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Argentina's Exciting White
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Feb 8, 2011
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Crios de Susana Balbo, Salta (Argentina) Torrontés 2010 (Vine Connections, $15):  I recall that the first time I tasted a Torrontés wine, I thought it was a poor imitation of Italy’s Moscato d’Asti.  I subsequently confused Torrontés for Viognier.  Years later, after tasting many better examples, I recognize that Torrontés is a unique wine, a true original, and it can be one of the most delightful white wines in the world.

Torrontés is Argentina’s most planted white grape variety.  (Several variations of the grape exist, but in my experience producers tend not to specify which type they use to make their varietal Torrontés wines.)  It grows mainly in Argentina’s northerly province of Salta and also in La Rioja and Mendoza provinces.  Delightful as the wines can be, they require a careful hand in the vineyard and winery to prevent excessive sweetness or notes of bitterness.

If you want to experience Torrontés at its best, just unscrew the cap of a bottle of Crios.  Winemaker Susana Balbo, who is regarded as the queen of Torrontés, produces this wine from grapes grown in a gifted terroir for Torrontés, the Cafayate area of Salta province, where high-altitude (5000 feet) brings the vines plenty of sun by day and very cool nights.  Assuming that you do not rigidly limit your taste preferences only to oaked white wines, this wine should bring a smile to your face.

Because Torrontés is an aromatic white grape, Crios Torrontés has pronounced fragrant aromas and high flavor intensity.  The aromas and flavors suggest all sorts of floral and fruit notes, the fruity character ranging from grapefruit and lime zest to candied melon, tangerine and especially peach.  The wine seems off-dry when it enters your mouth, but as its acidity emerges in your mouth, the wine begins to taste dry, and it finishes dry.  It’s medium-bodied and has viscosity of texture from its 13.7 percent alcohol.  It also has freshness and liveliness from its high acidity, and flavor that persists, glass after glass.  Unlike some flavorful, unoaked white wines that are appealing at first but then become boring, this wine is so well-made that it seems to refresh itself with every sip.

This wine offers impressive quality for its inexpensive price.  Crios is one of two collective brands that Susana Balbo makes, and the least expensive.  They come from the Dominio del Plato winery in Mendoza, that she and her husband operate.  (You’ll find the name “Dominio del Plato” on the capsule of Crios bottles.)  Her Susana Balbo Signature wines retail around $25 and include a Cabernet, two Malbecs, a Bordeaux-style blend and a late harvest Torrontés.  The Crios wines come from juice that is not appropriate for her more ageworthy Signature wines:  “crios” means offspring or children, and these wines are not fully “grown up.”  The brand features three reds, a rosé and a Chardonnay in addition to this Torrontés.  She also makes a couple of high-end reds.

The Crios wines are intended for drinking while young, and that is exactly what I recommend you do with this Torrontés.  It’s delicious as an aperitif, with nibbles, and also nicely accompanies seafood or grilled chicken, as well as dishes that have a bit of sweetness from fruit or corn. You will find plenty of ways to enjoy this wine; the important thing is that you try it.

90 Points