October 2nd, 2009
Source: Prime Cuts Blog | Joseph Gionfriddo.
Nicolás Catena is the man responsible for Argentinean wine as we know it today. I was recently invited to attend a ceremony honoring Nicolás Catena, for being named Decanter Magazine’s man of the year in wine. This honor is especially significant for Nicolás, as he is the first Argentinean to receive this award. For those who do not know, Catena is more or less responsible for putting Argentina on the wine map, and furthermore proving that Argentine wines can stand up alongside some of the great French, and in particular Bordeaux wines in terms of overall quality. For Nicolás Catena this achievement came from many years toiling with the specifics of wine production in Argentina’s Uco Valley, and with a the right combination of patience, timing, and a little help from family and friends, many years of trial and error eventually became, trial and success.
Catena wines have had a lengthy relationship with the Boston area, and the state of Massachusetts (there is a scene in The Departed when Leonardo DiCaprio is sitting on a case of Catena Malbec). Catena’s daughter, Laura attended Harvard University, and played then, as she still does now a very active role in both winemaking and distribution for Catena vineyards. For this reason Nicolás and Laura Catena were honored additionally, in Massachusetts after the European Decanter Ceremony. This event was coordinated by M.S. Walker, the Massachusetts wine distributing company that is responsible for retailing Catena’s fine wines, and with whom Catena has long standing ties. Attendees to this event were selected based on the amount of Catena wines sold over the last five years, as well as their respective relevance to the winemaker.
So, when I was asked to attend as the representative of Caminito, my small Argentinean Steakhouse, I considered it quite a personal milestone, as well as extremely fortunate that the ceremony was held not only within driving distance, but on my day off! I have featured Catena’s fine wines as well as his table wines on my restaurant wine list since the day I opened, and although I may not have sold as many cases as some of the large retail companies that were in attendance, the fact that I do so in an Argentine themed Steakhouse made my presence all the more relevant. As my wine list has matured over the years so has my palate, and I can honestly say that I have had the opportunity to notice the changes from vintage to vintage and taste firsthand how Catena’s fine wines have come to be recognized as some of the best in not only Argentina, but the world!
At the Boston event not only did the wine flow freely, but the really, really, good wine flowed freely! It was amazing being able to try wines that are at the top end of some of Argentina’s best restaurants’ wine lists, as well as some that rarely make it onto U.S. soil. There were speeches by Catena, and his daughter Laura, as well as the President of M.S. Walker, and some of Catena’s colleagues. Most of the subject matter pertained to the fact that Nicolás Catena has long been unofficially credited with perfecting Malbec (Argentina’s now famous red grape). The majority of the speeches concluded with how proud everyone is that Catena is now officially credited for Argentinean Malbec’s rise to fame.
It was Catena’s attention to detail that led him to find that in order to produce world class Malbec, soil composition was far less important than he originally thought. It was the mountain side territory, and in particular latitude, that translated to the most important growing factors of temperature and sunlight intensity. These are the key ingredients if you will, which are necessary to produce Malbec that has the greatest complexity and elegance. Precise blending of specific vineyards, and the selection of old aged vines are secondary factors that Catena has been perfecting in his life’s work of putting Malbec on the world wine map.
So for me it was a proud moment when, with a glass of Catena’s rarely exported Malbec Argentino in my hand, I was able to introduce myself to the godfather of Argentine wine, and say “Thank you, I have been proudly pouring your wines at Caminito Argentinean Steakhouse since opening day, and I will continue to do so for as long as they are made”. Catena spoke with the quiet confidence that only comes from years of experience and success, when he simply replied “you are very welcome, happy to do it”.