Torrontés is a white wine grape varietal with its beginnings in Argentina. There are three Torrontés varietals grown in Argentina: Torrontés Riojano, the most common, Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino. Though it is primarily Torrontés Riojano that has received attention for producing quality wines, and it is this varietal used for most wines simply labelled as Torrontés.
According to DNA research Torrontés is believed to have originated in Mendoza. Torrontés is the result of the genetic crossing of two varietals brought to the country in colonial times: the so-called ‘uva negra’ and Muscat of Alexandria or ‘uva de Italia’ and from there, spread across the region. The identification of this new varietal was a long, complex process.
As it initially grew among other varieties, without grape growers noticing it was different. The name ‘Torrontés’ started to be used in Argentina during the middle of the 19th century. The oldest available records found were from a study by Damián Hudson in Mendoza dating back to the 1860's. There is also a less common red wine grape called Torrontés, which is also known under the synonyms Tarrantes and Turrundos.
The three varietals are relatively similar but do have noticeable differences. Torrontés Riojano and Torrontés Sanjuanino both tend to have large loose bunches of pale grapes while Torrontés Mendocino, however, has smaller, tighter bunches of darker yellow grapes. Torrontés Riojano is the most aromatic of the three, with aromas reminiscent of Muscat and Gewürztraminer wines. The least aromatic, and least widely planted, is Torrontés Mendocino with the aromatics and plantings of Torrontés Sanjuanino falling in between. All three varietals are related to the Criolla’s group of grape varieties, which is a term used for cultivars of the European grapevine Vitis Vinifera propagated in the Americas.
Around 8,700 hectares in Argentina have been planted with Torrontés Riojano, and 4,850 hectares with Torrontés Sanjuanino. Plantings in the very high altitudes 1700m+ of the Calchaquíes Valleys in the far north of Argentina have recently met with success. The Salta region in northwest Argentina is particularly noted for its Torrontés as the grape thrives in cold dry, windy conditions. Part of its increase in production comes from the increase in Argentine wine exportation where the grape has found considerable success in the United States and UK, along with a better understanding and identification of the different Torrontés varietals allow for better records of plantings. Torrontés surpassed all other white varietals becoming Argentina's most widely planted white varietal as of 2008.
Torrontés is grown in Chile, though the exact hectares of planting are not completely known. Though in Chile Torrontés is often known under the synonym Moscatel de Austria, and thought to be the Torrontés Sanjuanino clone. Another large area of plantings in Chile is Torrontés Riojano with it primary to produce the Chilean brandy wine known as Pisco.
While DNA evidence shows that there is no relationship between the Galician varietal of Torrontés and the South American varietal, you might still see Spanish wine labelled as Torrontés from the Galician wine region of Ribeiro as well as other Denominación de Origens such as the Gran Canaria of the Canary Islands, Montilla-Moriles and Madrid.
Torrontés from Mendoza and from San Juan are better suited for fresh consumption, while Torrontés Riojano is more extensively grown and expresses the best qualities for the elaboration of very fruity yet dry premium wines.
Cafayate Valley, in Salta, to the far north of the country, is now building a strong international reputation with this varietal. This region enjoys a unique microclimate, with vineyards grow at 3000m above sea level, with very low rainfall, and these conditions allow for an exceptional grape development. Delicious and fruity, the wines of Cafayate have a strong personality and linger in the mouth.
Torrontés is capability of producing quality wines, but its success is dependent on vine harvest yields, and the skill and care of the winemaking process. Typically Torrontés wines are for early drinking, and slightly reminiscent to Muscat and can be very similar to Gewürztraminer with subtle spice notes mixed with the floral bouquet of the wine.
Torrontés is a light yellow wine that occasionally has golden and green hues. Its aroma is reminiscent of roses, jasmine, and geraniums. On the palate it is fruit driven, sometimes with touches of honey or fresh herbs. Its aroma can suggest a sweeter style wine but its taste reveals a refreshing acidity. Torrontés is perfect as a refreshing start to a meal or paired with delicate flavours such as fish and shellfish. Spicy and aromatic Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine also pair very well.