jamie goode's wine blog

Friday, February 20, 2009

Facing fear with a Torres ski wine

Trysil is a fantastic place to come skiing. The snow here has been perfect. There are plenty of slopes, catering for skiers of varying abilities. And despite the fact that it's the winter holdiday for east Norway, the resort doesn't feel crowded and there aren't long queues for the lifts.

Today I faced my fear a bit. I'm not keen on heights. Wimpy, I know, but I can't help it - it's not like you can rationalize these things. But I took a chair lift, which for agarophobics is pretty full on. And then I skied down a run beyond my ability. However, I only wiped out twice - once at some ferocious speed where I just couldn't carry on!

My ski wine has been Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2004, purchased for £8 from 'duty free' at Stansted. It's actually quite nice, and I managed to make it last three days. It has a strong oak imprint, but in this case it's not the sickly vanilla and coconut that is the besetting sin of so much Spanish wine, but a sort of spicy, cedary character that melds well with the warm, plummy blackcurrant fruit. It's not the sort of wine you set out to buy, but if you find it on a restaurant list where there's not much good stuff, or in a limited selection such as Stansted 'duty free', it's a safe, satisfying bet. I think Torres are one of the most reliable of the big wine brands.
The good news is that I wandered down into town today and found a Vinmonopolet shop. I purchased four bottles of wine. We're now sorted for a few more days.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Priorat from Torres

Torres make some of Spain's best wine brands. I love Vin Sol, Vina Esmeralda is fun, and Sange de Toro isn't bad. They also make some impressive high-end wines, and this - the latest addition to their portfolio - is a rather impressive, if slightly 'modern' Priorat. Similar soils, and not all that dissimilar climate to the Douro in northern Portugal, and there's certainly a sort of kindred spirit here with high-end Douro wines. This is the top wine from their Priorat project - the regular Salmos was released a while back (see my review here).

Torres 'Perpetual' Salmos 2005 Priorat, Spain
Old vine Carignan and Grenache from steeply sloped schistous (licorella) soils, with 16 months in French oak, weighing in at 15% alcohol. This is quite delicious, although it currently shows itself in a ripe, 'modern', slightly oaky style (although there's certainly enough fruit here to stand up to the oak). Beautifully dense, quite complex black fruit character at its core, with ripeness yet freshness. There's a floral, mineral lift to the nose, as well as some oak spice, and the palate is dense and quite structured, with a chocolatey, spicy edge to the forward fruit. The tannins lurking under the fruit suggest that this is a wine with a good deal of evolution ahead of it. It's rich, likeable and a bit oaky now, but with a few years in bottle I reckon it will hit a point of beautiful balance. It's one of those wines you can drink very happily now, but wish you'd waited a few years before popping the cork. Serious. 93/100 (£17.99 Fareham Wine Cellar)
here's the wine on Torres' website

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Torres and Tuscany

Had a tasting, lunch and lots of tecchie chat with Mireia Torres, daughter of Miguel and technical director for all Torres' wines. We began by tasting all the Torres Chilean wines, and then lunched at La Trompette in Chiswick, which performed very well, getting my two dishes just right. I'm quite a fan of the Torres wines: their strength is that they do commercial winemaking very, very well, and their higher end wines aren't bad either. As an example, with lunch we had Grans Muralles 1998, and it was singing: evolved but still very fresh, bright and focused. And their two top Chilean wines - the spicy Carignan-dominated Cordilleira 2005 and the lush Conde de Superunda 2000 with Tempranillo, Cabernet, Mourvedre and Carmenere - rank among the very best that Chile has to offer. I also like the Marimar Torres wines from California.

Switching from Torres to Tuscany, I'm drinking a wine I can't make my mind up about, but which I think I like.
Villa Cafaggio San Martino 2001 IGT Toscana
This is a wine I'm enjoying quite a bit, but which leaves me unsure about whether it's truly serious or not. It's a wine made from different clones of Sangiovese in Chianti (so why is it an IGT Toscana?), aged in new small oak barrels. Weighing in at 14% alcohol this is quite deep coloured. It has a fresh, bright nose that's more red fruit than black, with some lifted spice complementing the tight fruit. The palate is mouthfilling, tannic and quite extracted, dominating by bright red fruits with a vivid spicy, grippy character that leaves the mouth feeling quite dry. There's certainly a lot going on here: I really like the freshness of fruit, I appreciate the savouriness, but I struggle a bit with the rather agressive spiciness, some of which I suspect has its origin in the new oak. Is this wine overextracted and lacking in elegance? Will the dry tannins outlive the fruit? Or is it a serious wine caught early in its youth? I like the fact that it's not soupy and overripe, so I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt. Very good/excellent 93/100 (c. £23 Waitrose, D Byrne, Sandhams, Upton on Severn Wines, Satchells, Wine Times, Wright Wine)

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Californian Pinot Noir with a Spanish twist

Played football again for the first time in a while last night, and remarkably I'm not too stiff today. And this evening, quite by chance, I met one of my PhD supervisors for the first time in more than a decade. I suppose it's Tony's fault that I even did a PhD. As a rather immature 21 year old I'd just finished my degree, got one of the five firsts that were awarded in the life sciences that year (which surprised a lot of people, including myself), and sort of fancied the idea of becoming a scientist (I was desperately ignorant of any other career options, to be honest). Tony is one of those guys who is utterly likeable and easy to hang out with, and the thought of working for him, in a department I was already familiar with, was a very appealing one. It was great to catch up with him again - and almost bizarrely, it was because he was attending a lecture on the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. I quickly reassured him that most of what he was about to hear was bollocks because of confounding (a rather brutal summary, but one with more than a grain of truth to it) and the best reason for drinking red wine is because it tastes nice and is mildly intoxicating. Meeting Tony reminded me of how much I enjoyed my time as a PhD student - it would have been fun to work as an academic.

