Elin’s Wine Pick: 2009 Catena Alta Malbec

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in: Drinking

I used to think Malbec’s popularity was bound to wane, but it’s still a hot varietal in the U.S. despite the dozens of simple, jammy examples. This big, savory 2009 Catena Alta Malbec, with its aroma of violets and layers of glossy dark fruit flavors, is one of the best around. It’s not cheap, but it is well worth the price, and has a great back story, too.

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week


2009 Catena Alta Malbec 

Price: $40

Region: Mendoza, Argentina

Grape: 100% Malbec

Alcohol: 14.1%

Serve with:  Grilled steaks, beef en daube with olives

This rich, sophisticated red is perfect for drinking with grilled strip steaks on a cool night. It was one of the best wines I tasted at a Women in Wine Leadership Symposium held in New York City last week. The event was a chance for top level women in the industry such as Costco’s wine buyer Annette Alvarez-Peters and innovative women wine producers to share thoughts about the state of women in wine and some good bottles.

Laura Catena, the managing director of her family’s Catena Zapata winery in Argentina and author of the book “Vino Argentino,” held forth on a panel about multigenerational wine families. The winery was founded in 1902, but her father Nicolas, third generation, put it on the path to world fame. He was a key player in the country’s Malbec revolution and is often referred to as the “Robert Mondavi of Argentina.” Entering the architecturally stunning winery he inaugurated in 2001, you feel as if you are entering a Mayan temple.

Catena got involved after attending Harvard and Stanford medical school, and now manages to juggle a job as an emergency doctor in San Francisco with overseeing operations as well as chiming in on viticultural research and winemaking.

The first Catena Alta Malbec, their top bottling of the varietal, was the 1996 vintage, but Laura says that they’ve only recently really understood how sensitive Malbec is to specific microclimates. The family has done more research on this grape than anyone and conclude that high altitude vineyards and old vines are essential for quality and complexity.

The 2009 comes from three vineyards at elevations of 3,000 feet to 4,700 feet. I used to find some Catena Malbecs too oaky, but this one definitely isn’t. Its tannins are smooth, its texture silky and elegant. You can drink it now, but it will age well, too. If you’re in the mood for a splurge, go for it.

Top photo composite:

Label for Catena Alta Malbec, and Laura Catena and her father Nicolás. Credit: Courtesy of catenawines.com

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