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updated: 3/7/2012 1:24 PM

Argentina's Torrontes a grape worth getting to know

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I had planned a column about Torrontes that undiscovered grape and its delicate, dry-ish wines trickling into suburbs from Argentina just in time to pair with delicate Springtime dishes.

Then, I contacted Wines from Argentina and learned I was a bit behind the times.

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First, it?s no trickle. There?s a steady current of Torrontes, with US shipments up 11 percent. When I requested samples available in the Chicago area, I expected maybe five labels; I received 24.

Secondly, after 72 sniffs, slurps and spits, I know that ?delicate, dry-ish? describes one style from the one label that introduced me (and most Americans) to Torrontes, in the few vintages I tasted.

In fact, Torrontes styles are all over the map, but whether that map correlates to Argentina?s vast wine map is too soon for this palate to tell.

So, I simplified the spectrum into basic styles, in the 2010 vintage unless otherwise noted (with region, suggested price and local distributor to help source your favorites):

Herbal, for a Sauvignon Blanc alternative

Torino "Don David Finca La Primavera No. 3" (Cafayate, $19.99, Southern): Partial fermentation and maturation in new American oak, along with malo-lactic fermentation, compel full flavors, that nonetheless express rich herbality. Serve with rich dishes (grilled salmon with herbs, meats with chimichurri, paella).

Finca Las Nubes 2011 (Cafayate, $18, Cream): Refreshing herbality with a dash of citrus zest.

Fruit and flowers, for a Riesling or Pinot Grigio alternative

Santa Julia (Mendoza, $10-ish, Heritage): A round, refreshing palate of citrus and tropical fruits with soft acidity make this a delicious complement to sweeter seafood (lobster, crab Louis salad), egg dishes and creamy cheeses. (Look also for Santa Julia's "Innovacion," with a dash of Pinot Grigio for light, dry-ish, tart flavors; best bang for the buck, 1.5-liter for $10-ish.)

Mi Terruno Uvas (Mendoza, $10-ish, Kern): Ripe stone fruit flavors that lean uniquely toward apricot and honey make this a Chardonnay alternative to serve with white meats and seafood prepared with butter.

Gauchezco (see Ross' Choice).

Somewhere in between

Manos Negras (San Juan, $15, Wine Cru): Balanced complexity with citrus and stone fruit flavors (from a dash of Viognier), mixed with a sprinkle of herbs and minerals and brisk acidity.

Trivento Reserve (Mendoza, $10-ish, Wirtz): Clean and rich with ripe apricot and herb flavors.

Finally, I learned that Torrontes has responded to the reportedly "excellent" 2010 vintage with alcohol levels above 13.5 percent and acidity that even this acid freak deems powerful. Wines benefited from a full day open to blossom flavors.

These wines will overpower delicate dishes and ignite spicy cuisines. Turn instead to flavorful, somewhat fatty dishes, such as smoked meats and rich pasta, especially pesto. Argentineans enjoy Torrontes with stew like carbonara with sweet potatoes or peaches and served in a butternut squash, and their traditional spring dish, locro with meat, beans and corn, so integral to Argentine culture it has its own Locro Day, May 25, Argentina's Independence Day.

I know what wine I plan to celebrate with. I promise it won't be difficult to find one you like.

• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at food@dailyherald.com.

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