The Grape Glossary: a guide to hip varietals
Regular visitors to the Argentina section of pretty much any liquor store will by now be familiar with torrontes. It's the South American country's signature white wine. Open a bottle, however, and you might be excused for thinking of it another way: as the perfume you can drink.
Seductively scented, it's a nose party of fruit and flowers, often redolent of fresh muscat table grapes, apricots, honeysuckle and orange blossom. (A proper florist might be able throw in a few more adjectives.) In the mouth, it delivers another happy surprise. In contrast to many of today's increasingly popular white wines blended from so-called aromatic grape varieties, torrontes tends to be bone-dry. Think moscato without the sugar.
Those attributes helped torrontes secure a growing fan base over the past decade as the grape variety emerged seemingly out of nowhere. Then again, it received considerable assistance on the PR front from another grape, malbec. That would be Argentina's much more important variety, catnip red of bargain hunters everywhere. Malbec's global conquest eventually gave rise to the question, "What's next for Argentina?" Torrontes emerged as the most obvious answer.
Unlike malbec, though, a vine imported from France, torrontes is indigenous to Argentina. Until recently, students of Spanish wine might have legitimately quarrelled with that statement because the name torrontes is well-known on the Iberian peninsula and Argentina was, of course, colonized by wine-thirsty Spaniards. But there are several distinct varieties that go by the name torrontes, and the main Argentine variety – officially torrontes riojano – was recently shown through DNA analysis to be distinct, as reported in the book Wine Grapes, co-authored by Swiss botanist Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. It sprouted from a spontaneous cross between muscat of Alexandria and listan prieto, two vines with long histories in Argentina.
Torrontes makes for an invigorating aperitif, particularly, though not exclusively, in summer, yet it may achieve its highest calling on the Asian table as a punchy accompaniment to spicy stir fries or curries, even sushi. If you've not yet sampled good torrontes, like those made by reliable producers Catena, Susana Balbo and O. Fournier, there's not much to lose in trying. Most cost between $10 and $15, less than a typical store-bought flower arrangement. A bouquet might smell as good for a few days but it won't taste half as good with a plate of Thai green curry.
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol (HarperCollins) won top prize for best general English cookbook at the 2014 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.