A white wine for those who like their vino to have a little more character than your common or garden Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay, Torrontés simply bursts with fruity aromatics.
The characterful wine may be little known on the international wine circuit, but among savvy wine lovers it is fast becoming known as THE white wine of Argentina, where it has been cultivated with enormous success since the grape arrived with Basque settlers from its native Spain.
A distinctive, heady wine with an extremely bold scent, Torrontés is not to everybody’s taste, but those who do fall for its charms very often rate it more highly than virtually any other white wine. If it is comparable to any other white it is the similarly bolshy Gewurtztraminer. As with Gewurtztraminer, Torrontés will typically have heavy aromas of roses and lychees, with lingering notes of fruits that could be anything from mango or pineapple to less exotic scents of apple and lemon.
Typically almost yellow in colour, the wine is produced with some success in Spain and Chile, but has really come into its own in Argentina, where it is produced on a grand scale in the famous Mendoza wine region and, to a lesser extent, in the more northerly Valle de Cafayate region.
The grapes produce notably different wines according to region, with the wines of Mendoza being typically paler in colour than their Valle de Cafayate counterparts. Cafayate Torrontés are perhaps the best-loved of all varietals, being the perfect example of this distinctive wine at its boldest. Overripe peach, pears and spices are just some of the typical notes and the Torrontés wines of this region tend to have a heavy finish that, while not exactly subtle, is quite satisfyingly flavourful and a great choice of tipple for those who like their white wine to have a bit of a kick.
But while Torrontes may be considered synonymous with Argentinian white wine, the grape is in fact native to Spain, where it continues to produce some very successful white wines today. The grape’s natural home is the Ribeiro region of Northern Spain, close to the border with Portugal. Whilst there are some very good Spanish Torrentes white wines, they lack the characteristic headiness of their Argentine cousins. Torrontes grapes have also been successfully cultivated in Chile, although Chilean wines made from the Torrontes grape have not received the same rave reviews as those of neighbouring Argentina. Somewhat confusingly for wine buyers, Chilean wines made from the Torrontes grape are known not as Torrontes but as Muscatel de Austria.
The name is not entirely a misnomer – wines made from the Torrontes grape are in fact comparable to Muscat wines, but there are as many differences as there are similarities. Whilst both are among the boldest of white wine varieties, Torrontes produces altogether more challenging wines that can be something of an acquired taste. Once the taste is acquired, however, the Torrontes habit can be a hard one to kick.
The Torrontes grape thrives in dry, windy conditions and is thought to be related to the Malvasian grape variety commonly found in the Eastern Mediterranean. A grape variety that reacts well to cooler climates, Torrontes quite naturally responds well to high altitudes and as such the Andean regions of Argentina have proved to be the ideal habitat for cultivation of the Torrontes white wine grape. The fact that the most distinguished of all the Argentinian Torrontes wines comes from the 5,250ft Cafayate region reflects the grape’s predilection for cooling mountain breezes and dry climates.
There are two principle Torrontes varieties to come out of Argentina – Torrontes Riojano and Torrontes Sanjuanino. There are around 8,700 hectares of Torrontes Riojano vineyard to be found in Argentina, making it one of the most widely-planted white wine grapes in the country. There are around 4,800 hectares of Argentine soil planted with the Torrontes Riojano variety and plantings of both type of grape look set to increase considerably as international interest in Torrontes wines increases.
Currently, the wine accounts for some 20 per cent of all white wine sold in Argentina and high yields make this a popular grape among viticulturalists looking for a grape that will deliver the goods without needing to be excessively nurtured. The grape’s resistance to challenging weather conditions is another factor in Torrontes’ favour and the striking taste of the wine looks set to ensure that the wine’s star will rise over the coming years. Something of a mystery to many wine buyers, Torrontes wines are definitely worthy of investigation.