Trapiche Winery Shows The Other Down Under – Argentina

As much as we deplore the whole snob thing, let’s be real. It is fun, sometimes, to lift your nose a tidge higher and prove you know something that no one else does.

And when you’ve got a guy like Joey Tensley working on a cooperative project with somebody, along with making his own snob-pleasing wines under his name’s label, plus making wine for Fergie (yes, the singer), you know there’s something good going on. And guess what? In this case, not a lot of folks do.

What we mean is Argentinian wine. We got to spend a morning with Tensley and winemaker Daniel Pi of Trapiche Winery, in Mendoza, Argentina, and had a lovely time. Pi and Tensley are working together on a special reserve brand of wine made from some of the many Trapiche vineyards (Traphiche is one of the biggest producers in the country, making about 3 million cases of wine a year). We were going to do a tasting, but the hotel got a little snarky about Pi and Tensley opening their bottles in the lobby, so darn it, they gave us five bottles to take home and taste. Yeah, sometimes life is rough. Not.

Part of what Tensley was doing and all of why Pi was here in the U.S. is that they’re trying to drum up interest in Trapiche wines, specifically, and Argentinian wines, in general. As Tensley put it, these wines are amazing values – most Argentinian wines run about $10 to $15 a bottle for wine that when done well, compares favorably with $30 and $40 wines made here in California. And a lot of it is done very well.

People drinking Argentinian malbec “should expect ripe fruit, intense color and soft tannins,” Pi said. “We have a lot of sun… That allows a lot of photosynthesis so we can ripen properly the grape.”

Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina, and was planted in the country as early as 1883 from vines from Cahors, France. Pi said that besides the warm, dry climate in Mendoza, there is one other significant difference between French and Californian malbec and Argentinian malbec: the vines are grown on malbec rootstock.

Now, what the heck does that mean? We-e-ell, that’s an interesting story. In the late 19th Century, a bug called the phylloxera louse was introduced into European vineyards, where it discovered just how tasty the vines were in France and Italy. Because the bug came from America, American grape vines were resistant to it. But the European vines were not and the bug almost wiped out all the vineyards in Europe. What saved the European wine industry was that European vines were grafted onto the roots (or rootstock) of the American vines. So the bug, which didn’t like the American vines as much, more or less died out, but the European varieties were saved because the top of the vine still grew those kinds of grapes.

Because the Argentinian vines pre-date the phylloxera infestation, they are not grafted onto American rootstock.

“That’s why we have much more richness,” Pi said.

Malbec can be a bit in your face as a wine, but Pi’s goal is to make wine that’s more food-friendly, with good acids and texture. And when we think of Argentinian food, we think beef.

“We used to have simple food,” Pi said, but added that like everywhere else, there’s been a lot of development in gastronomy in Argentina, and the wine making has followed suit.

The upshot – if you can find a Trapiche wine in the U.S., whether a malbec or one of the other varieties Trapiche grows, give it a try. Serve it with something nice and beefy and don’t drink it by itself. If you can’t, ask your wine store person for some.


Our Fave Thanksgiving Wine – Beaujolais Nouveau

Let’s be real – most of the time, wine pairing isn’t that tough. You have your basic rule of thumb: white wines with white meat/protein, red wines with red meats/sauces. The idea is that you (generally) want to match the more delicate flavors of a white wine with the more delicate flavors of chicken or fish, while you want a heartier red wine to go with the heartier flavors of a beef roast or steak. And while that is a pretty basic assessment, it will get you through 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Thanksgiving Dinner, however, is one of those 10 to 20 percent times when the old rule of thumb gets a little tricky. Turkey has a much stronger flavor than chicken, but it’s not quite as strong as steak, so a light white wine will be overwhelmed by the turkey and the turkey will be overwhelmed by the heavier red wine. Then there are all the sweet dishes that can throw even the best wine off.

Why? Well, think about what an orange tastes like after you’ve just brushed your teeth or taken a big bite of maple-syrup drenched pancake. Even the sweetest orange or orange juice will taste sour and icky. That’s the citric acid in the orange taking over on your tongue after matching out all the sweet flavors. The same thing happens with wine. Any good wine has several different acids playing out against the fruit flavors and the alcohol. So Aunt Mabel’s sweet potatoes and marshmallows are going to match out those fruit flavors in the expensive, perfectly balanced pinot noir that you bought to go with the turkey, and leave the wine tasting sour and yucky. Not the effect you want when you’ve coughed up $40 for a bottle. And let’s not even get into what the cranberries are going to do.

Which is why our favorite Thanksgiving Dinner wine is the annual Beaujolais Nouveau. The Nouveau is the brand new wine out of the Beaujolais region of France. Basically, all the winemakers who made Beaujolais Villages would hold a little grape juice back from the newly-picked grapes and make a new wine with it to celebrate the end of the harvest. Well, a man named Georges DuBoeuf realized that this was pretty tasty stuff and that if he bought up a bunch of the new wines, mixed them together, then created this big party in Paris, he could sell a boatload of it and make everyone happy.

So nowadays, the wine is released every year on the second Thursday of November to great fanfare and some sniping by the wine snobs, who love looking down their long, bony noses at it. It’s wine that was grapes, like, three months ago, and it’s very light and fruity with good acids, and it can stand up to the turkey and gravy and is fruity enough not to get too sour with the sweet potatoes. Plus, if you have any wine novices at your table who are terrified of red wines, it’s a great introduction to red wines, in general. The best part? Beaujolais Nouveaus rarely cost more that $15 a bottle. Just one thing to be aware of – the vintage year should be the current year. As in, if you find a Nouveau on the shelf from 2011 or later, walk the other way. This wine does not age well and gets rather blah or tart even as soon as Christmas.

This year’s George DuBoeuf seemed a trifle tart to Anne, but Mike thought it was just fine. But there are other labels that then DuBoeuf, so don’t be afraid to give them a try.

And if you have a Thanksgiving wine that is your annual go-to, let us know. Lots of people like a delicate pinot noir. Others defend merlot as the perfect wine. We’re open.

Friday Foto: Harvest at Pomar Junction

Today’s picture comes from our recent trip to Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery, right in the middle of harvest. In fact, we had just harvested almost 200 pounds of viognier, ourselves, from our friends at Sculpterra Winery, for our own home winemaking efforts.

These guys, however, are inspecting the merlot they just picked as it goes into the fermenter bins, and they’re using a machine because they’re harvesting tons, not mere pounds.

Harvest season has wound down around the state, and winemakers are finishing their first ferments, and doing a hundred other tasks before letting everything settle down for the winter. The vines are losing their leaves and also getting ready to shut down for the season.

In honor of that, we recommend picking up a nice, tasty merlot blend, a roaring fire and a really good book to enjoy this late fall evening. Along with some cheese and deli meats. Yum!