Liquid Assets

Cowboys and gauchos

We listed lots of great South American wines a few weeks ago as a Web extra ("The wines of Chile and Argentina: up close and personal"), but we have even more thanks to the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Foundation, who threw a big bash on June 23 called Cowboys and Gauchos. They hosted 10 Texas wineries and 10 Argentine wineries, and besides the good food and great wines, the get-together was an excellent way to learn about both Texas' and Argentina's wines. I was especially excited to see that they had included two of my favorite Argentine wineries: Alamos and Santa Julia.

Nicholás Catena owns Alamos. He's a fascinating man who started off as an educator, getting his Ph.D. in economics at Columbia University and teaching at Berkeley. While living in the Bay area, he fell in love with the "cost no object" concepts of Robert Mondavi, an idea he decided to take back to his family farms in Argentina. He hired Californian Paul Hobbs to consult, and, together, they developed some extraordinary wines. Hobbs left to start his own winery, but Catena's wines have gotten better and better. His premium wines, called Catena Alta, are stunning bottles filled with intense aromas and flavors. They also run from $30 (Chardonnay) to $50 (Cabernet and Merlot). Lucky for us, he also makes several of the world's greatest bargains in the Alamos wines, all of which retail for less than $10. Be on the lookout for the Alamos Chardonnay, Malbec, Viognier, and Bonarda. All are superb wines.

Santa Julia is owned by the Zuccardi family, who grow grapes just outside of Mendoza in an area that is short on jobs and schools. Instead of exploiting this opportunity, the family has taken it upon themselves to establish private schools for the children of the workers. They have also come up with a unique way to make as many jobs available as possible – they make great wine and sell the whole line for less than $8. I'm just nuts over their Torrontes, but they also make impressive Malbec, Viognier, and Chardonnay. For just $18, you can try their premium line, called Zuccardi Q. The Malbec and Tempranillo wines are both standouts, and I can assure you, wines of this quality from the U.S. or Europe would run in the $30 range. Zuccardi also makes an organic wine, which is sold exclusively by Whole Foods under the Vida Orgánica label.

Before the Cowboys and Gauchos party, I had the opportunity to taste some more wines and meet the American winemaker Paul Hobbs. After leaving Catena, Hobbs decided to start his own winery in Argentina and called it Paul Hobbs Argentina. We had a chance to taste his Bramare Malbec ($30), a rich version that had lots of the 300-plus attendees oohing and aahing. I actually preferred his El Felino Malbec ($13), a wine filled with such dark fruit aromas as blueberries and dark cherries. Paul Hobbs is one of California's top winemakers, with his Sonoma and Napa bottlings fetching up to $200 per bottle, so it's nice to have an opportunity to taste his Argentine wines at a more reasonable price.

It's also nice of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Foundation to take the time and effort to put the event together. Besides offering scholarships and educational programs, they also put on one hell of a party.

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Paul Hobbs, Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Foundation, Cowboys and Gauchos party, Nicholas Catena, Santa Julia, Zuccardi family

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