Is Salta Argentina's Next Hot Spot for Wine?
Last week, I spent several days touring the high country of Argentina's northwest in the Province of Salta, a varied landscape that kisses the arid edges of Bolivia and Chile. While driving three hours south from the city of Salta towards wine country in Cafayate, the landscape transforms every 30 minutes, and we moved from green and stormy hills evocative of the Scottish highlands to a landscape akin to Arizona cactus country and finally past red Mars rockscapes. The dreamy scenery is nice, but the highlight for the vinous-inclined is the wines.
All photos by Lauren Mowery
You'd hope that wine grown in a land of extremes would provide similar drama from within the bottle. The mainstays of the region's wine production are high-altitude, mineral-driven Malbec, and surprisingly approachable, soft-edged Tannat (a wine often with hard tannins), both showing promise as foils to Mendoza's warmer, riper styles. The third, but perhaps most important grape, is a white variety called Torrontés. With spring in swing, Torrontés, with its perfumed aromatics mirroring the season's newest blooms, should be your wine of the moment.
This grape has been written about before -- some offer praise, others disdain. Those that took issue with it may have felt it lacked complexity, had too much perfume, or was often bitter. There's merit to all those claims; the first two are subjective observations, but the latter is an issue that's been mostly eradicated. In Salta, I found advances in viticulture and handling in the winery meant bitterness management has improved to the point I rarely recognized it as a problem in any wines I tasted. We've never seen a better time for drinking high-quality Torrontés than now.
The grape is a relative to Muscat of Alexandria, a relationship that's fairly obvious when dipping your nose into a glass of this intriguingly aromatic variety. It makes for a good bridge for those who like the heady aromas of overtly sweet fruit, citrus, and florals of wines like Moscato, but want to drink something crisp, refreshing, and dry.
The final boon to those that give this grape a chance at the table: The wines offer incredible value. Every bottle on my list comes in under $20 and is available in the U.S. market.
Click through to see my picks.