Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tantalized by Torrontés

If the beauty of a wine's perfume makes you giddy, point your sniffer to Torrontés, the signature white wine of Argentina. Swirl a cool glass of Torrontés to breathe in a lei-stand of lofty scents, all tropical flowers and exotic fruits.
The 2009 Zolo pictured here made last summer's pool party all the more fun.
Ampelographers and grape geneticists have pegged the Torrontés grape as a cross between the Mission grape brought to the New World by the Spaniards and Muscat, specifically Muscat of Alexandria. Known for exotic, heady aromas of orange blossom, honeysuckle and jasmine, Muscat is perhaps the oldest wine grape used in modern wines. Versatile Muscat can be vinified into a wide range of wines, from delightful sparklers such as Moscato d'Asti to dry still wines (Botani from southern Spain is a favorite pick), off-dry and sweet versions, such as the honeyed Beaumes de Venise.

As a dry white wine, Argentine Torrontés makes a great warm-weather choice. Flowery aromatics typify Torrontés from higher elevations in northern Argentina's Salta province while Torrontés from more southern La Rioja can be richer in tropical fruit flavors. Both are low to moderate in acidity, which makes these lively wines delightful aperitifs or a breezy choice with lighter fare.  

For a small gathering of wine-savvy friends, we chose 2009 Torrontés from Bodega Colomé. Located in the mountainous Calchaquí Valley of northern Argentina, Bodegas Colomé is the country's oldest winery and, at 7,500 feet, one of the highest in the world. Now owned by Swiss financier Donald Hess, the location is so remote that Hess built schools, housing, a place of worship, roads, a medical facility and other structural elements to make the operation self-sufficient. Word is he bought it for a million dollars – and then spent ten times that amount to bring it online in a first-rate manner.

Despite a rocky start, Bodega Colomé is now known for a wide portfolio of outstanding wines. The 2009 Torrontés is crafted from hand-harvested grapes plucked from 30-to-60-year-old vines. Seductive floral aromatics give way to juicy nectarine and guava flavors. So easy to enjoy by itself, it will also go well with lightly spiced Asian dishes. Or, do as they do in Argentina and savor Torrontés with empanadas.

We treated another private party to Zolo 2010 Torrontés, this time at Cooking with Class in La Quinta. Made from lower-altitude 10-year-old vines in La Rioja, nearly halfway between Mendoza and Salta, grapes for Zolo pass through a pneumatic press at the winery's über-modern facility. This method employs a blanket of inert nitrogen to insulate grapes from exposure to oxygen and preserve vibrant floral aromatics. Although our guests were new to Torrontés, they were won over at first sip by Zolo's delicate scents and limey, tropical flavors accented by starfruit and papaya. Chef Andie played off the wine's exotic notes with a seared scallop creation finished with a tangy garlic-basil yogurt and avocado-mango crudo. Sound awesome? It was.

Try Torrontés at your next get-together. It's delectably different and sure to please any crowd – including the guys, in case you were wondering. Just don't keep it around too long. Torrontés is best consumed young, probably no more than two years or so after the vintage date. Get to know this Argentine beauty and tango your way to Torrontés all spring and summer long. Find Zolo at Cooking with Class and Bodega Colomé at wine shops around town.

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