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Sunday Serendipity
Laura Catena’s Love Letter To The Wines of Her Country

Reviewed by Stephen Eliot

One of the hot vinous topics over the last several years has been the emergence of Argentina as a source of world-class wines and of the country’s uncanny success with Malbec. That Argentina’s wines are good and getting better is a notion beyond debate, but there has not been a good source of current information about the contemporary Argentine scene. That very real need has recently been at least in part filled with the release of Laura Catena’s new book, VINO ARGENTINO: An Insider’s Guide to Wines and Wine country of Argentina, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, $27.50.

In part a primer of Argentina’s wine history and an introduction to the contributions of its influential winemakers, from her father to international consultants such as Michel Rolland and Paul Hobbs, the book also explores the culture and lifestyle of twenty-first century Argentina. It takes the reader on a province-by-province and who-is-who journey through the country’s important wine regions, and, as a bonus, it includes chapters on touring and foods with a collection of recipes tossed in for good measure. Ms. Catena speaks with a very personal and at times passionate voice and her unvarnished opinions are plain, as in her heart-felt defense of to her mind the unjustly vilified Michel Rolland. If we had our wish, the book would include more and far better maps for reference, but, if no scholarly text, the book is just what it claims to be, a very personal, insider’s guide written from the perspective of one who knows just whereof she speaks. And like virtually every book from this publisher, it is rich in photography (this time by Sara Remington) that brings the subject to you.

The daughter of Nicolas Catena, Argentina’s principal architect of Argentina’s wine revolution who was named by Decanter Magazine as their 2009 “Man of the Year”, Ms. Catena literally grew up in the business. She now divides her time between San Francisco where she is a practicing emergency-room physician and her Argentine home of Mendoza where she is owner and winemaker of Luca Winery and president of Botega Catena Zapata, the family’s iconic estate. Her book may not be the definitive work that Argentine wines ultimately deserve, but it is a useful, up-to-date volume that fills a significant niche that needs filling, and it earns thumbs-up endorsement.

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