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.