One of the great success stories of the past decade is the emergence of Argentine malbecs to worldwide acclaim. The plot goes something like this: Forgotten Bordeaux grape finds new life in world's highest vineyards, becomes a local star, then returns to the global stage to thunderous applause. But that is only the beginning of the story.
As often happens when an entire wine region becomes branded with a specific grape, a lot of really good wines are ignored because they are not iconic. Often, these other good wines are truly international, meaning they're made almost everywhere grapes are grown. While Argentina offers an abundance of them, both white and red, it also has some grapes that are rarely seen outside the country.
Among those less common but worth discovering is torronts, believed to be a cross of muscat and the "mission" grape. As they did in California, Spanish missionaries first brought the mission grape to Argentina. Just to further confuse matters, Argentina also grows a red-wine grape called torronts (sometimes spelled tarrantes or turrundos). But I'm talking only about the white wine.
Quick comparison: If you enjoy Washington viognier, you will probably like Argentine torronts. Below are suggested vintages, retail prices, and the local distributor and/or importer.
VinEcol 2009 Torronts; $15 (Mistica)
Organic grapes fuel this complex and delicate wine, with nuanced floral notes and delicate spices. Well worth the extra bucks.
If torronts has a red-wine analogue, it might well be bonarda. This chewy red grape is not commonly found elsewhere, though some studies suggest it may be related to the charbono grown in California.
Coiron 2009 Torronts; $11 (Mistica)
Citrus rind, grapefruit, some sharpness that adds definition. Linear and stony; a good food wine.
Eral Bravo 2009 Urano Torronts; $10 (Grape Expectations)
Ignore the unfortunate name; this is fleshy, fruity and nicely balances the fruit against spice and mineral.
La Yunta 2010; $10 (Grape Expectations/Southern)
Score! A fresh and floral white wine to make you forget the wretched weather. A fruit-centric potpourri of lime, grapefruit, green apple and peaches.
Durigutti 2008 Bonarda; $12 (Grape Expectations/Southern)
Next time you need to sign something in blood, use this wine. Impenetrably dark, tannic and earthy, with an herbal kick behind flavors of soy, meat and seaweed, it is oddly reminiscent of a Cayuse Widowmaker Cabernet, only thinner and much cheaper. Not for the faint of palate.
For me, Argentina's best reds (not counting malbec) are blends.
Amalaya 2008 Red; $17 (Hess Family)
From mile-high vines, this is three-quarters malbec, the rest cabernet syrah and tannat. Fruity and high-toned, with balancing acids but little tannin. A very useful wine, with fruit-sauced duck, salmon, even pasta.
For a glimpse into the vast universe of pricier, richer, generally more complex and interesting wines, try either of these from Andeluna:
Andeluna 2006 Reserve Celebracin; $20 (San Francisco Wine Exchange)
Blends cab and merlot; nothing surprising there. But it captures the finesse of Bordeaux, with unusual complexity in this price range.
Andeluna 2005 Grand Reserve Pasionado; $50 (San Francisco Wine Exchange)
Takes it up another couple of notches. A Bordeaux blend of merlot, malbec, cabernet and cab franc, it is a Michel Rolland wine (compare it with Long Shadows Pedestal) packed with big, luscious, dense black fruit and plenty of tasty new-barrel notes.
The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.