I appreciate the effort that goes into making a high-quality wine, and there are a number of great small winemakers across the world who are producing excellent wines, carefully attending to the vines, hand-picking the grapes and fermenting the juice to perfection, often at affordable prices.
Those small batch wines can be tricky to find, but they are out there on the U.S. market, many in the $10 range, prices held down by the strength of the dollar abroad or the weakness of originating country’s economy. Most wine sellers have at least one or two to recommend, so ask them.
However, for those of us trying to navigate the wine shelves of the supermarkets or one of those boundless liquor stores where knowledgeable help is hard to locate, there are a number of widely available wines that are well-made, reasonably priced and worth drinking without fear of embarrassment or a splitting headache.
There, too, are a number of others that I avoid, unfortunately, made by companies with recognizable names from California, Australia and even France, wines from low quality grapes, picked by machines and cheaply made with sweetness as the strongest attribute.
The wines made by Trapiche, the largest and oldest wine producer in Argentina and one of the largest in the world, are different. They are carefully made with an eye on quality as well as quantity.
In fact, the 133-year-old company has built its strong reputation by making award-winning, less expensive wines, a successful business model that enables world-class winemaker Daniel Pi to also produce top-shelf, single vineyard wines that have garnered international praise.
Trapiche, Spanish for sugar mill or sugar plantation, was founded in 1883 by Tiburcio Benegas, a politician, diplomat and father of the Argentina’s modern wine industry, who purchased more than 16,500 acres, imported vines from France — mostly Malbec — and produced the country’s first fine wines.
The Benegas family operated the business until 1971 when it was sold to the Puenta family who operated it until 2002. The investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette acquired the company then and hired Pi as the winemaker and oenologist. The company now produces about 10 million cases a year and exports half of that amount, according to an interview with Pi published online by grapecollective.com.
I like Trapiche Malbec, the grape that built the business, but I prefer the Cabernet Sauvignon, a precedence attributable, perhaps, to being momentarily tired of Argentine Malbec.
I first tried an Argentine Malbec during a trip to California about 16 years ago and was blown away by a wine that I had never heard of, much less seen on store shelves. Since then, Malbec has exploded on the U.S. market, and I’ve moved on.
Trapiche’s Cab is made entirely of a grape varietal created in Bordeaux back in the 1600s by crossing Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Trapiche grows its Cabernet Sauvignon in high-elevation, Andes Mountain vineyards with deep soils and lots of sun that produces intense, aromatic flavors. The warm sun helps the grapes ripen properly and the vines’ deep roots tap into enough water in the arid climate to produce high quality and abundant fruit.
As its name suggests, the Oak Cask Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in oak barrels for nine months before bottling. The result is a fruit-forward wine that has a dark red color with aromas of cherries, plums and licorice and has a fresh, clean taste with deep ripe, slightly oaked berry and chocolate flavors, Pi says in his tasting notes.
The Trapiche Cab is fine for drinking on its own, but it pairs well with hearty food. My wife and I enjoyed it with a caramelized onion pizza, and Pi recommends it with roast beef, spicy roast chicken or duck, or with cheddar and blue cheeses.
Trapiche Oak Cask Cabernet Sauvignon is widely available and often is on sale. I have found it for as little as $7.99. Get the Oak Cask, and don’t confuse it with the plain Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon, which is less expensive and not quite as good.
Trapiche is one of the large producers that really knows how to make good, inexpensive wine. It’s well worth giving a try.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.