Good Money After Bad
It's been more than forty years since the Argentine economist, while sitting at his desk on Telegraph Avenue, received the call. Ernesto Catena was distraught, and immediately began peppering his brilliant son, Nicolas, with a barrage of figures. The family's winegrowing business was on the ropes -- as were most in Argentina in the 1960s -- victimized by a poor local economy and an unstable government. It wouldn't take Nicolas long to run through the numbers in his head.
Nicolas wouldn't sugarcoat the picture. "There's no way out. Shut the place down. Walk away. There's no sense throwing good money after bad."
A month later, knowing full well that his son's Berkeley-educated opinion was spot on, the father ignored his son's advice. The harvest took place right on schedule. Ernesto Catena lost his shirt.
A year later, when Nicolas Catena returned to Mendoza, he'd completed a thorough analysis of the family's business. "If we continued to farm for quantity, we were dead. Our market was Argentine and the internal economy was in shambles." Argentina's logical equivalent to Napa's Robert Mondavi went on. "We had to raise the bar to compete on the global stage. It was a long shot, but it was the only possible way out."
Over the last few decades, the investment the Catenas made in their high elevation vineyards -- irrigated by runoff from the snowcapped Andes -- has paid handsome dividends, vaulting the Catena empire into the critical stratosphere. And while it's the $100+/bottle, 98+ point Malbecs of Catena Zapata that are Argentina's most soft after collectables, it's Catena's "Patriota" and "Natural" that top Parker's list of Mendoza's juiciest bargains.
In the phenomenal 2011 growing season -- absent the heat spikes that often blister these small berry clusters -- Catena turned out two phenomenal bargains. The first, "Patriota," is a lavish black fruit blend that would earn top honors from the Wine Advocate, as Argentina's best value red.
The second is the 2011 "Natural" -- a phenomenally concentrated, exquisitely sleek blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Syrah -- drawn entirely from an experimental, organically farmed parcel in Vista Flores.
In many ways, despite all the lavish, Napa-like concentration of these 2011 Catena powerhouses, it's the wines' versatility that most stands out. Serve at 62 degrees during the winter months and the full throttle, modernist extravagance stands tall when accompanied by hearty stews and roasted game. But come May, and especially during the summer months, we serve Catena's brilliant Malbec blends a touch cooler -- at 58 degrees -- pairing them with sizzling salmon, tuna, steak or burgers right off the BBQ.