Some of the most beautiful things in the world of food and wine have come about because someone dared to think beyond the previously unquestioned borders of tradition. It takes a dreamer with a stomach of steel to chase after a new, sometimes controversial version of the future, and often that dreamer is an outsider, armed with fresh eyes and plenty of newfangled ideas.
Bodega Caros is the story of what can happen when two families full of visionaries dare to combine their considerable powers in search of something special.
Forming a Legendary Alliance
Nicola Catena sailed from his homeland of Italy to Argentina in 1898. His legendary optimism led the way, and within four years he had planted his first vineyard. Three generations have held court at Catena since Nicola first saw Argentine soil and felt that spurt of entrepreneurial hope, but the years have not always been joyful. Grandson Nicolas steered the winery through the bleak 1960’s and ’70’s, when things seemed on the brink of disaster, and it was his decision to overhaul the vineyard’s production techniques and rethink vineyard placement and management that really turned what had been previously regarded as a bulk production house into a producer of internationally respected wines. When asked about his apparent penchant for gambling in the face of looming misfortune, Nicolas said,
“I felt that the only way we would make a leap in quality would be by pushing the limits of vine cultivation, by taking risks.”
In August of 1868, some 30 years before Nicola Catena would board a ship bound for South America, a baron by the name of James Mayer Rothschild was finding his future in an entirely different way. For the princely sum of 4.4 million francs, Rothschild purchased Château Lafite, a French estate in the Medoc region of Bordeaux that had already been producing wine (to the benefit of a series of oft-times tragic French and Dutch owners) since the 13th Century. Baron Rothschild died just three months later, leaving the now aptly coined Château Lafite Rothschild to his three sons. The chateau was hit hard by phylloxera and the same political strife that threatened to decimate many of the vineyards in Western Europe, but both the wine and the family survived. Today things run under the direction of Eric de Rothschild; he’s been at the helm since 1974, during which time he has seen bottles of his family’s wine go for record prices.
It’s hard to imagine what would prompt two relative wine giants on two different continents to suddenly get the urge to pair up, but in 1999 that’s exactly what happened. The goal? To combine French tradition and skill in growing and vinification with the Catena family’s knowledge of the still largely untapped region of Mendoza. Could Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux mainstay, and Argentina’s crowned varietal Malbec be combined to produce something interesting, intriguing and, above all, delicious enough to grab the wine world by their collective palate?
The Proof is in the Pairing
The new Bodegas Caro team worked quickly, choosing growing sites in the “First Zone” (Luján de Cuyo and Maipú), and in the Uco Valley (Tunuyán, Tupungato and San Carlos). Between the two regions there is a marked difference in terroir; the altitude in the First Zone in Mendoza ranges from 800-950 meters with an average temperature of about 46-80 degrees F, while the more southern Uco Valley sits between snow-capped glaciers at an altitude of about 1000-1600 meters, with an average temperature of 45-70 degrees F. In a business where climate and soil is everything, combining grapes from these two differing vineyards is a key part of the winemaking strategy.
The winery’s inaugural release was the 2000 Caro. The exact blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec hasn’t been made public, but upon opening the wine both grapes make their presence immediately known. Rich red and black fruit offer a bed of tangy jam, given depth by the flavor of juicy blackberries and a smoky, herbaceous note that lends itself to pairing with the famous grilled meats off an Argentine asado. The structure is plush over a hint of steel, the Bordeaux-like characteristics shining through to the bright, floral-tinged finish.
The success of Caro led to the creation of another wine, Amancaya, in 2003. The sort of step-child of the bigger, bolder Caro, the Amancaya trades some of the Caro’s tannic bite in favor of a more fruit-forward flavor laced with a touch of herb and spice. The balance between the two varietals is evident, and with shorter maceration and barrel aging times in comparison to the Caro, the wine is overall a touch lighter and more supple – it’s also about a third of the price.
In 2010, Bodegas Caro released Aruma, the vineyard’s first 100 percent Malbec, and it’s classic in color, aroma, and flavor. The wine is a deep garnet with almost fuchsia hints on reflection, and it just oozes with strawberries, plums, vanilla, and violet. The finish is soft but persistent.
The State of the Union
It would be lovely to say that this intercultural experiment has been widely and happily received by all who have lined up glasses in hand, but few things – wine especially – work that way. Critics have largely offered up positive ratings vintage after vintage, and all three offerings definitely have their own dedicated following, but there are still those who believe in a varietal’s purity. For them, the Catena/Rothschild partnership is little more than a faddish oddity. To others, it is an example of how beautiful wine can be when you cast aside expectations and simply take it, sip by sip, not for what you want it to be but just for what it is.
Join our social network and share