Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday Lineup: Laura Catena's Argentina

Laura Catena is one of those people you would love to have living next door - loads of practical knowledge, makes fabulous wines, tells great stories, and is an emergency room physician in case things get a tad grim. The only thing is that next door could be San Francisco, where she practices medicine, or Mendoza, where she practices wine.

She is also daughter of wine pioneer Nicolas Catena and great-granddaughter of immigrants from the Italian Marche to Argentina's premier wine-growing country. I met both Nicolas and Laura Catena at dinner about seven years ago at the famous Mayan temple-like Catena Zapata winery south of Mendoza city.

Today, Laura Catena is president of Catena Zapata and owner of her own Luca winery, based in the Uco Valley and specializing in wines made from grapes grown in ultra-high, small-lot vineyards on the eastern slope of the Andes. And if we can't have her living next door, we now have the next best thing: a just-out copy of her new book, Vino Argentina (Chronicle Books, $27.50), being released next Wednesday, and a bottle of her 2008 Luca Mendoza Malbec.

The book first - and it is an "everything book," one of those unusual blends of precise information you want when you're in a hurry and cultural grazing when you want context and a good story. Essentially, it is first a hands-on guidebook to Argentina wines and wineries with names and contact info. Second, it a book on the wine culture and foods of Argentina with lots of specific and delightful background material. Finally, it is a cookbook for those who can't make it to Argentina or who just came back from there and want a lingering taste of the Argentine lifestyle.

In short, Laura Catena's Vino Argentina is the one book I would read before going back to Argentina, then I would pack it in the luggage.

Now the wine:

Wine of the Week:

2008 Luca Mendoza Malbec ($32). The aroma is powerful - dark berries and murky oak - and there is an immediate sensation of richness (but not fat) on the palate. The basics flavors are the ones I'm immediately drawn to - very tangy fruit, like slightly dried but still plump Bing cherries, lying in a bed of creme fraiche or sour cream. The fruity creaminess lingers in the aftertaste. It has excellent integration of oak and fruit. Three ways of serving this wine come quickly to mind - with flaky, rich but not buttery cow's milk cheese, with an elegant dish of pink beef or lamb and a rich reduction sauce, or with goat stew. Very drinkable now, but will age well.

Until next week...
Roger Morris
New Articles:
- Profile of Talula's Table restaurant in current issue of Sante'.
- Wines of Greek Macedonia in the current issue of Sommelier News.
- Why Drink? in the current issue of the Montreal-based Plaisirs de Vivre. Why, indeed?

Friday, September 17, 2010

From the Alentejo Plains to the Douro Slopes

First things first: If you haven't tasted the delicious table wines David Baverstock has been making from Alentejo grapes for Esporao over the past 18 years, go out and buy some now. Esporao, like many Portuguese wineries, makes wines at various levels of price and corresponding complexities, and I was struck by the house consistency that Baverstock has achieved at all the levels. The simplest wines have some of the same appealing characteristics as the greatest. Beyond this, there is a consistency between vintages, although vintages definitely matter in the Alentejo.

Second: Mark your calendar for Spring 2011 when the first wines from Esporao-owned Quinta dos Murcas will start appearing in America of Douro table wines from Baverstock, an old hand at both Port and table wines from Portugal's north,

I just got back yesteday from visiting both estates on assignment to write five or so articles and had a great time. The food, particularly at the finer restaurants, was delicious, although we had a lovely lunch prepared by resident cook Dona Ana Maria of Murcas, including a fresh octopus with potatoes and broccoli (see photo). Through it all, there was not a single wine we tasted from the two estates that didn't show quality and that wasn't a very good food wine.

I'll be posting links to articles as they appear, but I hope you enjoyed this quick preview - including photos of the vines of Alentejo from a centuries-old tower, the harvest at Esporao, and a grape's-eye view of the Douro from atop one of Murcas' lofty vineyards.
Until next time,

Roger Morris

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cruzan Rummages Through the Spice Rack

Certain spirits are for sipping, what you reach for when you are relaxing or have something pleasurable to mull over. Pour me a Jack Daniels on the rocks during a long flight across the Atlantic when I'm leafing through my trip journal or a dollop of Cognac or Armagnac in a retro snifter while I'm at the bar listening to jazz piano after a pleasant, solo dinner or else when I'm reading the latest Vanity Fair in a stuffed chair on a wintry evening as the wind howls outside.

Now add Cruzan 9 spiced rum to make it a trilogy. Rum has always been an occasional drink for me, one that I certainly enjoy by itself or as the lead ingredient in a cocktail, but it isn't a regular on my iPod play list. But the other day, I received a promotional bottle of Cruzan spiced - No. 379 of the first 500 production run it says in the add-on label - and it blew me away. It's perhaps the smoothest full-scale (40% alcohol) flavored spirit I have tasted, and though it boasts nine "heirloom" spices, vanilla is its dominant aroma, both from the spice itself and the toasted wood. The other eight include cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, even a touch of juniper berry. It costs about $16 a bottle.

