Wednesday’s WoW! – Tilia Torrontes 2009

Tilia TorrontesA Garden in a Glass

Are the dark, dreary days of November getting you down?  Are you yearning for the scent of fresh flowers picked from your now long lost summer garden?  Then this week’s Wednesday Wine of the Week, Tilia Torrontes 2009 from Argentina, is for you – a veritable garden in a glass – and it’s available at the LCBO for only $12.95.

Torrontes is an intensely fragrant grape variety unique to Argentina, where it’s become the country’s signature white grape.  It’s been cultivated there since the time of the Conquistadors.  A crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica (also known as the Mission grape), recent DNA testing has proven that it is not the same as the grape of the same name found in Spain.

For more information on Torrontes, please read “A Taste of Torrontes from Argentina”.

Tilia Wines

Tilia is the Latin name for the Linden tree which is grown throughout Argentina’s wine region of Mendoza.  The flowers from this tree are made into an herbal tea that is said to have calming properties.  Tilia wines are made by Bodegas Esmeralda, which is owned by the Catena Family, for the value segment of the market.  Tilia wines are dedicated to the responsible use of the environment.

The grapes for this wine are grown in the Cafayate wine region in the province of Salta, Argentina.  Most of the best Torrontes are grown in the high altitude vineyards of this area.  The high altitudes mean cooler temperatures, yielding grapes with higher acidity and an assertive flavour profile.

Tasting Notes

Tilia Torrontes 2009 is quite aromatic showing typical Torrontes perfume of honeysuckle and roses, grapefruit, peach, apricot, and spice.  On the palate, this wine is dry, exhibiting ripe peaches and apricots, with an intense floral note, and a tangy tangerine finish.  It has a rich and creamy texture and enough acidity to make this a crisp, refreshing wine.  The fresh citrus flavours in this wine make it a fine match with many poultry and fish dishes.  The grape’s exotic fruit and spicy character also makes it a great pairing with spicier dishes that are notoriously difficult with most wine – try a Thai inspired Curry, or spicy chorizo.

A Taste of Torrontés from Argentina

The allure of Torrontés sweeps you away unsuspectingly as you plunge into the heady aromas of Argentina’s most famous white wine.  Your senses fill with the fragrance of a summertime garden – a sweet perfume of roses, blossoms, peaches, and citrus.  When you taste this wine you are again surprised – what you thought would certainly be a sweet wine turns out to be refreshingly dry and crisp.  When sipped on its own, Torrontés can revitalize you on a hot summer day, but it can also complement many different dishes including mild to medium-strong cheeses, seafood, salads, and even Asian food.

Torrontés is unique to Argentina, a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica. DNA testing has proven that it is not the same as the Torrontés from Spain.  Argentina cultivates three different types of Torrontés: Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino.  Torrontés Riojano, named after the Argentine province of La Rioja and not the Spanish region of the same name, is the most planted and most aromatic of the three and is widely believed to make the best wine.

Many of the best Torrontés come from the northernmost region of Salta, especially in the area of Cafayate.  Salta has some of the highest altitude vineyards in Argentina – some can be almost 10,000 feet high!  The high altitudes mean cooler temperatures in these lower latitudes, yielding grapes with higher acidity and an assertive flavour profile.  Torrontés grown in La Rioja can also produce voluptuous yet elegant wines.

I first tasted Torrontés in Sommelier class.  I was impressed by the intense floral and tropical fruit aromas which reminded me of Viognier or perhaps Gewurztraminer.  I was hooked.  I have since tasted several Torrontés, but one of my favourites is Bodegas Etchart Cafayate Torrontés made with grapes grown in old vineyards at over 5000 feet above sea level.  Opulent and seductive, its concentrated flavours of blossoms and fruit, and zippy acidity keep me coming back for more.

The Argentine Malbec Experience

The soft warmth of a fine Malbec wraps itself around you like a cozy blanket on a cold winter evening, while its opulent fruit flavours and kiss of oaky smokiness also make it a great companion for bbq’d meats on a hot summer day.  Malbec is the go-to grape for just about any wine-lover on just about any occasion.  It’s delicious enough to be enjoyed on its own, or it can marry beautifully with a number of dishes, from formal Sunday roast beef dinners to casual pizza deliveries.

There’s no question that Malbec has blossomed into Argentina’s flagship grape. The grape only arrived from pre-phylloxera France sometime in the mid 1800s, but it has taken to the vineyards, the soil, and the climate like it’s been there forever.

I first experienced Malbec about 12 years ago on vacation in Buenos Aires.  In restaurants there at the time, a bottle of local wine was about the same price as a bottle of pop, so naturally we ordered wine.  Since Malbec was a relative newcomer to Canadian liquor store shelves back in 1999, I wasn’t very familiar with it.  The Malbec we drank in Buenos Aires with the typical Argentine fare of huge slabs of beef was juicy and very approachable.  We drank a lot of Malbec on that trip, and I have enjoyed it ever since.

The ideal Malbec has a sensual, velvety texture and is overflowing with enticing aromas of spicy red and black fruit with a rich, lingering finish.  Bodega Catena Zapata, Trapiche, Clos de Los Siete (a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot), Carlos Basso, and Bodega Norton are among my favourites.

There are many occasions when I find myself reaching for a bottle of Argentine Malbec – when I’m having a party where I just want a reliable red wine at a reasonable price that I know all my guests will enjoy – or when I really want to geek-out and ponder the vintage, altitude, and mesoclimate of the specific vineyard where the grapes were grown.  Yes, there’s a bottle of Malbec out there for just about everything!

