ūüá¶ūüá∑ Torront√©s and Malbec: Argentina’s Dynamic Duo

I’ve been a¬†fan of Argentine Malbec for years — ever since our first¬†trip to Argentina, where I subsisted on a binge¬†diet of Meat & Malbec¬†(officially, Argentina¬†only recognizes one food group — the meat group). ¬†I also discovered the wonders of chimichurri, an insanely delicious condiment, which the Argentines use much the same way as Americans use ketchup — as a vegetable.

I recently had the opportunity to taste a trio of Torrontés and a quintet of Malbecs from Argentina1.  Meat & Malbec with a chimichurri chaser, anyone?

Torront√©s is a bit of a trickster. ¬†Every time I stick my nose into a glass of Torront√©s, my palate gets duped into expecting¬†something sweet. ¬†But, Torront√©s is usually quite dry. ¬†Torront√©s is indigenous to Argentina, and grows¬†almost exclusively there, where it¬†thrives in the high-altitude vineyards of Salta (which has some of the highest vineyards in the world). ¬†Torront√©s is¬†universally described as aromatic, and often compared to Muscat or Gew√ľrztraminer. ¬†And, truth be told, it’s never been one of my favorite grape varieties. ¬†Because I’m never quite sure whether it’s wine or perfume. ¬†It’s that aromatic.

Malbec is native to the Cahors region of southwestern France. ¬†It’s also used as one of the six classic blending grapes in Bordeaux. ¬†But it is in Argentina where the Malbec¬†has truly found its footing. ¬†Malbec¬†has brought wine-recognition in spades to Argentina, which today grows about 75% of the world’s Malbec. ¬†If you’ve ever had the chance to compare the two styles,¬†a Cahors Malbec tends to be much more rustic (picture yourself drinking wine on an old leather couch in the middle of a barn) and tannic, while an Argentinian Malbec tends toward softer¬†and fruity.

I invited some friends and family over (because wine is always better with friends and family) . . . and here’s what we ended up with for pairings:

Men√ļ del D√≠a

Basil Pesto Rounds

Spicy Veggie Sushi Rolls

Tomato Bruschetta

Carne Asada with Chimichurri

Salted Alfajores Bars

Amalaya Torront√©s 2015 ¬†‚≠ź‚≠ź‚≠ź/88
A blend of 85% Torront√©s and 15% Riesling, from Salta, Argentina. ¬†I can’t recall ever tasting a Torront√©s-Riesling blend before this. ¬†Fermented and aged in stainless steel. ¬†Very pale straw, almost clear in color. ¬†An extremely delicate nose, with flavors of tart grapefruit and lemon. ¬†Dry and lean in texture, the pinch of Riesling lends a mineral aspect to the wine that’s really intriguing. ¬†Green apple on the long finish. ¬†13% ABV. ¬†A crazy bargain at $12.

Colom√© Torront√©s 2015 ¬†‚≠ź‚≠ź‚≠ź/86
100% Torront√©s, from Salta, Argentina. ¬†Pale straw color. ¬†Lighter-bodied, with flavors of orange, honeysuckle and lemon. ¬†Extremely floral, even perfume-like. ¬†A dandelion thing happening on the finish — I kid you not. ¬†Sidebar: ¬†When I was a kid, I remember my parents making¬†dandelion wine. ¬†But that’s a story for another day.¬†¬†13.5% ABV. ¬†Retail = $15.

Trumpeter Rutini Torront√©s 2015 ¬†‚≠ź‚≠ź‚≠ź/85
100% Torront√©s from Tupungato, Mendoza. ¬†Fermented in stainless steel. ¬†No oak. ¬†Pale straw color, but more pigmented than the other two examples. ¬†Clean and crisp, and there’s that Torront√©s trick again — I would swear this was going to be a sweet wine. ¬†But it’s dry! ¬†Flavors of red apple and nectarines with some definite floral notes. ¬†Jasmine, maybe? ¬†More assertive than the others, but the finish isn’t as long. ¬†Retail = $11.

Amalaya Malbec 2015 ¬†‚≠ź‚≠ź‚≠ź/87
A blend of 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, and 5% Syrah from the northern Calchaqu√≠ Valley, at an altitude of 5,280 feet. ¬†Purple ruby color. ¬†Powerful nose — smoke and BBQ. ¬†A massive burst of jammy black fruits followed by flavors of violets and white pepper¬†(I like to think that’s the influence of the Tannat and Syrah). ¬†13.9% ABV. ¬†Retail = $16.

Colom√© Estate Malbec 2013 ¬†‚≠ź‚≠ź‚≠ź/88
100% Malbec, blended from four different high-altitude vineyards in Salta, including the famous Altura Maxima vineyard at 10,207 feet!  Aged for 15 months in French oak.  An intense ruby-red in color.  Blackberries, boysenberries, vanilla, and a smidge of coconut.  The high-altitude acids are front and center for sure, but this wine soared with the steak & chimichurri (see below).  14.5% ABV.  Retail = $25.

Trumpeter Malbec 2014 ¬†¬†‚≠ź‚≠ź‚≠ź/87
100% Malbec. ¬†From Tupungato, Mendoza. ¬†Aged in 30% new American oak, 30% new French oak, and 40% 2nd and 3rd use American oak barrels. ¬†Clear, red ruby in color. ¬†A real painter’s palette of flavors — cherry, pomegranate, cardamom, cinnamon, toasted vanilla, and a smoky finish. ¬†Medium body. ¬†Nicely balanced. ¬†And wow, another insane¬†bargain at $12!!

Rutini Encuentro Malbec 2013 ¬†‚≠ź‚≠ź‚≠ź/86
100% Malbec.  From Tupungato, Mendoza.  Aged in 50% new and 2nd use French oak, and 50% new American oak.  Bright, ruby-red color.  The nose is smoke and dried oregano, with a touch of crushed violets.  Flavors are ripe blackberry and raspberry with an intense black pepper finish.  Retail = $19.

Rutini Malbec 2012 ¬†‚≠ź‚≠ź‚≠ź/89
100% Malbec.  Aged for 12 months in 80% new French oak, and 20% American oak.  Deep red ruby color.  Intense flavors of cranberry, raspberry, and strawberry.  Some rose and violets.  Wait.  Is that tarragon?  I love tarragon.  Tobacco and vanilla on the finish.  Elegant and balanced.  Retail = $35.

I was blown away by how brilliant the Torront√©s was with the spicy veggie-sushi. ¬†A home-run pairing, for sure. ¬†The Torront√©s¬†was not as brilliant with the basil pesto — a Sauvignon Blanc would have been much better there. ¬†And although Malbec is perfectly capable of standing¬†on its own, it really shines when paired¬†with beef. ¬†Carne Asada with chimichurri is a classic Malbec pairing for a reason — it works. ¬†The Salted Alfajores Bars are an easier version of the classic Argentine shortbread cookie filled with dulce de leche (I don’t have the patience to make the classic version). ¬†And now I wish they weren’t so easy to make . . . yum.

Dynamic Duo Bottomline:¬† The genius of¬†Torront√©s and Malbec is that they are not only¬†approachable,¬†but¬†affordable. ¬†Of the eight wines I tasted, only two are more than $20. ¬†If Torront√©s and Malbec¬†aren’t already in your every day wine-rotation,¬†it might be time for a field trip to your local wine store.

Salud!
______________________
1The wines tasted for this post were provided to me as media samples.

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