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Wine Reviews: Review of Santa Julia Torrontes and 
Michel Torino Torrontes "Don David"

by: Vino Joe (e-mail

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A torrential wine

The Merriam-Webster™ Dictionary defines "
torrent" as: 

a tumultuous outpouring: RUSH.

And we have grape "Torrontes" (tore-ahn-TEZ), which produces a wine whose aroma is a tumultuous outpouring of tropical fruit, candied peaches, lychee nut, rose petals and other floral hints. Its flavors rush into the mouth, with bright ripe fruits similar to the ones found in the aroma, with an extra zing of spice and acidity for good measure. Needless to say, this is not a wine for the faint of heart.

Torrontes is a grape emanating from the Galician region of northwest Spain. There it is commonly used in wines from the sub-region of Ribeiro (not to be confused with the more popular wines of Ribera del Duero). Though you won't hear much about Spanish Torrontes, the same-named grape flourishes in the dry climate and mountains of Argentina. It is not clear whether the grape is identical in both countries, but who really cares? The main thing to remember is to look for Argentinean Torrontes, which has a strongly perfumed, distinctive character.

If you've ever had a Gewurztraminer (guh-VERTS-trah-mee-ner) wine, then you will have an idea of what I mean by "distinctive": this is a wine of uncommon flavor that some people will flat-out hate, while others will enjoy immensely. The aromas and flavors are decidedly unique -- Torrontes is nearly obnoxious in its expression of character. Bold floral aromas resembling a woman wearing too much rosy perfume will smack you in the face; if you dare taste the wine it will erupt with lychee nut (those little pink, fleshy fruits you get for dessert at Chinese restaurants) and similarly exotic fruit flavors.

Because it's nothing like Chardonnay or other run-of-the-mill white wines, it may take some doing to find a Torrontes wine. However, several excellent examples are finding their way out of Argentina, much to the delight of adventuresome imbibers. The cult-like following of this wine variety should soon swell into a demand that may force Argentina to rethink its export strategy. Though it remains one of the most widely planted grapes in Argentina, much of the attention recently has been paid to growing and developing mainstream varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Maybe it's time to supplant some of those comparatively dull vines and spend some effort toward Torrontes' true potential.

Now for the Torrontes taste-off: one from the Mendoza region of Argentina, another from the Cafayete Valley. First up is Santa Julia Torrontes 2003, which has a fragrant, floral nose with fresh, ripe muscat and Gewurz-like aromas (rose petals, lychee). In the mouth it has similarly fresh and ripe, grapey fruit flavors -- lime, pomegranate, lychee -- with a hint of mineral and a mild, pleasing acidity. Overall it is a nicely balanced wine with a clean finish. At around seven bucks, this wine is a steal! (Please note there is a Santa Julia Torrontes "Tardio," which is a late-harvest, sweet wine, and has a different taste and price.)

The second is Michel Torino Torrontes "Don David" 2003, which has a very expressive, floral perfume with notes of overripe peaches, candied pears and lychee. A heavy, almost oily texture covers the palate, giving significant weight and body. Spicy muscat, lychee and overripe pear flavors fill the mouth. On the finish it is a touch hot, but long and tangy -- the acidity is in good balance with the supple fruit and alcohol level. This is as full-bodied a Torrontes as you're going to get. Its contrast to the Santa Julia example can be attributed to its birth in Cafayete vineyards sitting 5600 feet above sea level and soaked with sunshine 340 days per year. 

With such distinctive and overpowering flavor, food matching can be a challenge with Torrontes. However, its high acidity can cut through buttery, creamy dishes, and the tropical fruit flavors give it a perception of sweetness than can temper a spicy dish. Therefore, I would suggest similarly exotic and spicy-flavored cuisine, such as Asian, Indian, and the like. Or enjoy it by itself, as a contemplative aperitif -- it will surely initiate torrential conversation.

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More Wine Columns from Vino Joe

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