Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A controversial Torrontes


For those who don't know -- Torrontes is the white wine of Argentina, and their answer to Sauvignon Blanc. I had never tried Torrontes until several days ago. Since this grape was in my WSET training materials and came up at the WSET exam I had taken a week earlier, I finally decided to dig into it a bit further, and picked up a bottle of 2008 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes for $11 from a local Costco. BTW, spending $11 at Costco for a little-known grape variety from Argentina is not cheap (it's $13 at K&L Wines) - so I expected a fairly ok bottle of wine.

An excuse to drink it presented itself the next day, when my lovely wife and I settled for some simple lunch at home, consisting of turkey avocado sandwich, eggs, and home-made fries, with a little spicy sauce for dipping. Seemed like a refreshing bottle of white could go with that.

First thing I noticed was the color -- very light lemony. But the alcohol on the bottle says $13.5%. So clearly this was not going to be a super-light wine, despite the light color.

The first whiff of Torrontes was interesting. Slightly sweet and very floral on the nose. My wife Rona immediately said "viognier"! (I wasn't so sure).

Defying the sniff test, the taste was totally different. Very crisp (sharply acidic) which I liked. But the sweetness was completely gone, and the floral tones changed to mediciny. Reminded me of watered-down juniper-flavored gin. Not the most pleasant of the tastes, to say the least. Rona said this wine is really not good. I then shoved the bottle into the freezer to see if chilling would improve the outcome. 15 minutes later we gave it another try. After several more tastes, I politely put the screw-cap back on, and put the bottle into the refrigerator, more as a habbit rather than really intending to drink it again. Rona proclaimed with authority - this is the worst wine she's ever had! Hm... something ain't right, I thought, as we finished lunch, wine-less.

Next day, after calming down, I started wondering about Torrontes again, and remembered what Gary Vaynerchuk had said on his show -- don't dismiss a whole region or a whole grape variety because of one bad experience. So I went online and read a bunch of Torrontes reviews. Amazingly enough - so many people out there have recently discovered this grape, and are enjoying it -- as a better value and more interesting taste than other white wines. I found reviews of this particular Torrontes Crios -- also raving. It is also highly rated by Wine Spectator in previous years. I then went a step further and watched an entire Torrontes episode on Wine Library TV. The host of the show Gary V was very enthustiastic about this grape variety. As I was watching the show, I decided to give my Torrontes another try. So I pulled out the bottle, got my spit cup ready, even grabbed some cheese and salty speck ham from AG Ferrari deli, and settled in front of my laptop watching Gary V rave about Torrontes.

Call me impressionable, but as I tasted (and spat) about two more glasses, I started appreciating the taste a bit more -- the thing that I called "mediciny" started reminding me of oysters, oyster shells, and that vinegary dipping sauce often served with them. I still didn't really enjoy the wine, but I didn't think it sucked either.

The next day (two days after the first try), my wife and I were having a simple dinner at home -- beef burritos, with guacamole tomato mix I made, and again we thought of having a crisp white wine. I pulled out a relatively inexpensive (teens $) Pinot Grigio (from Venezia area in Italy), tried it - seemed like a perfectly good Pinot Grigio, but after the 2nd sip, I got bored with it, and frankly couldn't drink it anymore. It just seemed too basic, not fresh enough - not enough acidity or spice or anything. Just your typical decent Pinot Grigio, tasting like a little brother of an unoaked Chardonnay. Guess what? I ran to the refrigerator and grabbed that 2.5 day old bottle of Torrontes.

This time, the damn thing actually tasted pretty good to me! I didn't think it had evolved (or oxidized) in the bottle - but somehow the taste was more inviting -- so much more fresh and interesting than that Pinot Grigio! My mind kept drifting back to those fresh oysters. So much so that I thought that this wine may yet be the best oyster wine I've ever had, probably better than a Muscadet (a crisp white wine from Loire) that I had enjoyed with oysters in San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace (on Market & Embarcadero).

Rona tried it again, and was not disgusted, but still hated it. I then did the unthinkable -- I mixed the Pinot Grigio with the Torrontes!!! And voila -- it actually came out very good -- the Pinot added some fruit while Torrontes delivered the acidity and freshness.

So here you go, folks, two take-aways:
  1. Give the wine a chance - let it evolve with you...
  2. I just invented a new blockbuster blend - Torrotes / Pinot Grigio -- or should we say - Pinot Torrontes!

5 comments:

musigny said...

Don't you think Gary peformed hypnosis? He planted a suggestion. There is a lot of that in wine. Like people who recite four or five fruits, herbs or flowers they smell in a wine...they are "inspired", like a film "based on a true story".

My guess is that maybe the wine was oversulfured, thus reduced when you first drank it. As it oxidized the free sulfur combined and voila, it was more expressive.

Iron Chevsky said...

I now suspect that the wine may have been faulty from the beginning (as in "oxidized") because even several days later it still tasted about the same (I pump the air out and refrigerate, but still usually a white won't last more than a couple of days...). I will try another bottle and see...

Adventure said...

I recently returned from 3 months in Buenos Aires, where I discovered the torrontes grape only a few weeks before leaving the city. My introduction was via torrontes from Colome Bodega, and I fell in love with the wine!

After returning to the states, I was eager to continue my affair with this grape, so I bought the first Torrontes I could find-- which happened to come from Crios. Anticipating the luscious torrontes perfume; then the memorable burst of flavor, I pressed my lips to the glass and sipped...

Instead of tropical magic I tasted cold, crisp mineral. Not awful, but certainly not the wine I remembered. This couldn't be a Torrontes!

I began to wonder if I had been so bewitched by Argentina that my perceptions were altered. Was I stoned on Buenos Aires, tasting ambrosia while sipping something less than ordinary?

Actually, I think the explanation is simpler. Some Torrontes are magic and some are mundane, just as some cabs are dramatic and others are dull.

Your reaction to your first torrontes mirrors my recent experience, and it is no mere coincidence that we drank wine from the same maker.

The moral of this tale is: don't give up on the torrontes grape until you've ventured beyond Crios. As for me, I'm going to track down a Colome torrontes with the hope of falling in love all over again.

Iron Chevsky said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Adventure.

Jonathan Sibley said...

When I was in Argentina last summer, I read some local wine critics who were upset about the modernization of Torrontes that removed some of what makes it unique. I believe they mentioned turpenes.

I think Colome was mentioned as one of the Torrontes that was more authentic to the original, more expressive (but rawer) style.


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