Torrontés

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Torrontés is a name rapidly becoming synonymous with the white wines of Argentina. It doesn't represent just a single grape variety, however – several varieties bear the name Torrontés. The most significant of these are Torrontés Sanjuanino, Torrontés Mendocino and Torrontés Riojano. The latter of the three is the most widely planted, and typically produces the better quality wines. Torrontés wines range in style from light and fresh to heady and intensely perfumed, often expressing spicy, soapy characters and aromas of white flowers.

There is some uncertainty surrounding Torrontés' origins – which is hardly surprising, given the fact that the name is used by several entirely distinct varieties. Some suggest the Riojano strain was introduced from Spain (although it takes its name from the Argentinian 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.

Torrontés 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 (3,000m) above sea level. Here, dry, desert-like conditions and a significant diurnal temperature shift help bring out the best in Torrontés.

The variety has large berries with thick skins, and ripens early. Its susceptibility to mildew makes it a good choice in the dry, continental climate 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, Torrontés-based wines can tend toward high alcohol. The three strains of Torrontés 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.

Torrontés has quickly risen to become Argentina's signature white wine grape, and one of the most widely grown. As of 2012, it is the country's second most widely planted light skinned variety (behind the local Pedro Gimenez grape, which is used to make simple table wines for local consumption).

Chile also grows Torrontés grapes – in particular Torrontés 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 Torrontés wine, while some wineries in California are also experimenting with the variety.

Spain has its own Torrontés grape, grown in the Galicia region, though it is unclear if this variety bears any relation to the grape grown in South America.
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