Wine Review: Catena Alta Malbec 2014

One of the things I want to write more about are the wines I taste. Typically I’ve used a long-form approach on Instagram, which I intend to keep on doing, but even then it isn’t enough to really explain what a wine is all about. This obviously flies in the face of the industry who are constantly seeking to simplify their explanations of wine, but the more I learn, the more I realise there is no simple explanation to why a wine tastes the way that it does, and so I’m not going to join them in their quest. Instead, I’m going to really dig into some of the better wines I try, and try to communicate exactly what makes them so good. Coincidentally, I recently tried the new vintage of one of the first wines to make me sit up and pay attention, so I’m delighted to make this my first real wine review on

Catena Alta Malbec 2014

Tasting note at the bottom

If you know Argentinian wine, you know Catena Zapata. They’ve been making wine in Argentina since 1902, but their claim to fame is really the work they did throughout the 80’s to put Argentinian wine firmly on the map. It’s a familiar story to those in the wine industry; innovative, brave individuals going against the grain to follow the path of quality over quantity. Nicolas Catena, the 3rd generation to run the estate, spent a short sabbatical studying economics at Berkeley, California, spending a good amount of his free time visiting wineries with his wife Elena and infant daughter, Adrianna. It was a visit that would inspire him and ultimately, accelerate the Argentinian wine industries move towards quality wine. Upon his return, he started to focus on high quality plantings of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. He sold his families bulk wine interests and experimented with different clones of Malbec, all grown in his own vineyards and propagated thereafter when the original cuttings from Cahors didn’t offer the finesse he was looking for.

At the time, he was considered crazy for a few reasons. Firstly, premium Argentinian wine didn’t really exist in the 80s and certainly not on the export markets. Secondly, most Malbec plantings were at the lower altitudes of Luyan de Cuyo and Maipu (700m above sea level) and the idea of high altitude plantings was met with scorn. ‘Malbec needs heat to ripen – you’ll never ripen it up there!’ ‘Up there’ now refers to the most exciting regions of Mendoza in the Uco Valley, where grapes are planted up to 1700m above sea level. He had chosen the most north-westerly corner of the valley, protected from frost and strong winds by the nearby Andes mountain range, planting Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay on different soil types. He named the vineyard Adrianna, after his daughter, and it remains their most highly regarded vineyard to date, responsible for the flagship ‘Nicolas Catena’ wine and several micro-productions, including the superb White Bones and White Stones Chardonnays.

In 2018, Catena Zapata remains the single largest producer of premium and super-premium wine in Argentina, with a broad portfolio of wines at various price points. The Argento range are simple, easy-drinking varietal wines, with the Alamos range a step-up in price and quality, and the basic Catena range a step above that. The wines get really interesting, however, with Catena Alta; varietal wines made from grapes come from their own vineyards planted at altitude, typically a blend from 3-4 different vineyards. Their top range of wines come almost exclusively from Adrianna, with 5 individual micro-productions of Chardonnay and Malbec the most recent additions.

The estate is ably led by Laura Catena, another of Nicolas’s daughters, and likely the most important woman in South American wine at the moment. Picking up with her father left off, Laura has invested huge amounts of money and time into Research and Development, resulting in the highly acclaimed Catena Institute, which continues to search soils, clones, sunlight intensity, phylloxera and much more. When I visited in 2016, I was also struck by the fact that they keep an entire cellar of international wine so that their staff can taste broadly, refining their palates and gaining inspiration from producers across the world.

Tasting note

100% Malbec sourced from the Nicasia Vineyard (Altamira), Angelica Vineyard (Maipu), Piramide Vineyard (Agrelo) and mostly from Adrianna Vineyard (Tupungato). Destemmed and fermented in old oak and large vats with ambient yeast, with MLF in barrel. Aged for 18 months in French oak (No % given for new oak). 14.5% ABV

Vibrant, dark ruby in colour; quite a bit lighter than it’s predecessors. Smokey, dark fruits, oak spice and dark chocolate is underpinned by a sense of something sappy and herbal. The same smokey, dark fruit comes to the fore on the palate but the texture is what stands out here; dense, supple and yet so fresh. Full of energy and vibrancy; completely at odds with the richness of the 2009 yet just as good. A clear change of direction, in line with current fashion? Whatever the reason, this is a delicious bottle of wine and will certainly benefit from further ageing. No hint of the 14.5% alcohol except for the weight and soft texture. This is the bottle of wine I want to open for people who lazily dismiss Malbec as a cheap, super-market choice. 93Pts.

