A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Torrontés - Silvaspoons Vineyard, Alta Mesa, California

On this day two years ago, I decided to start this wine blog.  Throughout the two years that I've been drinking, researching and writing about unusual grapes and wines, I've learned an amazing amount and met some really nice and interesting people.  I've been humbled that people choose to read and respond to the stuff that I write here, and I've really tried to make the content on this site worthy of other people's time and attention.  The very first grape that I wrote about on this blog was Torrontés, and I wrote that post after quickly scanning the Wikipedia entry on the grape, and then banged out a few tasting notes from memory.  It's the worst researched and probably the worst written post on the site, but I can't bring myself to take it down.  I've wanted to re-write several of those early posts, but have had so many new wines to write about, that I just haven't had the chance.  Today I'd like to rectify that and am going to write a new Torrontés post from scratch, taking a look at a very interesting California Torrontés in the process.

Torrontés is the most widely planted white grape in Argentina as of 2008 and has become a bit of a minor phenomenon on the US marketplace.  It is certainly not as easy to find as Malbec, but chances are good that if your local wine shop has a white wine from Argentina, it's probably a Torrontés.  But which Torrontés?  It turns out that there are three different Torrontés cultivars grown in Argentina: Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino and Torrontés Mendocino.  Each is named for a different province of Argentina, with Riojano corresponding to La Rioja (and not the Rioja in Spain), Sanjuanino corresponding to San Juan and Mendocino corresponding to Mendoza (and not the county in California).  There are also a few grapes grown in Spain with Torrontes as a synonym (most notably Albillo Mayor and the Terrantez grape of Madeira), but these Spanish Torrontes grapes are not related to the Argentine grapes.

Torrontés Riojano is the most important cultivar commercially, and, for the most part, when you buy a bottle of Argentine Torrontés this is the grape that's in your glass.  Torrontés Sanjuanino has many of the same aromatic qualities that make Torrontés Riojano so popular, but it produces lower yields than Torrontés Riojano, so growers aren't as keen to plant it.  Torrontés Mendocino lacks the explosive aroma profile of the other two Torrontés cultivars and is only really cultivated in southern Argentina, when it is grown at all.  Torrontés Riojano and Torrontés Sanjuanino are also grown to some extent in Chile where they are known as Torentel and Moscatel de Austria respectively.  At this point, you may be wondering exactly what the relationship between these three grapes actually is.  Are they different clones of a single grape or are they different grapes?  And if they're different grapes, are they actually related to one another or are the names misleading?

In 2003, two teams of scientists from Argentina and from UC Davis in California set out to discover the relationships between these three grapes (citation 1 below).  They found that each had a genetically distinct DNA profile, and were thus separate cultivars.  They also found that Torrontés Riojano and Torrontés Sanjuanino are full siblings and that both resulted from a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica, which is actually the same grape as the Mission grape of California, or the Listan Negro grape of the Canary Islands (they also found a few other grapes whose parents are Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica, but those grapes aren't really important here).  Torrontés Mendocino is a half-sibling of the other two Torrontés cultivars, as it has Muscat of Alexandria as one parent, but its other parent is unknown.  The authors believe that the crossings that created each of the Torrontés cultivars probably happened in South America, since there is no European grape that is a genetic match to any of them.

Torrontés is grown virtually nowhere outside of South America, but apparently grape grower Ron Silva, who usually specializes in Portuguese grapes, has planted some Torrontés in his Silvaspoons Vineyard in the Alta Mesa region of Lodi, California.  Silva mostly sells the grapes he grows to California wineries, and one of his customers is Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines.  Forlorn Hope makes wines from a host of unusual grape varieties and is committed to minimal intervention in the winery.  Rorick uses only natural yeasts and older, neutral barrels in the winery, and if the Torrontés that I tried from him is any indication, he's not that into filtering his wines either (which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned).

I was able to find a bottle of the 2009 Forlorn Hope "La Gitana" Torrontés from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet for around $28.  In the glass this wine was a medium lemon gold color and was a little hazy.  On the nose the wine was fairly intense with aromas of honeysuckle flower, peach, pineapple, tea leaves and lime.  The perfume was gorgeous and heady and almost a shame to drink.  On the palate the wine was medium body with fairly low acid.  There were flavors of waxy pear, honeysuckle flower, peach skin, orange blossom and beeswax.  The wine was delicate and subtle, but also incredibly complex.  This wine only needs a slight chill, if you want to chill it at all, as it shuts down at very cold temperatures, but when it's in the zone, it's an amazing, beautiful wine.  Many of the Torrontés based wines from Argentina can be very short or bitter on the palate and though they are almost all very perfumy and aromatic, I find that most of them end up disappointing me when I go to actually drink them.  This wine, though, is amazing the whole way through and is easily the best Torrontés-based wine that I've ever had.  Yes, it is going to run you more than the Argentine versions, but it's worth every penny.  Production is very limited on most of the Forlorn Hope wines, but if you happen to run across this, do not hesitate to pull the trigger.


1) Aguero, CB, Rodriguez, JG, Martinez, LE, Dangl, GS, & Meredity, CP.  2003.  Identity and parentage of Torrontés cultivars in Argentina.  American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 54(4), pp 318-321.

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