Although it's a serious drink, the nose immediately says "vanilla-bean ice cream." But I've resisted the temptation to buy some and try the combination. Mostly, I've just been sipping it neat, both at room temperature and chilled. I haven't wanted to weaken it with ice, but sooner or later, I suppose I'll have to try that as well.

It's also a pleasant morning drink - just a taste after some strong Italian-roast coffee, which is what I'm having now at 4:30 a.m. as I'm working on this posting. The day is already rosy, and it isn't even daylight.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Friday Lineup: This Writer's Life

Carla Capalbo is a respected wine and food correspondent, commentator and photographer, and those of you read Decanter regularly probably recognize her byline on dispatches, especially from Italy. I've met up with her over the past year or so in Bordeaux and Greece and have come to enjoy her insights and to be amused by her camera unipod (a tripod minus two) that must give airport security fits when she shows up with it on her trips.

When we were together with other journalists in Macedonia in late June, Carla showed me her just-published book, Collio: Fine Wines and Foods from Italy's North-East, for which she did text and color photos. It is a beautiful book, whether you're reading page-by-page or just thumbing through for an overview. Collio is a lovely section of the world that produces some heavenly wines, especially whites, and Carla has done a great job of capturing the place, the people and the wines and food. It is published by Pallas Athene, and you won't have any problem finding it on the internet or ordering it though your local indie.

This is not her first wine and food book, and what makes Carla so good is that she takes the time to know a region, either camping out in it for weeks or visiting with frequency if she lives nearby.

Buy it, either for yourself or the wino who lives on the other side of your bed.


I frequently try to tell people that wine writing and the travel it entails - especially those long second-class flights to vineyards inconveniently planted on the other side of the Atlantic or the 12-hour days in the tasting room and at the dinner table with nothing to do except drink, eat, ask questions and take notes - can be pure hell. No one believes me. "Can I carry your bags?" they ask. "How to I get your job?" they plead.

While I was away traveling to Paso Robles on a wine assignment recently, my friend and colleague John Lowman clipped the cartoon above from The New Yorker and slow-mailed it to me so I would see it on my return.

Need I say anything else?

Wine of the Week

2001 Montecillo Rioja Gran Riserva ($25). Maria Martinez was one of the first women in Europe to break the for-men-only cellar-door barrier and open it to a flood of female winemakers, and her experience shows off in this wonderly sophisticated Tempranillo. For people who don't have the storage room or the patience to age their own wines, this is the way you used to be able to buy reds - fully mature when you opened the bottle and ready to drink without being tired or dried out. This nine-year old new release has rounded red fruit, mellow, well-integrated oak, just a touch of tannins and food-loving acidity. It will keep for more years, but why not drink it now? A steal at $25.

Wines of Interest

2009 Vina Costeira Ribeiro ($15). A tangy, refreshing white from Spain's left coast with medium body and lots of citrus and floral notes and a touch of brioche in the finish. Very nice blend of indigenous grapes with Treixadura (70%) leading the way. (Note: Ribeiro D.O. is not to be confused with Ribera del Duero.)

2008 Blackstone Winemaker Select California Merlot ($11). Ripe, rich fruit with moderate oak and a touch of creaminess in the end. A harmonious wine, simple and not complex.
2008 Un4seen California Red Wine ($11). When I unscrewed this and took the first taste, I was hit with the sweet fruitiness of the kind of wine I don't drink. But the second sip showed good structure and a surprisingly fine spicy, satisfying finish. I drank some and came back the next day to finish the bottle. That said, Un4seen is really a wine for people who like a sweeter, fruitier table companion, but don't want a cloying finish. If you're climbing up or going down that sweet to dry ladder, this could be your wine. A blend of Zin, Malbec, PV and Merlot.

Now Playing at a Newstand (or Computer Screen) Near You

My latest harvest of wine articles has some nice ones:

Drinks Business, the UK-based wine business publication, carries my case study of Michel Rolland's Mendoza wine collective, Clos de los Siete, in its August issue.

Drinks, the American consumer magazine, has my cover story on "Spain's Greatest Grape: The Many Faces of Tempranillo," in its fall issue.

And the August issue of Sommelier News, the online magazine at, features my piece on Sangiovese di Romagna, vying to become Italy's fourth great Sangiovese region.

Let me know if you would like to see a scanned copy of either the Clos de los Siete or Tempranillo articles.

Until next time...

Roger Morris