White wine has a property of being able to express the wine-makers skill in high definition, more so than red wine. With all that skin-contact (for colour) and barrel maturation (for oakiness), red wines have an unfair advantage when it comes to the number of categories with which to judge quality. The simple process of fermenting pressed grape juice containing sugars into alcohol rarely fails. But to develop a balance between catching the right aromas, developing flavours that are pleasing and maintaining fresh acidity is much harder to achieve. This was brought home to me recently when I was offered a rare example of a Pinot Noir made without skin-contact; the white wine produced from a Loire appellation appearing sorely lacking in depth and vivacity.
In my quest to introduce you to some great wines, when considering the white style, you can do no worse than looking at the wines of Argentina. Torrontes, in my opinion, is an emerging world-beating white wine — some say the Argentinian rival to New World Sauvignon Blanc. Forty years ago, when an English restaurant’s offering of a glass of wine was house red, or house white and your meal would have a starter – sometimes prawn cocktails on soggy lettuce, Brussels pate on dry toast or the novelty of grapefruits served with a glacé cherry sometimes with a sprig of mint or even sugared leaves (!), clever entrepreneurs in France and the USA had the idea of growing vines in the Argentinian Andean hinterlands.
Up to 3,000 metres altitude and at the uncomfortably hot latitude of 24° S at a place called Salta in Northern Argentina (located below), a lot of exciting investment and ‘flash’ wineries followed. They thought of combining the three-hundred years of wine making tradition, first started in Argentina by the Jesuit Monasteries in the 16th century, with the most modern technology and plant available and using ‘cleaner’ processing techniques imported from neighbouring Chile. Viticulturally, their aim was to stress the vines to make smaller yields of more juicy fruit and to capture these flavours by controlled temperature fermentation. The resulting generation of artisan growers with the best kit available proved the investment worked and the quality of Argentinian wine has now becoming renowned.
My choice of the month is Susana Balbo's carefully crafted Crios Torrontes. A haunting nose, one writer suggests, and with gentle suggestion of honey and spices and a hint of nectarine orange, reminiscent of the grape's Muscat parentage. I tried this first in Manchester earlier this year and was duly impressed with its jasmine, pineapple and melon flavours and lively fresh acidity. If you fancy something to go with your salad or spicy curry, this wine will turn a meal to a banquet. On another tasting a month later, my notes recall delicate floral notes on the nose, rose and jasmine and with white peach and grapefruit on the palate whilst showing racy acidity. What's not to like? The world has moved on from cherry-adorned grapefruit and those ‘house white' -only days.
Dominio del Plata, ARgentina
Clear Wine Co. Founder, shares his latest wine-based musings and expertise to get your taste buds tingling.