“I don’t get no respect” was the slogan of legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield. However, if that were true and had he been a grape, he would have been Torrontes, the Argentinean variety that is virtually impossible to find on restaurant wine lists and almost as hard to find in stores. The wine is a lively, fruity white with aromas that range from grapefruit to oranges, peach, pineapple and lime zest. Flavors in various examples have been described as pear, Meyer lemon, honey, grapefruit, and oranges. It matches with a broad range of seafood (cooked or served raw), white meat and vegetable soups. And with the flavors just described it is enjoyable quaffed on a hot summer’s day or as a pre-prandial in lieu of sparkling wine.
With these characteristics you might expect Torrontes to challenge Chardonnay as the most popular white grape. Or, more modestly, to outsell the bland, monotonous Pinot Grigio implementations that flood the market, or replace the duller examples of Sauvignon Blanc. It could take off the way New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has already done and Spanish Albariño looks poised to do. No such luck. Sales plod along year after year. Prices remain low as this is fully 10% of the Argentinean white wine crop.
It is not as if good examples of the wine do not exist. Recently, winemaker Miguel Salarich of Acordeón came to town and prompted my thoughts for this story. His 2009 Acordeón Torrontes, Cafayate Valley has intense grapefruit flavors and good acidity. It was served as the reception drink before a meat-heavy meal intended for his Malbecs. It was the ideal white complement to the reds. Everybody at the meal enjoyed it and many sought out the bottle to make a mental note of the label. It retails for less than $10.
The reason for the quality is that Salarich is uncompromising in his methods. It starts with the grapes, which are grown hundreds of miles north of the Argentine wine center of Mendoza in an area called the Cafayate Valley near the town of Salta. Here, the altitude of the vineyards is over one mile. The soil is sandy. The humidity is low and the typical growing season is characterized by hot, sunny days and cold nights, allowing full ripening and full development of the grape components. Yields are kept relatively low at five tons per acre. The juice is fermented in stainless steel and the wine sees no oak in its aging. This contributes to the unbridled fruit expression in the finished product and a minerality missing from much Mendoza Torrontes.
Acordeón is far from the only quality producer of Torrontes, but they all face an uphill battle to gain acceptance. The industry’s own promotional activities, or rather lack of any, are largely to blame. Like the Argentine soccer team that contains perhaps the greatest talent in the world but fails miserably on the international stage because of poor leadership, Torrontes producers have discovered how to make a quality wine but they fail in the market due to lack of marketing leadership. Perhaps they could take a lead from the grape growers of Sonoma, California. They taxed themselves six cents on each ton of grapes to fund the Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission which exists to promote Sonoma County grapes. Much of the perception of quality Zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley and Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley started with the efforts of this commission. I don’t think it would be a big problem for a “Torrontes Commission” to get Torrontes to take off. Just get the good ones into consumers’ mouths and they will come back for more. Hell, even Rodney would feel respected.