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.
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.