Getting to know Torrontés

Getting to know Torrontés

Spring is in the air! The change in season is a reminder that along with sunshine, warm weather dishes are on their way: lamb stew with spring vegetables, anything and everything with heirloom tomatoes, vegetables grilled on Dad’s barbecue, berry pies… my Neenaw’s peach cobbler… yum. I simply adore the dishes of the two happier seasons, and I can’t think of a better time to highlight a grape that pairs perfectly with warm weather fare: Torrontés.

It is hard to believe that few people know about the Torrontés grape. I absolutely love its floral, fragrant nose, its vibrant yet light body and its slightly sweet finish… to top it all off, it pairs SO well with so many dishes, and is so easy to drink… did I mention that they are incredibly inexpensive??? What’s not to love? 🙂

As it turns out, the history of the Torrontés grape is as fascinating as its flavors.

A brief history of Torrontés

Torrontés is a cross between a native Argentine grape called Criolla Chica (the same grape first planted in California under the name “Mission” grape) and the Muscat grape from Alexandria, making it distinctly Argentine but with Old World roots. This is something I love: the New World wines are so often made from clones of Old World varietals and I enjoy seeing winemakers pave their way with grapes that are native to the lands they are grown on.

Before moving to Argentina, I had no idea that Torrontés is the most widely planted grape in Argentina. Although grown in many of the country’s primary wine growing regions, the grapes thrive in high altitudes and dry regions. Cafayate, in the Salta region, is considered to produce the best quality grapes and wines. Mendoza wineries often own vineyards in Salta, where they grow and produce their Torrontés wines, but they still offer their Torrontés to those who stop by their Mendoza winery for a tasting.

(An FYI for my wine geek friends: Torrontés actually consists of three cultivars: Torrontés riojano, Torrontés sanjuanino and Torrontés Mendocino. The Torrontés riojano is the grape most commonly used to produce the Torrontés wine.)

Flavor profile and suggested pairings

I find that the wine has Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier tendencies: it is light like a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a touch of sweetness indicative of Gewurztraminer, and beautiful floral notes reminiscent of both Gewurztraminer and Viognier.

I have been experimenting with Torrontés pairings for some time now and have fallen more and more in love with the wine: it pairs incredibly well with white fish (my favorite pairing is white fish with a mango-lime-red onion-tomato salsa) and is a perfect accompaniment to spicy foods (the sweetness of the wine really balances out the spicy flavors). Surprisingly, it also works incredibly well with lighter fruit desserts, (grilled fruits with cream, fruit pies, tarte tatin, etc.) because the floral and fruit notes of the wine work with the fruits of a dish, and the acidity of the wine cuts the cream and sugar.

A few suggested wines

A particular favorite it the Durigutti “Aguijon de Abeja” (translation: “sting of the bee”; hence the bee and honeycomb on the label). A refreshing wine with aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle and citrus and apricot on the palate; it is the quintessential wine for a hot summer day. At $10 (US) a bottle, Aguijon de Abeja is yet another wine I can add to the list of high quality, inexpensive Argentine wines. It seems that Argentina never fails in this department!

Another inexpensive and beautiful Torrontés is the Elementos: a wine which can be found in almost any Argentine supermarket and some U.S. boutique wine stores. I like to think of it as a classic Torrontés: I have had some which are much sweeter and a few which are much drier, and this one seems to be smack in the middle. It has the classic Torrontés light fruit aromas and a hint of sweetness on the finish.

A Torrontés highlight is the Alta Vista Premium Torrontés. As I learned during my last visit to their Lujan de Cuyo tasting room in Mendoza, their winemaker picks the grapes at three different stages: just before they are ripe, when they are in their prime, and slightly after. He blends the juices from these three batches to make the Premium Torrontés: it is a beautiful, vibrant wine with floral notes, honey and lemon.

Final “sediments” from Sedimentality

Several years ago, I read an excerpt from Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible” (Workman Publishing, 2001). In a section about Viognier, she quote a restaurateur in Los Angeles who had a very interesting take on the characteristics of several white wines:

If a good German Riesling is like an ice skater (fast, racy, with a cutting edge) and chardonnay is like a middle-heavyweight boxer (punchy, solid, powerful) then Viognier would have to be described as a female gymnast—beautiful and perfectly shaped, with muscle but superb agility and elegance.

His descriptor has stuck with me. I wonder, with all his unique varietal descriptions, what he think would symbolize Torrontés? If I had to personify the grape, I would say that Torrontés is the budding artist: brilliant, motivated as it struggles for recognition from its peers, gifted in its work, and with flair that promises a bright future.

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