Mysterious and fragrant, torrontes has become Argentina’s premier white wine grape varietal.
Once thought to be related to a grape of the same name from Galicia, Spain, it has been confirmed that indeed, torrontes is a grape indigenous to Argentina.
It comes in three varieties: torrontes riojano, torrontes sanjuanino and torrontes mendocino, with the first being the most common and aromatic.
Both torrontes riojano and sanjuanino are crosses between muscat d’alexandria and the mission grape (criolla), the latter being the first known wine grape to have been planted in California.
Floral, fruity and sometimes a little spicy, torrontes is often much drier than meets the nose. It can have residual sugar but usually, the acidity masks the appearance of sweetness. Oak treatment is judicious to rare, more often than not, as it can overpower the perfumed character of the grape.
Most torrontes is grown in Salta, one of Argentina’s most northern and highest wine regions. It is essentially a high desert, with scorching temperatures in the summer that take a dramatic plunge in the evening. As such, it is perfect for torrontes, allowing plenty of ripening and the preservation of acidity at the same time.
Most bottles of torrontes are available for less than $20, with a good number falling in the $10 to $15 range.
Torrontes should draw you in with its scent. Many are successful at this, but the better ones follow through on the palate, balance out the pungency with acidity and have a good finish. Here is a perfect sampling of three of the best on the market.
Bodegas El Porvenir de los Andes, Dos Minas Torrontes, 2011 (Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina): “Dos minas” is slang for two chicks in Argentine Spanish. Don’t get the wrong idea, for it is named for business partners Lucia Romero and Heather Willens, who make this wine from 60-year-old torrontes vines in Cafayate. Floral with pink grapefruit, tangerine, guava and honey, this torrontes has a glorious matrix of fruit and unusual depth. Available at K&L Wine Merchants, Vintage Berkeley and Solano Cellars. Suggested retail: $12
Tomero Torrontes, 2010 (Cafayate, Salta, Argentina): Based in Mendoza, Tomero gets its torrontes from a vineyard that is 5,500 feet above sea level. That is up there. Squeaky clean with rose petal, jasmine, lychee, melon and citrus, it is reminiscent of a light, bright gewürztraminer. Available at The Jug Shop and Piedmont Grocer.
Suggested retail: $14
Familia Zuccardi Torrontes, Series A, 2010 (Salta, Argentina): Zuccardi sources its torrontes from Salta, yet the wine is made at its mammoth facility in Mendoza. In spite of its size, which includes five wine estates and four labels, Zuccardi has remained a family-run company since its inception more than four decades ago. The torrontes comes from vines that were planted in 1975. With fresh pineapple and citrus fruits, soft yet bright acidity and rose petals in the nose, this is quintessential torrontes. Available at The Jug Shop. Suggested retail: $15
Pamela S. Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.