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Image: Pinot Noir
Frederick Wildman and Sons
By Wine columnist
updated 3/2/2008 2:57:38 AM ET 2008-03-02T07:57:38

For me, the excitement of wine is in its infinite twists and turns and the chance of running into the unexpected. Take the other day, when I was invited to lunch for a tasting of some exclusive, $50 wines but was also wowed by a big-production, $10 bargain.

It was a snowy afternoon in New York. Gustavo Arroyat had been eating beef for days, and not the mouthwatering meat to which he is accustomed and for which his native Argentina is famous. A bit of hardship duty, perhaps, for a man on a mission to generate excitement here about the new releases of what may be some of South America’s best wines for meat eating — a line of limited-production, single-vineyard malbecs from Trapiche, one of Argentina’s biggest and oldest wineries.

Image: Gustavo Arroyat of Trapiche
Frederick Wildman and Sons
Arroyat, an export manager for Trapiche who covers the United States and the United Kingdom, took the wines out of a bag he had brought to a Cuban restaurant. I was about to dig into a skirt steak while he mixed things up with a pork sandwich. It was classic malbec food (I would also include lamb) that won’t be overpowered by such bold wines.

Malbec, of course, is to Argentina what cabernet sauvignon is to California’s Napa Valley. It’s the region’s signature red grape and thrives in Argentina’s eternally sunny landscape. Trapiche’s three 2005 single-vineyard malbecs (each of the wines comes from grapes from a different grower) are young and quite tannic at this stage and will benefit from a year or two in the bottle.

But the wines, whose labels pay tribute to the growers — Fausto Orellana, Francisco Olivé and Eleodoro Aciar — are concentrated and complex. They’re subtly different from one another, reflecting the location of the individual vineyards, but united by a ripe core of blackberry with a range of accompanying notes, from earth and minerals to coffee and tobacco, black cherry and sage.

Arroyat, a young man who wore jeans and a big turtleneck sweater, explained that Trapiche chose the three outstanding 2005 malbecs in blind tastings after making wine from the grapes of 90 growers in Mendoza, the Argentine state that is the center of the country’s huge wine industry. The 87 wines that didn’t make the cut were blended into the winery’s less expensive malbecs.

Beyond malbec, another far less expensive Trapiche wine, the 2006 “Oak Cask” Pinot Noir, also got my attention. We ordered a bottle of it while waiting for our main courses and I was struck immediately by its bright acidity, which reminded me more of pinot noirs from Burgundy than California. Unlike the single-vineyard malbecs, which will mellow as they age, no waiting time is necessary for the pinot noir, which is drinking beautifully right now.

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With its aromas and flavors of spicy cherry and blueberry, cedar and vanilla, this is one of the best pinot noir bargains around and will overshadow just about any competitor in the $10 range.

When asked what accounts for the wine’s crisp acidity, which gives it a refreshing quality that makes you eager for more, Arroyat cited cool climate, which the grapes need to develop this kind of acidity. He told me the pinot noir is grown in Trapiche’s highest vineyards, at about 3,500 feet, which “is the difference between night and day” when compared with warmer conditions at lower elevations. “Since you have really cool nights you have great acidity in the wines,” he explained.

The wine went well with our appetizers, including a platter of cheese, tomato and dried beef (yes, more beef), and will match nicely with lighter main courses such as chicken and even fish if you prefer a red.

Trapiche produces some 20,000 cases of the “Oak Cask” pinot noir, compared with just a thousand or so of the single-vineyard malbecs.  For me, the afternoon was a lesson in good wine, no matter how big or small the production, no matter how big or small the price.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at edwarddeitch@hotmail.com

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