Purchased from Vinissimus for €35.15

Thoughts on: A Tale of Two Wines from Chinon

Cabernet Franc is one of my favourite grapes in the wine world, capable of elegance and charm in its own right and adding perfume and freshness to many of the worlds Bordeaux blends. Despite being grown in warmer regions, particularly in the USA and Argentina, it really excels in cool to moderate climates, where the crunchy, red fruit profile and herbaceous flavours come into their own. This typically means Bordeaux, where it was historically planted as an insurance in case the Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t full ripen, particularly on the right bank where Cabernet Sauvignon has traditionally struggled to ripen in the cooler, clay soils. However, despite certain Chateau using Cabernet Franc as a majority in their blends (Cheval Blanc being a notably famous example), my favourite region for the variety has always been Touraine in the Loire Valley, particularly around a small region known as Chinon. (Psst, we’ll be doing a wine tasting of the Loire Valley in October with Maestrazgo Wine Club!)

The Loire Valley isn’t a warm place, being located in northern France, but as it stretches so far along its namesake river, making generalisations about style is difficult. What is certainly true is that the Loire is responsible for some of France’s best value, cool climate wines, with only really Sancerre commanding premium prices in certain markets. Touraine, located in the centre, is arguably the most important of the zones, often referred to as ‘The Garden of France’. It’s here that the best regions for Cabernet Franc are to be found, with both Chinon and Bourgueil making a strong claim, with Chinon probably the best known of the two.

Over the last year or so, I’ve drank a reasonable amount of Chinon but never in a comparative format. So, when Monvinic Store were having a small sale of some affordable wines from the region, I scooped a few bottles up and went about with the comparison! It’s worth noting that Chinon roughly comes in two different styles; full bodied, more structured Cabernet Franc from the clay and gravel soils, whereas lighter styles are made on the sandy, alluvial soils closer to the river. How fortunate then, that I managed to have wines from different producers, in the same vintage, on these two, very different soil types! It’s worth noting that 2011 was a pretty torrid vintage in the Loire, where the continental conditions make for some severe vintage variation, and typically it is the Cabernet Franc grown in the more structured style that rides the bad years more capably.

Domaine Grosbois Gabare Chinon 2011 – 12.5% ABV

Domaine Grosbois is an old estate that has been ran by the Grosbois family since the French revolution, with 9 hectares of land on the lighter, sand and gravel soils around Panzoult. Like so many estates in France, it has recently been given an injection of pace and a clear direction by a younger generation, in this case Nicolas Grosbois. My experience with wine-makers is that the best nearly always have an international appreciation of wine, and often experience in other wine regions. This is true for Nicolas who worked at one of my favourite wineries in New Zealand, Pegasus Bay, as well as Brokenwood in Australia. His main contribution to the future of Domaine Grosbois was to revitalise the land, first of all with a switch to organic viticulture and more recently to the more controversial, biodynamic system. All his Cabernet Franc is unoaked and the intention is to give a pure expression of Chinon and his vineyards in particular.

Gabare 2011 is 100% unoaked Cabernet Franc harvested from sandy soils at the base of his vineyards. A slightly murky, ruby colour and with a subtle aroma of fresh red fruits, this isn’t giving much away but slowly opens up to reveal lighter notes of fresh violets, fresh leaves and black pepper. A little lean on the palate with the same fresh flavours, and perhaps a lack of texture from the tannins. A nice, simple Cabernet Franc that feels affected by the weather conditions of 2011.

Charles Joguet Les Petit Roches 2011 – 13.5% ABV

Charles Joguet is a name that resonates in the Loire Valley and particularly in Chinon; taking over his family estate in 1957, Charles was one of the first wine-makers to start attracting international attention to the region. The estate itself is sat on deeper, clay dominated soils covering 36 hectares of prime vineyards, including some of the very best in the appellation. 9 different wines are made in total, reflecting their origins from specific plots around the estate. Since Charles retired, the estate went through a short but unwelcome period of misdirection and inactivity, before Kevin Fontaine took over the reins and brought it back on track. This is the producer I’m most familiar with in the region and I’ve enjoyed 5 of the 9 cuvees thus far, all a wonderful expression of Chinon and Cabernet Franc.

The wine itself has a much clearer appearance when compared with the Gabare from Domaine Grosbois. Aromatic and energetic, the extra ripeness of the wine is apparent with a riper red fruit profile, graphite, gravel, earth and a stronger, more clearly defined herbal note. The lovely, crunchy tannic profile comes out on the palate and there’s the energy and vibrancy I so love about wines from Chinon. A lovely balance of red fruits, herbal notes and earth; quintessential Chinon.

