Wines on Fire: Torrontés and storytelling

January 30, 2010

We had a campfire last night. Despite the fact that we live in the city and our yard is compact at best, we do have a metal firepit and David likes to burn things. Sometimes at random times we light it up and have a campfire on Belmont Street.

So picture this from last night: a close dampness, later turning to a petulant drizzle; trying to keep the enthusiastic dog from wagging through the flames; a headlamp that was dying, dying, dying and; trying to read in this dying light from book of Roald Dahl short stories. I wrapped myself up in a blanket and tried to stay out of the wretched smoke.

At this last point I failed. I broke camp and re-positioned several times but kept finding myself with a faceful of caustic fumes. Why? Why was the wind direction wheeling about, touching each of the 360 degrees of the compass at least once or thrice?

“Close your eyes and say ‘I hate rabbits, I hate rabbits.’,” said David.

“What? What the hell?”

“It’s supposed to keep the smoke away from you,” he said.

The only notion of this kind I’m familiar with is that “smoke follows beauty.” There’s an analogous Russian folkism, if memory serves, but maybe it’s the opposite, that smoke is attracted to the ugly duckling in the fireside group. Are there more of these odd, campfire smoke-banishing rituals out there?

Also fireside, we tried a bottle of 2009 Alamos Torrontés. Torrontés is an Argentinian grape that makes extremely aromatic white wines with both floral and fruity characteristics. This was a mouthful of peach cologne. I half expected the wine to be salmon-colored. In all, a wholly (seasonally) inappropriate, if inexpensive ($9.99 from Great Wine Buys on NE Broadway) quaff. This was summer in a redolent capsule of jasmine and tangerine peel. It felt bizarre to sip on it while staring into the flames, barely-over-freezing needly drops of mist falling onto the page of the book from which I was attempting to read.

This feels like a wine for barbecues and light-hearted warm parties at dusk, on patios. Torrontés is gaining acceptance in the marketplace, if slowly, especially because it apparently appeals to chicks. The Alamos wine was from Salta, one of two places in Argentina that Torrontés has a strong presence. The Salta wines are supposed to be crisper than their Mendoza counterparts; the Mendoza Torrontés tend to be more robust and show-offy. Apparently.

2009 Alamos Torrontes, and also a campfire on Flickr

2009 Alamos Torrontes, and also a campfire

David and I sipped and fed the fire and argued about the acidity of the wine. In my opinion, it had a bracing, vibrating aura that I generally attribute to a good acid presence in whites. The Internets claim that Torrontés can be a bright, crisp wine, another pointer towards acidity. However, the Alamo Torrontés, immediately after uncorking, smelled flabby or soft-edged. And the trump card is that, apparently, my husband owns a pH meter (I learn something new about my own household every day) and it clocked it at 3.9. 3.9 sounds pretty sharp, but most wines tend to float in somewhere around 3.5.

Wait, wait, though. We’re not done yet with this acidity argument (can you kind of hear us going back and forth over this in your mind? Because that’s how it was.). Turns out:

However, there is no direct connection between total acidity and pH (it is possible to find wines with a high pH for wine and high acidity).

—Wikipedia entry on Acids in Wine

And with that I return to my prior claim: There is some acid in this wine. I finished my glass, staring at flames, growing damper as the night disgorged its moisture, thinking about how Torrontés thrives in wild, windswept, dry places. I wouldn’t mind going there about now.

Campfire in pit, a conflagration

Sources and Further Reading about Torrontés

“What does pH actually stand for, David?”

“Ffffffffffffffff,” said David.


  1. Todd says:

    First, David is right that you’re supposed to say “I hate rabbits” when getting a faceful of smoke. I learned that in Boy Scouts. Maybe he did, too? No idea where it actually comes from, though.

    Second, we had a bottle of Torrontes this week, as well. Completely inappropriate with the meal we ate it with, but yes, it was like a glass full of flowers. Not necessarily in a bad way, but certainly an ill-advised pairing. I need to revisit it, without the meal context.

    Third, I assume you’ve looked up what “pH” actually means. If not, I’ll have Julia chime in.

  2. Beeman says:

    I’ve always heard it as “I hate dead rabbits”. Which I find more appealing, because really, who doesn’t hate dead rabbits? Well, except, I suppose, for the delicious cooked ones.

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