Catalpa Chardonnay comes from Bodega Atamisque in Mendoza, Argentina. The reason it qualifies in my book as a "surprising wine" is the years I've spent deriding most Argentine whites. Sure, I love their Malbecs. In my humble opinion they are better than the French (sorry Cahors!). They also make some excellent cabernet sauvignon.
But I have always been, at best, dismissive of their white wines. I am willing to admit maybe I just missed the good ones but I've had plenty and in a wide range of prices.
They often were plain bad--and pricey versions didn't compare with their French and American counterparts in any meaningful way. I had yet to find a chardonnay from Mendoza I thought more than tolerable (that I can recall anyway). Catalpa has changed this and shown me the golden-greenish color of a solid, unique, chardonnay. Maybe I just needed to find this particular part of Mendoza (Alto Tupungato, Uco Valley).
The wine is aged in stainless steel and oak for about 50 percent of the time each. This gives the wine some oak but that oakiness is never overwhelming. The wine is grown at an altitude of over 4000 feet. You can see golden color, with some teases of green, in the photo of the poured class of wine. Catalpa Chardonnay certainly has some acid which balances nicely with its apple-centric fruit flavors. There is an almost flinty taste to the wine calling to the mind a Chablis or two because of its minerality (means what you think it does!) which is probably the reason for my Old World reference. This wine has some butter but like the oak it isn't overwhelming.
The term "butter" is one I almost have to use; you will see it used constantly referring to chardonnay. If you taste a chard that is buttery and one next to it that is not, the term's meaning is unmistakable; it is a taste that almost seems viscous (especially when overdone). You can feel free to argue or point out the incongruity of my saying “this wine seems Old World,” then saying “butter is a New World thing.” Sometimes, to me, there is just something about a wine, something buried in its complexity that reminds you of something— almost a like a déjà vu feeling. For certain there are a handful of people out there who can sniff the wine and tell you the chemical breakdown of the soil the where the grapes grew but most of us cannot. In any case, how does that amazing skill help us grab a bottle at the supermarket?
This is a single vineyard wine; all the grapes were grown in the same place. This means that, all things being equal (weather for instance), the wines they produce should be solid, if different, year to year. This one was a 2011 and I plan to revisit some of the wine's more recent incarnations.
This is a chardonnay drinkers chardonnay; it is a white with body to it, heft. If you are looking for a lighter wine? Look elsewhere. If you need your chard to have NO OAK whatever? Look elsewhere. But for a medium oak, big chard you won't find one in the just shy of $20 price range that is much better.