The Torres family: winemakers in two hemispheres
By John Schreiner
November 5, 2007
A jet-lagged Miguel Torres Jr. breezed through Vancouver recently for just a single day, but to host an extraordinary tasting of the wines his family makes in Spain, in Chile and in California.
This is the first time that I have seen practically all of the Torres wines together in one room. It is a range that spans most budgets, starting at $13 and rising to almost $90, including a wonderful 20-year-old brandy that has been judged the world’s best brand two years running at the International Wine & Spirits Competition. Across the range, the products are competent, usually at attractive prices.
Miguel Torres Jr.
The first member of the family to come to this continent was then-impoverished Jaime Torres, who worked his passage to Cuba by ship in the 1860s because, as the second son, he did not inherit the family vineyards. He chanced on an opportunity to become a petroleum distributor. When he sold the business some years late for a fortune, he returned to Spain and, with brother Miguel, established the winery in 1870.
They were successful as wine exporters and built a wine vat so big that, in 1909, the Spanish king and 50 other guests had dinner inside it. During the Spanish Civil War, the winery was bombed and the vat, which had been the world’s largest, was destroyed.
The next Miguel Torres (the grandfather of the Miguel whom came to Vancouver) trained as a winemaker in France and went on to reign (almost literally) over the family firm for more than a half century. I met him once, a few years before his death, at the winery. He impressed me as an austere man, powerful and authoritarian, who demanded, and got, high standards for his wines.
He was among the first in his region of Spain (Penedès) to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery’s Cabernet, a consistent gold medalist, used to be called Coronas Black Label and now is called Mas La Plana. The wine has been famous and sought after since 1979, when it beat out a lot of bigger names to win a gold at the Paris Wine Olympics. The 2003 vintage, currently available here, costs $50 and tastes like $100.
Two of Miguel Torres’s children struck out overseas. Miquel A. Torres (father of Miguel Jr.) bought a small winery in Chile in 1979 while his sister, Miramar, bought Sonoma vineyard land in California in 1983, opening the Miramar Torres Estate winery in 1989.
There is a British Columbia connection with the California Torres winery. The winemaker is Bill Dyer, the California consultant who made Burrowing Owl’s wines from 1997 to 2004 and now makes the wines for Church & State Winery on Vancouver Island.
Currently, there are two Miramar Torres wineries available in British Columbia, a $30 Chardonnay and $50 Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay has the lean, citrus-flavoured style of cool climate Sonoma Chardonnays while the Pinot Noir is a tasty wine, with notes of strawberry and with a classic velvet finish.
The Torres winery in Chile was hugely important to the development of a modern wine industry there. The Chileans had been making wine for more than a century before Torres showed up, but when he arrived, the other wineries were making cheap, rustic wines for a society that couldn’t afford to drink much else. The wineries were so undercapitalized that they were all recycling wine bottles – not because recycling was then commendable but because they had little money for new bottles.
Torres, the first foreign vintner to invest in Chile’s wine industry, bought a fixer-upper of a winery and fixed it up, installing, for example, the first stainless steel tanks seen in any Chilean winery. He also introduced some of the modern winemaking ideas that have powered the Chileans today to make some of the world’s best wines; and certainly, some of the best values.
Most of the Torres Chile wines here are under the Santa Digna label and sell between $12 for a good Sauvignon Blanc to $20 for a delicious Carmenère. But there are also several high end wines, including a Bordeaux blend called Manso De Velusco ($44) and a Carignan/Merlot/Shiraz blend called Cordillera de los Andes ($32). Both are full-flavoured and elegant reds.
The most widely available of the Torres Spanish wines is a popular red called Sangre de Toro ($12.99). Part of its popularity may have to do with the little plastic bull hanging from the neck of each bottle. As gimmicky as that is, there is a full-flavoured red inside that bottle at a very attractive price.
A dollar more gets Coronas, a blend of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a brand with a history. It was first launched in 1907. As the winery says in a recent edition of the Torres magazine: the wine “has adapted to the tastes of different eras and taken advantage of development in vines and winemaking but without losing its personality.” It remains a tasty, fruit-forward red. There is also a Gran Coronas at $21, a little more complex perhaps.
I’d recommend springing a few more dollars to buy Torres Celeste 2004 ($26), made entirely from Tempranillo and coming from the Ribera del Duero, one of Spain’s best red wine regions. This is a wine with ripe, concentrated fruit, with tastes of spice, plums, and cherries subtly supported by oak. Or spend $42 on Torres Salmos 2005 from the Priorat region, a delicious complex red based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Syrah. Both are 90 point wines, in my view.
Top of the pyramid is Torres Gran Muralles 2001 ($83), a classic Spanish red blend with notes of currants, spice, cherries, earth and oak. 91 points.
The overall impression: outstandingly consistent quality from top to bottom of the range of these wines.
John Schreiner is author of British Columbia Wine Country