When discussing Viognier in “The Wine Bible,” (Workman Publishing, 2001), Karen MacNeil quotes 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.
It is hard to believe that few people know about the Torrontés grape, given 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?
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.
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.
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. To learn more about these regions, click here.
Torrontés 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.
Torrontés pairs incredibly well with white fish (try 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, Torrontés 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.
Sedimentality’s Suggested Torrontes Wines to Try
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.
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. 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. Grapes are picked at three different stages: just before they are ripe, when they are in their prime, and slightly after. The winemaker blends the juices from these three batches to make the Premium Torrontés: it is a beautiful, vibrant wine with floral notes, honey and lemon.