* A version of this column was first published in the on-line edition of Saturday’s Knoxville News Sentinel.
The modern Italian impact on the world of wine can be felt from the peninsula’s contemporary iconic families like Gaja, Frescobaldi, Antinori, and date all the way back to the Italian diaspora of the late 19th century, which would give the New World a sense of its own vintner legacy. North America and more specially California would see the influence of that fine Italian hand through the likes of families with now legendary names; Gallo, Mondavi, Sebastiani, Martini, Seghesio and dozens more.
Pesce del giorno at Nashville’s Sardinia Enoteca!
Perhaps not as dramatic or as forceful as it’s northern neighbors, South America and particularly Argentina would make way for the rise of it’s own celebrated equivalent in another Italian immigrant family, the house of Catena. With several quality-demanding vineyards that make up their Catena Zapata line and span some 56 acres, the Catena family has established their wines, their name and indeed their legacy as Argentina’s vintner kings.
A day trip to Nashville for a seminar on Catena’s collectible and celebrated wines presented the opportunity to taste just how amazing their wines have become. Over a remarkable lunch at Nashville’s new Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante, we were welcomed with two well-structured South American Chardonnays, the 2009 Catena White Stones and 2008 Catena White Bones.
Both of these Chardonnays are extremely allocated (with a price to reflect it) but offer a rare combination of California approachability with Burgundian style, nuance, and sophistication. The integration of the wine’s wood-influence teeters on perfection without being club-like, while the fruit of the wine is flawlessly consistent and enjoyable. Think Paul Hobbs meets Olivier Leflaive.
Catena’s ambassador, Jorge Liloy, also presented us with half a dozen of the winery’s marque Malbecs including multiple vintages of their flagship wine, the Nicolas Catena Zapata. And although you can’t find a bad one among their Adrianna, Nicolas and Argentino bottlings of Malbec, it was the very beautiful 2009 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec that stole the show.
The Nicasia is what Malbec should always be, approachable and alluring, with a sleek tannic structure, a violet bouquet and gorgeous rolling layers of decadent dark berry fruit. Forget about all those wannabe kitschy Malbecs with their hands in the air, begging to be picked. In the end they are almost always the same, brashly single minded, and over the top.
Perhaps it’s the style of that fine Italian hand, now generations removed that still distinguishes the wines of Catena. Or maybe it’s about something as simple as getting what you pay for. Regardless, the Catena collection will be available here this fall and it’s a must for wine fanatics to seek out, to share, and to enjoy.