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September 12, 2019

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Argentina’s floral whites toast the end of summer

DAYS are gradually shortening while temperatures ever so perceptively sink. The warm embrace of summer will soon be a memory filled with all the beloved flavors and scents of the season. Time for one more glass of clean and cooling summer wine to celebrate the eternal seasonal shifts. My choice this year will be a floral gem from the rarified airs of the Andes.

Think flowers and wines, and the two German varieties Gewurztraminer and Riesling immediately come to mind. The Viognier grape with vibrant white flower, orange blossom and wild floral qualities also springs to mind, as does the ancient Muscat variety. The aforementioned varieties all make lovely floral wines, but arguably the most floral of all wines is Torrontes.

Argentina seems to have a unique talent for taking obscure varietals that are on the decline in the Old World and making them hits in the New World. Case-in-point is Malbec, an increasingly obscure red wine varietal in Bordeaux and some other regions in France that has become the most important red wine in Argentina.

Several years ago I wrote about Torrontes becoming the next Pinot Grigio, in other words the world’s great new white wine success. It didn’t happen. This is a shame as better examples of Torrontes wines are some of the most expressive and intriguing white wine alternatives to the omnipresent Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc varieties.

Torrontes is genetically a cross between the Mission grape from Galicia and the Muscat of Alexandria. Three genetic variations of Torrontes exist in Argentina, namely Torrontes Riojano, Torrontes Sanjuanino and Torrontes Mendocino. Torrontes Riojano is considered the most noble of the three with the best examples coming from the northern wine regions of Argentina, especially Salta.

The two most famous sub-regions of Salta are Valle Calchaqui and Cafayate that boarder the Andes Mountains. These regions are home to the highest vineyards in the world ranging from 1,500 to over 3,000 meters above sea level. Compared to the size and production of Mendoza and other Argentinian wine regions, these northern outpost wine districts are tiny, but they do have a distinction of making many of the country’s most impressive white wines. In all these regions, an extreme durable temperature range is key to making quality Torrontes wines.

In the summer growing season, daytime temperatures may exceed 38 Celsius during the day and fall as low as 10 Celsius in the evening. Hot days with plentiful sunshine and quite cool evenings result in longer and slower ripening of the grapes, which in turn results in grapes boasting an excellent phenolic ripeness, an abundance of acidity and exceptional aromatics. The final product is wines with greater freshness, concentration and complexity. High-altitude Torrontes wines literally explode from the glass with pungent honeysuckle and jasmine flower aromas.

Torrontes wines made from lower elevations lack the aromatic intensity and acidity of those from higher altitudes offering little more than obvious, flabby fruit qualities. Additional determinative factors in making high-quality Torrontes wines are low vineyard yields, careful temperature and environmental control during the winemaking process as Torrontes grapes are prone to oxidation.

One of the things Torrontes wines does not do well is age. Therefore, you should drink these wines young. This is especially important in Shanghai where the extra travel and sometimes suspect storage facilities often prematurely age wines and rob them of their freshness. Most 2009 and 2010 wines are still fine but I wouldn’t buy anything older. Because of their relatively high alcohol content, typically between 13 and 14 percent, and high acidity, Torrontes wines are best served well-chilled meaning about 8 degrees Celsius.

The best Torrontes wines come from the northern wine regions of Argentine, especially Salta. The INCA Calchaqui Valley Torrontes Chardonnay, 2010 is an excellent example. This Torrontes wine has a light golden yellow color with greenish hints and plentiful floral and citrus aromas and flavors. The minority Chardonnay contribution adds greater weight to the wine while still retaining the fresh and aromatic qualities. If you’re a movie lover, you may like the fact that the winemaker for INCA is Huge Ryman who was portrayed by Russell Crowe in the film “A Good Year.”

Another leading Torrontes wine with a story is made by the Colome Winery. Established in 1831 and now owned by Donald Hess of the American Group Hess Collection, this winery claims to have the world’s highest vineyard. At 3,111 meters the El Arenal vineyard is dedicated to the Torrontes variety.

Single variety

Even premium Torrontes wines are good value in Shanghai and usually retail for under 200 yuan (US$28.5).

The Dominio del Plata Crios de Susana Balbo, 2010 comes from a family-owned winery that makes some of the most notable Torrontes wines.

The 2010 wine offers intense honeysuckle and jasmine aromas and lovely citrus fruit flavors with vibrant acidity. Another premium wine under 200 yuan is the Colome Torrontes, 2010. Also from the Valle Calchaqui in Salta, the wine exhibits plentiful floral qualities, especially rose and jasmine scents along with fresh apricot flavors and palate pleasing acidity. Owned by the US wine group Hess Family Estates, the wines of Colome are among the best made affordable Argentinian wines.

For under 100 yuan you can still get very good Torrontes wines. One example is the Lo Tengo Torrontes 2009 from the large Argentinean producer Norton. This is one of the best-value white wines on the market with a pale yellow color with greenish hints, rose and yellow fruit aromas and a nice fruit-acid balance that leaves the palate refreshed.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Anteroom, 1222 Changle Rd, 6248-8985
Inca Calchaqui Valley Torrontes
Sottano Lujan de Cuyo Mendoza Torrontes (website)
Terrazas Cafayate Torrontes Reserve
Colome Salta Torrontes
Alta Vista Salta Torrontes

Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Chardonnay are cultivated in Salta, but the Torrontes variety makes the region’s most acclaimed wines.
Key term: Flabby fruit is used to describe overtly fruity wines that lack structure and elegance.


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