Chow Town

Still trying to make sense of Argentina’s torrontes white wine

I had my first glass of torrontes about five years ago at what would become the Rieger Hotel. Ever since, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind, and my palate, around this perplexing grape.

Torrontes is a white grape, for the time being, found exclusively in Argentina. There are three separate clones of torrontes, all resulting from a crossing of the mission, muscat, and a yet-undetermined third grape. Torrontes has been grown and vinified in Argentina for generations, but only recently has the grape started to gain some traction, garnering sales and increasing in popularity outside its native land.

I’ve had dozens of versions, from cooler areas like Salta and Cafayate in northern Argentina and Patagonia in the south, and hotter ones like Mendoza in the middle.

Different styles. Different flavors. Different aromas. Dozens of versions of torrontes. And, you know what? I still don’t know whether I like it, and that’s really weird.

I mean, no one will ever accuse me of being wishy-washy when it comes to wine. I know what I like (Tuscans, Rhones, and almost any Chilean carmenere), and what I don’t (creamy, over-oaked chardonnays, high-alcohol zinfandels, and nearly every moscato). But, ask me about torrontes, and all I can do is shrug my shoulders and try another glass.

Torrontes, for me, in many ways, resembles a cross between viognier, the extremely fickle grape from the northern Rhone Valley, and sauvignon blanc, the chameleon variety from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley.

Torrontes has some of the aromatics of viognier, perfumed and flowery, and some of the acidity traditionally found in good versions of sauvignon blanc. Except, that is, when a torrontes doesn’t showcase the positive side of either viognier or sauvignon blanc, which is what makes this grape so difficult to embrace.

For everything that I like about torrontes, the honeysuckle aromas and flavors for example, there’s something I don’t care for, like the fact that it often falls apart in the mouth.

I’ve had torrontes with food, and the same pattern holds true. I remember really liking a Pascal Toso torrontes with a margarita empenada — the weight of the wine matched perfectly, and the slight creaminess of the torrontes was a nice pairing for the melted cheese.

I also remember being thoroughly disappointed when matching a torrontes ( don’t remember the producer) with grilled ahi tuna as the wine was overwhelmed by the fish’s bold flavors and slightly charred flesh. See what I mean? It’s like a visit from your family — everything’s going great, then you make some off-handed comment and all hell breaks loose. OK, it’s not like that at all, but it is frustrating.

So, what conclusions have I drawn? None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. So, what am I going to do? Keep drinking them until I figure them out. I have no other choice.