Let’s talk about Torrontés Calchaquí
In this article, we will learn everything about the only Argentine native variety: the Torrontés grape. Fundamentally we will focus on the northwest of the country where the Calchaquí Valleys are located, the optimal terroir for the development of this variety.
To begin, it is essential to locate the Valleys and know the areas they cover.
The Calchaquí Valleys
With more than 250 km. long covers the provinces of Catamarca, Tucumán, and Salta. They are about 5,000 km2 and there are barely 4,200 hectares planted. The terroirs that are productive (and that we can find on the labels) are the following (from south to north):
- Catamarca Province: Santa Maria
- Tucumán Province: Amaicha, Colalao
- Salta Province: Tolombón, Cafayate, Chimpa, Animaná, Corralito, San Carlos, Angastaco (Pucará, El Carmen), Molinos, Seclantás, La Paya, Cachi and Payogasta.
Image from Taquil Winery
Origin of the Torrontés grape
Probable origin is estimated in Cuyo, by natural crossing of Moscatel de Alejandría and Criolla Chica (black grape, as it was called then), varieties that arrived in America with the Spanish conquest. The oldest vineyards in Torrontés, in the Calchaquí Valley, date back to 1900 in Cafayate and Animaná.
“There are three varieties of Torrontés” -explains Raúl “Yeyé” Dávalos, Agronomist of Taquil Winery, and continues-: “Torrontés mendocino, sanjuanino y riojano “. The Torrontés Riojano, by Rioja, Spain, is the most planted and the one with the most oenological qualities. In addition, it is the one found in the region.
Vitis Vinifera – Variety Torrontés Riojano
- 10,600 hectares planted in the country.
- In Salta: 970 hectares.
- 15 million liters of Torrontés Calchaquí are produced per year.
- 12 million liters are sold in the domestic market.
- 7 million liters are exported (50% Salta origin)
- 87% in bottle, 7.5% in Demijohn and 5.5% in Tetra Brick or Pack.
- In the last 10 years, sales have grown both in the domestic market and in exports.
Characteristics and factors
It is a long-cycle variety with medium bud break and late maturation. This is somewhat complex in high-altitude situations where the vine cycle tends to be interrupted by climatic factors.
The higher the altitude, the higher the thermal amplitude, average temperatures tend to be lower and the frost-free period is shorter
There are plantations from 1,650 to 2,700 meters above sea level. The incidence of the sun and the thermal amplitude cause a greater concentration of aromas and flavors.
Another differential factor of the Valleys are the soils. The Valleys are inserted in what is known as the Eastern Cordillera, misnamed Pre-Cordillera de los Andes. They are very old formations that when the spine emerged pushed them to the East, leaving La Puna in the middle and formed the Valleys between the basins of the Santa María and Calchaquí rivers.
In the Cafayate Valley, we can see that the soils are formed by alluvial cones that towards the lower areas we find finer, sandy materials, and towards the mountains, thicker, stony materials. In between there are many variants that will give different wine profiles.
The Valley is very dry with an average of 150/200mm of rain per year. This in combination with the cool winds, are ideal conditions for healthy viticulture. Having less rains produce healthier grapes and less needs for phytosanitary products.
As it is a high-yield variety, it is generally managed, from its origins, by vines. Formerly Parral Cuyano was used (image on the left): long pruning to produce more. In this case, the clusters tend to clump together in the lower parts and, as they are large and heavy, sanitary problems increase and the quality of the grapes begins to deteriorate. Then there are producers who turned to Pergola-type vines (image on the right), pruning with pitons that obtain diffuse contact with sunlight, more shading, better load in the space, and greater aeration.
The average yield in Cafayate is 15,000 kg/ha.
Let’s enter the world of Torrontés Calchaquí
Laborum Single Vineyard Torrontés 2019
Francisco “Paco” Puga, winemaker from El Porvenir de Cafayate Winery, told us about the work that is being done on the farm and the production.
They are vines that date from 40 to 100 years. Since the year 2000, the number of branches on the vines has been changed to achieve less vigor and yield with the ultimate goal of having more subtle wines with balanced aromas.
As for the harvest, it is carried out in three moments: At the beginning of February, where almost a sparkling base is obtained. This wine will occupy 20% of the final wine and provides delicate aromas and a lot of acidity. The second harvest, at the beginning of March, provides a profile of white fruit and floral notes. Pineapple and white peach appear. 60% of this wine is used in the cut. Finally, in mid-March the last fraction is harvested, producing wines that reach 13.5% alcohol and provide volume on the palate, herbal notes and a good bite.
A very fresh wine where acidity is the characteristic that stands out. Lots of fruit, bite, easy to drink and citric aftertaste.
