Unearthing Argentina's White Varietal

By Sarah Fineman


Sarah Fineman

Only in Mendoza, Argentina can you watch a chef cook fresh fish and throw raw vegetables onto dancing flames while sipping some of the world’s finest wine. The dish in question? Grilled trout with squash prepared a la asado, Argentina’s traditional and nationally-worshipped method of grilling over an open fire. The wine? Perhaps surprisingly, a lovely white, a Torrontés from Susana Balbo Wines. Renowned oenologist, and in fact, Argentina’s first female oenology graduate, Susana Balbo began her career studying and stylizing Argentina’s white Torrontés varietal. Now that she has her own winery, her Torrontés professional upbringing has helped her create a subtle yet sublime pour.  

According to legend, the Torrontés varietal sprung from Mendoza itself, originally cultivated by Jesuit priests in the area using uva de Italia grapes. Balbo’s wine is a little younger than the Jesuits; at a recent dinner, she served an enchantingly delicate Torrontés from 2015. Still, the grapes grow under that age-old Argentinean sun, amidst the open sky and sweeping mountains of the Uco Valley. A high altitude harvest brings clarity and notes of exotic fruit to each bottle, and Balbo ferments the wine for three months in medium-toast French oak barrels to heighten the floral character of these special grapes.

Balbo’s Torrontés is ideal with fish and in particular delicate, sweet-fleshed trout, but this sophisticated white wine also has unexpected chemistry with an intensely flavorful squash, cooked and smoked over embers. Don’t be fooled by the tasteful decorations and stunning natural setting of Osadia de Criar, the winery’s restaurant—Chef Hernán Gipponi  sure knows how to do a proper asado. He gets a big fire up and roaring, places in some stones until they get steaming hot, and places directly onto the stones plenty of cut squash. The vegetables cook slowly and get a bit smoky, softening and roasting in the company of flames. They then go straight from the fire to the plate. It’s traditional, rustic, earthily satisfying—and, at Susana Balbo, paired with a beautiful white wine. The result is a balance of smoke and elegance, recognizable vegetables made deep and exciting and an under-appreciated varietal bursting through to grab any lucky taster’s attention with its distinct finely balanced flavor.

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