Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Miguel Torres at the Playhouse Wine Festival

Photo: Cabernet Sauvignon

There is a saying in the Spanish wine industry (and elsewhere in business, for that matter) that the first generation establishes the enterprise, the second builds and the third generation destroys it.

The odd thing is that I heard this at the Miguel Torres winery near Vilafranca in Spain. The saying certainly does not apply here. This is one of the most important and successful wineries in Spain, with the fifth generation now active in running it.

The head of the fourth generation, Miguel A. Torres (who will soon be 70, the company’s retirement age), is scheduled to preside at two events during the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival on March 30 and 31. These are hot tickets. The dinner with him is sold out and the seminar the following evening soon will be sold out.

It is possible, but not guaranteed, that he will spend a bit of time at the Torres table in the festival’s tasting room, where Spain is the theme region. Even if he is not there, there will be excellent Torres wines available (see below).

Torres ancestors have been growing grapes in the Penedès region, not far from Barcelona, since the 17th Century. The winery was started in 1870 by Jaime Torres, an entrepreneur who made his initial fortune as an oil distributor in Cuba.

The winery flourished under the second generation, Don Miguel Torres (as he is always referred to), a hard-driving taskmaster who died in 1991. The winery had become such a major producer that, in the 1920s, it built a 600,000 litre wooden vat so immense that receptions could be held in it.

In 1939, near the end of the Spanish Civil War, the Torres winery, then in the city of Vilafranca, was severely damaged by bombs and the vat was destroyed. Don Miguel rebuilt the business a few kilometres south of the city. (The Torres distillery remains at the site in Vilafranca, near the train station). In the 1950s, the winery developed a thriving export following for good wines at reasonable prices.

Photo: Torres wine museum

Miguel A. Torres, having earned a degree in enology from Dijon in France, began working in the Torres cellars in 1969. He introduced many modern winemaking practices (stainless steel tanks, controlled temperature fermentation, to name two). He also influenced Torres to expand its plantings of such varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

The world took notice of Torres wines in 1979 when the winery’s 1970 Gran Coronas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon won the gold medal at the Gault Millau Wine Olympics competition. The Spanish wine beat wines from three of the best Bordeaux producers, Latour, Pichon-Lalande and Haut-Brion. That triumph is as big a legend in Spanish wine as the 1976 victory of California wines in another famous Paris taste-off.

That wine is now called Mas La Plana, named for the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard surrounding Miguel Torres’s home near the winery. The wine is listed in British Columba for $46.99.

Photo: Torres Mas La Plana vineyard

The Torres family has a distinguished history of innovation in wine, investing in Chile in 1979, for example. The Chilean wine industry then was small and still operating with 19th century methods. Torres is believed to have been the first winery in Chile to begin fermenting and storing some wine in stainless steel, blazing a trail others soon followed.

Currently, the Torres wineries in Spain (there are several) have thrown themselves into sustainable winemaking. Torres has invested in solar panels and a wind farm to get some of its electricity. It has reduced energy consumption by building underground cellars and insulating tanks. It has converted its vehicle fleet either to hybrid vehicles or to electric. It has invested in research to reduce and capture the carbon dioxide it releases into the atmosphere. It recycles about 40% of its water.

Photo: New barrel cellars at Torres

Some of this is on display at the Torres visitor centre, a large and modern building that was opened just prior to the Barcelona Summer Olympics in 1992. The winery now draws about 100,000 visitors a year for tours, tastings and for the elegant wine museum.

It is a short taxi ride from Vilafranca which, in turn, is about an hour’s train ride from Barcelona. One could stay in Vilafranca; I did but I would admit that Vilafranca is rather tame in the evening compared with the energy of Barcelona.

Here are notes on some of the wines I tasted, with British Columbia liquor store pricing where available.

Torres Gran Viña Sol 2008: ($17.99 at Everything Wine). This is 85% Chardonnay, 15% Parellada; a wine with a fine aroma, flavours of citrus and a hint of oak, with a crisp, refreshing finish. 88.

Torres Viña Esmeralda 2009 ($14.49). This is 85% Muscat, 15% Gewürztraminer. It is an exotic white with rose petal and spice aromas and with fresh, juicy fruit flavours with a twist of tangerine and spice on the finish. 90. This will be at the wine festival.

Torres Nerola Xarel.lo 2008: This white wine is the first organic wine from Torres (the winemaker is one of Miguel’s daughters). The blend is 80% Xarel.lo and 20% white Grenache. The varietal character seems quite unique, with aromas of citrus and baked apples, flavours of baked apples, yet a lively, fresh finish. 88.

Torres Mas Borràs 2007: This is a Pinot Noir. The wine is full and fleshy, with toasty aromas and cherry flavours. It is appealing bold for the variety. 89-91.

Torres Gran Coronas 2006 Reserva ($19.49): This is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Tempranillo. The wine has aromas of eucalyptus and red berries, with flavours of currants and with firm, ripe tannins. 88. This will be poured at the festival.

Torres Celeste 2007 ($24.99): This is a Temprenillo from the winery’s vineyards in Ribera Del Duero. It is a bold, dark-hued wine with juicy flavours of black currants and figs frame with toasty oak. 89-91. This will be poured at the festival.

Torres Salmos 2007 ($44.99 at Everything Wine): This is a marvelous red from the Priorat appellation (notable for its big reds). This is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mazuelo (another name for Carignan). It begins with aromas of black cherries, plums and currants. It shows flavours of figs, prunes and chocolate. It has a big-boned structure and 15% alcohol. This is a wine for cellaring if you can find it. It is not among the 10 Torres wines currently in the British Columbia liquor stores. 91-93. This will be poured for the trade at the wine festival and some will be available in the on-site liquor store.

Torres Moscatel Oro NV ($22.99 for 500 ml in Everything Wine): This is a fortified dessert wine with delicious butterscotch and brandy flavours; it is not at all overly sweet and also would be a fine apéritif. 88.

Photo: Old vineyard plough at Torres


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