When Daniel Pi took over as head winemaker at Argentina’s Trapiche winery in 2002, he had a big task in front him. The large operation had grown listless, producing volume brands that provided little genuine interest or excitement. But in recent vintages, Pi’s attention to detail has not only pulled up the bottom rung of the winery’s portfolio, but he’s also added to its top end, with a lineup of single-vineyard bottlings that have proven to be consistently outstanding since they debuted in the 2003 vintage.
The single-vineyard lineup is more than just the usual selection of a top vineyard site that has its fruit bottled separately very year. It’s the result of a de-facto competition Pi has gotten his top growers involved in. Each year, along with viticulturist Marcelo Belmonte (whom Pi brought on board in 2003 to oversee Trapiche’s 1,000-plus hectares of vineyards), Pi samples the lots from a few dozen vineyards. Those that Pi feels are the best are bottled as single-vineyard wines, and the labels then carry the names of the growers themselves, as opposed to the name of the vineyard. It’s a reward system that has helped spur a quality-first culture among the growers, as opposed to their historical quantity-first approach. There are just three "winners" in each vintage, so the selection process is severe.
I recently tried a complete vertical of the Trapiche single-vineyard Malbecs, which confirmed my initial impressions of the wines while also providing more fodder for the always-ongoing discussion of how wines age. For the most part, the wines showed well, with their powerful cores of fruit and toasty personalities still very solid. Yet while I felt the wines were holding well, I didn’t think they were necessarily developing into something markedly different or unique that would merit extended aging. The debut vintage, the 2003 bottlings, were already showing the cedary edge of maturity, while dropping the fleshy, ripe fruit that they had in their youth.
Does this mean they aren't outstanding wines? No. Great wines need not necessarily be the kind that age 20 years or more. Those that offer exceptional complexity, depth, length and a sense of place, yet are enjoyed in their first few years of life, can still be compelling wines. And what these wines do show is a sense of place, even with the heavy dose of new oak (18 months) they get during their élevage.
Sourced from various spots around Mendoza, the heart of Argentina’s wine industry, the Trapiche single-vineyard Malbecs show the region’s diversity. The Viña Fausto Orellana bottling, sourced from the cooler, southern Uco Valley, comes from 60-plus-year-old vines. The 2005 version was among the best wines in the tasting, showing mature hints but still with lovely mouthfeel and a long, well-integrated finish of toast and red and black fruit. In contrast, the 2006 Viña Adriana Venturín bottling, from a 50-plus-year-old vineyard in La Consulta, showed a darker profile, with tar and hot stone notes and more muscle.
More recent vintages, including the newly released 2007s, showed a lighter hand with the toasty oak, and I expect they will age a bit longer and along a more graceful track than the earlier vintages, which are already showing noticeable cedar and coffee notes, particularly in the 2003s, which I found a notch below where they were on release.
Following are notes on the wines. Samples were provided directly from the winery to ensure perfect provenance. The wines were not tasted blind, and were tasted at my New York office without anyone from the winery present. On release, the wines began at $40 per bottle and have creeped up to $50 in the most recent vintage; production is usually just around 1,000 cases of each. Official reviews of the newly released 2007s, based on formal, blind tastings, will appear in the near future.
Flashy and ripe, with lots of velvety fig, mocha and boysenberry notes that glide along. Dense, but not heavy, with good embedded acidity supporting the toasty finish. Drink now through 2012. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Shows a darker, brawnier profile, with mulled plum, currant and black licorice notes backed by a briary finish. A tarry edges lurks as well, leaving a grippy feel. Best from 2011 through 2013. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
This has depth, polish and range, with dark plum, fig and boysenberry fruit flavors laced with graphite, violet and tar notes. Dense but well-defined, with superb drive on the finish. Best from 2011 through 2014. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Still shows a hefty dose of toast, with dark plum, prune, fig and coffee notes rumbling along, backed by melted black licorice and tar notes. The finish is dense, toasty and slightly chewy. There's more power than purity, but this is well-built. Drink now through 2012. 1,355 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Dark and winey, with great tar and hot stone notes now moving in on the core of mulled plum, blackberry and fig fruit. The long finish lets the tarry edge linger, with hints of cedar and tobacco adding definition. Drink now through 2012. 1,362 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Starting to show some mulled spice and cedar notes, with roasted vanilla bean and plum paste hints, though the core of dark currant and fig fruit is still solid. The toast leaves a lightly firm feel on the finish. Drink now through 2011. 1,368 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Grippy, with dark toast holding sway over the mulled plum, blackberry and currant paste notes. Coffee and graphite help to extend the muscular finish, with good buried acidity giving it just enough balance. Drink now through 2011. 1,193 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Maturing, with cedar and incense notes flickering through the core of red currant, blackberry and dried black cherry fruit. Toasty but integrated, with shaved vanilla bean and espresso framing the finish. Drink now through 2013. 1,215 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Muscular and dark, offering lots of coffee, plum, prune and tobacco notes that rumble through the smoky, loamy finish, which shows a beefy feel, with lingering dark toast and black olive notes. Drink now through 2011. 1,189 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
The most mature of Trapiche's 2004s, with prominent coffee and cedar notes weaving through the core of crushed plum and fig paste. Roasted vanilla and cedar take a prominent role on the finish, though there's still dense grip. Drink now. 1,185 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Dark and toasty still, though the velvety feel gives way to more coffee, cedar and loam, while the black currant and blackberry fruit moves to the background. Dense, long and grippy, yet this is losing some drive and vivacity. Drink now. 1,215 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Maturing, with lightly firm cedar and coffee notes leading the way, followed by tobacco, dried black currant and loam notes. This still has plenty of heft, though the velvety richness of youth is giving way now. Drink now. 1,235 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Offers a nice range of blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry fruit that's still pure and fresh, with the toast, spice and graphite notes lingering in the background. A toasty edge takes over on the lightly firm finish. Drink now. 860 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
Still fleshy and ripe, with a rounded feel to the plum sauce, macerated currant and blackberry fruit, showing hints of fir and prune on the full-bodied, toasty finish. Not as dense as the other wines from this vintage, though a touch fresher. Drink now. 800 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
The cedary feel is taking over, with the crushed plum, currant and fig paste notes showing a slightly fluid edge on the toast- and coffee-filled finish. Drink now. 830 cases made. Non-blind Trapiche vertical (2010). —J.M.
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Vittorio — Italy — May 10, 2010 1:00pm ET
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