I really enjoyed this small experiment, and not just because I love drinking Chinon. I learn a lot of theory as part of my studies and it’s nice when something practical helps click the pieces into place. In this case, that soil type and the situation of the vineyard makes a big difference when it comes to the profile of the wines from Chinon, particularly in poor vintages. The extra ripeness and balance of the Charles Joguet made it a far more attractive wine, with more energy and more typicity. I would love to find the same two wines from a better vintage, 2010 say, and make the same comparison. Keep your eyes peeled on the 1st October as there will certainly be a Cabernet Franc or two to get your lips around in our tasting of the Loire Valley!

Wine Review: Recaredo Terrers 2009


Unsurprisingly, considering I live in Barcelona, I’m a pretty big fan of Cava. Cava is a particular type of sparkling wine made in Spain using the traditional method and despite the fact it can be made in many different places around the country, a good 85-90% of it is produced within the Penedes wine region, specifically around a little town called Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. I’ve discovered, to my surprise, recently that Cava has a pretty average reputation around the world, mainly owing to the fact that three very large companies, Freixenet, Codorniu, and García Carrión, account for nearly the entire production. That’s not to say these wines are all bad but they’re certainly not setting world alight and the fact that the WSET is teaching me to detect a Cava by its ‘rubbery’ notes is not a ringing endorsement of the typical Cava sold in UK supermarkets and wine stores. Recaredo, on the other hand, may well just be the best Cava producer I’ve had the pleasure of trying so far.


Recaredo is a family ran winery in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, producing around 250,000 bottles a year across their entire range (in comparison to the 88 million of Freixenet, to put that into perspective). They are unusual producers for a number of reasons; they own or control all the land their grapes are sourced from, their entire production is based on biodynamic viticulture and every single one of their wines is a Gran Reserva, meaning that no Cava they produce has spent less than 30 months ageing in their cellars prior to disgorgement. On top of that, their wines are outrageously affordable considering their quality and style. Disclaimer: I typically don’t drink Cava under 10 euros a bottle which isn’t to say good Cavas don’t exist in that price range, but they’re definitely the exception. Recaredo Terrers 2009, their ‘entry-level’ white Cava is a blend of Xarel.lo, Macabeo and Parellada that has been aged for a lengthy 70 months on its lees. The fact that this wine is being sold from 17-19 euros a bottle is insanity but exactly the sort of madness I appreciate in my life! Just imagine that on top of the entire process to grow the grapes and make the base wine, instigate the secondary refermentation and safely store it away, this has been sat in a cellar slowly ageing for almost 6 years before being disgorged and commercially released…. as I said, 17 euros is insanely cheap for this beautiful Cava!

Appearance: The Cava has a nice lemon colour with a lot of very intense bubbles.

Nose: Very pleasantly perfumed! The beauty of lengthy ageing is apparent here, with the lemon zest, floral and bruised green-apple aromas in a lovely harmony with some mature notes of pastry, honey and chalk. Still very youthful and delicate considering the base wine was made almost 7 years ago.

Palate: Bone-dry and enormously refreshing. The acidity is still very present and supports the fruity flavours very nicely, whilst combining with the small but persistent bubbles to create a very elegant texture. The finish is clean and dry with the fruit flavours lasting the longest.

Conclusion: Some people will already have come to the conclusion that I’m mad for suggesting this is a bargain at 17 euros, but it truly is. I personally believe their entire range up to their truly outstanding ‘Brut de Brut’ for 27 euros offers wonderful value for money but this is certainly the king in this regard. Grab a bottle and thank me later! You should be able to find this in most dedicated wine stores throughout Spain.

Score: 4/5

Wine Review: Descendientes de J. Palacios, Villa de Corullón 2005

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Spain is pretty well known as being a country that offers good value for money when it comes to wine. However, more and more it is increasingly being discovered as a country that can offer enormous variety in premium wines as well, often show-casing very small areas within larger appellations, or specific ‘terroir’ if you like. One of the pioneers of these very specific wines is Alvaro Palacios, who came from the famous winemaking family of Bodegas Palacios Remondo in Rioja and found his own fame and fortune in Priorat, where he is still responsible for some of the most iconic (and expensive) wines from the region. Alvaro’s second project is in DO Bierzo, co-founded with his nephew Ricardo Perez, where a similar philosophy is practiced as in his projects in Priorat: Old vines (100% Mencia), often cultivated in wild, steep and rocky areas with a very strong personality being imparted to the final wine.