Argentina’s Other Red Grape – Bonarda

At the “Discover the Flavours of Argentina” wine tasting in downtown Toronto yesterday, I was intrigued by a grape variety we don’t often see in our market – Bonarda.  The few Bonardas available for sampling were all very quaffable, full of ripe red and dark fruit flavours and sometimes a hint of spice – wines you don’t really need to think too much about but still quite tasty.

Until recently, Bonarda was the most planted grape in Argentina.  Trendy Malbec now has that honour, pushing Bonarda into second.  The high yielding Bonarda has traditionally been blended with other grapes to produce the bulk table wine eagerly consumed by the locals.  Argentina’s populace is known for its thirsty consumption of wine.  At one point the average person drank a staggering (literally!) 90 litres of wine a year.  It has now fallen to about 40 litres a year.

The potential for Bonarda to make quality wine is now recognized and it’s being treated with more respect in both the vineyard and the winery.  It’s not just used for inexpensive blends anymore.  When yields are kept down and the grapes are allowed to ripen fully, preventing an unpleasant green character, the wines can be very good.  It is now used to make some very successful single varietal wines, or it can be blended with either Syrah or Malbec to produce a tasty bi-varietal wine.

There is much confusion about the ancestry of Argentine Bonarda.  For a long time experts weren’t sure whether this grape was actually Bonarda Piedmontese which comes from the Piedmont region in Italy which is now quite rare, or whether it was Bonarda Novarese also from Piedmont and also known as Uva Rara.  Argentina’s National Institute of Vitiviniculture is sure that the grape is not Bonarda Oltrepo Pavese which is also known as Croatina.  Studies have now indicated that there is a very good chance that it is none of the Italian Bonardas, but that it is actually the French grape Corbeau from Savoie, which may be related to California’s Charbono.  Somewhere along the way it must have been brought to Italy where its origins were eventually lost.  Italian immigrants then took it to Argentina thinking it was indeed, Bonarda from Italy.

Wine writer Oz Clark says this about Bonarda, “Bonarda could easily be Argentina’s Beaujolais, and Bonarda Reserva could easily do the job of Beaujolais’ top ‘Cru’ villages. There’s a lot of Bonarda in the vineyards, and it makes such a juicy, gluggable red.” Click here for the website.

Not many Bonardas are available at the LCBO.  One that can be found with many bottles still available is Chakana Bonarda 2009 ($13.95), which is a light, ripe and fruity wine.  Another is Santa Julia Reserva Bonarda 2008 ($13.95).  If you do happen to come across a Bonarda I suggest you try a bottle.  They’re a nice summer red at a decent price…and it’s always fun to try something different.

Bonarda will pair well with bbq’d hamburgers, sausages, pizza, and pasta with tomato-based sauces.

Torrontes – Argentina’s White Specialty Grape

At an Argentina wine tasting event earlier this week in Toronto, I was once again very impressed with the white wines made from the grape variety, Torrontes.  In recent years, Argentina has become best known for its friendly and affordable reds made from the Malbec grape, but the whites made from Torrontes are definitely worth trying out.  Unfortunately, they can be difficult to find.  After a quick search on the LCBO website, I found that there were only 6 Torrontes wines from Argentina listed.  The good news is that the most expensive one is $16.95.

Torrontes produces very aromatic wines with a grapey character similar to Muscat and aromas and flavours reminiscent of Gewurztraminer.  Wines made from these grapes can be floral and perfumey with a hint of spiciness.  They are generally dry.

There  are several varieties of Torrontes, the most planted and most aromatic being Torrontes Riojano (the last part of the name coming from the Argentine region of La Rioja and not the Spanish region of Rioja.)  Two other varieties of Torrontes are Torrontes Mendocino and Torrontes Sanjuanino, but these are of lesser importance.  It was thought that they were all distant relatives of the Spanish grape of the same name; however, DNA testing at UC Davis suggests that they are, in fact, offspring of Muscat of Alexandria.

The region producing the best examples of Torrontes is Cafayate in Salta province, in the northern part of the country.  The high altitude of the vineyards there produce Torrontes of naturally higher acidity and an assertive flavour profile.  There are also large plantings of the variety in La Rioja where it produces a voluptuous yet elegant wine.

Torrontes Tasting Notes:

Bodegas Etchart Torrontes 2006, Cafayate:  A very pronounced nose with honeysuckle and orange blossom, Nivea face cream, peach, ripe pineapple, and mango.  It is full-bodied with lots of perfume and tropical fruit on the long, dry finish.  A very balanced and interesting wine.

Dominio Del Plata Winery, Crios de Susana Balbo, Torrontes 2008:  Intense floral aromas dominate, supported by melon, grapes, green apple and mineral. It has a smooth texture with good acidity and a slightly spicy finish.  A very nice patio sipping wine.

Vinas de Altura, Gamela Reserva Torrontes, 2009:  A very perfumey nose with blossoms, and tropical fruit.  The concentrated flavours linger for a long time with spice and tropical fruit dominating the palate.

Trivento Tribu Torrontes 2009:  Very pronounced and intense aromas of roses, orange blossoms, mandarine, melon, and ripe pineapple, with a hint of spice.  Its rich, smooth texture coats the mouth with concentrated flavours of blossoms and fruit.  It’s quite a find at less than $10 a bottle.  This is perhaps my favourite Torrontes so far.  I don’t believe this is available at the LCBO; however, if you contact Bill Haddleton of Select Wines at he may be able to help you out.

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