Anytime a female shopper asks me to recommend a good summer white, I immediately think of Torrontes. “If you took pinot grigio,” I always say, “dressed it up, and took it out on a Saturday night, it would taste like this.” The men never seem to understand, although they always buy one for the woman in their lives. I hate to be sexist this way; but this wine screams femininity. It is playful but delicate; zesty but elegant; fun, fruity and full of flair.
Torrontes has become Argentina’s signature white grape. The best versions come from higher altitude vineyards in Salta. The vine’s ancestry is still under scrutiny; but most scholars are certain it is related to the aromatic Muscat of Alexandria, and possibly descended from Malvasia. But Argentina can claim it as their own, as it appears only Chile has wide plantings of it, which they really only use for the spirit known as Pisco.
This wine is gaining momentum in a hurry. Its increasing interest on the market is comparable to the rise in popularity of shiraz in Australia, or perhaps malbec in Mendoza. Retailers and sommeliers alike love this sort of wine, as it’s a wonderful sipper but also quite versatile with food. I would pair these wines with salads, Indian or Thai, and any lighter fish. The best news is these wines are remarkably affordable, so it’s easy to stock up for the whole summer.
Sight: Pale yellow-green, with bright intensity. Typically youthful, with little viscosity or legs, and a consistent rim.
Smell: Wow. Pronounced, tropical fruit, citrus, apples, and a flower bed in summertime.
Taste: Light-Medium bodied, zippy but not aggressive acidity. Peach, lime, green apple, slight burst of minerality. Falls right in the middle of the ever popular “not too dry, not too sweet” category.
I’m often asked what my favorite kind of wine is. My answer, like most wine enthusiasts I know, is “I don’t have a favorite.” I think of wines like parents think of children– you love them all equally, just in different ways. One might be pretty, one might be the funniest, one is usually the smartest, one is artistic and so on. Obviously my family is not a good example since I am all of the above. But typically, good parents give equal affection to all. And so, I love all my grapes. One is soft and elegant, one is loud and flashy; one is best with certain foods, one is perfect for sipping by the fireplace. They’re all wonderful; I don’t play favorites.
But if I were stranded on a deserted island with one bottle of wine, it would have to be an elegant, refined, exceptional Pinot Noir.
Pinot is the great king of Burgundy, where it has thrived for hundreds of years. From the heralded vineyards in the southern part of the Côte de Nuits come the most elegant, complex and wonderful wines of this type, and arguably the best wines in all of France and perhaps the whole winemaking world. But alas, these wines are not cheap; in superior vintages the top Burgundies sell at auction for thousands of dollars a bottle.
So, as usual, we turn to the good old US of A to provide us with some reasonably priced but quality wines. California cornered the market on pinot for quite some time in this country. From Mendocino all the way to Santa Barbara, this grape has earned a stellar reputation for fruit forward, wonderfully approachable wines. Some of these may not be wines of amazing structure, especially around Monterey and along the coast; but they are affordable and universally appealing. Many California pinots, however have earned extremely high praise from enthusiasts all over the world, including the folks at Wine Spectator who named Kosta Brown Pinot 2009 the best wine of 2011. So Cali gets most of the attention, as usual. But recently the success of pinot noir from Oregon has oenophiles’ heads spinning. In Willammette Valley especially we’re finding intriguing wines of amazing depth and complexity that, some argue, rival even the great Bourgogne. Critics have heralded 2008 Oregon’s best vintage thus far and it appears it’s only getting better.
In Germany, pinot is called spatburgunder. In my experience, these aren’t typically wines of great distinction, but are interesting and quite approachable. Pinot is one of the parents of South Africa’s hybrid pinotage, which is gaining some momentum here due to a rise in quality imports. We’ve also recently discovered some pinot from New Zealand that is worthy of praise. At quick glance, then, it seems pinot noir can grow almost anywhere. But the best environment for pinot involves warm days, cool evenings, lots of fog and a great deal of talent and patience in the vineyards.
Now, with this finicky grape, you really get what you pay for. If you spend ten bucks on pinot, expect a light, fruity wine reminiscent of Kool-Aid at best, cough medicine at worst. If you spend a bit more, you earn a little depth and complexity. One you cross the twenty-five dollar threshold, there is a dramatic improvement. It’s an unfortunate but very real part of life with this spectacular but variable grape.
It’s also important to note: this grape is probably the truest expression of terroir. That is, these wines are completely different depending on from where they came. In northern California, look for mostly fruit forward, elegant wines with soft, silky tannins. In central and southern Cali pinot is heftier, more robust, spicy and even sometimes a bit sweet. In Oregon, pinot is more delicate and subtle, driven by earth tones and hints of tea leaf and truffle. New Zealand’s versions are known for their minerality and high acidity. In France, all the best components come together to create wines of amazing depth and distinction.
Pinot is probably a sommelier’s favorite grape as it is the most versatile wine for pairing with food. Its low tannins, high acidity, and elegant balance make it the perfect match for many cuisines. Its best counterparts include meatier seafoods like swordfish or salmon, pasta, duck, and of course, anything with mushrooms.
$10-15: Angeline, Cartledge & Brown, Gunther Schlink, Oyster Bay
$15-30: Saint Gregory, Byron, Melville, Maysara, Coopers Creek, Sineann, Luca, Capiaux Cellars, Cashburn
$30-60: Merry Edwards, Louis Jadot Beaune Clos du Ursules, Ata Rangi, Domaine Serene Evenstad, Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard, Loring Clos Pepe
I get that you want sweet wine that tastes like Welch’s. And I understand you don’t care. At all. But seriously. Asking me which of Barefoot or Yellow Tail Moscato is better is like asking a butcher who deals with prime cuts of beef from grass fed cows which can of spam you should buy.
Do not send the cheapest, least knowledgeable person you know to shop for wine for your dinner or party. If you do, I will assume you don’t give a shit what you’re drinking and send your friend off with shitty pinot grigio and cheap pinot noir.
If you haven’t called on me in eight months, you are very bad at your job. Do not be surprised when I don’t invite you to participate in an event I organized a month ago with reps who actually call on me regularly. You clearly aren’t worth my time. I don’t want to taste your wines, I don’t want to sell them, I don’t want to make you money. Get out of my store.
Get off the phone. If you are even considering taking a call or texting while in the store, don’t bother seeking me out. I will ignore you. Seriously, I’m not going to waste my time with you if you can’t focus for three minutes. I will actually go out of my way to avoid you if I see a cell phone in your possession, because that means I will get a wag of the finger and there’s a good chance you’ll only pay attention to half the things I say. Plus, your conversation is annoying. I really don’t care about your life, and neither do any of the other customers that are forced to listen to you. Please. You’re not that important.