Drinking White Stone and White Bones Chardonnay

The light hugged up against the Andes in the Gualtallary zone of the Uco Valley glows. The atmosphere is thin at such high elevation. It pinches to breathe. The intensity of sunlight changes, comes less filtered from less air, literally more radiation, or ultraviolet reaching the surface of the earth. The air itself shows luminous.

At the Western-most edge, the Adrianna Vineyard pushes through sand and lime into a nest of seashell laden, fossilized white stones. Roots of chardonnay wrestle for water here, the vines surrounded by stark temperatures of the highland plateau.

The thought of an old seabed at 4800 feet/1450 meters stuns me–the white, fist-size rocks full of ocean evidence. We are standing at the foot of the Andes in luminous light, surrounded by stark landscape in air so thin it hurts to breathe–standing on ground the result of missing water.

The Andes through White Stones Chardonnay

the Andes through White Stones Chardonnay

Catena Zapata White Stones and White Bones Chardonnays originate as two separate block designates in the Adrianna Vineyard. Further East, the White Stones block riddles through with rounded white stones bringing calcium concentration to the already limestone rich plot. 400-yards West, the White Bones block rushes with fossilized seashells. Between, a meter deep well of sand separates the two.

We visit the high-elevation vineyard standing beside holes dug in between the vines as soil studies to view the distinctions between the multiple blocks. Then we move to the side and taste the wines.

Catena Zapata’s high elevation chardonnays deliver a taste of their mountains’ luminous austerity. The flavor presentations beautifully confuse, giving simultaneously a sense of delicacy and richness. Where the White Stones offers intense, lean mineral texture, the White Bones layers an additional viscosity of floral flavor. Both carry a structural core of energetic strength with juiciness, enough to stand up to foods unexpected for Chardonnay–spiced meats, empanadas, even espresso I discover when I taste the wines again later.

The 2009s showcase the lean high-elevation focus of whites grown in such a unique zone. Comparing them to the 2010s, however, highlights the additional softening (though slight–these wines are not in themselves soft) and flavor of an extra vintage. The 2010s come in right now more clear and focused by comparison. All four of these wines–two Chardonnays in two vintages–offer beautiful focus with presence that is thrilling.


2010 is the current release vintage of both Chardonnays. Some 2009s are still available in the US market.

Thank you to Laura Catena, David Greenberg, and Marilyn Krieger.

Thank you to Mary Orlin, Mary Gorman-McAdams, Kelly Magyrics, and Alyssa Vitrano.

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Talking with Nicolas and Elena Catena

Our last day in Argentina we were able to spend the afternoon lunching with Nicolas and Elena Catena, of Bodega Catena Zapata. The couple helped bring Argentine wine into the International market over the last several decades, opening the door for other producers of wines from Argentina to enter the United States as well.

Catena Zapata began originally with Nicolas’s grandfather Nicola who moved to Argentina from Italy in the late 1800s. The opportunity for shifting varietal and quality focus in Argentina has greatly increased these three generations since the project began.

In taking over the company, Nicolas has been dedicated, along with his daughter Laura, to raising the focus on quality and understanding terroir. The level of influence that Nicolas Catena has carried in Argentine wine can readily be compared to that of Robert Mondavi in California. Catena in fact names Mondavi as one of his inspirations. Meeting Nicolas and Elena Catena to share in food and conversation was a genuine honor.

When talking with some people the level of experience they carry shows finely distilled through the insights they share in conversation. In such instances, I prefer to present a transcript of the conversation, rather than an article on their work–especially in a case like the Catenas, where much has been written on them already. With that in mind, following are some of the stories and insights Nicolas and Elena shared with us.

Nicolas and Elena Catena

Nicolas and Elena Catena, October 2013, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Over lunch we enjoy several wines that the group had named as favorites earlier in the trip–a 2004 Nicolas Catena Zapata Malbec, a 2001 Nicolas Catena Zapata (Bordeaux blend), and a 2009 White Bones (high elevation) Chardonnay. Sitting beside Nicolas during lunch, I turn to thank him for sharing these wines. Our conversation begins.

“We have been thinking, the wine has been so well received in the American market that we say thank you.” The conversation opens up to the rest of the table.

