Sunday, April 29, 2012

Marimar Torres shows her wines in Vancouver

Photo: Marimar Torres

A member of Spain’s best-known wine family, Marimar Torres moved to San Francisco in 1975 to promote Torres wines in the United States.

In 1986, backed by the family, she planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in the Sonoma Valley. Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery released its first wines in 1991 and has gone on to become one of Sonoma’s leading boutique producers.

Last week, she was in British Columbia to get more of her wines into this market. She already has a peripheral connection to British Columbia: her winemaker is Napa consultant Bill Dyer, who made the first seven vintages at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and subsequently consulted on several vintages for Church & State Wines.

The Torres family’s history in wine began in 1870 when Jaime Torres returned to Spain with a Cuban fortune and teamed up with a brother to launch the business. Jaime is remembered today for building the world’s largest wine vat (600,000 litres). It was destroyed when the winery was bombed during the Spanish Civil War.

The winery was rebuilt in 1940 by the leader of the family’s next generation, Miguel Torres, to whom the honorific “Don” was applied through much of his life, perhaps because he was hard-driving and somewhat imperious. He was still influencing the business when he died in 1991 at age 81, having been succeeded by his son, Miguel A. Torres, Marimar’s brother.

Miguel A., who was born in 1941, studied enology in France. When he joined the family business in 1962, he persuaded his father to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, along with other French vinifera. The winery’s reputation moved to a higher level in 1979 when a Cabernet Sauvignon from Torres won top honours in the so-called wine Olympics in Paris.

According to a recent article in the Irish Times, Miguel A. was “frustrated by the length of time it took his own father … to hand over the reins.” So he laid down a policy that managing directors should retire at 70.  He has not retired yet himself. But when he does, there are two family members being groomed. His daughter, Meriea, is the winery’s technical director, and his son, Miguel Torres Jr., is running the major winery that the family established in Chile in 1979.

By basing herself in California, Marimar (who was once married to wine critic Robert Finnegan) has carved out a respected and independent place in wine while acknowledging the family heritage and its Catalan roots.

The first vineyard planted in Sonoma, 60 acres in size, is called the Don Miguel Vineyard. A more recently planted 12-acre vineyard is called Doña Margarita, for her late mother. Both have adopted organic viticulture in 2003 and are moving toward biodynamic methods.

The winery, which opened to the public in 1993 and has a capacity of 15,000 cases, is designed like a Catalan farm house.

And in the family tradition, Marimar, who was born in 1945, is being joined in the California winery by daughter Cristina, an economics major at Princeton University.

This is also a literate family. Marimar has written two cookbooks: The Catalan Country Kitchen and The Spanish Table: The Cuisines and Wines of Spain.  Her brother, Miguel A., has written a number of highly-regarded books on Spanish wine.

While the Torres wineries in Spain and in Chile have developed large portfolios of varietals and blends, Marimar Estate is tightly focussed just on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. That reflects the varieties best suited to the two cool vineyards, which are six and 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The cool growing conditions show through in the vivid and fresh fruit flavours of the wines.

Here are notes on the wines that can be found in various private wine stores in Vancouver (such as Legacy, Kitsilano Wine Cellars and Dundarave Wine Cellars). The prices shown here are suggested retail prices in California. Expect the Canadian prices to be somewhat higher.

Marimar Estate “Acero” 2009 Chardonnay (US$29). This is an exceptional unoaked Chardonnay, vibrant with aromas of lime and tangerine and with flavours of tropical fruits, including tangerines. Acero is Spanish for steel, the wine having been fermented and aged in stainless steel. 90.

Marimar Estate “La Masía” 2009 Chardonnay (US$35). La Masía is Catalan for farm house. This is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay, with notes of honey and tropical fruit on the nose and with flavours grapefruit, stone fruit, apples, hazelnut and spice – a very complex and satisfying wine. 92.

Marimar Estate “Dobles Lías” 2008 Chardonnay (US$45). The name means double lees – the wine had extended lees contact in the barrel, resulting in a toasty and rich texture. The flavours recall honey and marmalade with subtle oak notes. 90.

Marimar Estate “La Masia” 2007 Pinot Noir (US$39). This is a bright, charming Pinot Noir, loaded, as the winery’s own notes say, “with black cherry flavours.” I also found raspberry and mocha. 90.

Marimar Estate “Mas Cavalls” 2007 Pinot Noir (US$44). Mas Cavalls is Catalan for horse farm because the winery also has an equestrian centre near the vineyard. This is a stunning Pinot Noir, with rich layers of flavour – black cherry, wild strawberry, spice, even earth notes. It is what the critics would call “barnyard” and that is positive. 92.

Marimar Estate “Cristina” 2007 Pinot Noir (US$49). This wine is a special selection of 20 barrels that the winery believes shows the best of the terroir of the Don Miguel Vineyard. It is rich on the palate, with black cherry, plums and blackberry flavours. The texture is classically seductive. 93.


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