Domingo Molina Torrontes 2020
Rafael Domingo, winemaker of Domingo Molina Winery, tells how the winery shaped itself towards the new style and more international profile of the variety. Torrontés is going to end up being a niche wine, due to the quantity and for a price issue.
We have almost 90% planted in vines. We believe that it is the best trellis system
to have diffused light and that it does not burn to avoid bitterness
80% is produced in Cafayate (route 40 downwards), in old vines with sandy soils, and 5% ferments in barrels. The remaining 20% is from Tolombón (route 40 upwards), with more calcareous soils. The aging in the barrel seeks to give it volume in the mouth, to get away from the stereotype of the “fruit salad”, to give it a more international profile and that it can be paired with food.
“The change in the harvest season, to make it earlier, has been a gain in terms of longevity. The next inevitable step is to differentiate between zones with Torrontés as is done with Malbec”.
Cafayate Great Lineage Torrontes 2020
Ignacio “Nacho” Lopez, responsible for oenology at Bodegas Etchart, contributes chemical and technical questions.
“Torrontés is one of the few varieties that transmits the flavor of the grape to the wine.”
For the elaboration the first and the last grapes that arrive at the winery are used. From those harvested at the beginning of January to those that are harvested at the end of April. So they have wines from 7% to 18% potential alcohol.
In the work he does, Nacho says that “today I think of wine from the sun, from phenols and from work on the farm.” Formerly it was harvested when “the grape was golden brown”. That would come to be the generation of phenols. This will end up influencing the wines that will be achieved.
Terpenes are a family of aromas of the variety among which we find linalol (roses), alpha-terpinol (terpene grape), beta citronellol (lime, citrus), nerol (white flowers) and geraniol (herbal, geraniums).
In order to quantify the terpenes, it was concluded that the sunny grapes generate higher linalol values than the shaded ones. Given that, as I mentioned before, it is turning to the search for more citrus and herbal profiles, started working for hyper-oxygenate the musts of sunny grapes. In this way, it is possible to significantly lower the linalool values, and increase the aromas of citrus and white flowers. As a consequence, paler wines are obtained.
Torrontés and the sun – Image: Bodegas Etchart
On the other hand, the addition of copper on the farm, although it favors health during the ripening season, which is when the greatest rainfall is concentrated, has been found to have nothing in favor of the path that is being sought. So it’s about striking a balance trying to use the least amount of copper possible to achieve the best quality of terpenes.
This wine, Gran Linaje, is the result of 15 years of research and hard work to understand the variety. 48% of the total has been made with selected grapes that filled a tank and left it to macerate for 8 days (usually done for hours). Then it is uncovered and fermentation is expected. Then there is a 10% low trellised vine where a great job is done since they are very close to the ground and have no sun protection.
El Esteco Blend de Extremos Torrontés 2019
Lastly, we spoke with Claudio Maza from Bodega El Esteco who, unlike Rafael Domingo, believes that the future of Torrontés should not be considered by area.
It seems to me that Torrontés has quite an important diversification.
Certain parameters such as height or sun exposure mean that there are
differentiations of places, but there is also the hand of man
Claudio refers to a common thread in the Valleys (power, terpenes, intensity) but there is not a single Torrontés. He bases his denial on the fact that there are different genetic components, different human hands, and therefore he believes it is difficult to zone.
He remarked that El Esteco was a pioneer in finding wines with good acidity. That is what foreign customers were looking for: “6 or 7 bottles out of 10 that are exported from the Valley are from El Esteco.”
According to Claudio, it is a niche variety. Torrontés is not the focus and this means that the possibility of superior growth is lost.
Giving a socioeconomic vision, Claudio says that small producers are having a hard time and need middle management policies that allow them to better develop their vineyards so that genetics are not lost and the wineries that buy the grapes do not lose the quality of the wines.
The Blend de Extremos has components from two zones with different heights and soil differences. The first 50% comes from Chañar Punco, Santa María, Catamarca, at 2000 masl. Work is done in concrete eggs and tanks that favor thiolate and pyrazines.
The second 50% is from the Cafayate Valley, Salta, where there are deeper, sandy soils. 30% is fermented in new “Perlé” barrels and is aged on the lees for 8 months. Then it is bottled and rests for 4 more months.
The oak enhances the fruitiest part of Torrontés with citrus notes such as orange peel. On the palate it is a fatty wine, with good acidity and good volume. This wine needs some food.
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This note arose as a chronicle of a clinic on Torrontés Calchaquí carried out by Argentinian Wine Bloggers, along with the four winemakers named, which I originally published in El Vino del Mes.