A tale of the vine: From to the Old World to modern-day Marblehead

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/09/01/a-tale-of-the-vine-from-to-the-old-world-to-modern-day-marblehead/

Wine tasting events range from casual affairs to intense mergers of international commerce and science. At casual tastings, there’s a convivial spirit that makes room for compatible souls to mingle. Some tasters are merely interested in the magical elixir’s simplest charms, while others consider a wine’s ancient, multi-sensory stimuli of greater satisfaction. As one person opines with a yea or nay to a sample sip, a more articulate taster notes appearance, character and potential suitability for aging, given a wine’s regional affiliation and vintage. Buzzwords wafting about include aromatic, density and mineralogy. Those gathered tend to agree, whatever the prose, or the pursuit, the seductive language of wine has been the fascination of mankind, for all time.

Historically, a long standing real-estate tax of sorts has existed on wines heavily dependent on a pedigreed continental provenance. Challenging the levy, blind tastings of wine have recruited the most sophisticated palates of connoisseurs and sommeliers to evaluate a vintage’s expressions. From those tastings, experts pass judgment on samples without bias in the intoxicatingly competitive business of consumption. Accordingly, wine rankings are in flux with delightful surprises shattering cases of old prejudice by the bottle and offering new opportunities to explore the entire world of wine’s polycultural nuances without breaking the bank.

Like many wine stories, this one takes a circuitous, somewhat cork-screwed path to get to the most delicious fruit of the vine. Our historical vineyard tour begins with a team of archaeologists inside a cave in Armenia. Leaving Asia passing by the vined trellises of Africa and Europe, we continue our curated tour with a scientific study of terra-rocking along the foothills of the Andes Mountains then return to North America for a stemmed splash on a rocky coast near Boston.

Areni-1 is a rock complex along the Arpa River near the modern-day city Yerevan in the Vayots Dzor Province of Armenia. At that site, in 2010, a team of Armenian and Irish archaeologists sponsored by UCLA, the National Geographic Society and others, unearthed evidence of the world’s first winery. The trove included clay fermentation vats, a wine press, storage jars, and drinking cups.

Chemical analysis and radiocarbon tests performed at UC- Irvine and Oxford University dated the cave’s artifacts to be 6100 years old. Along with those treasures of the Chalcolithic period, or Copper Age, archeologists found grape seeds, prunes, walnuts, the remains of pressed grapes, with dozens of desiccated vines. The vines, identified as Vitis Vinifera Vinifera, pre-date specimens found at Egyptian sites by 900 years. Descendants of the deciduous, Stone-Age, fruiting-berry remain vital components of today’s wine-making industry.

Swirling throughout history, a globe-sized goblet of wine’s trekking influences remains evidence of our far and wide, never-ending passion for fermented fruits. Plato, a classical philosopher circa 400 B.C., said of the libation, “Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the gods to man.” His comical Athenian cohort, Aristophanes, referenced the power of the conversation starter by saying “Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may whet my mind and say something clever.”

The Greek’s love of grappa and its effects swelled well beyond BC’s climes and coastal caves. In the 16th century, Shakespeare mused, “I pray you, do not fall in love with me, for I am falser than vows made in wine.” Two centuries later, romantic poet Lord Byron enjoyed a scandalous affair with the married Lady Caroline Lamb. Wedding his passions, he wrote, “Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter; Sermons and soda-water; the day after.”

Moralization of the nectar across centuries and civilizations falls in and out of favor. However, its passionate spirit defies the laws of time and mortals. Wine’s essence flows with an emotional provenance. Its pour and richness is the varietal distillation of its co-mingling with light, temperature, water, soil and rock. It’s finished with the cultural opinions of its cultivator. Land-marked with altitude, its traceable vines also map its character with latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. For some vintners, wine’s bouquet, color, and finish are footnotes to their complex familial history.

An expansive appreciation of life’s appellation infuses the story of the Catena family. Italian patriarch Nicola immigrated to Argentina in 1898, planting legacy seeds of a world-class vineyard that passed through his son and grandson on to his great-grand-daughter. The Catena Zapata Family Estate Vineyards began in the foothills of the Andean Mountains in 1902. It flourished in the 1980s with grandson Nicholás’ “comletamente loco” dream that Malbec grapes “would stand with the best of the world.” Known in Bordeaux for their blending characteristics in jug wines, the dream seemed implausible, but the intuition of his forefathers told him the high altitudes and rocky Province of Mendoza terroir held promise for his goal.

Nicholás’ daughter Laura, a former award-winning tango dancer and mother of three, is General Director of Bodega Catena Zapata’s Research Center. Additionally, the 1988 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Harvard University and Stanford Medical School is a practicing emergency room physician at the UC-San Francisco Medical Center. Tuesday night along the rocky coast of Marblehead, samples of high mountain wines poured as Dr. Catena discussed the nexus of her family’s passion for making wine with exacting calibrations at Shubie’s Market. Laura paired her family story of aspiration, optimism and love with her commitment to understanding terrain, vine cloning, and climatic influences as a scientist. She detailed the pain-staking care required to produce Catena Zapata’s proprietary selections cultivated from hundreds of separate micro-vinifications from different rows, different altitudes and at different harvest times. Dr. Catena happily believes the work will never end.

Grapes harvested from Mendoza’s rocky 2,800- to nearly 5,000-foot altitudes are revolutionizing the winemaking industry. Precise management of viticulture, balanced with an artful blending of flavors and aromas, has pioneered production of small quantities of wines noted for complexity and finesse. True to the family’s ethos, seeking quality at any cost, planting vineyards at higher elevations has yielded a new breed of state-of-the-art artisanal wines just as Seniôr Catena had dreamed. Head winemaker of Bodega Catena Zapata, Alejandro Vigil writes of Laura and her father, they “make wines that retain the style and expressivity of the family’s vineyards and palate.” Guests at Shubie’s Market who sampled Catena Zapata’s Chardonnay, Alta; Cabernet Sauvignon, Alta; and Malbec, Alta, found them to be “old world,” “highly aromatic” with “fascinating undertones of mineralization” and “elegance that speaks for the earth.”

The event, “An Evening with the Wines of Bodega Catena Zapata,” entwined the ancient art of wine making with an appreciation of new world sciences. The traditional ice-breaker’s essence of light, temperature, water, soil and rock, splashed delightfully through the night, the way it has since time began. New conversations co-mingling godly philosophies with cleverness, folly and lust may have be clones of wine-tastings past, but as Dr. Laura Catena said, the pleasure of this research never ends!

Contact Diane Kilgore at [email protected]