Tonight I'm drinking Californian Pinot Noir. One of my guilty secrets is that I've quite liked many of the Californian Pinots that I've tried. I guess Pinot Noir in California, despite the Sideways effect, hasn't been touched by quite the degree of pretension and price escalation that has bedeviled Californian 'Cabs'. The wine in question is from Marimar Torres' Sonoma estate. If you are approaching Pinot Noir from a Burgundian perspective, then this is pumped up on steroids with bulging biceps and pecs that look like rather taut breasts. But what I like about it is that it is savoury and quite complex, with a similar sort of flavour profile as an extremely cool climate mountain Syrah. It has the structure to age, and isn't tarted up with sweet fruit.

Marimar Estate Dona Margarita Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Sonoma Coast, California
From a 12 acre organic vineyard six miles from the Pacific, with 2340 vines per acre (high density) trained low. 62% Pommard clone and 38% Dijon 115 clone. Aged in a mix of half new and half one year old French oak barrels for 11 months before being bottled unfiltered. This wine has a deep colour, with a nose of sweet dark cherry and blackberry fruit, complemented with a bit of spicy oak. It needs a bit of time to open out. The palate shows lovely savoury dark fruits with a firm spicy structure. It's fresh, purely fruited and focused with some elegance, but it is currently quite primary and tannic, with a bit of high class oak evident. There's some nice earthy complexity, together with the faintest hint of rhubarb. There's some real potential for development here: quite a serious, full-on expression of Pinot Noir, albeit at quite a high alcohol level (14.5%). I'm impressed. Very god/excellent 92/100

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Miguel Torres

Torres is one of the world’s great wine companies. They’re currently pumping out 2.5 million cases a year (up from around 650 000 back in 1993), and yet the quality is remarkably consistent across the range. I challenge you to find a better sub £5 white than their Vina Sol, which is fresh, bright, a little minerally and relatively low in alcohol. And their Sangre de Toro is a remarkably consistent Mediterranean red, with a bit of spicy structure underpinning ripe, plummy fruit. Then moving up in their range there’s the lovely Fransola Sauvignon Blanc, which has just a touch of oak in the background bringing roundness. At the top end of the range the Grans Muralles and Mas de Plana are very smart indeed. It’s hard to find a weak link in their broad line-up.

I had a tasting with Miguel Torres and then lunched with him at The Square. He’s a charming, understated sort of guy who, as you would expect, is as sharp as a button and knows his stuff. Back in 1982, when there were problems with the family succession (his father wouldn’t retire and let go of the company), Miguel took a sabbatical year out and went and studied at Montpellier, brushing up his winemaking and viticulture knowledge. When he returned to the company he brought this new knowledge back and applied it. Today Torres spend €3 million a year on their viticultural and winemaking research, tackling some of the hot topics in wine science. For example, they are working with precision viticulture (which aims at measuring natural variation across a vineyard with a view to using this information for differential management to improve quality), and are developing near infrared spectroscopy methods for non-destructive in-vineyard analysis of grape anthocyanins (which means that they can then pay growers according to quality much more accurately than, for example, measuring sugar and acid levels).

How does he see the global wine market, current and future? At the moment, he says, the market is difficult. Back in 2000 he was making double the profit per case than he is now. There’s an excess in supply globally. In the past, wine was largely a European thing and distillation and grubbing up vines could deal with this excess production. Now though the surplus is not just a European thing and so this is no solution. But there’s hope. The difference between excess and production and excess demand is just a glass of wine. He also reckons the future for Spain is much brighter than for France, because Spain has brands, which France largely lacks.

It was kind of weird to be lunching alone with Miguel Torres himself. It wasn’t so long ago I was just a novice wine geek buying Torres wines and reading the detailed tasting notes on the back label which were written by Miguel himself. Perhaps the best thing about being a modestly successful wine hack is the access you get to the top people in the wine trade. As I’ve said before, it’s like being a diehard football fan and getting to lunch with Stuart Pearce.

Just a note on the Square. I went with high expectations and wasn’t disappointed. The food was stunningly good—almost perfect, actually. The service impressed greatly. It was attentive, but not overbearing, pushy or self-conscious. It was also fast, which for lunch is great. Things appeared when we wanted them to. We were complicated customers because we were trying five different Torres wines, and this didn’t seem like a problem at all (corkage was charged at a reasonable £10 per bottle). It’s really hard to do service to this sort of standard. I’m reluctant to judge a restaurant on just one showing, but it seems that The Square is pretty near the top when it comes to London restaurants.

Full interview to follow on the main wineanorak site soon.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lunching well: The Square

Just off for lunch at The Square in Mayfair. One of the benefits of being a modestly well known wine writer is that you get to eat out well at other people's expense - today it is with Miguel Torres Jr. I don't think the intention of visiting winemakers is to influence or buy journalists (I agreed to meet up before I knew where we were going); rather, it's because visiting winemakers quite like eating in nice restaurants. I've not been to The Square before - but I really enjoyed sister restaurant The Ledbury on two visits last year (courtesy of Krug and Roederer). Here's the winelist, although I suspect we'll be drinking something Spanish today.