Torrontes - like Eau de Cologne

WARREN BARTON
Last updated 10:24 08/07/2014
Wine
Fairfax NZ
 

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Like opening a bottle of Eau de Cologne - women love it.

If fashion follows fashion, as it tends to in the world of wine, then expect soon a growing interest in an aromatic Argentinian white which appeals particularly to women.

Probably because pulling the cork on a bottle of torrontes (it means torrent) has been likened to opening a bottle of Eau de Cologne.

And the taste can be just as intriguing - stonefruit, citrus and sometime lychees - all qualities which have seen it likened in terms of appeal, to pinot gris. And we all know how that took off.

Torrontes is doing much the same, particularly in the United States and now in the UK, developing in much the same way as Marlborough sauvignon blanc did - by the Argentinians who grow just about all of it, going with the most commercially attractive style.

In fact, I remember Duncan Killiner, a New Zealand working as a winemaker in Argentina, saying exactly this a couple of years ago. And more recently reading a comment about torrontes amazing transformation from ugly duckling to swan. One of the reasons for its relative anonymity is the fact that, apart from a few plantings in Chile and Uruguay, it is grown only in Argentina, where it is regarded as native.

But not so, say the experts.

Its origins go back to the Spanish colonial era, when 16th century European missionaries are thought to have crossed Muscat of Alexandria, which they brought from the Old World, with a native called Criollas Chica, the Mission grape.

They used the wine that resulted for Mass. Most of the vines were planted and are still mostly grown in the high altitude provinces of Salta and La Rioja, where vineyards can be as high as 3000 metres above sea level and furrows are dug on steep slopes to naturally irrigate the vineyards from the snow melt in the Andes.

The wines from here are generally leaner, crisper, with higher acidity than those grown at much lower altitude in the Mendoza, where the land is more fertile and what goes in the bottle tends to be fuller, rounder, with more intense flavours. The odd thing is that for all its history, norrontes as such has only been around for about the same time as Marlborough sauvignon blanc. It was used as a blender for other white wines until a young winemaker came on the scene in the 1980s and started producing it as a drink young (within two years) varietal.

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Its introduction to the world was in 1984 when a small quantity was exported. Then came a concerted push came around 2000 when it was promoted internationally gaining most interest in the North America which now consumes almost 50 per cent of the nearly nine million litres exported annually.

Interest has also grown in the UK and exporters have now targeted Asia, probably because it is a particularly trendy companion for spicy ethnic food, particularly sushi. And an excellent match for seafood.

The only problem is that torrontes is not yet widely available in New Zealand but you'll find it if you check around.

Some examples:

Alta Vista 2012 Premium Torrontes, $24-$27
Not quite a bottle of Eau de Cologne but a Salta torrontes with seductive array of florals and exotica on the nose. Palate is fresh but silky smooth with a hint of trademark jasmine and dash of pepper. From Fine Wine Delivery Company, Auckland and Regional Cellars, Wellington.

Santa Rosa 2012 Torrontes, $16.95
A cheaper and more widely available example of Mendoza torrontes. Typically aromatic, this one with figs, spice and other goodies in the mix. Lovely clean, mineral-driven finish. A good partner for scallops. Available at Accent On Wine in Auckland, United Cellars and other outlets.

- The Southland Times

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