2005 La Yunta Torrontés Riojana, La Rioja, Argentina

I’m always looking for good wines to go with Chinese food. Especially around the holidays, when we eat with my Chinese in-laws. I like to drink wine with meals, and so does Ruth, but we haven’t yet found the perfect wine for her country’s cuisine. We enjoy Gewurztraminer with certain dishes, or Verdelho with others, an occasional Austrian Riesling or Gruner Veltliner, but we haven’t quite hit on one that is consistently a good match with the wide variety of flavors that can be found in a proper Chinese meal. Hence, we’re constantly experimenting with different wines.

We’re visiting Ruth’s parents’ for Christmas, and consequently getting quite a lot of good Chinese food courtesy of Ruth’s mother.

I suppose I should insert a brief word here about good Chinese food to avoid any confusion: unless you’ve got Chinese in-laws who cook, or you have spent some time in China, there’s an incredibly high likelihood that you’ve never had it.

I know that sounds snotty and may be hard to believe. I had eaten an awful lot of Chinese meals before I met Ruth. Take out. Eat in. Cantonese. Szechuan. Dim sum. Chinatown in San Francisco. Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan. Chinatown in New York. Maybe hundreds of times, especially with my Jewish relatives who didn’t feel like cooking. But then Ruth took me to a really great Chinese restaurant and I realized that I had been eating at the culinary level of Denny’s all my life.

I don’t mention this to make anyone feel bad about their favorite Chinese take-out place, or to try and elevate myself above that sort of thing. I mention it because when I’m talking about pairing wine with good Chinese food, I’m not talking about finding a wine that matches Mongolian Beef, Sweet and Sour Pork, General’s Chicken or Pot Stickers. I’m talking about a wine that matches halved fresh prawns with garlic and vermicelli, whole steamed fish with ginger, cilantro and scallions, handmade Shanghai style soup-filled dumplings, pea shoots with garlic, curried whole fresh crab, and dozens of dishes whose ingredients don’t have any English translation, let alone an English name for the dish itself.

Knowing that Ruth’s mom was going to cook up a storm this holiday season, I brought down this wine that I picked up on a whim one day while passing through one of my local wine stores. With a bottle of good sake as backup, we pulled it out last night over an 8 course dinner and it was a major hit for all of us. Ruth’s dad, who never drinks more than a sip of wine, had three glasses and was asking for more. The low alcohol content, nice acidity, and slight sweetness to the wine made it a perfect match for quite a number of dishes, which ranged in tone from salty to spicy, to slightly sweet.

The La Yunta winery is a project between an Argentinean winegrower and winemaker, Norberto Moreno and an as-of-yet-undiscovered-by-me Argentinean wine lover in Graton, CA whose address, but not name, graces the back of the bottle. La Yunta means loosely, “the duo,” or a pair pulling together for their common good. The grapes are grown in the Famatina Valley of the La Rioja region of Northwest Argentina.

This wine is made from the Torrontés Riojana varietal, one of three variations of the Torrontés grape variety (the other two being Torrontés Sanjuanino and Torrontés Mendocino) found in Argentina, and is named after the region in which it grows. No one knows for sure the origins of this varietal, though some have theorized that it is a cross between Muscat and a local Argentinean varietal Criolla Chica. This would certainly fit in with the flavors of this wine, which have a little bit of Muscat’s cool melon-like aspect.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel, though 10% of it is aged in French Oak for some time before being blended back in to the final wine. 10,000 cases are produced.

Tasting Notes:
Near colorless in the glass with a slight straw tinge, this wine has a spring-like nose of fresh pears, green apple, green melon and minerals. In the mouth it is crisp with a moderate acidity and bright primary flavors of pears, apple, star fruit, and rainwater. It also seems to have just a touch of residual sugar as it finishes crisp but a little sweet.

Food Pairing:
This is the first wine I’ve found that I think is a perfect match to Chinese curried crab.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $9

This wine can be purchased online.