SCENE. Four unsuspecting souls, gathered in a small but surprisingly spacious Capitol Hill apartment. Little do they know - tonight, the MALBEC rides.
7:00pm. Heavy. This bottle is so heavy. What, did they carve it straight from the mountainside? I wonder how the grapes feel about that. Into the fridge for a bit, Mr. Keating.
7:15pm. Apple is to orange as Malbec is to ___? How am I to judge this sweet, sweet (free) nectar? Against a dark, young Syrah? A hefty Cab? A (gasp!) Rioja? Nay - only a brother Malbec will do. To the bodega!
7:30pm. Upon my return, with two embarrassingly inexpensive Argentinean Malbecs, it's time to begin. *pop* Ah, a solid beginning. Stop! Decanter time! The Malbec pours a deep, deep burgundy, a very...cultured...color. The sort of color you might buy a Buick in sixty years from now. Even the little bubbles have a dark reddish tint. Yeah, this would stain the heck out of my carpet. Must be careful.
The first word I have written down for the nose is "heavenly," and for some reason I underlined it twice. Right after opening, no less - a powerful scent of dusty earth (the mountains of Rockpile, perhaps?), dark fruits (dark arts?) of cherry and ripe plums, a light herbal component - almost menthol (sort of "Old World" like a Rioja), but not quite - and something else I can't put my finger on, a faint spiciness (perhaps what some snobbily call "cigar box"). Out of the bottle, this wine smells much older than it really is - on scent alone, it could almost pass as a decade-old Bordeaux (but yeah, probably not).
Oh, wait. Wine is for drinking! At this point, it was very astringent and closed, a bit plummy and earthy, but really needs a good one or two hours in the decanter. So...we wait.
8:30pm. From my notes, verbatim: "so much different!" With just one painful hour of waiting, the fruitiness in the nose came to the forefront, and on the palate the wine grew incredibly expansive, presenting a whole array of acidic fruits - plums, pomegranate, a hint of strawberry, maybe a little tart blackberry - and an interesting bit of minerality. The minerals are not so gritty (like the TLC Cab/Shiraz, which I love), but just...solid - like the difference between crumbly limestone and a clean-cut quartz crystal. There's something just very solid about this wine - perhaps it's the unshakable balance, though even after an hour it was still "rippling with tannins." (Who writes like that? And in longhand, no less?)
The finish, as advertised, is very long and very crisp - the flavor stays on your tongue for ages, but doesn't coat your mouth like many "big" wines, and there's no lingering jamminess or syrupiness at all. This, if my newfound wine snobbery does not fail me, signifies a very well-made wine (along with the "legs for days," as they say).
9:10pm. Time for a taste test! Opening the competitor wines, one immediately drops out of the running (the Aguaribay, with an odd rotten banana flavor that might be a fault - or may just be the fault of cheapness), but the Trapiche actually held its own, a little fuller on the palate than our hero Keating, but a bit jammier in the finish and not nearly as complex.
9:30pm. Anyone who tries to argue that evolution is just a theory has clearly never had this wine. Another hour of breathing under its belt, and it has changed its composure all over again - perfectly balancing fruit and acidity, and adding notes of tobacco, oak, and just a slight hint of pepperiness to the party. (Upon further reflection, I would later decide that it was this point at which the wine had "peaked," surely a useful bit of information for future consumers.)
9:35pm. Another sip, another flavor. This time it's something just ever so suggestively green - like a patch of good fairway, but maybe a little weedier, like crabgrass. But in a good way. It's the best crabgrass experience I've ever had.
9:45pm. My girlfriend arrives home and is quickly fed a half-glass of the good Keating juice. She cites plums and a licorice scent, and notes that the tannins (which, proudly, I taught her about) are noticeable but not overbearing. She is learning indeed.
10:10pm. The food is prepared and the guests arrive. The Keating stands guard in its decanter, prepared to do battle with the balsamic-marinated strip steaks, garlic mashed potatoes, and crispy green beans I deemed logical to neatly arrange on a plate. Glasses of Keating and Trapiche are dished out accordingly. Guest J claims he senses some "peppery notes" in the Keating while Guest K, though overall preferring the fuller body of the Trapiche (as is her personal preference), describes the Keating as more accessible and straightforward - the flavors of the Keating are all much clearer and the overall profile is more complex. (Interestingly, I note snidely to myself, this seems a bit backward from the good Mr. Keating's statements earlier, but I can't say I disagree - perhaps the Trapiche is simply unusually full-bodied for an Argentine).
Next to the acidity of the steaks, the creaminess of the potatoes, and the crunchiness of the green beans, though, the Keating is, bar none, the better food wine - its flavors are present but not overpowering, and the long, crisp finish is simply sublime with food involved, handling every aspect of the meal with aplomb and quickly clearing the palate for the next bite.
11:00pm. Dinner complete, we tear into a chocolate cake - the wine is just a bit too acidic and light to go well here; this is where you'd want a little jamminess, I think - and decide, whimsically, to light up a hookah, something I haven't done in ages. The Malbec provides a perfect companion to our jasmine-flavored hookah, again showing stupendous balance between fruit, acidity, and body.
1:30am. As we clean up the simply awful mess this wine inspired and I sit to jot my thoughts away in Notepad with reckless abandon, there is barely one glass left, and it seems to be almost fading away a bit. The fruit has mostly taken over, and the spiciness, pepper, and other odd complex nuggets have mostly disappeared.
Conclusions? Why, yes, I've some. The Malbec - it is good, bordering on great. My sincerest applause to the talented and daring Mr. Keating, and most gracious thanks to WineDavid and the whole Wine.Woot motley crew. Asked to play Robert Parker for a night, I would probably give it a 91 or 92 (and will do so on CT). The balance is simply incredible - the fruit, spice notes, acidity, and body combine to make this wine taste incredibly composed throughout the night. The tannins were a little rough, but then, we're still a year away from the beginning of Mr. Keating's stated window. Right now, though, you're going to get the best of wine with 1-4 hours of decanting, and accompanying a substantial meal. It's pretty good on its own, too, but I suspect one would grow weary of the tannins after a full glass or so by itself.
This the first American Malbec I've had (and frankly I had no idea anyone even grew Malbec in America before yesterday), but it almost certainly sets an impossible bar for any others, and gives even the most expensive South American versions a run for their money. Against the...ahem, inexpensive...comparison wines I provided - there was simply no contest against the Aguaribay (but that's saying little - most of that will probably go down the drain) and, in my opinion, the Keating easily bested the Trapiche through its balance and complexity (demonstrating, I think, the greater amount of attention readily paid to its production). Price-wise, the Trapiche cost me $14, while the Keating here is $17-18 (depending on your level of commitment), and the difference is easily worth the extra cash. However, I wouldn't really see myself buying the Keating off the shelf at $42 - but if I would, I wouldn't really need Wine.Woot, now would I?