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?

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