Luminous Austerity: the High Altitude Chardonnays of Catena Zapata

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Drinking White Stone and White Bones Chardonnay

The light hugged up against the Andes in the Gualtallary zone of the Uco Valley glows. The atmosphere is thin at such high elevation. It pinches to breathe. The intensity of sunlight changes, comes less filtered from less air, literally more radiation, or ultraviolet reaching the surface of the earth. The air itself shows luminous.

At the Western-most edge, the Adrianna Vineyard pushes through sand and lime into a nest of seashell laden, fossilized white stones. Roots of chardonnay wrestle for water here, the vines surrounded by stark temperatures of the highland plateau.

The thought of an old seabed at 4800 feet/1450 meters stuns me–the white, fist-size rocks full of ocean evidence. We are standing at the foot of the Andes in luminous light, surrounded by stark landscape in air so thin it hurts to breathe–standing on ground the result of missing water.

The Andes through White Stones Chardonnay

the Andes through White Stones Chardonnay

Catena Zapata White Stones and White Bones Chardonnays originate as two separate block designates in the Adrianna Vineyard. Further East, the White Stones block riddles through with rounded white stones bringing calcium concentration to the already limestone rich plot. 400-yards West, the White Bones block rushes with fossilized seashells. Between, a meter deep well of sand separates the two.

We visit the high-elevation vineyard standing beside holes dug in between the vines as soil studies to view the distinctions between the multiple blocks. Then we move to the side and taste the wines.

Catena Zapata’s high elevation chardonnays deliver a taste of their mountains’ luminous austerity. The flavor presentations beautifully confuse, giving simultaneously a sense of delicacy and richness. Where the White Stones offers intense, lean mineral texture, the White Bones layers an additional viscosity of floral flavor. Both carry a structural core of energetic strength with juiciness, enough to stand up to foods unexpected for Chardonnay–spiced meats, empanadas, even espresso I discover when I taste the wines again later.

The 2009s showcase the lean high-elevation focus of whites grown in such a unique zone. Comparing them to the 2010s, however, highlights the additional softening (though slight–these wines are not in themselves soft) and flavor of an extra vintage. The 2010s come in right now more clear and focused by comparison. All four of these wines–two Chardonnays in two vintages–offer beautiful focus with presence that is thrilling.

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2010 is the current release vintage of both Chardonnays. Some 2009s are still available in the US market.

Thank you to Laura Catena, David Greenberg, and Marilyn Krieger.

Thank you to Mary Orlin, Mary Gorman-McAdams, Kelly Magyrics, and Alyssa Vitrano.

For distribution information: http://www.catenawines.com/eng/locate/north-america.html

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