Like many fragrant and exotic white wines, torrontes can be a love or hate proposition. When the grape is grown at extreme altitudes in the vineyards of the Salta province in northwest Argentina, its dramatic floral and citrus aromas really ratchet up.
For many consumers, its fragrance and intensity is nothing short of heavenly. To others, it’s something more diabolical. I recall a former student likening the taste to gargling with potpourri.
The headily perfumed grape and that place are so uniquely suited that torrontes is seldom seen outside of Argentina. Its distinctive floral perfume and mouthwatering palate really stand out as a result. Its exclusivity as an Argentina variety means it often turns up on blind tasting exams for sommelier and wine students.
Labels to watch for in Canadian markets are Crios, Colome, Don David, Piattelli and Zuccardi. Limited production releases, especially El Esteco Old Vines 1945 and Susana Balbo’s Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontes, offer remarkable polish and citrusy charm. They show the real potential for this variety as producers start to devote more time and attention.
A good benchmark example is the Kaiken Terroir Series Torrontes 2018, which is part of the LCBO Nov. 9 Vintages release.
This wine was used on tasting exams last June for Wine & Spirit Education Trust diploma students in locations around the world. It was grouped with two other wines from Argentina. Students were asked to identify the grape varieties and country where the trio hailed from in roughly 30 minutes.
My guess is that it will taste better when you’re not stressfully trying to complete a blind tasting of various wines from around the world. Unless, of course, you don’t enjoy wines made from the torrontes grape. In which case, there are nine other recommendations I think worthy of your attention as we settle into fall.
D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne 2017 (Australia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
As with many bottles sporting d’Arenberg’s distinctive red stripe across the label, this is an enjoyable wine with real depth and character. The winning blend of these two grapes makes for a stylish white wine with marked tropical fruit, spice and floral notes. It’s nicely balanced and ready to drink. Available in Ontario at the above price, $18.07 in Manitoba, $19.95 in Quebec, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta.
Domaine Chandon Brut (United States)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $31.70
This flavourful sparkling wine is made in a crowd-pleasing style, with ripe apple and peach flavours and some toasty and honey notes. Available in Ontario at the above price, $29.85 in Quebec, $29.99 in British Columbia.
Dona Paula Estate Malbec 2017 (Argentina)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
Produced with 100-per-cent malbec grapes from two vineyards in Mendoza’s Uco Valley. This elegant and polished example shows some of the best attributes of the grape, with appealing dark fruit, floral and spicy notes. It’s medium bodied and offers appealing concentration with nice freshness and length. Drink now to 2022. Available in Ontario at the above price, $17.80 in Quebec, $18.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Georges Duboeuf Château des Capitans Juliénas 2017 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $21.95
This is a stunning estate-bottled gamay from the northwest of the Beaujolais region that has the stuffing to age, but is ready to drink whenever the mood strikes. Made in a ripe and flavourful style, this has a pleasing mix of sweet dark fruit and spice aromas and flavours. This goes a long way to showing why cru Beaujolais continues to be one of the wine’s hottest trends. Available in Ontario.
Kaiken Terroir Series Torrontes 2018 (Argentina)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
This intensely fragrant white wine from high altitude vineyards in Salta is a classic introduction to the floral and exotic character of the torrontés grape. Available in Ontario.
La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Argentina)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $15.95
Malbec isn’t the only red grape that thrives in Argentina, the cabernets coming out of Mendoza and other regions shouldn’t be overlooked. This offers solid cabernet sauvignon character, with good grip and intensity. The mix of red and dark fruit gains complexity from spice and cedary notes. Best enjoyed with a meal. Available in Ontario at the above price, $16 in Quebec, $16.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages Combe aux Jacques 2017 (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $17.95
Made in the characteristic light and refreshing style, this is a juicy and enjoyable red wine made from the gamay noir grape. It might not have the stuffing to enjoy by the glass, but its fresh and juicy character make it a great dining companion. It’s your classic pizza, pasta, burger wine. Available in Ontario at the above price, $17.45 in Quebec, $19.99 in Manitoba, $22.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2017 (Canada)
SCORE: 90 PRICE $23.95
Ripe fruit and freshness leads the way in this rich and rewarding style of Okanagan chardonnay. The mix of citrus fruit and apple is nicely accented by vanilla and toasty notes, making for an inviting white wine that’s ready to drink. Available in Ontario at the above price, $18.90 in Quebec, $21.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (United States)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $32.95
Rodney Strong has been focusing its efforts on cabernet sauvignon from the Alexander Valley region of Sonoma County since 1971. It’s one of the area’s most bankable labels, especially at this reserve tier. Expressive and correct, this is an attractive cabernet with rich structure, complexity and smooth texture. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta and British Columbia.
Vina San Esteban In Situ Reserva Chardonnay 2018 (Chile)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
The In Situ label is a consistent source of well-made red wines from the winery’s estate in the Aconcagua Valley. Not to be overlooked, this rich and flavourful chardonnay is made to be a simple, easy-drinking style with nice freshness and intensity. Drink now. Available in Ontario.
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