It is Malbec, and not Torrontés, that one naturally associates with Argentine wine. If we were to continue the word association game, most people would likely go on to mention Mendoza before eventually arriving somewhere down the line at Torrontés.
Yet, of all the varietal wines produced in Argentina, Torrontés is remarkable in that it is a truly native Argentine grape variety. The grape, a hybrid of the Mission Grape (Criolla Chica) and Muscat of Alexandria varieties, was born in Argentina. It is in no way related to its Spanish namesake, which is commonly grown in Galicia.
The History of Torrontés in Argentina
For many years, it was assumed that the Torrontés produced in Argentina was the same as that of the one grown in Galicia in Spain. The general assumption was that Spanish migrants had imported the variety, as is the story with so many of Argentina’s other grape varieties. Indeed, both wines can be easily confused as they are highly aromatic with bouquets that are reminiscent of, though not exactly the same as, the Muscat variety.
In Argentina, there are three different varieties of Torrontés, each named after a different region: Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino and Torrontés Mendocino. It is the Riojano variety that is most widely grown, as it produces the highest quality wines. The other two varieties, meanwhile, produce wines that are much simpler in taste and smell and are often used to make sweet-style wines.
The Style of Torrontés Wine
Torrontés is a highly aromatic white wine, best consumed within one or two years of bottling. Two defining characteristics which can help identify the wine in a blind tasting are: the aroma of grapes (something which is actually unique to this variety) and an unexpected, slightly bitter, aftertaste and finish.
Torrontés is similar to other aromatic wines including German Riesling, Muscat and Gewürztraminer. It is characterized by intense floral and fruity aromas and flavors of stone fruits or melon. Torrontés wines are generally regarded to have medium body and acidity.
Torrontés Growing Regions In Argentina
Instead, the regions where the grape thrives best tend to be even higher in altitude. For these conditions, one must travel north from Mendoza, to areas such as the Famatina Valley in La Rioja.
The best location of all for producing Torrontés is the Calchaquí Valleys in the extreme northwest of the country. The valleys span the provinces of Salta, Tucumán and Catamarca and are home to the highest altitude vineyards in the world (reaching 3000m above sea level at times), our resident sommelier, Christie Kiley did a profile on Salta, Argentina, showcasing a 150 year old grapevine on one of the world's highest vineyards.
This extreme altitude provides incredibly hot temperatures and high exposure to sunlight during the day, while at night, conditions are much cooler. The conditions and climate in this region enable grapes to maintain a good level of acidity and fine flavors. It is this acidity and these finer flavors that are the first to fade after wine is bottled, and for that reason, Torrontés is best consumed at a young age.
Perfect Food Pairings for Torrontés Wine
The fruity, aromatic nature of Torrontés, combined with a cool serving temperature, make it the perfect accompaniment to spicy food. In particular, Indian curries and Thai salads help pronounce the wine’s fruity and herbaceous character. Unlike beer, which is so often served with this style of food, Torrontés is a still alcoholic drink, and therefore, will not fill you up or make you feel bloated.
For those who can’t handle too much spice in their food, Torrontés should be paired with lighter meats, including fish, poultry and possibly pork. Anything stronger is likely to overpower this wine, whose flavor profile is delicate in nature.
Buyers Guide to Torrontés
Torrontés is a very "Argentine wine" in the sense that it is a great value for money. Much like Malbec, the quality of the average bottle available on the international market is strong and the price is ultra-competitive.
As previously mentioned, Torrontés should be consumed very young. When buying Torrontés any time after October or November, you should be looking only at bottles from the same or previous year (vintage).The most expressive form and best example of Torrontés comes from Cafayate, in Salta. Salta is a province in the northwest of Argentina and forms part of the aforementioned Calchaquí Valleys where Torrontés best succeeds. Looking out for the words Cafayate, Salta or Calchaquí when buying Torrontés will pretty much ensure a good value and interesting drinking experience.