“With my father, there was this idea. It has been like there were two different wines [in the world], the French, and everything else. You remember the famous tasting in France when the American challenged the French. For my father, American wine winning was a shock, and also for me because my wine education came from my father. We had an inferiority complex until that moment.

So, for me, my inspiration was not Europe, but California. California in the 1970s and early 1980s, when they were trying to do wine like the French. I remember when I met Robert Mondavi he told me he was trying to do what the French do.

“I used to visit California in the 1970s. In 1980, I was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley in Economics. So, our first weekend was visiting Napa. The first winery we visited in Napa with Elena was Robert Mondavi. We went just as tourists. I was really surprised by the flavor. That started to change my perception. I was accustomed to French and Italian wines. I had never had a California wine of high quality before.

“After that I met Robert Mondavi. He was such a nice person he would answer every question. It was different than visiting France. He would tell us exactly what he did to make the wine.

“Elena and I decided to do something different in Argentina after those three years in California. Our youngest daughter, Adrianna, was born there. So, when we started this new project for Argentina for our own winery, our inspiration was California. The meaning of that was we started planting Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in Mendoza. Until that moment these varieties were only a little bit in Mendoza. The most important variety in my family [before that] was Malbec for red and Riesling for white.

“We came to the conclusion that it was about the micro-climates we were planting in to produce quality Malbec, to produce the best with French expression. So, we decided to plant in a place with lower temperatures to produce the best expression. We decided we would plant at the limit.”

The Catena’s were the first to plant at over 5000 ft elevation in the far Western portions of Mendoza at the foot of the Andes. Today the zone is recognized as producing some of the highest quality fruit for the country, and many other producers have followed suit, planting on the same plateau but East of the Catena’s vineyards.

“Everyone told me I was crazy, that the grapes would not ripen, that there would be frost. And it paid off because today we think that the best expression comes from this altitude. When we went up there and began planting, we were simply looking for lower temperatures but finally we discovered there was a factor there we had not considered–sunlight intensity.

“Such intensity [due to the change in atmosphere and decrease in UV protection at higher elevations] seems to be relevant for flavor expression of anything you plant at high elevations. At that altitude, the radiation, the UV-B, seems to be really high and deepening flavor expression. We are in the process of discovering how this works. What I can say is that wines coming from this place are really different in this micro-climate from temperature, radiation, and elevation, and they should be different.”

Nicolas and Elena’s daughter, Laura Catena, helped instigate an elevation and UV-index study looking at the impact of UV intensity differences on grape development, and variety. The winery now supports a research institute also in partnership with UC Davis looking specifically at Malbec. I will write more about Laura’s work, and the research institute in a future post.
Elena Catena

Each of us in the group are asked to speak to our last day in Argentina, what we have learned and what we have seen. Mary Gorman-McAdams MW speaks of the light, and landscape of Mendoza, Argentina. “The light reflecting in the Andes, in the snow, that purity, that freshness, now I know that is what I am tasting in the glass. The altitude is such an important part of the terroir here.” She explains. “It plays such a role in the longevity, the complexity of the wines.”

Nicolas smiles and responds. “Thank you for your comments. Yes.” Some of the other comments have considered success and work ethic. Nicolas speaks again. “For me, the most important factor influencing success is luck. Niccolo Machiavelli said, success can be explained half by luck, half by virtue. Virtue for Machiavelli means the capacity to do a lot very efficiently. Joe Gallo responded, ‘I disagree with Machiavelli–luck is 80%.’ At this moment, I think maybe, I agree with Joe Gallo. Luck is a very important factor. Today, right now, I have decided. I agree with him.”

Mary responds, “I would think a person would have to position themselves to take advantage of their luck.”

Nicolas pauses for a moment, then responds. “I received really the education, the culture of an Italian family. I started working at the winery, and I had to work from the age of seven. I took care of the chickens, and a rabbit at first.”

From across the way Elena hears this and nods. “Yes, he grew his own.”

Nicolas continues, “It was an obligation. I had to do it. After going to school in the afternoon I had particular tasks I had to do. By eleven years old I did everything at the winery. That was the Italian education, the culture it brought to Argentina. The working culture.

