Lunch at Arbutus with Marimar Torres

california chardonnay pinot noir

Lunch at Arbutus with Marimar Torres

Had lunch today with Marimar Torres and her daughter Cristina at Arbutus, in Soho. It was my first visit to Arbutus, and I loved the food, although the dining room is noisy and quite basic. The food is serious, and much better than the environment. I had warm, crisp pig’s head with potato puree and pickled turnip (which was great, although the turnip had a slightly musty taint), followed by a grilled piece of beef, salsify and bone marrow gratin (just perfect).

Marimar is the second generation of the Torres wine dynasty, and sister of Miguel Torres Jr who until last year ran the Torres wine venture in Spain. Her father was very clear what he wanted from her: his expectation was that she should marry someone with lots of money, and preferably in the wine business. [She drew an analogy with Downton Abbey, which both her and Cristina love.] She ended up marrying an American, who had no money – a wine critic. And she ended up in California, thousands of miles away from Torres family control. ‘So my father had a fit,’ says Marimar.

The critic in question was Robert Finigan. Marimar met him in 1973, just after he had begun publishing ‘Robert Finigan’s Private Guide to Wines’, and they got married in 1975. ‘He bought the wines he wrote about and wouldn’t accept samples,’ says Marimar. ‘He was a brilliant taster and a brilliant writer. Having no money didn’t mean we had no life.’

The marriage lasted 4 years, and they divorced in 1979. After the divorce, Marimar began to lobby her father to start a wine venture in California, and he agreed in 1981. After a two year search, the property that is now the Don Miguel Vineyard in Russian River Valley was purchased in 1983. But Marimar had little practical knowledge. ‘In Spain I was never allowed to study viticulture and oenology,’ she says.

There was still little support from the Spanish side of the family, but when her brother Miguel realised she was serious about planting a vineyard, he came over and helped, advising on high density plantation and also east to west row orientation.

The high density planting costs 2-2.5 times the cost of running a low density planting in California, because of the vigour of the soils. But it produces good results. The east to west row orientation, however, is a big problem here because of the sunlight intensity. In 1992 Marimar made her first Pinot, and was proud of it. But her brother said the alcohol was too high (14.2%). So the next year she picked at 13.5%, and made ‘the least interesting Pinot I have ever made.’

I like these wines a lot. The two Chardonnays we tried, the Acero 2009 and La Masia 2009, are both fruit driven with nice richness and also good acidity. They are miles away from the typical rich, buttery California style.

The Pinots are quite serious, with a savoury, spicy dimension as well as lovely sweet fruit profiles, straddling old and new worlds with good effect. My favourite is the 2006 Dona Margarita Mas Cavalls, which shows particular elegance.

Marimar Estate Dona Margarita Vineyard Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2006 Sonoma Coast, California
Very fresh, supple and fine with expressive cherry and plum fruit, with some spicy, mineral undertones, as well as subtle hints of earth and undergrowth. Sleek and supple with fine texture and some elegance. 94/100


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wine journalist and flavour obsessive

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  1. Christina popped in to see us recently – and have to say I agree with you – I think its the use of Oak that seperates all the wines from a lot of California which I often find too much oak- or perhaps too high a toast on the oak that is there might be a better description. These seemed to me to have a fruit purity that too often lacks in wines from this neck of the woods.

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