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April 11, 2021

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Just wonderful: wontons and wine

Wontons are ubiquitous in China. But did the Middle Kingdom invent wontons and their predecessor dumplings? Several western food historians hypothesize that dumplings were first made and consumed in Near Asia or the Middle East where ancient civilizations invented more advanced flour milling technology.

But they’re not sure. Definitive records or archeological evidence simply don’t exist.

Nevertheless, gourmet sleuths from around the world all agree that the more refined art of making wontons was first conceived in China. Today, China boasts a plethora of wonton styles from the classic pork, shrimp, shallot and ginger- filled wontons in broth or steamed to the Sichuan wontons in spicy chili sauce that first appeared in the 17th century.

Wontons in different shapes and fillings are served throughout China and in Chinese restaurants internationally. They have also entered the confusing environs of fusion cuisine. A notable example is the infamous crab ragoon, a popular wonton in the Americas that’s stuffed with crab and cream cheese. I bashfully admit to enjoying them in the innocence of my youth.

From the classics to the funky, all wontons benefit from an appropriately paired wine. There exists an intriguing style of white wine that just so happens to pair beautifully with a multitude of wonton style.

Floral queen

When considering flower sensations in wines, we often think about the two German varieties Gewurztraminer and Riesling. The Viognier grape that often exhibits vibrant white flowers and orange blossoms qualities also comes to mind, as does the ancient Muscat variety. These varieties are all lovely flower power wines, but arguably the most floral of all is Torrontes.

Argentina has a unique aptitude for taking obscure varietals that declined in the Old World and making them New World hits. A case-in-point is Malbec, a red wine varietal from Bordeaux and other regions in France that became increasingly anonymous in its homeland only to see rebirth and new levels of popularity in Mendoza. Can Torrontes pave a similar path to glory?

Torrontes is genetically a cross between the Mission grape from Galicia and the Muscat of Alexandria. Three genetic variations of Torrontes exist in Argentina today: 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.

Located in the far north of Argentina, Salta possesses some of the world’s most extreme vineyard sites. Vineyards are at uncommonly low latitudes and higher altitudes, the former providing high temperature and the later the opposite. The combination creates a unique climate for quality viticulture.

Within Salta is the Calchaqui Valley region that located in the eastern foothills of the Andes. This sub region is known for high quality wines and encompasses the elevated Cafayate and Molinos regions. These regions are home to several of the highest vineyards in the world ranging from 1,500 to over 3,000 meters above sea level.

The extreme diurnal temperature range is key to making quality Torrontes wines. In the summer growing season, daytime temperatures may exceed 38 degrees Celsius during the day and fall to as low as 10 degrees Celsius in the evening. This allows for longer and slower ripening of the grapes, which in turn results in grapes that boast excellent phenolic ripeness, a healthy dose of acidity and exceptional aromatics.

Additional determinative factors in making high quality Torrontes wines are low vineyard yields and careful temperature and other environmental control during the winemaking process as Torrontes grapes are prone to oxidation.

The wine production of the Mendoza and San Juan Valley regions dwarfs that of Salta, but the smaller region has the distinction of making many of the country’s most impressive white wines.

To be fair, I must admit that the Mendoza and San Juan Valley have successfully jumped on the Torrontes bandwagon and are making noteworthy Torrontes wines but a plurality of top Torrantes wines still come from Salta.

Well-made Torrontes wines are stylistically fresh, aromatic wines with moderate to good acidity and a smooth round mouthfeel.

The nose is floral and can be somewhat sweet but on the palate the wine is typically agreeably dry. One of my favorite examples is the Luigi Bosca La Linda Torrontes from Salta that features intense floral and topical fruit aromas and fresh peach flavors with a clean and persistent finish. This bright, pure and exuberant wine is an ideal partner to many popular wonton preparations.

Sometimes Torrontes is blended with other white varieties, usually Chardonnay, to add body and weight.

The smooth and rich Inca Calchaqui Valley Torrontes Chardonnay is a fine example as is the Susana Balbo Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Torrontes wine from the Uco Valley in Mendoza. Additional recommended Torrontes producers with wines in Shanghai are Alta Vista and Colome from Salta, Trivento from Mendoza and Callia Alta from San Juan Valley.

Most Torrontes wines aren’t particularly age-worthy so it’s a good rule when purchasing them is to pick wines within three to four years of the vintage.

Finally, Torrontes wines are best served well-chilled or about 8 degrees Celsius.


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