Elena responds. “Recently we went to Piemonte, staying in an agriturismo [housing at a winery]. We were impressed by the working culture. They told us that due to the economic crisis there they have gone back to the old ways. They have many generations living together. They made us dinner one night. You walk into that humble house and you have a professional kitchen, making pasta by hand for the whole house. There was grandfather with the baby, and a whole lot of generations, and each one doing an aspect of the over all job.”

Nicolas Catena

The speeches continue. Some are emotional. I speak of my family in Alaska, and the intensive work ethic they have. I explain that whatever I do I give thanks to my family, and that I see the Catena’s incredible work ethic, and how they honor their previous generations too.

After the speeches, Elena responds briefly to say thank you for what we shared. “If a person does not drink wine, you cannot trust them because if you drink wine, you may show your heart.” She tells us smiling.

People begin talking in smaller groups. Nicolas and I speak together first about my childhood commercial fishing in Alaska. Remarkably, they have a friend from Alaska living in Buenos Aires. He thanks me for telling him about my family. I ask him about his.

“I received an education very much like you describe.” Nicolas is referring to my growing up commercial fishing from the age of nine. As he continues, he reflects on his own childhood work, commenting on the challenge of it frankly, but not begrudgingly. “Still to this day I cannot answer why I had to work so hard. My family had money but I had to learn the work of 80 people. I learned the work of everything in the vineyard and the winery.”

He then responds to my comment about thanks and family relationships by reflecting on his own. “Originally, I was very young, my vocation was to study theoretical physics. I would have left the country to go further in physics. It is very close to philosophy, dealing with ideas. Then my mother died in a car accident and for my father it was very hard. I decided to stay with him. So, my vocation became economics, but mathematical economics, which is very abstract. I have no regrets because that is life.

“I meant what I said about luck and Niccolo Machiavelli, not just as an idea, as a practical reality too. That’s life. Growing up I had to study the intellectual in the morning at school, and the practical in the afternoon at the winery and vineyard. Also, I think, we do things for the love of our parents. It is like this. We do something important also to make our father happy.”


Thank you to Nicolas and Elena Catena.

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

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I was raised in a multi-generational family in which the strongest tradition is sharing what we appreciate, and what we have learned through stories about the history of our own and our family’s lives. In thanks for the people with whom I was able to travel Chile and Argentina, I share this story. Thank you.


Travel from Alaska to Argentina

I was six the first time my maternal Great Grandmother, Umma, left the state of Alaska. As a full Aleut, she’d lived her life on the Western coast in first one fishing village, and then another. The area is Russian Orthodox.

Orthodox priests were assigned regions to lead, rather than individual churches. Every few months the priest would arrive in a village, and the people would quickly get married, buried, and baptized. And confess.

Confessions occurred in the small church cabin painted with holy pictures, and maintained by my Great Grandfather. Inside, the village would gather, most standing except for seats for the elder women. My Umma would sit through the service, as I stood behind her, my hands crossed on her right shoulder.

Villagers would wait through incense and prayers, blessings till time for confession, then stand in a line to speak to the priest. But first the priest would cross to the front to give communion to Umma where she sat, then return to the back to receive all the others.

Confessions in Orthodox tradition occur in full view, rather than to the side in a small box of a room. After the people proceeded past the priest at the back of the church they would continue in a circle around the sides, kissing holy pictures, till they met Umma. Then the villagers would stand and wait to greet and kiss her too. Sometimes they would also bless me. She was an elder of the community. As her great grandchild, I received honor from her too. It was a blessing I carried with me by being her relation.

My mother was the oldest of her family. She was raised by her grandparents, while also close to her parents. It was partially tradition of staying close to her elders, partially particulars of their own family.

As the story was told, when still young enough to walk to the back of the church, Umma met with the priest. My mom was still little. He said to my Great Grandmother, “someday this one will take you much farther than you’ve ever expected.” Our trip out-of-state was the journey.

Our entire family traveled together landing in Seattle, then driving to Oregon to my Aunty for Easter. I sat in the back, on the edge of the seat between my great grandparents on one side, my middle sister on the other. In the front, my parents and oldest sister rode. On the drive we would come around corners and discover another tall building, or a greater expanse through the trees. Umma would grab my back, squeeze, and whisper, Aling-na! her surprise for everything new that greeted her. On our arrival in Oregon we shared a bedroom. She told me the story for the first time of how the priest had predicted our travel.