With less than 100 wineries active and producing wine in the area, DO Bierzo remains something of an unknown quantity to most wine consumers, despite recent booms in niche circles. Mencia is the most commonly cultivated grape here, usually planted between 500 and 600 metres above sea level usually on slate soils, particularly on the higher-altitude vineyards. Mencia typically creates darkly coloured, fresh wines often with beautiful raspberry, cherry and violet aromas with a good level of tannins and an ability to age gracefully. There are a few producers making truly interesting wines in this region, with Descendientes de J. Palacios being my favourite by a considerable distance thus far. Aside from the below wine, they also offer Petalos as a great value, introductory wine and then several single vineyard offerings at super-premium prices, such as Las Lamas, Moncerbal, San Martin and La Faraona.

Villa de Corullón 2005

100% Mencia blended from 3 separate villages around the village of Corullón, Bierzo.

Aged for 14 months in French oak barrels

Old vines: 600-100 years of age

Appearance: The wine is a dark ruby colour with a clear garnet tinge on the rim. Considering the wine is 11 years old at this stage, this isn’t surprising! Mencia is one of a few grape varieties that offers such a dark, brooding colour but with a surprisingly light body and style to the wine itself.

Nose: Wow, very expressive! The aromas are still fruit forward with lots of beautiful notes of dried dark cherries, plums and some floral notes as well. There is a hint of bitter chocolate, tobacco, baking spices and lavender. A really complex collection of aromas with none of them dominating the others; exactly what I love about good quality Mencia.

Palate: Dry and medium bodied, with a really pleasant balance between the alcohol (14%), tannins and the acidity which is characteristically high, even after 11 years of age. There’s a little bit of sediment but nothing that a quick decant can’t fix. The finish is absolutely wonderful and goes on for a good 20-30 seconds, which is usually a sign of a very well crafted wine.

Conclusion: If memory serves, I spent around 40 euros for this wine from Vila Viniteca and I don’t regret a penny, it’s such a wonderful wine I’m happy I still have another bottle left! 2005 was an outstanding vintage for most of Spain, Bierzo included and to find a wine from a top producer, selling at the same price as the current vintages? Yes please! If you’re ever looking for back-vintages of certain wines, Vila Viniteca in Barcelona is a pretty good place to start as they have an awful lot of stock that you can’t see in their website or their shop. Pop in and ask around and you’ll be surprised at the little gems you can unearth, just like this one!

Score: 4.5/5

Wine Review: Acústic Negre 2013

Acustic 2013

When it comes to value for money in Spanish wine, you can actually choose at random and have a good to fair chance of coming out with something nice. However, one area in particular in the province of Catalunya is routinely delivering over and beyond it’s price point; DO Montsant. Snaking around the exterior of it’s ‘Bigger brother’ Priorat, Montsant offers powerful, expressive but still refreshing wines without breaking your wallet.

At the last count there were scarcely 70 wineries in the area, ranging from large co-operatives, which are quite dominant, to smaller, boutique wineries. Despite lower levels of production, wines are still fairly priced from the smaller wineries and offer a decent amount of variation across the region. The wine I decided to review today is an old favourite; Acústic Negre 2013. The first vintages for these wines was 2004, from old vineyards that had been purchased from the region by Albert Jane Ubeda, brother of Gerard from the Jane Ventura winery in Penedes. At 12-13 euros a bottle, this is a good quality, powerful, spicy wine that is very typical of the region and available in most good wine stores, despite the small production (100,000 bottles across the whole range).

Acústic Negre 2013

Carignan/Grenache blend (exact quantities not given).

Aged for 10 months in lightly toasted French barrels.

Old vines: 35-65 years of age.

Appearance: The wine is very dark with purple tinges at the rim. As far as Montsant goes, this is usually a pretty good indicator of a large quantity of Carignan in the wine as Grenache is a lot lighter in colour.

Nose: Quite expressive here, with the first impression being ‘Smoky’. There’s a decent amount of ripe dark fruits, white pepper and a touch of bitter, dark chocolate that I absolutely love. A really earthy, spicy sort of wine.

Palate: Dry and full bodied, with the same savoury flavour profile and a nice, smooth tasting experience. Drinking this at 12pm in July in Barcelona is a little out-of-place but this is an outstanding go-to wine for the Autumn and Winter months!

Conclusion: For 12 euros a bottle, sign me up. A really pleasant, powerful wine with a decent amount going on and importantly, well balanced. When alcohol levels start to reach 14.5% upwards, you always run the risk of having a hot, sluggish wine but this is in check (at a whopping 15%!). A good Montsant red, and more than enough to make me interested in trying the two higher-level bottlings of Braó and Auditori above it.

Score: 3/5

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