As a child in Argentina, Laura Catena was always on the move, so much so that her grandfather called her “little mouse”. Her passion for science and desire to help people led her to a career in medicine, and she envisioned “working as a doctor and mostly drinking our family’s wonderful wines”, she says.
However, there was a dilemma of duty to loved ones and homeland. “I realised that my father and my country needed my help,” she says, “because Argentine wine was virtually unknown outside Argentina, and nobody knew about the beautiful, age-worthy wines that we could make in Mendoza at high altitude.”
Catena’s solution was to join the family business as winemaker while continuing with her job as an emergency physician.
Catena sees similarities in the worlds of wine and medicine. “Both professions live in a space between art, instinct and science,” she says. “A good doctor has strong instincts and knows how to put many things together. She is part artist, part scientist. A good winemaker is the same. I do a lot of work on vineyard research, and the medical research I did in college and at medical school at Harvard and Stanford [universities] helped me understand what good, serious research is.”
Founded in 1902, Bodega Catena Zapata was a pioneer in Argentina’s wine industry. Although the winery also makes wines from other grapes, including chardonnay and pinot noir, the efforts of Catena and her father, Nicolás, have helped Argentinian malbec earn an international reputation for quality.
Catena describes malbec as having “rich aromatics, sometimes floral, sometimes of dark fruits, depending on the origin, and a rich, complex, smooth mouthfeel. It ages beautifully but is also delicious young.”
Catena Malbec Mendoza 2015
Studies have shown there are enormous differences between grapes grown at lower altitudes and those grown higher up. There is an average temperature drop of one degree Celsius for every 100 metres, and a large difference between day and night temperatures helps retain grape acidity.
Research conducted at the Catena Institute of Wine shows that grapes at higher altitude have higher levels of tannins, which act like sunblock, protecting seeds from harsh rays. High-altitude wines are often more intense and elegant, with more precision in structure and tannin profile.
Forward ripe blackberries, with mulberries and savoury, meaty notes. Medium-bodied and balanced, with soft, velvety tannins. An elegant, easy-drinking malbec. HK$165 (US$21)
Catena Chardonnay Mendoza 2016
The chardonnay grapes are sourced from four high-altitude vineyards, ranging in elevation from 950 to 1,450 metres. Fruit undergoes fermentation sur lies in barrel and stainless steel using indigenous yeast. Some 60 per cent of the wine goes through secondary (malolactic) fermentation, adding complexity and layers to the flavours. Further ageing in French oak for 10 months in a combination of first, second and third-use barrels.
Citrus, spicy, creamy, nutty notes. Quite full-bodied, round with ripe fruit intensity, crisp acidity and a spicy finish. An approachable, well-made chardonnay. HK$165 (US$21)
Luca Pinot Noir, Tupungato Mendoza 2014
This wine is named after Catena’s eldest son, Luca. She used grapes from old vines and persuaded growers to reduce yields for higher quality grapes.
The wine is made from 20-year-old pinot noir vines at an elevation of 1,300 metres and aged for 12 months in French barrels, of which 25 per cent are new and 75 per cent second-use.
Vibrant summer fruits, with strawberry, raspberry, red currants. Medium-bodied and juicy, with ripe fruits, crisp acidity and some firm underlying tannins. Medium-long finish. Shows purity of fruit and good varietal expression. HK$188 (US$24)
The wines are available from Watson’s Wine, watsonswine.com