She told me too how after I was born she would look at me and smile, then say to my mom, I don’t know where that one came from. It was her way to say too she didn’t know how far I would go.

My parents were both raised in coastal villages. My father, Inupiat, originates further North. Their home regions were small enough both chose to board elsewhere in the state for high school. For university they studied in Fairbanks, where finally they met and decided to marry. Both remained close to their extended families but in having children they made a choice to raise their daughters outside their villages. We spent winters in Anchorage attending a mainstream school, summers on the Western coast commercial fishing with our Native family.

My parents’ wish for their children was for us to be clearly based in our Native heritage while capable of asking only what it was we wanted to do, without question of if we could do it. A life migrating between Anchorage for school in the winters, and the coast for work in the summers was part of that.

Reflecting on my recent trip to South America, I find myself overwhelmed by generations of gift. I am the only member of my family, besides my daughter, that no longer lives in Alaska. My sisters are both quite accomplished but have chosen to live their lives there in the state of our birth. In this way, I stand both as a fulfillment of my parents’ wish that we succeed in the broader world, and as the one who suffers an effect of that gift without family near by. Family for Native people is integral to who we are, and part of any accomplishment we keep. It is me that must do my work, but my family that has made that possible.

We departed Argentina recently on their mother’s day, a celebration in recognition of the generations of women that are family. Before leaving we shared lunch with Nicolas and Elena Catena. They are two people that, like Robert Mondavi for California wine, helped carry Argentine wine into the greater international presence it has today. Spending time with them was an honor.

We were asked, each of us, to speak to what we learned in tasting wine in Argentina. Alyssa Vitrano began by realizing the parallels of her Italian heritage with that of many of the people in wine of Argentina. Mary Orlin, Kelly Magyarics, and Mary Gorman-McAdams spoke eloquently about the quality of the wines we’d tasted, and the intricacies of vineyards with landscape. We all mentioned the warmth of people that received us. When it came my turn to speak I was flooded with the voice of my Great Grandmother — her story from the priest and my birth. Sitting with such accomplished, warm-hearted people there in Argentina, my family’s wishes for me had sent me farther than I ever expected.

Thank you most especially to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

Thank you to Alfredo Bartholomaus, Alyssa Vitrano, Kelly Magyarics, Mary Orlin, and Mary Gorman-McAdams.

Thank you to Nicolas and Elena Catena.

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Zombie Walk Mendoza Argentina

Walking through downtown Mendoza with a hot wind pouring over us, I turned back towards the hotel in a slight daze. Reaching Plaza Independencia in the center of town, I expected to cross without incident and return to the hotel. Within a few steps, however, I was greeted by laughing zombies. Then more of them. Very quickly I was confronted with two feelings simultaneously — a visceral need to leave the park urgently, and an intellectual curiosity to stay long enough to figure out why I was surrounded by people covered in rotting flesh.

It turns out I had walked into the pre-stages of Mendoza, Argentina’s annual Zombie Walk, a phenomenon that began in the year 2000 as a flash mob in Milwaukee, and was successful enough to launch worldwide events occurring annually since. Mendoza has carried now a four year annual tradition.

World records have been set repeatedly, with zombie numbers growing. The original largest started at 894 zombies walking in 2006 across Pittsburgh. The following year Toronto drew 1100 zombies. England hosted more than 1200 in 2008. The current World Record for largest Zombie gathering, as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records, gives the Twin Cities 8027 zombies in November 2012. Santiago, Chile has actually had a 12,000 person zombie walk, and Buenos Aires 25,000 but neither was officially recorded to allow for World Records.

Considering the simultaneous revulsion and fascination I felt at the early scene preparing for the walk, I’m glad I had to leave and meet living people before the festivities took off. Eventually I discovered in the midst of the park there was a woman putting makeup on people, covering them in blood, and disguising even young children brought to her by their parents.

It turned out I was the only one in our group to happen my way into the zombie festivities. Here are photos of people preparing for the affair.

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Zombie Walk Mendoza 2013

Happy Halloween, Everyone! I hope you enjoy!

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Traveling from Chile to Argentina

We flew from Santiago to Mendoza over the Andes. Both countries told stories of the road poorly tended by the other neighbor. In the States, we’d heard the whole thing was hairy. So we flew.

