WineInk: Mindful Sips — Think When You Drink
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Catena Malbec 2016
One of the great family stories of the wine world is that of the Catena family’s three generations of winemaking in Argentina. The house began making wines in 1902 and patriarch Nicolás Catena Zapata is largely responsible for putting Argentine malbec on a world stage. Today, under the auspices of Dr. Laura Zapata (his daughter), they make a series of wonderful, high-altitude single-vineyard wines, but this Malbec is a blend from a variety of vineyards. Soft and supple but totally Argentinian, this is an affordable and tasty intro to the Andes.
“I’ll have a Cabernet,” the man sitting at the wine bar in the airport said. “A chardonnay for me,” nodded his companion as she looked at the Cruvinet behind the bartender that held more than 50 wines by the glass. There was nothing wrong with the casually cavalier manner in which they generically ordered their wine by the grape. But, as I watched them get their non-descript glasses, I thought to myself that they could get be getting more out of life.
OK, so that may be a bit dramatic, but one of the great things about drinking wine is the opportunity it offers to learn something with each glass. If you just take a moment to think about what you drink, you can get greater value out of your wine drinking experience. And I’m not talking about going all totally transcendental meditation here, just be aware that the $10 to $20 you spent for that 5 ounces of wine can enhance your knowledge of not just wine, but life and the world around you.
Start with Cabernet guy. When he got his wine he did what so many of us do, took a big swig and moved along to the messages on his cellphone. But if he had just slowed and took a moment to look in his glass, give it a swirl, a sniff and take a purposeful sip, all of which would have taken less than 30 seconds, he would have begun a journey to what may well have been be a better place than the one in which he sat.
It doesn’t take much to get started. For example, just ask yourself a simple question; What is the wine in your glass like? Does it look deep and dark in the glass or is it opaque and a thin? Does it smell like flowers or do you sense dirt and earth when you inhale? What does it feel like on your tongue? Do the tannins make you pucker or does it feel soft and velvety? If you focus for just a few seconds on the wine it will tell you a lot about what pleases you and what doesn’t. It will become something more significant than just a way to pass the time.
Next, let the wine take you someplace. Think a bit about where that wine is from. Say the bartender poured Penfold’s Shiraz when you blankly asked for a syrah. That means it came from Australia and the Barossa Valley. Even if you never have been there, try to imagine the sun-drenched hills, the heat, the fertile earth and the place where the wine originated. If your pick was a California cabernet, let your mind wander to that place. Everyone loves traveling to the Napa Valley so go there, even if it is just in your head for a few minutes as you enjoy the fruits of America’s most famous wine region.
If you want to go deeper still, consider the origin and the maker of the wine you are consuming. Maybe you ordered a malbec from that wine bar Cruvinet and were presented with a glass produced by the Catena family in Argentina.
Malbec is one of the six grapes that is allowed by Bordeaux wine laws to be used as a blend wine carrying the regional name on the label. But in France, the finest expressions of the dark, inky, super-intense grape are sourced from the rocky terraces of Cahors. These wines are so concentrated and dark that they are known as “Côt Noir,” or black wine. What does this have to do with the Catenas?
Well, in the middle of the 19th century, winemakers from Argentina were searching for grape varieties that would thrive in the hot, high-altitude climates of the Andes foothills. A French agronomist named Michel A. Pouget suggested that malbec might work. Now a century and a half later, Bodegas Catena is producing single-vineyard wines from the grape that defines not just a wine but also an entire nation’s winemaking identity. Sipping the soft and lush Catena Malbec is about agriculture, relations between nations, and 150 years of history.
The point is, it doesn’t matter what wines you drink. What matters is that you take a moment to think. I promise you will enjoy your wine just a little more.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.