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Wine Links the Catenas with the Rothschilds: Enter New CARO

L-R - Dr. Nicolás Catena and Baron Eric de Rothschild

Feel free to call me a wine snob! When I note that a wine is produced by a partnership between the Domaine’s Barons de Rothschilds (Lafite) and the Argentina Catena family dynasty – I shake away my COVID induced brain fog and take notice, as both families have been in the wine trade since the 1800s.

  1. The Rothschilds have been expanding interests in vineyards beyond France for decades.
  2. The relationship with the Catenas and their Malbec started in 1999, approximately 11 years earlier (1988), as the Rothschilds acquired Vina Los Vascos in Chile.
  3. In 2008, in cooperation with the Chinese CITIC, the Rothschilds started a vineyard in Penglai, China, located a short distance from Penglai in the center of a protected 377-hectare area.

What is noted and notable about the relationship with the Catena enterprise is that Jancis Robinson credits Nicolas Catena Zapata, “…with putting Argentinean wines on the world map.” Larry Stone of the James Beard Foundation determined that Nicolas Catena Zapata is in the same league as Robert Mondavi in developing the Napa wine scene, “inspiring an entire region to strive for a higher level of quality…”

The brand “Caro” is a blend of the two-family names – Catena and Rothschild and the infusion of Rothschild expertise, financing, marketing and other investments has enabled Catena wines to move to another level and for the organization to make the “most elegant wine from Argentina” (Laura Catena).

Looking Back. Going Forward

Argentina sells only a quarter of its wines internationally. The country is Latin America’s top wine producer and the fifth largest in the world. The wine growing region, in Andean Mountain valleys, is often compared to California’s Napa Valley. The provinces of Mendoza and San Juan, the country’s wine central, are internationally noted for Malbec, as well as Bonarda, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is interesting to note that Malbec was once an important wine in Bordeaux until disease and pests led to the decline in the grape. The Bordelaise variety was brought to Argentina by the French in the mid-1800s where is has been happy. None of the issues that plagued French Malbec exists in the Andes foothills as the Argentinean vineyards are planted above the line were bugs cannot spread and the mountain plateaus provide large amounts of uninterrupted, powerful sunlight.

The Argentina wine industry has received special treatment from the national government insulating it from the current economic chaos in the country. The government determined that the wineries should be allowed to operate as winemaking is an “essential activity” allowing most of the wineries to operate uninterrupted throughout the pandemic.

The lockdown increased wine consumption in the country showing a 7 percent growth over 2019 when wine sales amounted to approximately 8.83 million hectoliters, while 8.4 million hectoliters were recorded in 2018. From January to August of 2020 wines sales reached 6.21 million hectoliters. On a per person basis, in 2019, per capita consumption of wine in Argentina amounted to 19.5 liters per person, up from 18.0 liters per person recorded a year earlier. This certainly made winemakers happy as Argentina sells only a quarter of its wine outside the country. Wine exports grew by 21 percent from January to November compared to global decline of nearly 6 percent (Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura).

The Catena family took full value of this exemption (as a food producer) and at the very beginning of Covid (March 20, 2020) the staff put on masks and gloves and headed into the vineyards to gather the remaining grapes of an extraordinary harvest.

What has been a tragedy for other parts of Argentina has become a positive experience for Caro for on April 1, Drinks International, announced that Catena Zapata was voted The World’s Most Admired Wine Brand (2020) by an international group of drinks buyers and wine experts, including wine professionals from 48 different countries.

Up Close and Personal

Since the beginning of the 20th century (1902) the Catena winery has been known for taking Malbec off life-support and recognizing the value of the extreme high-altitude terroirs in the Andean foothills of Mendoza, Argentina.

Nicolas Catena, the third-generation family winemaker, was the first Argentine to export a world-class bottling of Malbec with the Catena label. Today he and his daughter Dr. Laura Catena continue to expand the reach of their Caro wines. The head winemaker, Alejandro Vigil joined Catena Zapata in 2002

The Andrianna Vineyards are almost 5000 feet in elevation and known as the Grand Cru of South America.

The higher elevation encourages the Malbec grapes to have enhanced acidity and therefore they are fresher in taste. The thicker skins create highly concentrated and flavorful grapes, yielding opulent wines. Since Malbec is full-bodied, lively and full of fruit, the structure and refined character of Cabernet Sauvignon compliments and enhances the final wine.

The single varietal produced by Caro is Aruma with the other wines are blends of two grapes, Malbec (packing power, boldness and fruit), and Cabernet Sauvignon (contributing structure and sophistication).

All of the grapes for Caro wines are picked by hand and hand sorted prior to de-stemming and crushing eliminating the possibility of spoiled grapes and tannic stems to enter the mix, creating the perfect environment for a subtle and delicate wine.

The Wines

•             Bodegas Caro Aruma (night: native Indian Mendoza language) 2019. 100 percent Malbec from Valle de Uco (Altamira, El Peral and San Jose). Unoaked.

Name selected as it a symbol of the extreme dark and clean mountain air of Andean nights. Fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in cement tanks that keep the wine at a constant temperature. The Malbec grape arrived in Argentina thanks to a French agronomist who noted the opportunity for the grape to successfully grow in the Mendoza high-altitude environment (1868).

The eye notes dark red raspberries while the nose finds blackberries, black pepper, plums, red fruit, a hint of spice (which is nice), and violets. Palate pleasing, this wine delivers cranberries, blueberries, and some tannins. Consider it an authentic Malbec taste experience. Open a few hours before sips begin as it opens and generously provides a delicious mouth experience. Pair with a blue cheeseburger or barbeque chicken.

•             Bodegas Caro Amancaya (Andes mountain flower) 2018. 70 percent Malbec, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes are harvested from unique plots of old vines in Lujan de Cuyo, and Altamira. In Lujan grapes are grown in alluvial layers of loam, rock and gravel; in Altamira, vineyards are located 100m above sea level on the ancient alluvial bed of the Tunuyan River. Placed to mature in oak barrels (20 percent new) for 12 months creating very fine tannins. The barrels are made by Lafite Rothschild in France. The first vintage for this wine was 2003. This wine is considered to have an “Argentinian identity and a Bordeaux style” (Lafite.com).

Eye appeal makes this a go–to wine if ruby red is your color preference. As a nose pleaser the wine presents cocoa, figs, red fruit and cinnamon and finally on the palate black fruit with the oak in a supportive role. Open hours (or days) before drinking – the more air it receives, the better it delivers on taste and complexity.  Pair with Barbeque, ribs, sausage or lamb chops

•             Bodegas Caro 2017. 74 percent Malbec, 26 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged a minimum for 1.5 years in barrels, 80 percent new.

Stop! You must enjoy the beautiful dark violet color of this wine. Then, let your nose do its work…finding a blend of smells that suggest raspberries, black pepper, violets, cloves and rich dark chocolate. The soft tannins caress the palate and combine deliciously with a refreshing acidity. Your grilled steak will thank you for its new friend.

This wine has limited production and not developed every year. It is scarce because it comes from a specific subdivision of terroir. The mountains and the rain are scarce in Mendoza so when it does rain – it is very heavy, and the soil is not prepared to absorb all the water creating rivers that drain down to the Andes. The rivers over the last centuries have created alluvial fans that enter the river, and the fans have different soils making soil knowledge important. The Caro grapes grow in vineyards in unique spaces created by the subsoil. These grapes grow in calcareous soil, which is chalky, calcium rich limestone. The wine is aged in barrels before bottling.

© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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Dr. Elinor Garely - special to eTN and editor in chief, wines.travel

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