From one of the world’s loftiest vineyard regions comes an aromatic, tangy tipple called Torrontés (tor-ohn-TEZ) wine.
It’s known as Argentina’s signature white and the Cafayete Valley in far northwest Salta province—ranging from 6,000-10,000 feet in elevation—is the source of some of the best Torrontés grapes. Farther south, the variety is also widely planted in and around Mendoza, a place already familiar to many Americans.
While initially in the shadow of surging Malbecs from Mendoza, Torrontés has aimed to become an affordable alternative to favorites like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Alberto Arizu Jr., Commercial Director of Bodega Luigi Bosca in Mendoza, Argentina, (imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons), says: “I think there is a greater consumer demand in the U.S. for more fresh, aromatic and dry white wines.” Arizu adds, “The recognition of Malbec and good performance of Argentine wines helped the Torrontés variety.”
But it has been a jagged ascent. In the last decade sales were buffeted by difficult economic conditions in Argentina and adverse exchange rates. This led to a see-saw in sales: Exports of Torrontés to the U.S. swung from 45,000 cases in 2005 to a high of 268,000 cases in 2011, followed by a steep downturn to 115,000 cases in 2014. Sales, now, are on the upswing, rising 3.5% to 119,000 cases in 2015, reports Magdelena Pecse, Director of Marketing and Communications, Wines of Argentina.
Torrentés Fits Right In
“Torrontés is great for the summertime,” asserts Brian Bowman, Beverage Director, Sun Singer Wine & Spirits in Champaign-Urbana, IL. “Around Mother’s Day, we’ll do a tasting of four-to-six wines, including a Torrontés, to build sales.” He notes the store currently carries three Torrontés: Trivento Amado Sur at $13.99, Le Madrid at $14.99 and Ernesto Catena Padrillos at $10.99.
Julia Nader, Director of Marketing for E. & J. Gallo Winery, importer of the Alamos line, says, “We know that there is a trend toward consumers embracing lighter white wines, like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, and Alamos Torrontés fits that profile very well.”
Marcy Whitman, SVP of Marketing & Brand Development at Palm Bay International, which imports the Callia and Killka brands, concurs: “We are seeing growing awareness among sommeliers, but Torrontés has yet to be discovered by a broader
Addressing that “discovery” challenge, Francine Kowalsky, Assistant VP, Director of Marketing, Frederick Wildman & Sons, which also imports Astica, La Linda and Michel Torino, advises: “Getting the consumer to sample the wine is one of the most powerful selling tools we have. The key is to do the tasting next to a stack of the wine so that the consumer can purchase right after tasting.”
At Century Liquor & Wines, Manager Jim Verhey notes, “Our Torrontés sales are consumer-driven.” He, too, advocates in-store sampling. Century currently sells Molinos Torrontés for $6 a bottle, as part of the store’s half-dozen wines featured at that bargain price; Molinos is also sold online via a dedicated $6 tab on the store’s homepage. Century also stocks Torrontés wines from Alamos, Crios and Michel Torino.
Torrentés: Food Affinity
Fernando Navas, an Argentinian chef who owns Balvanera in New York City, says: “We train our staff to explain the attributes of Torrontés and how it pairs very well with our dishes, especially with our empanadas and octopus. We always have our guests try the Torrontés since it’s unusual to find it on many menus.” He adds, “We currently have Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Torrontés at $10 per glass and $40 per bottle.”
Noting the strong food association for Torrontés, at Tower Wine in Atlanta, Wine Manager John O’Brien comments, “Most of our Torrontés sales come from customers whose friends served the wine at a dinner party or had it a restaurant.” Tower currently offers Torrontés wines from Alamos, Crios and Colomé, each for under $15.
Summing up its versatile appeal, Adam Sager, VP, Winesellers Ltd., importer of Zuccardi and Chimango notes: “Merchants can use seasonality to offer an alternative crisp white like Torrontés rather than mainstream Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or others. Torrontés also appeals to consumers who like fruitier wines.”
The author wishes to thank Beverage Media to publish this article, which appears in the June 2016 issue of the magazine.