Today, despite the country's economic woes, there seems to be no stopping Argentine wine. In large part, that has to do with Malbec. Argentina's signature grape found itself in the right place at the right time. The world is ready for the deep, ripe, juicy flavors of this varietal, which somehow manages to remain unassuming in spite of its rising superstar status. And be sure to take the Argentines' advice: Malbec really comes into its own when matched with a grilled steak.

The best Argentine wines, whether from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Chardonnay, combine verve and power with elegance and style, a description that could be applied to the Argentines themselves. Catena's influence is felt in some of the most promising wines coming out of Mendoza today, including new boutique labels such as Cobos and Susana Balbo. Laura Catena now produces her own line of ultrapremium wines under the Luca label, and her brother Ernesto produces Tikal.

Meanwhile, not content to sit quietly as the father of modern Argentine wine, Nicolás Catena continues to push the en-velope. He announced a much-anticipated joint venture with Domaines Barons de Rothschild of Lafite to create a new proprietary wine from Malbec and Cabernet. Last year, the company unveiled its stunning state-of-the-art winery, Bodega Catena Zapata, which Nicolás Catena, an archaeology buff, designed in the shape of a Mayan pyramid. Rising step by step into the sky, the terraced structure seems to symbolize Argentina's dramatic ascent to excellence.

appétit and a recent winner of the james beard foundation award for his radio program, "the lifestyle minute."

chad windham is a dallas-based photographer who has done work for the nba, and southwest spirit and tycoon magazines.
tastes
1997 la rural felipe rutini merlot, tupungato, mendoza, $20