Torrontes is not one but several grape varieties that have been classified together to collectively make up Argentina's signature white wine. The most significant of these are Torrontes Riojano, Sanjuanino and Mendocino – with Riojano being the best and most widely planted. Wines made from Torrontes can range from light and fresh to more heady and perfumed, often expressing spicy, soapy characters and aromas of white flowers.
There is some murkiness surrounding Torrontes' origins – perhaps not surprising given the multiple personalities of the grape. Some suggest the Riojano strain was introduced from Spain (although it takes its name from the Argentine region of La Rioja where it was once widely planted). The Mendocino and Sanjuanino strains (from Mendoza and San Juan respectively) are thought to be indigenous, and both offspring of the Muscat of Alexandria grape variety.
Torrontes thrives in Argentina's famously high-altitude vineyards, and particularly in the Cafayate region of Salta. This region on the edge of the Andes boasts some of the highest vineyards in the world, reaching up to around 10,000ft (3000m) above sea level. Here, dry, desert-like conditions and a significant diurnal temperature shift help bring out the best in Torrontes.
The variety has large berries with thick skins, and ripens early. Its susceptibility to mildew makes it a good choice in the dry, continental terroir of the Andes, where there is little pressure from this kind of disease. The cooler climate here helps with the retention of acidity, but where this is less pronounced, Torrontes-based wines can tend toward high alcohol. The three strains of Torrontes have slightly different characteristics: Riojano is the most expressive, while Sanjuanino is less focused and Mendocino less aromatic. All of these are usually produced in a fresh, crisp style without oak maturation and are best consumed within one or two years of release.
Torrontes has quickly become Argentina's signature white grape variety, and as of 2012 is the second most-planted white grape variety in the country (behind the local Pedro Gimenez grape which is used to make simple table wines for local consumption).
Chile also grows Torrontes grapes – in particular Torrontes Riojano, which is used in the production of Pisco, the country’s national spirit. Uruguay continues the South American theme and makes a small amount of varietal Torrontes wine, while some Californian wineries are also experimenting with the variety.
Spain has its own Torrontes grape, grown in the Galicia region, though it is unclear if this variety bears any relation to the grape grown in South America.
Synonyms include: Torontel, Moscatel de Austria.
Popular blends include: Chardonnay – Torrontes.
Food matches for Torrontes include:
Thai green curry
Grilled scallops or white fish
Goat's cheese with honey and walnut