Monday, January 14, 2008

Torron-tial Downpour

Over the next year, I'd like to look at some slightly less-known varietals that are becoming more widely available. I'm also going to try to demystify a few regions I think we all should know more about. Our first stop in 2008 is south of the Equator -- the Naked Vine's return to Argentina.

When I last wrote about Argentina, I mentioned chardonnay as their premier white grape. During a warm, albeit rainy and dreary stretch in January when neither of us really felt like leaving the house, we recently sampled a few bottles of Torrontés, long considered their signature white and now finally arriving in the States.

As a true wine-making varietal, Torrontés is grown almost exclusively in Argentina. Neighboring Chile grows a little, but is mainly used to make pisco, a type of brandy. The exact origins of the grape are unknown, although it's believed to have come from the Eastern Mediterranean.

What are these wines? They're halfway between Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc to my taste. They're usually quite fragrant -- lots of floral and citrus. They range in style from light-to-medium bodied. They're made to finish relatively dry and crisp. They're excellent wines to have on their own and their acidity makes them flexible with food. Like many Argentine wines, they're generally good values. If you want to break out of a white wine rut, here are some ideas for exploring this newly-available quaffer:

Nōmade 2006 Torrontés -- At first sniff, the Nōmade struck me with its very pretty nose. As I mentioned, these wines can lean towards Viognier in scent, and this is no exception. The bottle label suggests orange blossoms, and I wouldn't argue. It smells a little like lavender to me, also. The flavor, however, is nothing like a Viognier. While fruity, it's not nearly as "thick" as a Viognier. It's rather light bodied and crisp with some sauvignon-ish grapefruit flavors. The finish is medium-dry with a lingering hint of that perfumey nose. I could see this being really good with spicy Thai or Korean food. $12-14.

Lurton 2006 Flor de Torrontés -- The Lurton has a much more subtle scent. The nose is more tropical than perfume, more sliced peaches than peach blossoms. The body is considerably lighter and less fruity overall, although there is some acidity still there. The finish is gentle, but a tad watery and a little tart. While it wasn't my favorite of this varietal, it was refreshing enough to be a decent pool wine come summer, although finding something for that purpose that would fit the bill a little better probably wouldn't be difficult. $9-11.

Alamos 2006 Torrontés -- I've been very happy with the red wines, especially the malbec, from Alamos. Their Torrontés is an interesting addition to their exports. The nose of the wine is in-between the previous two in strength. There's more of a citrus character -- oranges and grapefruits -- to go with those typical peaches. The body of this wine is quite light and somewhat acidic. If not for the nose, this could have been a pinot grigio. The finish is similar to a pinot grigio, also. I'd pair this up with the typical pinot grigio foods -- seafood and creamy sauces, as well as almost any kind of spicy cuisine like curry. Interestingly, we'd made some pasta with red clam sauce, and the wines we had on hand that we thought would pair…well…didn't. We went with this Torrontés. It wasn't bad in a pinch. $8-10.

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