Argentina’s Torrontés

Torrontés: a singular white grape …

When it comes to wine, Argentina is best known for reds and Malbec in particular. But the country is no one trick pony. If you dig a bit deeper you will discover other good red wines, especially red blends, while the best whites in my view are those made from the Torrontés grape.

Argentinian Torrontés is unique and although it has been difficult to establish its exact origin, it is not the same grape as the Torrontés of Spain’s Galicia. Recent studies suggest that Argentina’s grape is a cross between a white variety known as Criolla Chica which was brought to the country by Spanish settlers in the 16th century and Muscat d’Alexandrie, a fragrant variety found around the Mediterranean region and generally used to make sweet wines.

Most Torrontés wines are produced as dry, tangy, fresh wines with no oak influence and they are best enjoyed in their youth. Good examples are intensely perfumed and full-bodied with hints of lime, tropical fruit, white peach or perhaps a touch of quince. Your mouth should be watering by now…

Although there are significant amounts of Torrontés vines planted in Mendoza, Argentina’s main wine producing region on the eastern side of the Andes, the best wines come from vineyards further north and two regions in particular: the San Juan province of La Rioja 168km north of Mendoza and the Cafayate Valley in Salta, the remote outpost for wine production some 1110km north of Mendoza.

In both regions the vineyards are situated at 1000m or more above sea level. That is significant for white grapes as, at such altitude, the temperature drops significantly at night allowing good acidity levels and flavour to develop in the grapes in the weeks before harvest.

If you like richer styles of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Viognier, you’ll probably like Torrontés. The wines range from lighter styles to more intensely flavoured styles. Here are my recommendations; they are all from the 2011 vintage but you might find some 2012 vintages from the same producers very soon:

Salta Torrontés wines:

Finca Domingo, Cafayate Valley, Salta, vintage 2011, £10.99,

A fine example of the depth of flavour that you can find in a Torrontés wine from the heady heights of Salta’s vineyards (1750m in this case). Rich, tangy lemon and greengage fruit with a silky texture, this is a wine for food; try it with a chicken tagine.

Crios, Chalchaquies Valley, Salta and Mendoza, vintage 2012 (the same wine can also be found under the ‘Zohar’ label), £8.99 from Majestic

Winemaker Susana Balbo makes a particularly zesty style of Torrontés. The grapes are sourced mostly from Salta and blended with a small amount from Mendoza “to give the wine a steely edge”. Delicious with or without food.

Alta Vista Premium Torrontés, vintage 2011, £10

A rich style with well balanced acidity and delicious lychee fruit.

La Rioja Torrontés wines:

Tapiz, Famatina Valley, vintage 2012, £9.49

Delicate and fresh with mouth-watering citrus flavours. A wine for late summer and well into autumn.

La Riojana Tilimuqui Single Vineyard Fairtrade Organic Torrontés 2011, Waitrose, £7.19

This is a lighter Torrontés and a particularly food-friendly style with green apple and white pear fruit. It makes a refreshing aperitif wine and a good match for baked fish dishes.

The Co-operative Fairtrade Torrontés/Chardonnay 2011, £4.99

Vibrant, fruity and great value for money – you can’t go wrong with this blend from the Riojana winery.