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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World Malbec Day Review: 2014 Bodega Norton Barrel Select Malbec

17 04 2017

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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Happy World Malbec Day!

Happy belated Easter to all – I hope your long weekend was filled with family and food and chocolate and wine in some order.  If you headed back to work on Easter Monday and were feeling the post-holiday blues, fear not, because there is another event on today that’s worth celebrating:  April 17th has been designated World Malbec Day, a designation I would bet many people choose to live out far more often.  In a blink sometime in the last decade, Malbec went from being an overlooked Bordeaux blending grape and an esoteric dark and chewy hidden treasure from Cahors to Australian Shiraz’s heir as the friendly, fruity, powerful gateway drug into the wonderful world of wine.  Whereas I stumbled onto Yellow Tail sometime in the early 2000s and worked my way up from there, nascent wine lovers today are heading to the previously non-existent Argentina section of their local liquor store and starting their odyssey with the grape, one that will hopefully last a lifetime. Read the rest of this entry »





Luigi Bosca: 2013 Malbec Value Tiers

1 09 2016

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

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Now THAT’S a label rebrand. Thing of beauty.

Once you dive deep into the world of wine and start devoting more time and money than most people deem sane into bottles and glasses and books and storage systems, it can be a challenge sometimes to maintain a sense of discovery about larger-production brands, the workhorse wines you see on the liquor store shelves.  In part that can be valid:  some of them aren’t very good, a fact thrown into stark relief after you’ve learned about production differences and downed a quality bottle or three.  But others have found a way to keep that quality and that sense of vinous wonder despite stepping up in scale and availability, and the best of these manage to do this at an easily accessible price.  It may be as hard to create a well-made, interesting, varietally accurate bottle of 100,000-case $20 wine as it is to create a small-production luxury showpiece bottle at $100.  I’ve been able to try a few different Luigi Bosca wines over the past couple years, and they are making the former happen on a consistent basis.

I say this a lot and apologize for repeating myself, but if you want to learn about a grape or a producer or a region, buy a representative bottle and pay careful attention as you drink it.  If you REALLY want to learn a lot MORE about that grape, producer or region, buy TWO different representative bottles, drink them side by side, and note the similarities and differences.  Comparative tasting is probably the biggest educational gift you can give yourself…plus you also get to open two bottles at once, which can never be bad.  Tonight’s comparative tasting should be particularly illustrative because so much about the two Luigi Bosca Malbecs sitting in front of me are alike:  same producer, same grape, same vintage (2013), same general region (Mendoza, Malbec capital of the New World in Argentina).  What’s different?  Price points ($18 vs. $35), site specificity (general regional wine vs. single-vineyard wine from quality subregion) and grape-growing/winemaking techniques.  What shines through – the similarities or the differences? Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Argentine Value Challenge: Punto Final

4 10 2014

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

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Look closely: Spanish tasting notes!

There’s a lingering question out there that will go a long way in determining the ultimate path of the nascent Argentinian wine industry:  what to go along with Malbec?  That particular Bordeaux transplant has become a global phenomenon up in the foothills of the Andes and the undisputed star of Argentina’s vinous revolution, but there are a number of grapes currently vying for the role of its trusty national sidekick.  For a while it seemed like there was a strong marketing push to obtain Malbec-like acceptance of Argentina’s most unique white, Torrontes; I recently read a Decanter tasting panel that argued forcefully that the country’s recent forays into Cabernet Franc were an absolute revelation and that this underappreciated varietal should assume the silver medal position among Argentinian producers, although the less exciting Bonarda currently occupies that slot in terms of vineyard acres planted.  And of course, there’s always Cabernet Sauvignon, the international behemoth, promising instant recognition and easy sales for anywhere warm enough for it to grow.  In my experience, if an Argentine wine is on the shelves here and it isn’t Malbec, it’s usually Cab.  And while the wine geek in me would love to see Franc seize the day, the realist in me knows that Sauvignon will be pretty tough to displace. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Dona Paula “Los Cardos” Malbec

1 02 2012

Marketing note: maybe don't name your wine after a weed.

Many apologies for the blog radio silence over the past few days:  after weeks of avoiding it, I finally ended up catching the sinus/chest cold that every single person in Calgary currently has, so I had to shut down my wine consumption until I was more or less healthy.  The worst has now passed, but I still have a bit of residual congestion, so be warned in advance that the following review could be completely inaccurate…but it’s free, so what do you care?

Malbec!  I have no idea how this is possible, but this is the very first Malbec that has been the feature of its own PnP review.  The grape that has been a part of the blend in red Bordeaux wines for centuries but that has taken the drinking world by storm in the last decade with its single-varietal Argentinian incarnation is definitely the Shiraz of the 2000s, the new red wine that offers such an inexpensive and enjoyable experience that it has put a previously-ignored winemaking country on the vinous map.  I haven’t been avoiding it on purpose — like everyone, I’m a fan of a good Malbec — but after a couple sips of this wine, I knew I was going to regret making it my initial foray into the grape.

Read the rest of this entry »