Muscat's Argentine cousin, Torrontes, has seen a huge increase in popularity over the last decade. The variety yields light, scented white wines with moderate-to-high acidity, recognized for their sleek texture and distinctive aromas reminiscent of Muscat and Gewurztraminer. Torrontes growth in popularity has been fueled to a large extent by the export market, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom, helping to make it the most extensively planted white variety in Argentina, surpassing Argentina's previous leaders in white grape tonnage, Pedro Gimenez and Ugni Blanc. At this point, Torrontes accounts for over a tenth of all white grape plantings in Argentina and over a fifth of all white wine sold in the country.
Until recent years, it was believed that Argentine Torrontes was actually the same variety as the Spanish Torrontes grape, also known as Albillo Mayor, grown in Galicia. Not only is this untrue, but there are actually three varieties of Torrontes in Argentina, all indigenous. Torrontes Riojano, which recent DNA evidence suggests is a cross between the Mission and Muscat of Alexandria grape, is by far the most popular and aromatic, accounting for the majority of wines labeled Torrontes. Torrontes Riojano is grown primarily throughout northern Argentina's La Rioja (where it is the dominant grape) and Salta provinces. In Salta, where the export market's most recognizable Torrontes are made, vines are found in sandy vineyards set at extremely high elevations, often 1600+ feet above sea level. These cool, windy, rugged conditions give Salta's Torrontes its high acidity and distinctive, sharp aromas. In recent years, extreme altitude plantings (1700+ meters) have had success in the Calchaquies Valleys in northern Argentina.
Torrontes Sanjuanino, another crossing of Mission and Muscat of Alexandria, is the second-most-cultivated Torrontes variety, found mostly in the province of San Juan. As of the late 2000s, there were approximately 12,000 acres of Torrontes Sanjuanino under cultivation (as compared to 21,000 acres of Riojano). The least-planted, and most genetically distinct, of the three varieties is Torrontes Mendocino, which can be found primarily in Rio Negro, in the south of the country. Torrontes plantings can also be found in Chile, but estimations as to their extent are difficult to come by, the grapes being used mainly in Pisco, a Chilean brandy.
Though a relatively hardy, well-yielding vine, the vinification of Torrontes is a delicate process, accounting for some inconsistencies within vintages. Wines labeled Torrontes are generally light-to-medium-bodied, highly acidic, and exceptionally aromatic, with notes of citrus fruits, peach, floral oils, lichee, and brown spices. While often compared to Muscat (not unjustly), many of these wines are reminiscent of Gewurztraminer, with a light spiciness and floral components on the nose. Perfect as an aperitif, or paired with spicy cuisine- Thai and Szechuan are especially good matches. However, one important note to consumers: these wines do not age very well, and should ideally be drunk within a year or two of the vintage date.