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Catena Zapata’s Malbec Argentino: The first label to tell the history of a Wine Variety from a female perspective

Bodega Catena Zapata was founded in 1902 by Nicola Catena, an Italian immigrant to Argentina.

His two great-granddaughters, Doctors Laura and Adrianna Catena, teamed up to make the wine and label for Malbec Argentino.

Pioneering runs in the family. Their father, Nicolás Catena Zapata, is known as the man who revolutionized Argentine wine in the 1980’s by focusing primarily on quality, planting vineyards at 1,500 meters elevation and spearheading the re-entrance of Malbec, the French varietal that had been almost completely forgotten in Europe, into the world of wine.

Dr. Laura Catena, a Harvard and Stanford trained biologist and physician, founder of the Catena Institute of Wine, approached her younger sister Adrianna who holds a PhD in history from Oxford University, to come up with a way to tell the epic tale of the Malbec variety on a label.

After years of being asked by journalists and wine experts “What comes after Malbec in Argentina?”, Laura felt compelled to tell the story of Malbec dating back 2,000 years to Roman times, to its near extinction after Phylloxera in France, to its rebirth and renaissance in Argentina.

Adrianna came back with a proposal inspired by the “Allegorical Representations of the Continents” that were popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, adding “The last continent added was America. So with this label we wanted to illustrate the history of Malbec in four allegorical figures, and through them propose a different historical perspective, a more global one, perhaps, and one that would highlight its American journey.” And why four women? says Adrianna: “We were also a bit tired of the monotonously male vision that most writings on the history of Malbec (and wine in general) propose. We wanted to honour the women…”

SOME QUOTES ABOUT THE MALBEC ARGENTINO LABEL

“In the second figure, we thought of the faceless immigrant, of today’s millions of refugees worldwide, and looking towards the past, of the hundreds of thousands of Italians, Spaniards, men AND women who crossed the Atlantic, most under duress or to have a chance at a better life, and who embarked upon this dangerous, surely daunting journey to a New World without knowing what would come next. With our narrative, and I would argue not a fictional one at all, we wanted to remember all the women who carried a small vine with them, and cared for it for months seaborne, and planted this child, this new beginning in new lands.”
Dr. Adrianna Catena
“The figures in this label are allegorical, representing stages in the history of Malbec through symbols, rather than historical details. So each figure has her attributes, and is surrounded by emblems of the events she represents. Eleanor of Aquitaine embraces a cornucopia, with the bridge of Cahors beneath her feet; the immingrant stands over the Atlantic, in reference to the expression ‘cruzar el charco’ (to cross the puddle), originating in the 16th C and still used, an expression that narrows the distance between each side, bringing immigrants closer to the homes they left, helping them through the difficult journey ahead. Phylloxera is fairly straightforward, besieged and consumed by death. The last figure is seated on a Globe, a symbol of the Catena family’s contribution to Malbec’s global revival and worldwide recognition. Behind her the Andes, our most precious source of water; at her feet the Pyramid, in recognition of the Indigenous cultures that first transfrormed the desert of Mendoza into a fertile region. In her left hand, a vine that leads to the next generation.”
Dr. Adrianna Catena
“Historical records tell that Eleanor of Aquitaine imported her native Black Wine (what Malbec was called back then) into England when she became the wife of England’s Henry the 2nd. She is a fascinating figure. Her first husband, the French king had their marriage annulled because after two daughters, he did not think she could provide him with a male heir. Despite her position as a woman, who at that time was considered her husband’s property, Eleanor became the most powerful queen of the Middle Ages, waged wars and established a law protecting country women from being married off by their lord. She lived to the ripe age of 83, outliving both her husbands and all but two of her ten children.”
Dr. Laura Catena
“I had a lot of fun with the Phylloxera character. As a biologist I am fascinated by insects and their role in vineyards, sometimes beneficial, sometimes lethal. Part of the mystery of Phylloxera in the 19th Century was that the French scientists couldn’t understand it’s reproductive cycle because the males are almost never seen. Phylloxera the insect mostly exists in the female form. And I thought it was important that not all the women on the label be “good.” We needed a villain and Phylloxera was perfect for this role. Besides, who knows how history might have turned out for our Malbec, if phylloxera had not decimated the European vineyards after Malbec was brought to Argentina.”
Dr. Laura Catena
“In my sister Adrianna’s first proposal, the fourth woman was supposed to be me. But I thought it should be Adrianna because she was there with my father when he was planting vineyards in the early 1990’s, at extreme high altitude, in places where he was told the vine would not ripen. My sister was there to support my father during these uncertain times, while my brother and I were in college in the USA. Plus, she had the vision for the label. And finally, because I still couldn’t convince her, I just used my “older sister” voice and she agreed…reluctantly. I just love looking at her beautiful strong face on the label."
Dr. Laura Catena

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Wine Ratings

Vintage 2015

95 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

94 POINTS - James Suckling

94 POINTS - Tim Atkin

SILVER - Decanter

Vintage 2013

95 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

94 POINTS - Vinous

94 POINTS - Tim Atkin

SILVER - Decanter

Vintage 2012

98 POINTS - James Suckling

94 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

94 POINTS - Vinous

Vintage 2011

95 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

94+ POINTS - Vinous

Vintage 2010

94 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

Vintage 2009

95 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

94 POINTS - Vinous

Vintage 2008

97 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

95 POINTS - Vinous

Vintage 2007

97 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

95 POINTS - Vinous

94 POINTS - Wine Spectator

Vintage 2006

96 POINTS - The Wine Advocate

95 POINTS - Wine Enthusiast

94 POINTS - Vinous

Vintage 2005

97+ POINTS - The Wine Advocate

96 POINTS - Wine Enthusiast

95 POINTS - Wine Spectator

94 POINTS - Vinous

Vintage 2004

98+ POINTS - The Wine Advocate

95 POINTS - Wine Spectator