This is a winery with a good story. Laura Catena, the daughter of pioneering Argentine winemaker Nicolas Catena, grew up in Buenos Aires, moved with the family to Berkeley, went to Harvard and medical school at Stanford and now practices medicine at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. For eight months out of the year, that is; in the other four, she oversees her own highly-regarded wine label in Mendoza, Argentina, named for her son, Luca.
Why I was hot to taste this wine is another good story: it’s because I have a relatively new (six months) grandson, also named Luca. And when he, his older sibs, and their parents came to visit last weekend—see, just like the Catenas, coming to Berkeley—it seemed the perfect time to crack open the 2006 Luca Syrah.
The wine carries the complicated vineyard designation “Laborde Double Select.” The name captures the painstaking research and experimentation of a neighboring vineyardist, Luis Laborde, who went to the trouble 50 years ago of making a selection of fine vines from the Rhone region of France, bringing them back to Argentina when no one was planting Syrah, trying them all out, and then making a second selection of the best vines to plant his vineyard, the source of this wine.
Like the entire Luca line, this is an extremely well-made, well-balanced, very modern wine. It starts with a smoke and baking spice nose and moves on to rich black cherry/blackberry fruit, wrapped in evident but unobtrusive oak. (For what it’s worth, I cam up with these descriptors before reading the tasting notes that came with the sample bottle, which said pretty much the same thing.) All of us at the table—all of us who were tasting the wine, that is—agreed that it was a nifty wine and a fine way to toast our newest family member. Young Luca himself expressed no particular opinion about the wine, though his mother was quite pleased.
Later that afternoon, I spent a couple hours filtering my own garage wine with my winemaking co-conspirator, Roger, and afterwards I offered him a glass of the remaining Luca. We agreed that the style could be called North American: not as fat and syrupy as many Australian Shirazes, not as austere as traditional Northern Rhone Syrahs, more like a California or Washington flavor profile—at a charmingly low 13.9% alcohol. Maybe it’s an example of the Argentine Syrah style, which I confess I have too little experience to describe.
I said to Roger that this was a darn good $25 wine, if that’s what it sold for—I hadn’t caught the price from the paperwork. Roger thought it would likely be a good bit higher, in the $40-$50 range, given that the Luca wines are big scorers with the official critics. I checked: suggested list $25. Not as dumb as I look, at least this once.
One final complaint, however. The Luca Double Select comes in a double-weight, monster bottle, one of those containers designed to make sure you know This Wine Is A Statement. On my kitchen scale, the wine weighs one pound, ten ounces, but the empty bottle weighs two pounds, nine ounces. Give me a break. Not so much a carbon footprint as a carbon cowboy bootprint.
Price: $25.00 suggested retail. Alcohol: 13.9%. Points: Bonus points for a good back story, with a small deduction for ponderous packaging. Full disclosure: freebie sample (likely a present for my grandson).