Most of the people in the three rows surrounding me on the plane clearly would have starved refusing to eat human flesh. In the fourth row back there was one man I was certain would have quickly eaten us all. Looking down at the snow covered mountains, I was clear I’d be one of the people to hike out. I’m from Alaska. It would be required. People in the States emailed me to ask, what was your plan in case you crashed?

the Andes

crossing the Andes

There are many more wines from Chile to write about but I’ll come back to those with more time.

Walking Downtown Mendoza

We had an afternoon to explore Mendoza on our own. Any time alone on press trips is a god send, even when the group of people is easy to get along with it’s an experience to have time in silence. In the midst of a ten day trip, it feels even more rare. I decided to walk alone in silence looking for photos of people, and the streets in downtown.

Here are pictures of downtown Mendoza, Argentina, a town hugged up against the Andes, on the Western side of the country. Though most of our stay was comfortable, that afternoon a hot wind blew in making the city humid and sticky.










This photo is one of my favorites. There was such a connection of the mother and boy walking together through town bringing home their flowers at the end of the work day.


I’m grateful I caught this moment — a priest so focused on where ever it is he’s going. It was such a surprise to catch it, and yet so easy, just another moment of someone walking through town.


This photo is another favorite. This man was sitting in silence on his own in the middle of the city non-descript. He struck me as handsome and restful, so I asked if I could take his picture. In less than a moment he lit up bashful and pleased that I wanted to take his photo, asking if he could take mine instead–all communicated across few words and a language barrier. His composure went from almost invisible to lit up radiant, and all I could do was smile in return. It’s moments like this I treasure — something so simple that can shift the feeling of an entire day.



Missing Mendoza.

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Straw Wine Production: How Amarone is Made

click on comic to enlarge

Straw Wine is made around the world in warmer climates with dry skies. The grapes need the higher temperatures for proper drying, and lack of rain to avoid mildew.

In the case of Italian Amarone, straw wines take upwards of half a year just to properly raisin. The area of Argentina where Enamore is made, however, needs a mere half a month to dry.

In either case, the result is an incredibly low yield wine demanding special attention by the wine makers, and offering rich tannins, and concentrated dried fruit flavors. The time spent in oak impacts the level of spice and smoke, and the years of aging increase the concentration and balance the tannins.

Wine Reviews

These two wines are both made in a straw wine style, but with differing grapes, and in different parts of the world. While both spend time in oak, the Italian wine spends far more, and is held for several years before release is allowed. As a result, these two wines went on the market around similar time period.

Villalta 2006 Amarone Single Vineyard ‘I Comunali’ Estate Bottled

click on comic to enlarge

The Villalta 2006 Amarone depends on grapes selected entirely from one vineyard. The blend is classic of the Valpolicella region–Corvina, Rondilla, Molinara, and Rossignola. After fermentation the wine is aged in oak barrels for four years, then in bottle for one.

The tannins here are wonderfully rich, and want air to breathe and open up. Decant for upwards of two hours. The flavors are dried, rich fruits with a pleasing balance of spice, and a lovely smooth texture. This is a wine to get ready for, and then to sit down and enjoy. It is well-aged and ready to drink now, but can also handle plenty of aging. There is greater complexity in this wine than in the Enamore, and deeper, darker, dried fruit flavors.

Enamore 2009 Amarone Style by Allegrini and Renacer

click on comic to enlarge

The Enamore draws its combination of brighter and dried fruit flavors from a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Bonarda, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The area of Argentina in which the wine is produced is significantly drier and warmer than Valpolicella Region of Italy, allowing for the drying process to occur in a mere half month. After fermentation, the wine is then aged in oak for 12 months.

The flavors here are brighter, and younger than in the case of the Amarone. There is a combination of both fresh, and dried fruit flavors, with the nose showing some earth that the mouth does not carry. Additionally there is some light tobacco and smoke on the nose that shows less readily in the mouth. While the amarone method tends to reduce the acidity of a wine, the fast aging of these grapes, and the grape selection leave a slightly higher acid level in this wine than the amarone, though the tannins are lower.


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One of my great joys is getting to taste, and try, and drink unusual, rare, or wonderful things.

