Friday, November 13, 2009

Torrontes: Argentina’s Unknown White Grape

There are many wine writers around the world who have discovered the intricacies of the Torrontes grape. This wine is very far from being a traditional white but it is that uniqueness that draws us to it and, hopefully, will draw you to it as well. In North America, names like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and even Gewurztraminer are common names to see on the shelves of our local wine shops. Despite the number of articles from people like Jancis Robinson, David Lawrason and many, many more, Torrontes is still a largely unheard of grape that the average consumer has heard very little of. Just out of curiosity, I decided to do a search on the LCBO website to see how many different Torrontes wines were available through them since that is the only source for international wines in Ontario. The results: I could count the number of wines on my two hands and still have fingers left over. The thing is that with a selling price of less than $15 a bottle in most cases (one of them was $16.95 a bottle), any of these wines could fit into the great value category but if no one knows that they exist and how interesting the taste is to these wines, they may as well be $100 a bottle.

I don’t normally do this when preparing to write a blog but I decided this time around to ask on my Facebook page “What do you know about Torrontes?” The answers were interesting…

“I know I love it when it’s good, hate it when it’s bad!! Tasted on recently from Emilia Romani which was stellar. A different expression than that in Argentina, but beautiful nonetheless.”

“Torrontes is best when grown in higher altitudes (in Argentina) and fermented and aged in stainless steel. I find that too much oak can actually kill this wine. It is originally from Spain -= Galician variety grown in fairly large quantities in the Alicante and Yecla regions. However it is also considered one of the original in Argentina and I would put it up there with their finest exhibits of their best along with Carmenere and Malbec…my three favourites of the Country. Seriously wish we could bet more Torrontes here ;-)”

Now, both of these people work in the wine industry with me so they have had the opportunity to try a wide variety of wines from around the world so for them to say they like Torrontes and wish there were more available up here in Canada certainly indicates to me that this is a grape that should get some attention in the hopes that the general consumer may fall in love with this very unique and different tasting white wine.

Okay, so I have been going on and on about how this wine is unique and different tasting so I am sure you are wondering why I am saying that. You see, the aromas to all of the Torrontes wines I tasted this week had a slight citrus, tropical fruit component to it but the flavours were very different from the aromas. Initially I thought it was a creamy texture that is normally associated with an oaked Chardonnay but that just did not seem right so, upon further examination, I realized that the mouthfeel of these wines had a more soapy, lanolin, oily texture to it than creaminess. Now, I know that none of those flavours sound appealing to many people but, in these wines, the wineries seem to have found a way to make this taste appealing and balance in with the fruit flavours and smokiness that is still present. Honestly, if it is able to disguise itself as a cross between Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and a lightly oaked Chardonnay, which pairs wonderfully with pasta and chicken and turkey just to name a few, I think Torrontes should be a viable alternative in our market. Here are a few of my picks from the Argentinean tasting this week. Enjoy…

Vinas de Altura Rio Seco Torrontes 2009
$9.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Pleasant, fruity aroma – mostly grapefruit and pineapple – that follows into the flavours. There is a slightly oily texture to the wine but not overpoweringly so. Overall, a very pleasant drinking wine that could be paired with most of your weekday dinners or enjoyed on its own.

Vinas de Altura Rio Seco Reserva Torrontes 2009
$13.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Take the previous Torrontes (the non-reserve one) and amplify the aromas and flavours. That’s what you have when you taste and smell this wine. More fruit, more soapy, glycerin mouthfeel, more smoke and more floral on this wine. Just a kicked up version of their entry level wine and just as tasty as the original.

Vinas de Altura Gamela Reserva Torrontes 2009
$26.95 a bottle
Available through Whitehall Agencies (Stephen.marentette@whitehall.ca)
Out of the three from Vinas de Altura, this wine is the one that takes a slightly different direction. The aromas and flavours are basically the same but they vary in comparison to the previous two. This wine has an overabundant fruity, floral aroma to it which is rather distinctive. While there is a slight soapy, glycerin mouthfeel to this wine, the flavours are mostly smoke and tropical fruit. This was probably one of the most interesting Torrontes in the room that day.

Rutini Wines Trumpeter Reserve Torrontes 2008
$16.95 a bottle
Available through Profile Wine Group (aquagliozzi@profilewinegroup.com)
This winery is closer to the ocean and slightly further south than Vinas de Altura which, in South America, actually translates into a cooler climate – it is closer to Antarctica than the Equator. As a result, this wine has more of the smoky flavour to it than the soapy, glycerin mouthfeel that the others have had at this point. The fruity, floral aromas are still ever present and they do continue on to the palate but the smoky flavour is the major player in this wine.

Trivento Tribu Torrontes 2009
$8.95 a bottle
Available through Select Wines (haddleton@selectwines.ca)
This was probably one of my favourite wines of the day. It has a very powerful aroma of floral (roses and violets), stone fruit and slight citrus fruit. The flavours are equally powerful with a slightly oily texture and a major backbone of fruit. This is the only wine I described through this day as YUMMY!

Nieto Senetiner Reserva Torrontes 2009
$12.95 per bottle
Available through Cipelli Wines and Spirits (dpancer.cipelli@bellnet.ca)
The last Torrontes in the room this day and what a way to end a day with! More of tropical fruit and floral aromas I have already experienced this day, this wine has more of the fruity, floral flavours than the oily texture than some of the previous wines had. If the sounds of the soapy, glycerin mouthfeel really turn you off of trying this wine, I recommend trying this one as it is not quite forceful with this one.

So, when you are looking to try a wine that is completely different from your standard Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, why not pick up a bottle or two of Argentinean Torrontes? The unique flavour profile is one that will keep you coming back over and over for more.
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