By Joanna MarracelliWho doesn’t love a great wine? Especially when discovering the lesser known varieties which are sometimes better than the more known grapes. When most people think of wines from Argentina, they immediately think of the lovely Malbec. But Argentina has more to offer than just this red grape. The north of Argentina is home to one of the most beautiful wine regions in the country, Cafayate, and its shining star is actually a white grape, the Torrontés. What the Malbec grape has done for Mendoza, Torrontés is doing for Cafayate. Malbec grapes flourish here too, including some nice high altitude versions but if you want something different, the one to try is Torrontés.
Cafayate is located in the province of Salta, Argentina and lay about 100 miles south of Salta city. With a population of 12,000 people, it’s really more of a big village than an actual city. It’s a great place to sample various vineyards (called bodegas in these parts) due to the small size and easy access, as most of the bodegas are located in or just around the city. The valley is extraordinary with red rocks that seem to change colors with each passing hour and deeply contrast the greenery of the vines.
The Torrontés grape flourishes here due to a number of factors:
-High elevation at over 5,000 feet. The vineyards are located in the Calchaquíes Valleys, at more than 1,700 meters above sea level.
-Little to no rainfall all year long which makes it very arid. There are over 300 days of sunshine a year in Cafayate.
– Large temperature difference between the day and the night (the temperature can plummet up to 40 degrees from the daytime high to the nightime low). This is called thermal amplitude and has a profound effect on the grapes. The extreme difference in temperature works to produce both high acid and sugar content as the grapes exposure to sunlight increases the ripening qualities while the sudden drop in temperature at night preserves the balance of the natural acid in the grape.
-Unique microclimate of the area. The area of Cafayate is very dry and desert-like but it’s also located close to mountains and mountain water. This gives it what is called a microclimate (where one climate exists in another). These conditions are ideal for grape growing.
-The soil here is stony and sandy which gives the wines unique flavor characteristics.
This is a young wine with delicate aromas and not the kind suitable for aging or airing out. Exposure to oxygen will kill the subtle flavors. Drink it well-chilled and soon after purchasing. Torrontés is usually a light golden color and very fruity on the nose. Tropical fruits predominate like pineapple, peach and even passion fruit. From just smelling the wine you might think it was going to taste very sweet but you will be surprised on the first sip which reveals a dry, subtly fruity and perfectly acidic wine. Often referred to as the red wine lover’s white wine, red wine lovers may be surprised when they taste the Torrontés. With a preference for red wines myself, I was certainly surprised and delighted.
Torrontés is versatile when pairing it with food. An unusual combination you should try, which actually works very well, would be with a peach or strawberry ice cream. It also goes nicely with a mild to medium cheese, walnuts, seafood and spicy foods like Indian or Thai. I’ve successfully used it in a scallop risotto.
Even if you won’t be in Argentina anytime soon, you should check out Torrontés at your local market. The best ones to try are from Nanni, Etchart Privado, Carinae, Colomé or Elementos. The younger the year, the better. Salut!