If a couple of friends were talking about wine and Argentina the conversation would naturally start with Malbec. Juicy, fruity, great on its own, but even better with a grilled steak. It is the country’s star grape, the jewel in its oenological crown. As they continue talking the conversation may move to wine regions. “Mendoza!” one friend cries out. Within 30 seconds the two well informed friends have already spoken about Argentina’s most planted grape variety and its most important wine region.
But what happens if they then start to talk about white wine? What then? Silence no doubt. Perhaps some mumbles of “Chardonnay?” “erm.....Sav Blanc?”. They wouldn’t be wrong. But who is the star of Argentina’s white wine scene? Who sits on the throne next to King Malbec?
Torrontes , without doubt is The white grape of Argentina. Not familiar? Don’t worry. Torrontes is yet to hit the popularity of Sauvignon blanc or Pinot Grigio. Seen as one of Argentina’s best kept secrets it is totally unique to the country. Although it is hard to find outside of its homeland, its reputation is growing by the day. In my option it will be the next white wine craze by the year 2020.
Origins and New Home
Torrontes is as Argentinian as Pope Francisco. It originates in the westerly province of La Rioja, but is best known in the north-west region of Salta. Salta’s landscape and climate is like no other - arid, dry, incredibly hot in summer it is testament to how grapes can survive in extreme conditions. The reason that Torrontes and other grapes grown in the region - Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat for example, can survive in these conditions is due to the increible altitude of the vineyards. The northerly latitude and the intense sunlight is counterbalanced by cold nights caused by the high altitude. Vineyards range between 1200m to 3100m - The highest in the world.
The Flavours of Torrontes - What to expect?
It is a very aromatic grape similar to Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or Gewurtztraminer. Grapes that express floral notes, ripe stone fruits and tons of tropical flavours. Tasting wine can be difficult and trying to identify notes and flavours can be frustrating - “you can identify freshly cut hyacinth with a touch of southern Italian leather” an expert will say- leaving you confused, annoyed and ready to only drink lager for the rest of your life. But Torrontes is a different wine entirely. The flavours jump out of the glass, everything from sweet pineapples to peaches to rose water. You can’t miss it! It’s a tropical fruit salad in a glass.
Meet the Makers
A few weeks ago a good friend of ours, Majo, gave us a taste of Batracio Torrontes. A project started three years ago by two young friends Francisco Herrero and Juan Mansur, one from Salta and the other from Buenos Aires. Alongside renowned Argentine winemaker Jose Mournier they have created an expressive, vibrant Torrontes from Cafayate, Salta’s principal wine zone. We chose Batracio to present at our wine tastings because it shows exactly what the region Salta and the grape can offer. A touch drier than others from the same area, it makes a great contrast to the deliciously sweet, tropical nose. They currently produce only 4000 bottles per year and will be launchcng their malbec in early 2018. We can't wait to taste it!
Batracio Torrontes - great wine, great label
Another winery making waves in the Cafayate Valley is Burburjas de Altura. Father and daughter team Andres and Tania Hoy. They produce sparkling Torrontes made in the Traditional Method - the way Champagne is made. Currently they are the only winery in the Cafayate Valley doing so. The Hoys are making truly artisanal bubbles. Instead of working in a traditional brick and mortar winery, they make their fizz in a temperature controlled shipping container located right in the middle of their vineyard, just a short drive from the centre of the town.
The tiny, but magnifcent winery
Andres worked for many years as the head vitaculturalist at El Esteco, one of the Salta’s largest and best known wineries. Tania studied winemaking in Mendoza and now works for various wineries in Salta.
Tania with her partner and her father Andres
Andres and Tania took a brave gamble to focus on boutique bubbles, rather than full-bodied red wines, as most wineries do. However their risk have been well rewarded, they are most definetly pioneers of Torrontes!