Wine Time: Trapiche Merlot 2010, Argentina

COST: $9-$11


WHAT: This beauty from Argentina’s largest premium wine producer overdelivers, with a smooth, rich wine at a low price. The deep red color is inviting in the glass, and the rich aromas of ripe red fruit and cracked black pepper make you want to plunge right in.

This is a medium-bodied wine with a lingering taste. It doesn’t overpower anything, and the oak influence is minor and well-integrated.

I recently had this wine nearly every night for 10 days while on a cruise to Antarctica, and I never tired of it. It went remarkably well with chicken, beef dishes and even fish (though I did like the Trapiche Torrontes better with the fish). It was even good as a sipping wine by itself.

In fact, the wine was somewhat of a chameleon. The flavors seemed to change with the various food pairings, even though it was the same wine every night. The wine was free as part of the cruise package, but with wine this good, no one complained about the repetition.

The grapes are grown in the Andes foothills in the Mendoza region of Argentina. The area generally has a defined winter and hot summer with lots of sun. These are ideal conditions for growing fine wine. More than 70 percent of the country’s total vineyard acreage is in Mendoza.

WINERY: The winery was founded when Tiburcio Benegas bought property in Mendoza in 1883. There was a small vineyard on the land he bought, and he named it El Trapiche. The word means sugar mill, or cane mill, or in Chile a crude grinding mill. So perhaps there was a mill on the property.

The vineyard was passed on to his son and grandsons before it was sold in 1971. It is now owned by a large firm funded by investment bankers.

It is Argentina’s largest exporter of premium wines, exporting to 80 countries. It owns about 2,500 acres of vineyards and contracts with more than 200 growers. With the investment company behind it, Trapiche regularly invests in new technology, buying the best equipment to get maximum results.

The company is experimenting with biodynamics with some of its estate vineyards. This is the most extreme type of natural farming, and it takes a deep commitment to follow the principles. It generally results in richer wines and vineyards that don’t get worn out.

Trapiche produces many varietals and is best know for its outstanding Malbec, including some wonderful single-vineyard Malbecs, and Torrontes.

GOES WITH: The nice thing about this wine is it is so versatile. I thought the Merlot paired perfectly with beef stew I had at lunch one day, but it also went surprisingly well with the roast turkey we had on Christmas Eve, and a pasta with tomato sauce another night. There wasn’t a dish that really didn’t go with the Merlot.

So I would recommend it with most meat dishes, soups, pastas and semi-hard cheeses such as gouda, edam and gruyere.


JAN. 12

Wine and tapas tasting, 5-6:30 p.m., La Maison on Telfair, 404 Telfair St.; four wines and three tapas, $19.99; (706) 722-4805

JAN. 13

Wine and beer tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; featuring Castle Rock Wines; price dependent on selection; (706) 922-WINE

JAN. 14

Wine and beer tasting, 1-6 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans, featuring Castle Rock Wines; price dependent on selection; (706) 922-WINE

JAN. 15
January Wine and Food Pairing Dinner, 5:30 p.m., La Maison on Telfair, 404 Telfair St.; seven course meal; $80 plus tax and gratuity; (706) 722-4805

JAN. 19

Wine tasting, 5-8 p.m., Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta, $5, with $3 rebate on purchase of one bottle of featured wine. Six wines with matching cheeses. (803) 279-9552

JAN. 24

Wine dinner, 6:30 p.m., Calvert’s Restaurant, Surrey Center. Presentation by Emmanuel Kemiji, master sommelier and owner of Miura Vineyards; reservations, (706) 738-4514

FEB. 6

Wine tasting, 5:30 p.m., Ninth Street Wine Market, 12 Ninth St. Valentine’s Day theme will include some sparkling wine; (706) 724-1442