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Tomorrow, celebrate World Malbec Day

As I usually do on a Monday morning, I have selected a few CDs, cranked up the stereo and now am doing my best to write some interesting stories about wine.

Tomorrow is very special as it is the annual World Malbec Day. Sadly, our little island has closed down again and I cannot even say “stop by our Paget or East Broadway store and pick up a few bottles”.

To add to our woes, shipments out of South America have been extremely delayed and so many of our fine malbecs are out of stock. We do have supplies from the family that literally started it all in Argentina and, as their wines should be in most supermarkets, this will be about one grape variety and their involvement with it.

Although Roman soldiers were introduced to Malbec some 2,000 years ago – in what is now the Cahors region of France – today it is Argentina that has made the world so aware of this food-friendly and easy sipping wine.

Mendoza accounts for about 85 per cent of all plantings in this country. It is here that the Nicolas Catena Zapata family experimented in the high foothills of the majestic Andean mountain range.

In the 1800s when that nasty, root-eating louse called phylloxera destroyed many of the vineyards in France (and most of Europe) the vineyard owners had to replant. They tended to favour cabernet sauvignon and merlot in Bordeaux as malbec was never very happy in the climate there, and its habit of late ripening left it more vulnerable on the vine.

Good fortune would have it that in the 1850s the winemakers in Argentina engaged the services of a French agronomist named Michel Pouget and he introduced them to cuttings of Malbec. Here, in the highest vineyards in the world, a cool and dry climate and an abundance of direct sunlight suited this delicate, thin-skinned little fruit. Chilly desert nights and hot days gave the significant diurnal temperature range needed for complexity.

The Catena family-owned winery dates back to 1902, but it was 60 years later when Nicolas took over and began a new era of research and experimentation. He pushed his vineyards higher and higher and the wine quality followed, at 5,000 feet and above. The bright, direct sunlight gradually created a thicker-skinned grape and the resulting tannins added to acidity, structure, and complexity. Their malbec was the first to be exported from Argentina.

Today Nicolas’s daughter Laura Catena, the managing director, is also a physician, author, biologist, and founder of the Catena Institute of Wine. She says, “at the institute a team is dedicated to studying every metre, every rock, every insect and microorganism”. This is all in their passion to produce the finest world-class wine.

You probably know that vines take a few years to develop in a way that offers the very best fruit; seven is a good yardstick. After 30 to 35, their volume of fruit tends to drop and so sections are replanted in most cases. The Catena family have many vineyards and with their most recently planted they produce the Alamos range of varietals. The 2019 Alamos Malbec, even though from young vines, offers layers of dark cherry and blackberry and a velvety mouthfeel. Aromas of violet intertwine with spice and vanilla, while balanced tannins create a velvety mouthfeel and expansive finish.

Critic James Suckling writes: “A red with blackberries, wet earth and dark tea leaf. It’s medium-bodied with lightly creamy texture and a long, flavourful finish. A fresh, delicious malbec that won’t disappoint. 91/100.” This is a fine score for a wine that you can pick up in your neighbourhood supermarket for about $17.65 (Stock #6157).

Under normal circumstances I could tell you about over 20 malbecs that we import, but for now I will just mention our largest selling one by far. I refer to 2018 Catena Malbec that should be easy to find in most stores. It presents a deep violet colour with purple reflections. This microclimate blend of four unique vineyards offers intense aroma, soft texture and concentrated flavour. Deep aromas of ripe red and dark fruits are joined by delicate violet and lavender notes, with traces of vanilla and mocha. A rich, concentrated mouthfeel is highlighted by flavours of blueberries and blackberries with a touch of leather and cinnamon. The wine has well-integrated tannins, bright acidity and a flinty minerality that provides exceptional length to the finish. Pair with roast turkey, grilled steak, salmon, and pasta with red sauce.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate rates it 91+/100 and comments: “2018 seems like a very good year for young and juicy reds, which is what the 2018 Catena Malbec is, a pure varietal that shows the typicity of the grape and the freshness of the year. It has the telltale aromas and the soft and velvety texture of the grape, with nicely integrated oak and a dry, long and pleasant finish. This has mind boggling quality for the quantity – they produce 2.5 million bottles of it! One to buy by the case.” $23.50 (Stock #7116).

And after writing this I have a bit of a shock ending – like we need that! I have just been told that there has been a holdup on the unloading of this last wine and you may not find it for a couple of weeks. But the good news is that a container of various wines from Argentina is here and all should be distributed soon as we struggle on towards “normal”. Many malbecs will be available.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit

In Mendoza, Argentina, the Nicolas Catena Zapata family experimented in the high foothills of the majestic Andean mountain range

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Published April 16, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 14, 2021 at 10:26 pm)

Tomorrow, celebrate World Malbec Day

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