More cool values from the Southern Hemisphere – the signature whites of Argentina

You can almost touch the sky in Salta region in Argentina

At this point, everyone seems to know about the high quality and value proposition of Argentine wines.  Exports of bottled Argentine wines increased 10% by value and 8% by volume from 2008 to 2009, with exports to the US growing 30% and 32%  respectively.  Stats for the first four months of 2010 show no abatement.  This is no small feat given that exports of wine from most major wine regions declined by value during this economically-challenging time.  The US is by far Argentina’s largest export market with a  39% market share by value at the end of April (Caucasia Wine Thinking).

So why do we like these wines?  As a category, Argentine wines are broadly available in the $8-12 range, are consistently good and finally, really face no global competition for their distinctive and signature wines the red malbecs and white torrontes.

Torrontes is a uniquely Argentine grape variety representing the second most widely-grown quality white grape in Argentina.  It is a true ‘aromatic’ variety with pronounced floral aromas but unlike floral muscat, gewurztraminer or viognier, has much more acidity.  In Argentina, torrontes is grown in all of the seven regions but by volume, it is grown mostly in Mendoza and San Juan regions.  The most renowned region for quality torrontes is from Cafayete, in the Salta region.  Salta is the most northerly (i.e. closest to the equator) of Argentina’s seven wine regions.  To compensate for the latitude, the vineyards in Salta region are located at the cooler 5,000 and up to 10,000 foot elevations that are among the highest elevation vineyards in the world.   This is where the torrontes wines from Tilia originate.

Tilia is a line of everyday wines from the Catena family, unarguably Argentina’s first family of quality wines.   We can thank industry leader Nicolas Catena for putting Argentine wines on the map beginning in the 1980’s and raising the bar for the entire industry.  The 2009 Tilia Torrontes from Salta (36,000 cases, $10) is very aromatic, with floral rose and tropical lychee aromas, crisp acidity, full body and delicate peach flavors on the palate.  This is a wine that I would serve with delicate Cantonese seafood or a poached or grilled white fish with a squeeze of lemon.

A completely different style of Catena white to try this summer is the 2009 Catena Chardonnay from Mendoza ($20).  This is a full-bodied, honeyed and rich chardonnay reminiscent of pear tart tatin.  I know many people who would savor this on its own, but I would pair it with something like macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi or sweet lobster with butter or seafood or chicken with Thai green curry sauce (made with coconut milk).

These wines are available at select Cost Plus, Costco and Whole Foods markets.  In Southern California, check out Hi Time Wine Cellars in the OC and Sprouts Farmers Markets.