While all the posts in the 27 bottles series are glorified trips down memory lane, this entry feels particularly nostalgic. In my youth (which I'm still a spring chicken, but my spirit feels like its pushing 60) I had always had a fascination with alcohol, as we all do, but I wasn't sneaking into my parents' cupboards looking for cheap booze to get a buzz. I wanted to understand what all the hype was about. My palate at the time was much sweeter leaning than it is now. Anyone remember the peach flavored wine coolers? I feel like that brand kind of fell off the face of the earth and probably for good reason, ha! That, and Sutter Home Pink Moscato were my vices I would steal a sip or two of when my parents had one open. Don't worry, we're all drinking much better wine now.
As I got older, I ventured into the culinary sphere via my degree, and began taking beverages, specifically wine, more seriously. I found myself first gravitating towards varietals that reminded me of the aromatics or flavor profiles I enjoyed in those childhood introductions to it-----stone fruits, sweet citrus & white flowers to name a few. I was seeking those flavors but in a wine that was drier in style. While grapes like Riesling & Gewurztraminer should have been immediate loves, and they were, it was Torrontés that stole my heart.
Torrontés is the queen of white grapes in Argentina and some of the best interpretations come from the high elevation vineyards in Salta. It possesses really inviting aromatics of geraniums & stone fruits, and a vibrant lemon peel character on the palate. The acidity levels are bright & zippy, but not overbearing or as high as Sauvignon Blanc for example. Because we enjoy making things complicated in the wine world, Torrontés can actually refer to 3 distinctly different varietals: Torrontés Sanjuanino, Torrontés Mendocino & the most popular of them, Torrontés Riojano. The first two varieties are the two most frequently used for sweeter styles while Torrontés Riojano is the star variation used for a range of styles but commonly vinified dry. The red grape Pais (also known as the Mission Grape, we might chat about him in a later post) & Muscatel (or Muscat Blanc) had a chance encounter over the years and crossed to birth these Torrontés variations.
FUN FACT: There is a local drink called "tincho" where an effervescent, sweet Sauvignon Blanc & Torrontés blend is poured over ice with a twist of lime.
I've enjoyed pairing Torrontés with Asian cuisine over the years. As someone who frequently orders dumplings & Chinese takeout when I'm keeping things cozy on the weekends, Torrontés quickly became a go-to when I was looking for a surefire pairing. Dishes with spice or heat often do not play well with wines that are A) high in alcohol or B) high in acid. Grapes like Torrontés have the best of both worlds while still maintaining a crushable character that doesn't require it to be paired with food. I recently whipped up some coconut creamed potatoes & ladled Japanese curry chicken over the top to pair with the Zuccardi Serie A Torrontés on a rainy day in Charlotte.
The Zuccardi family is known for producing some prolific, and as Jose Zuccardi once told me, "mountain wines". Their wines were my first entry point not only into Torrontés, but also South America as a wine growing region in the southern hemisphere. One of their missions is not to strive to create perfect wines, rather to create wines that truly express the place, the region (that's terroir folks) in which they are produced. I tasted the Zuccardi Serie A back in 2015 during the first phase of studies for the Sommelier Minor at Johnson & Wales University. I remember the familiar aromatics bringing me back to my parents' stash, but the palate giving far more complexity than a wine cooler ever could. I used their wines as the basis for a beverage program I fleshed out years ago that had a focus on the wines of Argentina & the southern hemisphere as a "cherry on top" for the already experimentive cuisine of the restaurant concept. I've met, and worked with, Sebastian (Jose's son and 3rd generation enologist) & Jose a few times over the course of my career. Each time it's been a pleasure to hear how proud they are of the wines they are producing out of Uco Valley. Or the stint Sebastian has taken in producing high quality olive oil from their vineyards as well!
PRO TIP: if you're really interested in Torrontés, Susana Balbo is another producer to look for when shopping your local wine retailers! She herself is often called the "Queen of Torrontés".
If you're looking for a new varietal to explore as we close out the summer, definitely give Torrontés a whirl. It makes a perfect substitute for lovers of grapes like Albarino, Muscat, and even provides something more complex for Pinot Grigio drinkers. Promise you'll explore this wine with your favorite Asian inspired dish in tow, and that you'll invite me over to partake in it with ya, ha!
The Certified Wino