Argentina has made its way onto the wine map in recent years with a small explosion of quality wines reaching the United States. Most of the fanfare has been about malbec, the red grape that was transplanted from France, thrives in Argentina and has become almost synonymous with red wine there.
But there is reason to take note of the white wines as well. While there are decent chardonnays and sauvignon blancs, the more interesting grape here is the little-known torrontes. Haven't heard of it?
Well, torrontes is Argentina's signature white, and as far as I can tell is grown only there. Quality, of course, varies, and while I had tried a number of inexpensive examples, I hadn't found one that really appealed to me — until now.
Everything changed when I tried Michel Torino's 2005 Don David Torrontes from the Cafayate Valley in northwest Argentina, not far from Bolivia. The vineyards in this relatively small but important wine area in the Andes are among the world's highest, at 5,000 to 6,000 feet. The soil is rocky, sandy and rich in minerals, which are reflected in the wine.
Aromatic, elegant and complex, the $15 Torino wine also shows a pleasing mixture of floral and herbal notes and ripe tropical fruit, including pear, pineapple and lime. It reminded me of an Alsatian gewürztraminer with its aromatics, though not as heavy on the herbs.
The wine is easy to drink on its own and will match well with a variety of dishes, from pâtés to seafood to chicken, pork and Asian. It's fermented and aged without oak.
Salvador and David Michel founded the winery, with its 1,500 acres, in 1892. For some historical perspective on Argentina I turned to the older, third edition of Hugh Johnson's "World Atlas of Wine" and found that 20 years ago when it was published, Argentina and Chile were lumped into just a couple of pages under "South America." There was a picture of Torino's torrontes label from the time and a caption that described it as among "popular Argentine labels not seen abroad."
All of that now seems quaint. Wines from Argentina and Chile are ubiquitous in this country and represent some of the best values in the wine world. Michel Torino's 2005 "Don David" Torrontes is certainly among them. The importer is Frederick Wildman and Sons (frederickwildman.com).
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch