2011 Tikal Malbec Natural Mendoza
Expert Rating
RP 91 points
(Read the full review below)
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Tikal Vineyards and Nicolas Catena The Wine Advocate's 5-Star Tikal

For those who know the story, it bears repeating. For those who don't, the tale of the Catena family's rise to international stardom is a must-read.

In 1898, Nicola Catena boarded a sailboat in Livorno bound for the New World. It was a difficult trip, one that would take nearly two months. But when the boat finally moored in South America and Catena got his first look at Argentina, he knew his sailing days were over.

Catena was not only smitten by the beauty of the snow-capped Andes, but of the beef that is still considered the best in the world. Catena's great grandchildren contend that the family's pioneering godfather ate a quarter pound of raw beef each day for breakfast. In 1902, the Italian immigrant planted his first rows of Malbec, if only to provide a hearty complement to his sirloin.

The Catenas continued to farm Malbec over the next fifty years, but in the early 1960s, Domingo Catena reached the fiscal crossroads. The Argentine economy was upside down. Inflation rates (as they are today) were soaring. The market for Mendoza's Malbec at harvest could no longer cover the farming costs. Panicked, Señor Catena made a long distance phone call to a Berkeley, California exchange, only to get an answer he didn't want to hear.

Nicolás Catena, Domingo's son, was sitting in an apartment finishing his PhD thesis in economics when the phone rang. When he heard the tone in his father's voice, he put his book down and listened. Then he asked a handful of tough questions, each focused on the fiscal underpinnings of his family's winery. The analysis wouldn't take long. When Nicolás returned to Mendoza that summer, he came with a ultimatum. Either the family was going to roll the dice on quality, or the young economist was heading back to Telegraph Avenue.

The arithmetic couldn't have been more simple. At the time, the Catenas and their neighbors pushed crop levels to the limit, harvesting acidic Malbec, making wines that would have been perfectly acceptable to Nicola at the breakfast table sixty years before -- but were simply uncompetitive in the world market. There was only one way out. The family needed to raise the bar on its farming and cellar practices, taking Mendoza Malbec to the export market, thus buffering the impact of the chaotic internal economy.

Either we compete with Bordeaux and Napa, Nicolás argued bluntly -- or we shut our doors.

Like most of these great stories of the wine trail, time tends to move in slow motion. The most careful analysis -- so crystal clear on a spreadsheet -- would take decades to play out. By the early 1980s, Nicolás's mathematical theory finally began to overcome the challenges posed by political and economic upheaval in Argentina. With plantings set at over 3,000 feet in elevation, where vines are naturally irrigated from the runoff from the Andes, the Catenas began turning heads across the globe.

In 2011, off of a single organically-farmed patch set at 3200 feet in elevation, the Catenas -- still experimenting -- released this brilliant Malbec, "Natural." The Wine Advocate would drop a rare 91-point rating, about as high as Parker's publication would go for any Mendoza Malbec at anything approaching today's WineAccess price.

Deepest purple to the edge, with lush aromas of blueberry preserves and sweet spices. The attack is powerful, yet marvelously vibrant, featuring a dark core of black cherry preserves, a dash of crème-de-cassis, all bracketed by fine, bracing, high elevation acidity.

Not to be missed by Argentine Malbec aficionados nor the Napa Valley bargain hunters among us.

Tasting Notes

2011 Tikal Malbec Natural Mendoza
"The 2011 Tikal Natural is a blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Syrah both organically farmed in Vista Flores from 10-year-old vines. It is aged for ten months in 80% French and 20% American oak of which 10% is new. It has a vibrant, almost life-affirming bouquet of lifted dark cherries, blueberry, soy and minerals that is beautifully defined. The palate is sensual and caressing on the entry, setting you up for its silky tannins, pure macerated dark cherries and blueberry fruit struck through by a keen thread of acidity. Utterly seductive! Drink now-2017."
91 points -- Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

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