Torrontes offers sweet taste of summer

One sip of torrontes, made from Argentina’s most widely planted white grape of the same name, will keep you in the summer spirit; it is the perfect summertime wine.

It is likely the grape arrived in Argentina from Northern Spain, but its precise lineage and origin remain obscure, so don’t bother looking for a European counterpart. It’s a tricky grape to fashion into wine because its floral nature could easily get out of hand. But when you combine, as Susana Balbo has, the lacey floral aromas with its inherent acidity, it becomes captivating.

Although Chile has captured the allegiance of the American wine consumer — Chile’s Concha y Toro line ranks second behind Australia’s Yellow Tail as our favorite import — neighboring Argentina produces more wine. It is the fifth-largest wine-producing country after France, Italy, Spain, and the United States.

Mendoza is its prime wine-producing area, but, paradoxically, the best torrontes hails from Cafayate in the north, an area known more for quantity over quality, at least in red wine. Vineyards over 4,000 feet, where there are dramatic day-night temperature differences, allow the torrontes to hold on to its natural acidity, which balances its naturally aromatic character.

Balbo started making wine in the early 1980s. She was the first Argentine winemaker to consult outside of her country, and she has a worldwide reputation for her craft. She usually uses Crios (literally, offspring) as her ”second,” less expensive, label for wines made from grapes that do not measure up to her standards for her primary label, Signature. But since she makes no torrontes under her Signature label, the Crios torrontes is the only one you’ll see on retailers’ shelves.

Its honeysuckle-like aromas grab your attention, but the bright citric zing keeps you coming back for more. Try it with spicy Thai food or take-out Chinese. It’s so beguiling, you’ll be tempted to drink it year-round.

Crios de Susana Balbo, Torrontes, 2005. About $15. Distributed by Central Distributing Co., 508-755-0360, and Ruby Wines, 508-588-7007. 

September 8, 2005.