Nicolas Catena: Argentina’s Wine Laureate

This morning, I’m driving to the Bodega Catena Zapata, the winery that changed my opinion of Argentine wine. I remember drinking a Catena red wine one night at a friend’s house and guessing that it was Australian Shiraz. My body hummed with contentment as I let myself down into its berry-decadence. I was pleasantly surprised to find out what it was, and started buying more Malbec. Now, as I follow the long gravel road, a space-age stone temple rises from the vines, framed against the Andes silver peaks. This extravagant architectural statement is the concrete gesture of one man’s desire […]

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First Argentine Wine: Malbec Calling Catena

Continued from Part 1 of Catena Wine That robust work ethic has been in the Catena family for generations. In 1898, his grandfather Nicola left a small village in Sicily for Argentina. He started planting vines in 1902 and raised a family. His eldest son, Domingo, married Angelica Zapata, a daughter of a large land owner, increasing the family’s holdings. By 1973, the winery had become the country’s largest producer of cheap wines, pumping out 240 million bottles a year. Nicolás, the son of Domingo and Angelica, was a brilliant boy and finished high school at 15. At the request […]

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Science and Wine: The Argentine Marriage of True Vines

Continued from Part 2 of Catena Wine That “little project” lasted fifteen years and involved planting 145 Malbec “clones”: the same grape, but from different parent vines, to see which clones would do best in different sites. (“Wine caters to obsessive personalities: it makes you worse,” Nicolás observes with a sigh.) He knew that until the late 1800s, when phylloxera destroyed most European vineyards, Malbec had been one of the most planted grapes in Bordeaux whereas today, it’s less than ten percent of vineyards there. Malbec still thrives in the warm region of southwest France called Cahors, which makes a […]

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Like Father, Like Daughter: Nicolas and Laura Catena

Continued from Part 3 of Argentine Wine The Catena Alta Malbec Cabernet we’re drinking smolders in the glass. Its sultry edge is more enticing than the sweet, soupy international style of many brand name grapes. Nicolás believes that drinkers are shifting away from the herbal flavors of Cabernet and turning more toward wines like Malbec (and Syrah, Tempranillo, and Grenache) that have fleshy dark red fruit and violet flavors. Blending Malbec and Cabernet grapes is still traditional: “These blends give us French elegance and Latin passion,” as Nicolás explains. However, he no longer believes that Malbec needs Cabernet Sauvignon—or any […]

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Argentina’s Wine Visionary Sees the Future Rooted in the Past

Continued from Part 4 of Argentine Wine The 1982 Falklands War with Britain also didn’t help the economy or exports. Then there was hyper-inflation that exceeded 3,000 percent a month, which discouraged foreign investment. Vintners made up for the lost revenue by producing high volumes of poor-quality wines that smelled like bananas rotting in an attic. Meanwhile, neighboring Chile’s economy was much more stable and the country was already producing more wine than it could consume, so it was focused on export in the 1980s. Chile took advantage of this to position itself at the very low end of the […]

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Do Flights of #Wine on This Airline Give You a Vertigo Tasting?

My dream flight begins with the wine selection: “We’d like to direct your attention to the wine list in the seat pocket in front of you. You’ll note we have a fine selection of first-growth Bordeaux at the rear of the plane (using the double-arm, two-finger signal), 40-year vintage port is being decanted in the middle aisles and, for our first-class passengers, a vertical of Chateau d’Yquem 1945 through 1960, at the front of the plane. At any time during this flight, should you run out of wine, it is imperative that you help yourself before assisting other passengers. This […]

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Is This Taking Airline #Wine to a Whole New Plane?

Continued from Part 1 of Airline Wine … Turns out, of course, the same wines were served in all three tastings. Before the wine even gets on board, it must survive the labyrinthine logistics of thousands of flights and destinations. Ken Chase, who consults to Delta, admits to doing strange things with wine, such as heating, chilling and shaking it, to ensure that the wine can withstand the cooking on the tarmac in Mexico or being rick-shawed through bumpy streets in Bangkok. Will the wine still perform in your glass after it’s been rerouted through Iceland? Fortunately, most airlines have […]

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Flying First Class, Drinking Economy: Is This Cloud Nine #Wine?

Continued from Part 2 of Airline Wine … The now defunct Canadian Airlines’ wine program used to take take the opposite approach, serving wines that passengers couldn’t buy on the ground — wineries had agree not to sell the airline’s selections in Canada. (That’s probably not the primary reason the company went under, but you never know which is the last drop that makes your cup overflowth.) Many airlines use an outside tasting panel to make the final choices. The oenological literati advises British Airways: Hugh Johnson, Michael Broadbent and Jancis Robinson who says in her memoir that after gushing […]

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Airline #Wine is Taking Off

Natalie MacLean is an accredited sommelier, wine journalist and author of Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass. I understand you travelled extensively to research your book. Yes, I spent three years sipping and spitting my way through various vineyards around Europe and around North America – Burgundy, Champagne and California, among others. How do you research your stories? You can only say so much about wine by just opening the bottle: it’s wet, it’s fruity, it tastes good or it doesn’t. The story of wine is the story about the place, where it’s […]

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How to Spit Wine Without Losing Your Dignity

Spitting out your wine—it’s an acceptable part of winery tasting room etiquette. In North America, we associate spitting with crudeness and great gobs of wet tobacco. Europeans, however, are completely uninhibited about spitting wine—as they are about nude bathing and May-December sexual liaisons. The French call it recracher, and they have no qualms about doing it in the vineyard, down drains, or even on the barrel room floor. (Here are my top reviews for wines not to spit.) But don’t think it’s a mark of European sophistication to spit on a floor that’s finished in bird’s eye maple or covered […]

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