Enter spring. Many of you are anxiously waiting the arrival of your beloved rosès. While several of the 2017’s have been released, the bulk of them are on a boat, making their way toward store shelves and restaurants. In the meantime, a great spring/summer white wine that many are unfamiliar with is a fun and refreshing alternative: torrontès.
DNA profiling at University of California-Davis revealed that this varietal is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica, typically only grown in Argentina. While there are three clonal variations of the grape, the dominant and highest quality is Torrontès Riojano. Argentina boasts the world’s highest concentration of high altitude vineyards, with some locations at 9000 feet, while most lie between 3500 and 5500 feet. The high altitude allows for increased hang time for the grapes. The long hang times at considerably cooler temperatures result in wines that retain a higher natural acidity and conversely lower alcohol contents. Wines with long hang times are usually overly-alcoholic and flabby.
Argentina’s northernmost region, Salta, is an up-and-coming area with great potential. Arguably, this is home of the best torrontès. There are great wines coming from Mendoza, further south, but the best of the best come from Salta’s higher altitude. This region is unique in that the landscape is strewn with cactus and bone dry, forcing the growers to irrigate. Over the past decade, they have realized that too much irrigation leads to overcropping and ultimately inferior wine. This issue didn’t affect just Salta, but also Argentina as a whole. Now that the Argentinians have realized the importance of quality over quantity, we are seeing exponentially higher quality wines with more concentration and structure.
Torrontès is distinctive in its parental makeup. Some wine-drinkers may be fearful that one of its parents, the Muscat of Alexandria, would increase its sweetness. The wines, however, are bone dry and have no residual sugar. There are exceptions, but as a whole, the wines are fermented dry. The bouquet is unmistakable with notes of orange peel, flower blossoms and peaches. The wines can range from light to full-body and offer a very clean and crisp mouthfeel that suits pinot grigio- and sauvignon blanc-lovers alike.
Due to the wine’s impressive acidity torrontès makes for excellent food pairings. The exotic bouquet works harmoniously with Chinese, Thai, Sushi and Indian dishes that are vegetarian or white-meat-based. In addition to Asian cuisine, the wines work great as cocktail wines with an array of cheeses and appetizers. The best part, though, is the friendly cost, with prices ranging from $10-$20.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.