Let's begin with the signature white grape of Argentina, Torrontes. Widely believed to have originated in Spain, recent DNA tests show this grape to be a hybrid of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica (what a great name for a grape!). Muscat, best known for making dessert wines, is wildly aromatic. Torrontes possesses similar characteristics, altered but undimmed by the merger with the lesser Criolla Chica. People that try the wine for the first time react strongly to the nose, sometimes assuming the wine will be sweet. Most are pleasantly surprised by the clean, occasionally racy, mid-palate and the juicy, but dry, finish.
It is both a red wine drinkers' white wine and a perfect back porch sipper for white wine fans, in the same way as Viognier. Texture plays a part in appealing to red wine fans and the openly fruity quality works for lots of people who prefer white wines.
Torrontes offers great drinkability, perfect for warm summer days, but it also pairs well with all manner of Asian food, shellfish, salsas, and goat cheeses. I have tasted a few Torrontes that suffer from the somewhat sappy, dull palate that plagues many Viogniers, but nearly all are tasty, fresh, and fun to drink. Try one...think Viognier meets Sauvignon Blanc; the exotic fruit of Viognier is tamed and features more of the crisp, citrus end of the spectrum while the acidity level is more pronounced, but not as intense as some Sauvignon Blancs can be.
A note before beginning, although a lot of wines were tasted, this is by no means a complete inventory of readily available options from Argentina. The goal was to taste through the Pinnacle International portfolio and compare it to the competition. I was hoping to go to work for them and wanted to be sure the wines held their own. I did not include many other excellent wines including an impressive array from Vine Connections as I knew the wines well already. Perhaps I'll feature some of their wines later.
No oak was used to make any of the wines below. I also made notes the second day, the wine was preserved simply by replacing the cork or screwcap.
El Cipres 2007 - From the Correas family of Mendoza, the wine has a deep, sweet nose. (Note, when I use the word sweet here, it indicates sweet fruit, not sugar content). The palate is lively, but with a bass note as well. The sweet notes do not carry through to the finish, a very intense, tingly acidity dominates there. While it may be too persistent to be a crowd-pleasing style, the wine is mouthwatering and lasts for well over a minute. 2nd day - The wine is more harmonious, softer, better balanced and showing some peach notes. I like it better today. Importer - Pinnacle International - $8-$10.
Urban Uco 2007 - A joint project between the Fournier family of Ribera del Duero in Spain and Jorge Ordonez, a leader in Spanish imports to America. This comes from Salta, more specifically Cafayate (kaf-a-jat-ay), well north of Mendoza. Salta is widely considered to be the area for Torrontes production with some of the highest altitude vineyards on the planet (over 5,500 feet, some over 6,000 feet). Better balanced than the above, on the nose, palate, all over. People will dig this wine. Juicier than El Cipres, easier to drink, but still fresh with some tingly acid. Overall, the juicier fruit make this wine a crowd pleaser. 2nd day - Still lovely, (expletive) it's even gorgeous. This may be the best Torrontes I've ever had. By the way, this wine was still delicious on the 3rd day. Importer - Jorge Ordonez - $7-$9.
Alamos 2007 - Also from Salta, this wine is produced by the famous Catena Zapata winery. Almost a Sauvignon Blanc nose, maybe a bit piney(?) - barely. The wine is subtle, dry, but eminently drinkable. I wondered whether any oak had been used here. Good, not great, not much of the signature juicy Torrontes fruit present. 2nd day - nearly dead, mute and lacking a finish. Importer - Billington Distributors - $8-$10.
La Linda 2007 - Also from Salta, and offers spicy acid and floral aromas but some deep fruit notes as well. Overall, it is solid and correct. Well made and assertive, it bears similarity to El Cipres but offered better balance right out of the gate. 2nd day - Nose is much more subtle, the finish remains solid and still lively with a clean, racy style. A safe, if less than riveting option in the world of Torrontes. Importer - Gaucho Imports - $9-$11.
Next post will be Chardonnay and a very unusual but very intriguing blend, then on to reds.