I took a wine class a few years ago with my two sisters, and the older man sitting across from us asked, “so, why are you all here taking this class?” One of my sisters responded, “oh! I love drinking wine.”

He smiled and turned to hear my response and I said, “I’m an existentialist.”

My sister laughed and told him, “she really is! She’s a philosopher for a living!”

That is, investment in the experience of things is fundamental. From this perspective, I am fascinated by unusual, rare, and wonderful things.

With this in mind, today’s post looks to just such a grape variety–a grape uncommonly grown, with a contested history, and surprising mix of characteristics. I believe that when confronted with such varieties the appreciation for its peculiar position in the world adds layers to the experience of its flavor, bouquet, texture, and color.

To properly appreciate the two varietal wine reviews that follow, we begin first with a sort of wine story.

Here it is:

A Grape’s Story Titled:

What the Hell is This Grape Anyway?

aka., The Grape of Great Mystery!

aka., OH MY GOD IT IS CHARBONO! what? BONARDA! what? OH JUST READ THIS COMIC WHY DON’T YOU? (not that the comic will settle ALL of the mystery)

click on comic to enlarge

So, it turns out not everyone agrees that Bonarda is actually Charbono, or, rather Corbeau (there is ANOTHER grape variety also called “Charbono” that originates NOT in France, but in Italy, and is definitely not Corbeau, as if we needed more complications). But, the evidence we have so far seems to best support the idea that Charbono of California IS the same grape variety as Bonarda from Argentina. Interestingly, however, Carole Meredith, who performed the genetic testing that linked California charbono to corbeau believes that what is called bonarda in Argentina is not actually one cohesive grape variety, and thus that only some of Argentina’s bonarda is the same varietal as charbono. Such a claim is of course theoretically possible considering how commonly plantings around the world have been mislabeled, and then their accurate history forgotten. Both California charbono, and Argentinian bonarda have gone through re-namings before.

More conclusive testing will have to be done to know for certain, and even then I’m sure disagreement will continue. (c.f. The common determination that Shiraz originates from Persia, even with genetic testing telling us it comes originally from France. That is, genetic testing is not always enough to convince everyone, and for god sake, maybe sometimes it shouldn’t be.)

To answer any questions about why the grape no longer shows any significance in France, its apparent place of origin–corbeau was brought from the Alps region of Sovoie to the Calistoga region of California in the 1880’s. But, shortly after that the phylloxera outbreak hit Europe, and the grape was essentially wiped out. Prior to the outbreak the variety traveled to South America as well.

ANYWAY, the point of all this is that the history of Charbono-Bonarda reads much like a historical fiction novel focused on ideas of self-discovery where the protagonist suffers a memory loss in early adolescence due to having been separated from his or her parents in the midst of a significant traumatic event, and ended up being taken up by unrelated care takers that then journeyed the protagonist to various far reaches of the world. In other words, dramatic, and very exciting, with hints of war, starvation, and the threat of possible annihilation.

Okay, with all that absurdity in mind, let’s turn to the wine reviews.

Robert Foley 2009 Charbono

The Robert Foley Charbono shows incredibly ripe color–an inky purple reaching out to ruby edges. The wine can’t be seen through. It also shows good strong viscosity with legs dancing over the side of the glass in faint color.

The charbono is full of bright red fruit showing faint hints of smoke, and touches of smoked meat as well. The mouth is dominated by cranberry, and a mix of both tart, and black cherry, with a little pomegranate. The remarkable thing about this wine though is how incredibly bright the tang shows while the tannins remain soft-medium in comparison. The acids here clearly win. It’s unusual to have such a bright red fruit wine with dominating acids. Here they keep the fruit tasting fresh, and your mouth watering, thus avoiding any worries of disparaging remarks like “fruit bomb.” The oak influence on this Robert Foley is very light. It adds a layer of richness, without being imposing–this charbono doesn’t seem to want much oak.

I’m curious to taste a vertical of this wine at some point. I’d like to see how the flavors change from vintage to vintage, and also how this wine develops with age.

Colonia las Liebres 2009 Bonarda, from Altos las Hormigas

Again we find a very ripe wine with inky purple reaching out to ruby rim, and medium high viscosity–the dancers legs showing hints of color.

