Brazil native Eugenio Jardim is a Bay Area wine consultant and educator. Sunset Magazine named him Sommelier of the Year in 2010. He ran the wine program at Jardinière for 11 years and conducts very high-profile wine tasting groups in the U.S. and Brazil.
His approach to wine is fun but professional, educational and nonthreatening, creating an enjoyable experience rather than an intimidating one. Jardim’s philosophy is driven by his passion, and he has built a reputation for seeking out the new and exciting wines of the world.
Eugenio visited Argentina on an intensive educational trip nicknamed “Malbec Camp” and shared with us a few of his notes (and pictures) from the road! The last two installments have been about his time in Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Here’s his final installment about Malbec Camp.
Malbec Camp: Day Four and the Rise of the Empanada Jedi
The fourth day of explorations brought us to Catena Zapata’s headquarters: La Pirámide. This is the name given both to the 3,000-feet-elevation vineyard planted in 1983 and the magnificent Mayan-style building that houses their business offices and gorgeous cellars.
Just refer to the photos inserted throughout this story to make sure there has been no exaggeration on my part when describing the beauty of this site. The Catena family held nothing back when creating a state-of-the-art facility to assist with the making of their wines.
We were greeted at La Pirámide by Laura Catena herself, who kindly came from San Francisco to receive us and to give us a heartfelt recap of her family’s four-generation history in the region and their dedication to making world-class wines in Argentina.
In 1902, Laura’s great-grandfather, Nicola Catena, an immigrant from the Le Marche region of Italy, planted his first malbec vineyards in Mendoza. In 2009, 107 years later, his grandson (Laura’s father) Nicolas was named Decanter Magazine’s Man of the Year.
Laura told us of her family’s early struggles with the same pride and passion that she shared their current success. Among the stories she told us one stuck with me as particularly sweet: Every year around Christmastime, her great-grandfather, her grandfather, and her father would send a truck filled with wine and food to a family in Santa Fe, to show their gratitude to the family that first welcomed the Catenas to Argentina in the late 1800s. The Catenas kept this tradition alive for almost a century.
She then went on, telling us how the curiosity, intelligence, and absolute determination of her father took grape growing and winemaking in Argentina to the next level. His tireless efforts and studious mind challenged every existing notion and promoted the changes needed for his beloved country to produce world-class wines.
If you are beginning to think this is just a Catena lovefest you are mistaken! We were shown as much of her family’s delicious wines as we were encouraged to explore the many other wonders of Argentina, its wine, its people, its music, and its food.
We tried the Catenas’ low-tier Tilia wines as well as the stylish Alma Negra lineup of wines from Laura’s brother. Both lines pleased, though for completely different reasons: one for its great price-to-quality ratio and the other for its artistic approach.
With every great-tasting lunch and dinner, we enjoyed an incredible array of the country’s delicious cuisine and their favorite snack, the empanada! I became so obsessed with the minute differences in the texture of their crusts and the mixture of their fillings that my lovely traveling companions Katelyn and Brigette dubbed me the Empanada Jedi, a nickname inspired by the initials of my first and last name.
You can only imagine how thrilled I was when Laura and her team arranged an empanada-making class for us. An adorable and petite grandmotherly lady named Matilda patiently taught us the art of creating this wonderful treat.
Throughout the week I went through a blind tasting of wines, which spanned 13 vintages, with an intense nasal congestion aggravated by the freezing winds, cold and damp wine cellars, and late nights by the bonfire. I traveled on rough dirt roads, slept very few hours, and took a test to become a certified Master in High-Altitude Malbec. I did it all with a big smile on my face, knowing that just around the corner there would be another steamy and delicious empanada waiting to be “tested” by my very delighted eyes and palate.
From the vineyards of Tupungato and Agrelo to the restaurants of Mendoza and Buenos Aires, I truly enjoyed myself and was constantly asked by my peers how did the latest empanada rank in comparison with the previous. My answer? I loved them all!
But that was not all we did in Argentina. There were many hours learning about the malbec grape and many more reading about the history of viticulture in Argentina. There were tours of vineyards and wineries, many wonderful talks and tastings conducted by very dedicated winemakers. I skipped a lot of the details of Malbec Camp in the hopes that after reading my reports you, too, will visit Argentina and see with your own eyes and feel with you own hearts, the love and the beauty that my fellow wine lovers and I were so fortunate to experience.
Catena Zapata headquarters: La Pirámide. Photo by Eugenio Jardim.