Calgary Wine Life: Catena Virtual Tasting with Laura Catena

26 08 2017

Laura Catena is my wine hero.  Her list of credentials reads as if it must have been accomplished by at least two people over the course of long, full lives:  fourth-generation winery owner, global Argentinian wine ambassador, Harvard magna cum laude, Stanford medical school grad, San Francisco emergency room and pediatric emergency doctor, multilingual published author, viticultural researcher and innovator.  And these parallel tracks of success are not a story of a mid-life career switch; she has been excelling in one of the most challenging careers in medicine and continuing her family’s proud wine legacy simultaneously, on two different continents, since she was in her early 20s.  As I have a hard time juggling more normal professional work demands and writing a weekly wine blog in the same city, I hold Dr. Catena in some degree of awe, as an example of what purpose and passion truly can accomplish in a single lifespan.

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Argentina has long been highly ranked on global lists of national wine consumption, made up as it is of a high percentage of European immigrants and their descendants, who brought with them an imbued wine culture and the know-how to introduce vines and winemaking practices to their new home.  One such voyager was Nicola Catena, Laura’s great-grandfather, who came to Argentina from Italy in 1902, at age 18, and planted his first vineyard, which became the origin of Bodega Catena Zapata.  However, it was Laura’s father Nicolas, two generations later, who brought the winery to the world’s attention and ended up bringing the whole country along with him.

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Nicolas travelled to California in the 1980s, shortly after the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, where Napa Valley Cabernet and Chardonnay were first thrust into the global spotlight after besting top Bordeaux and Burgundies in a surprising blind tasting that went viral.  He met up with Robert Mondavi, perhaps the man most insatiably driven to keep California’s star burning ever more brightly, and was inspired by the quality and ambition in this burgeoning rogue wine nation.  Convinced that Argentina could follow the same path to prominence and be the equal of California (not to mention France) in quality, Nicolas Catena returned home, sold the domestic-consumption table wine portion of the family winery, and zeroed in his focus on quality wines for export, aiming to “put Argentina on the map as a grand cru” for world wine.  He spent years studying climate patterns and geology and gradually came to realize that the most popular vineyard areas in Argentina at the time were mostly too warm for quality wine production.  He had two choices for cooler planting zones:  south, away from the Equator, or up, into the Andes.  He went up, and Argentina’s wine fates rose with him. Read the rest of this entry »

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Side By Side: 2012 Tinto Negro Malbec x2

7 10 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Malbec vs. Malbec.  Mendoza Civil War.

Malbec vs. Malbec. Mendoza Civil War.

Forgive me if you’ve heard me say this before, but:  comparative tastings are the best.  You can learn a lot about wine by taking your time over a single bottle, properly assessing what’s inside and picking out colour and smell and flavour notes common to a country, region or grape.  You can learn way more about wine by doing this to two similar bottles at the same time, with almost the same characteristics, but for a single isolated variable:  same wine, different vintage; same producer, different grape; same grape, different country.  You pick up a whole bunch of what makes them the same, but you can also focus on the impact that primary thing that makes them different and see firsthand the tremendous effect that every single input going into a wine has on the finished product.  You learn from both the commonalities and the distinctions.  Plus you end up with two open bottles of wine, which generally always leads to a good night.

In this case, the similarities are massive and the differences apparently slight, but the impact remains noteworthy.  These two bottles are from the same producer (Tinto Negro, founded by the ex-vineyard manager and wine education director of renowned Argentinian winery Bodega Catena Zapata), the same country (Argentina), the same grape (Malbec), the same vintage (2012) and even the same region (Mendoza, Malbec’s New World spiritual home nestled in the foothills of the Andes).  However, the first bottle, the 2012 Tinto Negro Mendoza Malbec, is an entry-level regional bottling, and the second bottle, the 2012 Tinto Negro Uco Valley Malbec, is from the next quality tier up, a sub-regional bottling from the Uco Valley sub-zone in southwestern Mendoza.  Apart from their divergent price points, you might have a hard time differentiating them in the store, but does this little sourcing difference make a difference?  When you taste them side by side, oh yes. Read the rest of this entry »