The nose of this Bonarda from Altos las Hormigas’s Colonia las Liebres project offers a lot of red fruit, with touches of black fruit, and light scents of leather. There are even whispers of red clay earth (though this hint of earth fades as the wine rests in glass). The mouth though shows only very light touches of leather in comparison, with the wonderfully fresh, young red fruit tang dominating. In the bonarda we get cranberry again, but with a stronger sense of other berries as well–raspberry, and some blackberry too.

Like the Robert Foley, the acidity is remarkably high, but with the red fruit (with some hints of black fruit) flavors proves pleasing, keeping your mouth clear, and watering with a bright tang.

The Colonia las Liebres is made completely unoaked, so the fruit remains very fresh, and even fleshy.

The 2010 vintage has recently been released–I look forward to trying it!


Side by Side–Which One Wins?

Getting to taste these two wines side by side I can’t imagine believing anything except that they are of the same grape variety. The quality on both these wines is good. I recommend either for sheer drinking interest combined with pleasure.

They’re unusual wines, as I’ve said–it isn’t common to find a red with such high acidity, while the tannins remain moderate and smooth. Let me be clear–on whites high acid levels are often described as ‘enamel stripping.’ You get none of that effect here. Your mouth stays clear, bright, and watering from these acids, but they are not so stark to be unpleasant. The red fruit flavors keep you from suffering in that sense. Still, with these structural combinations some people won’t be interested. If what you want is a more tannin driven red, you won’t find it here. The tannins in charbono or bonarda are clearly subservient to the acidity.

The truth is both of these wines are well worth buying. However, if put side by side I’d have to point out the unbelievable value on the Bonarda. The quality of these two is comparable but the price on the bonarda ranges from under $10 to $13 USD. Let me just say, what?! Again, the Robert Foley is also recommended here. If you want a little more layering to the flavors from the light oak influence on the wine, it is the choice between the two. But, it prices out between $30 and $35 USD, which at times can be harder to pull out of your pocket.

I recommend opening one of these bottles to first taste on its own for the experience of it, and then getting someone else to enjoy it with you, and finally pairing it with food. The acidity here means this is going to be a very food friendly wine.

Which ever you choose– Enjoy!


p.s. For those of you wishing for this post to come back around to the damned wine class with my sisters I attended several years ago, here’s more of the story.

Whoever designed a wine class to be combined with a cooking class, and the wine to consist of at least five full glasses paired with a meal, with “the meal” consisting ENTIRELY of salad (and only leaves, since it was only Caesar Salad)–well, such a person was clearly (a) tricky, (b) a touch conniving, and (c) a heterosexual man expecting the class to draw in women. Or, in this case actually two heterosexual men, both of whom knew 4/5 of the participants that signed up were women.

The quick version here is that no matter how many croutons we tried to put in that damned salad bowl to help the situation, we all ended up drunk anyway. Somehow our accidental drunkenness supported a sort of bonding experience for us though, and only partially because we were forced to just sit in place until our cross-eyed state cleared up as we washed it away with water. To put it another way, after an experience like that EVERYONE was either an existentialist, or praying.

Here’s two pics for all of you.

Three sisters

Three sisters ONLY PART WAY THROUGH the wine-salad conundrum

(The man in the pic is the designer of the wine-salad class. You can SEE he’s tricky, can’t you? He’s also a dear-hearted, hilarious man, and an excellent chef at a fantastic restaurant. All around a good deal.)

(By the way, anyone that wants to hassle me about my hair in these pics, let me just say-we are in ALASKA for god’s sake, where the outside is too gorgeous, and the air too windy for me to frickin’ worry about that awful 80’s side puff going on here. aka., leave me alone about it. kiss! kiss! Amen.)

(one final pic to prove the gorgeous part of the gorgeous plus windy claim.)

The view just outside the classroom


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To prepare for the holiday, and get a rest after the close of a busy Fall-Winter semester, Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews will be taking it easy this coming week.

A wine review comic will be posted Monday through Friday, but without the written follow-up. Also, the wine review comics for this week will be reviews previously done for The Wine Loft, Flagstaff, AZ without having appeared here.

More new reviews will start December 26.

Beginning December 26 the format of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews will change a little bit. At that time posts will appear here Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a shift to more of a feature focus. The new format will allow me to take a more in-depth approach with, for example, a look at particular wineries, or side-by-side tastings of similar wines from different regions.

