A Taste for Torrontés

This refreshing wine is Argentina's signature white
Feb 22, 2011

Buenos Aires—I had my first Torrontés at a wine bar in Napa a few days before departing to Argentina for vacation. Here, it has become my go-to white. It has yet to disappoint.

Having tasted dozens of different whites here, Torrontés has been the standout. Quality is high across the board. I have yet to find a bad one, nor a boring one. Being summer here, you see bottles of chilled Torrontés served at lunch and dinner everywhere you go.

The wine is fresh, clean and aromatic at times, reminiscent of Viognier. Other times it is sleeker, with vibrant, juicy acidity and nectarine and mineral notes.

It is, by virtue of the aforementioned styles, distinctive. Last night, with dinner at Oviedo, I enjoyed a 2010 Alta Vista Torrontés as a starter.

Oviedo is a high-end, bistro-style restaurant that features a Spanish twist on Argentine standards and an excellent range of seafood dishes. After a steady diet of carne—beef, goat, lamb, empanadas and sweetbreads—grilled tuna came as a welcome change of pace.

Torrontés is the kind of wine you don't have to think much about, yet it provides an alluring mix of flavors, drinks easy and, in this case, it worked well with the cuisine.

It's also hard to beat as a value. A spin through Wine Spectator's database shows most Torrontés sell in the $10 to $15 range, and there are some in the under-$10 category. O. Fournier's Urban Uco Valley, at about $8, is flinty and cleansing. Others I've liked included those from Colomé and Trapiche. But just about anywhere you dine you'll find Torrontés, and it is highly reliable, affordable and pleasurable.

Most of the other whites here haven't impressed me, but there have been some good, pleasing Sauvignon Blancs (including one from O. Fournier's winery in Chile) that feature a mix of asparagus and citrusy lime notes. The best Chardonnay I've had while here came from Glen Carlou's Quartz Stone vineyard, a South African wine made by Colomé's owner, Donald Hess, who is also proprietor of Napa's Hess Collection.

Another white I enjoyed came from Viña Alicia, with the 2010 Tiara Lujan de Cuyo, an enticing blend of Riesling, Albariño and Savagnin, this last grape being part of the Traminer family transplanted to Mendoza.

It's unclear where Torrontés came from. You hear different theories and, because this is not one of wine's noble varieties, it' also unclear how much research has gone into the grape's origins. It is thought to be a hybrid of the Mission and Muscatel grapes and likely brought to Argentina by Spanish missionaries.

That hardly matters. Argentina happily stakes claim to the world's greatest Torrontés. It is not of the caliber of Argentina's star red, Malbec, but for now, it's the best thing going and definitely worth a try.


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