A blend of terroir, Cabernet Franc and the Uco Valley
A t the end of the journey, we remember only one battle: the one we fought against ourselves, the original enemy, the one that defined us.’ This quote adorns every bottle made by El Enemigo, Spanish for ‘The Enemy’.
El Enemigo is a joint project between two great minds: Alejandro Vigil (who is also winemaking director at Catena Zapata) and Adrianna Catena (a historian and daughter of Nicolás Catena; the 2009 Decanter Man of the Year).
The deal was effectively sealed during a September stroll along the Thames in London following a dinner to celebrate Nicolás’ Decanter honour. Adrianna and Alejandro agreed to pursue their shared dream of producing fresh, high-altitude Cabernet Francs, which tapped into their mutual love for tradition and history.
Alejandro has overseen winemaking duties at Catena Zapata since 2002, while Adrianna gained her wine knowledge by enjoying many bottles of top Bordeaux with her father. ‘I will never forget the first time dad got a shipment from France and he opened a bottle of Cheval Blanc for me,’ she recalls fondly.
Alejandro is an agronomist who graduated top of his agricultural engineering class before assuming the role of Head of Soils at Argentina’s National Research Institute. Then came the call from Nicolás Catena, who wanted him to study and analyse the soils on Catena’s various family farms.
In line with Alejandro’s and Adrianna’s shared passion for history, a nod to the past can often be found in their wines. Their Cabernet Francs hark back to Pomerol’s yesteryear, when the grape was always the foundation of the blend and then complemented by other Bordeaux varieties. They also use large, old oak barrels which echo those used in Mendoza more than 100 years ago, when the staves were shipped in from Italy to be put together and re-toasted in Mendoza. However, El Enemigo is not merely a project of deference to times gone by. With Cabernet Franc as its undisputed focus, it
has zoned in on specific micro-climates which display unique terroirs within single-site vineyards at altitudes of up to 1,470m. None are more important than in Mendoza’s Tupungato sub-region of Gualtallary, where the calcareous soils are of oceanic origin.
Here, high levels of sunlight and sunshine hours as well as the broad range of day and night temperatures allow the grapes to ripen fully while also locking in acidity levels. This results in plush but balanced wines.
El Enemigo can also boast a Bonardaproducing vineyard in Rivadivia in eastern Mendoza (planted at 650m altitude on sandy soils) that is more than 100 years old. This is in addition to other carefully tended vineyards in Chacayes, Agrelo as well as El Cepillo in the San Carlos commune of Mendoza.
The fruit from these varied sites ends up the cellar that Alejandro built on his family property. It sits alongside his highly-regarded restaurant, Casa Vigil, which he runs with his wife, María Sance.
It is an incessant eye for detail which has provided the building blocks of El Enemigo’s superlative wines and their accompanying success around the world – as evidenced by a brace of Gold medals at the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards. The Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard Gualtallary 2013 (pictured left) which contains 15% Malbec to enhance its complexity, was described by the Argentina judging panel as ‘a super example’ that boasts ‘a lovely polished nose of pretty notes of dark, ripe forest fruits and herbs’ and a ‘supremely expressive and concentrated’ palate with ‘lots of poise and elegance’.
Its stablemate, the Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard El Cepillo 2013 – which scored 96 points – has the same blend of grapes and the judging panel (overseen by multi-award-winning sommelier Paz Levinson) described it being ‘a great wine showing clever winemaking’ and appreciating its ‘pretty palate’ packed full of complex fruit.
‘I always look to experiment with my wines so don’t follow any recipe,’ says Alejandro. ‘Year after year I try to express the purity of the fruit and the soil, and that’s another reason why in the cellar I use concrete eggs, old foudres and barrels of various sizes and ages.’
It is this core belief and desire to understand the land which drives the pair, and alongside Alejandro’s passion for plants and soil means their wines represent the very essence of terroir.
Left: Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard Gualtallary 2013, which won Gold (95 points) at the 2018 DWWA
Above: one of the concrete eggs Above: Adrianna Catena Alejandro Vigil El Enemigo’s cellar