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Catena Zapata Looks To Burnish Malbec’s Premium Credentials

May 8, 2019

While the surge in Argentine Malbec was a defining trend of the U.S. imported wine market over recent decades, growth trends for Argentina have come back to earth lately, with shipment volume and value declining over the past three years. Last year, Argentina’s bottled shipments to the U.S. slipped 5.1% by volume to 5.1 million cases, while value fell 1.8% to $242.9 million. Some producers, however, sense an impending comeback—especially at the higher end.

One such player is Mendoza-based Bodega Catena Zapata, whose portfolio is tilted toward luxury-priced, site-specific Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, among other varietals. “I have a positive outlook on the future of Argentinian wine, and on Malbec in particular, because we have a strong, growing presence in the over-$15 retail price segments,” says managing director and fourth-generation leader Laura Catena.

Catena attributes Argentina’s declines to some rocky recent vintages and the fall of the country’s bulk wine market. But she adds that the dramatic jump in shipment value—which now stands at $41.72 a case compared to $23.78 a case in 2013—bodes well for the category.

Malbec is central to the Catena Zapata portfolio, which is handled by Winebow’s MundoVino division in the U.S. market. The flagship Catena Malbec ($24 a 750-ml.)—credited with helping to ignite the Argentina category in the U.S.—remains a top-seller at about 100,000 cases stateside. But Catena has also seen success at the high end with the small-production Malbec Argentino ($140), a blend of old vine Malbecs that tells the varietal’s history in Argentina with its branding. “My obsession is for people to understand the extraordinary history behind the renaissance of Malbec in Argentina,” Catena says.

Malbec aside, Catena has had considerable success with the winery’s single-parcel Chardonnay wines. She points to the White Bones ($140) and White Stones ($120) expressions as driving interest among consumers. “The wines are distinctive, and consumers are recognizing this and seeking them out,” Catena says.

Looking ahead, Catena says pushing the quality of high-end, regional Malbec will always be essential to the winery’s identity, and will play a key role in further elevating Argentina on the global stage. “Argentina needs to inform consumers of the differences in flavor for regional Malbec, from the floral, mineral Malbecs of Gualtallary to the jammy, rich Malbecs from old vines in Lujan de Cuyo,” she says.—Julia Higgins

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