- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Catena Alta, Malbec, Mendoza, 2002, $45

A delicious $8 Argentine malbec, Valentin Bianchi’s “Elsa,” was last week’s wine pick. Today’s selection, also a malbec, demonstrates that Argentina’s vintners do more than make fine value-priced wines with this grape.

They also craft age-worthy reds that can stand head to toe with the world’s finest, regardless of variety. Catena’s “Alta” is a leading example. Richly nuanced and impeccably balanced, it is as fine an example of malbec as I have tasted.

This grape is a refugee from France, where it is still grown (as a blending component in Bordeaux and as a stand-alone variety in Cahors), but is rarely treated with the sort of respect and veneration that Argentine vintners give it.

For some reason — my guess is that the high altitude of the vineyards plays an important part — it achieves a wonderful synergy of rich flavor and firm structure when grown in Argentina, particularly in the province of Mendoza.

Bodegas Catena is one of Argentina’s leading producers, and the “Alta” line constitutes its finest offerings. With dark fruit flavors, subtle but significant spice, licorice and herb-scented undertone, and remarkable length, this wine is delicious now but surely will improve with five to 10 years of bottle age.

It would make a wonderful gift for that special wine lover on your holiday list, even if that person turns out to be you. (Imported by Billington.)

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