru’.