Veteran visitors to this site know that I’m an unabashed fan of Argentina’s distinctive white variety torrontés. These delicately fruity, floral wines make perfect aperitifs, especially in the warm months. Whatever they may lack in concentration and complexity they more than make up for in sheer drinkability and refreshment value. But in my tastings this past winter of many hundreds of new releases from Argentina for my annual coverage in the International Wine Cellar, I found more dusty concentration and minerality in these wines than ever before, particularly those from the 2011 vintage. Yet prices for this increasingly popular variety have barely budged: you’d have to go out of your way to spend twenty bucks for a bottle, and the ones I recommend in this article are $16 or less.
The overwhelming majority of torrontés is still vinified and raised in stainless steel, which allows winemakers to capture purity of varietal fruit and vibrant aromatics unobstructed by oak. With their delicate stone and citrus fruit aromas and flavors, floral lift and saline minerality, these wines are can be quite viognier-like, but many examples also display characteristics of other varieties like riesling , sauvignon blanc, muscat and even gewürztraminer.
Yes, they are still lively and essentially light wines, but as new torrontés bottlings show more texture and palate presence, they are becoming increasingly flexible at the dinner table. Some of my favorite food pairings for serious torrontés include ceviche and spicy Asian fusion dishes based on seafood, but I wouldn’t hesitate to try the wines below with smoked meats or creamy, lemony goat’s milk cheeses.
I featured one of my favorites, the Alta Vista 2011 Premium Torrontés Salta, a few months back as a Winophilia Pick. In a similar style is the Colomé 2011 Torrontés Salta ($16, Hess Collection), which leads off with perfumed aromas of ginger, rose petal and brown spices. It’s a concentrated, supple version of the variety, with impressive sappy intensity to its spice and fresh herb flavors. The finish displays serious saline persistence and good chewy grip.
Susana Balbo’s torrontés has for years been the most popular example of the variety in the U.S. market. Her 2011 Crios Torrontés Mendoza ($15; Vine Connections), of Dominio del Plata, shows exotic, almost gewürztraminer-like aromas of flowers, licorice and mint, then turns juicy and dry in the mouth, but with serious texture and intensity to its ripe flavors of lavender and lemon verbena. There’s nothing austere about this soil-driven, tactile torrontés.
The Nieto Senetiner 2011 Torrontés Reserva Mendoza is another rather sophisticated, soil-driven version of the grape, at a remarkably affordable price ($13; Winebow) It’s an attractive green-tinged yellow color, with nuanced aromas of citrus peel, licorice and botanical herbs. Strong lemony acidity gives an almost tart quality to the subtle stone fruit and chewy saline flavors.
The Graffigna 2011 Torrontés Reserve Centenario Cafayate ($13; Pernod Ricard USA) teases with delicate aromas of lemon, flowers and mint. It’s juicy and perfumed in the mouth, offering a distinctly tactile quality and very good lift to its citrus and floral flavors. The persistent finish shows a refreshing hint of bitterness.
I also enjoyed the Bodega Lamadrid 2010 Torrontés La Rioja ($12: Vino del Sol) for its pure, fresh aromas and flavors of citrus peel, wild herbs, flowers and honey. This dense, substantial torrontés displays a hint of sweetness that’s nicely buffered by a chewy saline quality. And its finish is classically dry.