Have a wonderful holiday!


Though Syrah began its life in the Northern Hemisphere, and is widely grown through Europe, and the United States, it actually has higher production volume in the Southern Hemisphere. There is also a lot of export from some of these Southern Hemisphere wine makers so that by now the world is familiar with the idea, at least, of either Australian, or South American wines, for example.

The differing growing climates of various regions, plus the differing production techniques of wine makers combine to create utterly unique renditions of what would otherwise be called the same grape. It can be remarkable to taste the contrast between a varietal wine from one area, and that of another, especially when history connects the vines back to the same place of origin.

As the story goes, Syrah originated (or was developed into what we know today, at least) in the Rhone region of France. As colonial practices took people from Europe all over the world, other cultural practices spread with them. Wine is no exception to this.

In the late 1800’s Syrah vines were brought from France to Argentina and planted in the high elevations of the region’s mountains. In fact, it is in Argentina that Syrah is grown at the highest elevations in the world. To add layer to the story, within a decade of Syrah being brought to Argentina, the phylloxera blite hit Europe, almost fully devasting the vineyards of that continent.

Overtime it has been discovered that with persistence Syrah does well in the high altitude region (though the warmer parts of it) of Argentina. The elevation allows a slower ripening for grapes generally, which is thought by some to offer a differing complexity in the flavors. Interestingly though, in many cases Syrah in Argentina ripens faster than other grapes, demanding harvest earlier in the growing season than some of the grape varieties. As a result, many wine growers strive to slow the ripening process of Syrah in this region by placing trellises with live foliage through it above the vines. This covering allows a softening of the solar effect, and thus a slowing too of the grapes’ maturation, hopefully, with an enlivened complexity of flavors as well. The geography of the place, then, demands harvest techniques, and wine making practices that differ from other areas of the world.

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Luca wines are led by Laura Catena with wine maker Luis Reginato, a man raised and trained in Argentina itself. Luca wines commitment is to small production wines made from old growth vineyards of Argentina. As such, Catena purchased vineyards with a story behind them. Her labels tend to honor the history behind it by naming the person that started the vineyard the Luca wine is now made from.

The Laborde Double Select Syrah includes, then, the story of Laborde, the man that first planted this particular vineyard site. As it goes, he wanted to try growing Syrah in Argentina, so he visited the vineyards of the Rhone and selected what he thought were the best, strongest example of Rhone Syrah. He then planted them in Argentina, and after allowing the vines to take hold and develop he inspected them all and selected only the best of those to keep–Laborde’s Double Selection, only the best of the best will do.

The result of Laborde’s early efforts, and Luca’s continued focus is a surprising, and concentrated Syrah that manages to strike a balance with sophisticated scents and flavors in a very full body. Luca has performed some kind of magic, mathematics, or sub-particle physics here (more likely all three) by offering in this 2008 Syrah what feels like drinking two glasses of the varietal simultaneously–there’s a whole lotta wine in that glass! And yet, having said that, the wine is well-balanced, pleasant to drink, with lots of pleasant fruit accented by some pepper bite, hints of coffee, and a wonderful mouth feel. When approaching this wine you’d better be ready for its intensity, but expect it to make you comfortable with what it has to offer at the same time. This wine is perfect for grilled meats (and beets!), and will be enjoyable to drink on its own as well.

Each wine producing area is thought to have its own character. Argentinian wines, with their higher elevation growing conditions, are often thought to show more concentrated fruits. Historically commercial wine making in Argentina had a strong focus on quantity, seeking high volume production. In some ways this weakened the International reputation of Argentinian wine’s quality. Wine makers in the last few decades, and in some areas throughout Argentinian wine making history, have worked to change this practice and this reputation.

Luca Wine is just such a company keeping its focused on older, well-established vineyards, and small production with close, hand’s on attention being their focus. By working with Reginato, Catena is further relying on his expertise of the local industry and geography to develop the label’s quality. Luca is a wine company to keep an eye on. They are thought to already offer a celebration of what Argentinian wine can show. I’m interested in seeing both how their particular vintages develop with time–this 2008 Syrah is certainly drinkable now but will be tasty, and even more subtle and complex in a few years too–and also what Luca will continue to do with their wines in general.

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