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Meet Miguel Torres: the man behind Spain's leading brand 

Torres is one of the most recognizable names in Spanish wine, and is the UK’s leading Spanish brand making up 7% of Spanish exports to the UK. Their big brands: Vina Sol, Vina Esmerelda and Sangre de Toro (with or without the plastic bull!) are found everywhere. And they’re consistently good wines.

Ever since I first started drinking wine in earnest, back in the early 1990s, I’ve had a soft spot for Torres. The night before I got married, among other wines, I remember sharing a bottle of the Gran Sangre de Toro with my brother and father. [Yes, not terribly grand, I know, but we were poor and I was only just discovering wine.] Over the years, the ever-reliable, fresh Vina Sol has been one of our house whites.

So I was delighted to get a chance to interview Miguel Torres and then have lunch with him at the Square, one-to-one. We also tasted through the Torres range.

Torres have 1700 hectares in Catalonia, which provides a quarter of their production. They make up the shortfall by buying in grapes, but unlike many other big companies, they don’t buy wine. Moving out of their Catalan home, they now make wine from other Spanish regions, with a 40 hectare estate in Toro, and a 140 hectare Jumilla property, of which 50 hectares is so far planted. For four years they have had a small cellar in Ribera del Duero, where there is now a surplus of grapes, so they buy these in rather than owning their own vineyards. The most recent move has been to Priorat (Catalonia’s most famous region), where they made their first wine in 2005 in a rented cellar; from last year (2007) it was made in their own winery there.

Torres was founded in 1870 and is 100% family owned. Miguel is 4th generation; the 5th generation is already in the company. In 2005 sales were 2.5 million cases, up from 600 000 in 1993. More than 1000 people are employed in the company.

Miguel Torres comes across as a modest man, but one with a quiet authority. He knows his stuff, but wears the knowledge lightly. 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). Among the interventions Miguel made on his return from sabbatical was changing the density of planting in the Torres vineyards, and adapting the canopy management. What he learned about rootstocks helped him save his sister’s vineyards in California’s Russian River Valley, where at the time everyone was planting the phylloxera-susceptible AXR1 rootstock.

The Torres family now have a family succession protocol – this is essential if you want a large family business like this to work. 65 is the retirement age, and then the boss can stay on as president until 70. This means the children know they just have to wait five years, and avoids a Mondavi-like succession crisis.

Torres as a company have taken a keen interest in the issue of global warming. In response to climate change they are buying land closer to the Pyrenees, where temperatures are cooler. They’ve also had to adjust their viticulture. ‘In the past we have wanted to advance maturation to avoid problems with botrytis from the rains’, says Miguel. ‘Now we are doing the opposite, trying to delay maturation, for example by adjusting the density of planting and playing with the canopies’. Normally the fruiting arm is 50–70 cm, but if this is made larger it delays maturation. Global warming also makes water an issue. ‘In the future we will have to irrigate more’.

As well as being Spanish giants, Torres also have a sizeable operation in Chile. ‘We went to Chile in 1979, when we were the first foreign wine company’, says Miguel. ‘My father and I agreed we should have a base in South America’. There were a number of tax advantages in producing wine in South America, so Miguel was sent out to explore Argentina and Chile, and decided to settle on Chile, for reasons of good soils, climate and people. It was a long-term investment and Torres now produce 4 million bottles in Chile, which is 1% of all exports, going to 50 different markets.

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. ‘Wine is here to stay’, says Miguel. ‘Wine in moderation is healthy’.

Torres Viña Sol 2005 Penedès, Spain
100% Parellada. ‘It’s not a fragrant grape, but when fermented properly at cool temperatures you get nice fruity aromas’, says Miguel. Bright fruity nose: crisp, fresh, a bit appley with some lemon notes. The palate is crisp and fruity with nice personality. Fresh and minerally. Delicious. 85/100

Torres Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2006 Valle Central, Chile
Quite refined grassy nose with a subtle green herbal note, with some passion fruit. The palate is fruity with a nice herbal tang. Tasty. 85/100 (UK retail £5.99)

Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2004 Conca de Barbera, Spain
Single vineyard, fermented in new Nevers oak. Quite rich. Sweetly fruited nose with smooth creamy coconut and vanilla notes. The palate is quite broad, smooth and nutty, with a creamy texture. Stylish and nicely poised if currently a bit oaky. 89/100 (£19 UK retail)

Torres Maquehua Cordillera Chardonnay 2005 Curico, Chile
Ripe, rich and dense with an interesting melony green herbal character to the fruit. Quite full and fruity with oak in the background. Full flavoured but showing some restraint. 89/100

Torres Viña Esmerelda 2006 Catalunya, Spain
Moscatel with a bit of Gewürztraminer. Pretty, bright and quite aromatic with sweet grapey fruit. There’s a hint of lychee, too. A fresh, pretty wine with a bit of sweetness (c. 10 g/litre residual sugar). 87/100

Torres de Casta Rosé 2005 Catalunya, Spain
Pink/orange colour. Bright strawberry fruit nose leads to a vibrant palate with lovely fruit. Hint of sweetness. 83/100

Torres Sangre de Toro 2005 Catalunya, Spain
A blend of 65% Grenache with 35% Carignan. Aged for six months in a mix of American and French oak, of which half is new. Deep coloured. Juicy, ripe and sweetly fruited but with a tangy savoury edge and some spiciness. Nice balance: a food-friendly wine. 86/100

Torres Coronas 2004 Catalunya, Spain
Tempranillo with a dash of Cabernet, aged for nine months in French and American oak, of which half is new. Slightly closed black fruits nose which is quite pure. The palate shows good dense, slightly sweet fruit with some tarry, spicy underpinning. A broad, full wine with a nice spicy finish. Very good commercial winemaking. 88/100

Torres Santa Digna Merlot Reserva 2004 Valle Central, Chile
Distinctly Chilean, with ripe blackcurrant fruit nose. Pure and sweet. The palate is ripe and smooth with a bit of spice, as well as a tiny hint of greenness. Drinkable stuff. 83/100

Marimar Estate ‘Don Miguel Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2002 Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
From a 40 Ha estate bought in California in the early 1980s, run by Miguel’s sister Marimar. Ripe, smooth, quite sweet berry fruit nose. Quite full but not jammy. The palate is concentrated and full with lots of ripe, sweet fruit and some spicy tannic structure. Some meatiness here. 90/100

Torres Celeste 2004 Ribera del Duero, Spain
Aged 12 months in Frenc (75%) and American oak, of which a third was new. This is a stylish wine. Smooth dark chocolatey richness to the nose, which shows ripe fruit. The palate is firm but has a lovely sweet black and berry fruit character with suppleness and elegance. There’s a tight, spicy structure underneath. Forward but with a good future ahead of it. 92/100

Torres Cordillera 2003 Valle Central, Chile
65% Carignan (40 year old vines, unirrigated), 25% Syrah and 10% Merlot. Nine months in Nevers oak (30% new). Dark colour. Lovely ripe, sweet spicy nose with a bit of meatiness and some soy notes. The palate shows dense, concentrated, ripe fruit with a savoury, spicy, meaty edge. Finishes quite tannic. An impressive wine. 92/100 (UK retail £9.99)

Torres Mas La Plana 2003 Penedès, Spain
100% Cabernet from the Mas La Plana vineyard; old vines (40+ years), aged for 18 months in new French oak. This is the famous ‘black label’ wine. Lovely bright fresh, deep dark fruits nose with a minerally, tarry edge. The palate is fresh and vivid with a mineralic edge to the bright fruits. Good grippy tannins provide structure, and there’s high acidity giving definition and focus. A very nice wine, like modern Bordeaux in style. 93/100

Torres Grans Muralles 2001 Conca de Barbera, Spain
Made from a selection of ancient Catalan grape varieties: Monastrell, Garnacha, Garró, Samsó and Cariñena, planted in a single vineyard. Aged for 18 months in new Tronçais oak, thin grain selection. Smooth, ripe, sweet nose with a hint of coconut and vanilla. A bit closed. The palate is smooth and supple with sweet fruit and elegant structure. There’s a bit of a spicy bite, and some minerality on the finish. Lots of potential for further development. 91/100

See also: the wines of Marimar Torres

Wines tasted 10/06  
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