You know that game that psychologists play? They give you a word and ask you to say the first thing that comes to mind. Well, today's word is Spain and as I say it images of Matadors waving red capes at bulls, flamenco dancers clicking castanets and Spanish sherry flash through the grey matter. But the vinous side of Spain is much more than sherry especially when you consider the fact that Spain is actually the third largest wine producing country in the world and they've many 'indigenous' grape varieties that make their wines unique, varieties like Tempranillo, Spain's most famous wine grape.
Torres Wines is based in Barcelona and they are undoubtably one of the best-known Spanish wine brands. They export to 130 countries, so it must be true. I have to say that it was one of the first Spanish wine brands that I ever heard of, Sherry brands aside of course.
You could almost regard Miquel Torres as 'The vinous King of Spain'. His family has a 300-year association with wine and built their first winery over 200 years ago. Torres Wines quickly gained respect and prestige. But it's not just the Spanish vineyards the Torres name is associated with now. There are also vineyards in California and it's just been announced that they will expand to Chile.
Torres has also established itself as a very modern winemaker and has bucked tradition by welcoming screwcap closures. The first wine to sport the metallic screwcap is the Viña Esmeralda, reviewed below, but they are considering other wines for the closure, according to Juan Ramon who visited New Zealand a couple of weeks ago to show off his company's Spanish wines.
José Fernandez, an ex-patriate Spaniard who now regards New Zealand as his home, is also affectionately known to his many wine industry friends as 'The King of Spain'. It's not surprising that José works in the wine biz for Eurowine. So who better to give the King of Spanish wine brands to, to distribute than José. I tasted the wines a couple of weeks ago. Prices are the recommended retail in New Zealand and are in NZ dollars.
Torres Gran Viña Sol 2001
A blend of Chardonnay and Parellada, an indigenous Spanish variety, this is a pale gold, fragrant, creamy, nutty, lemony, sherbety wine with candied pineapple and later a honeycomb complexity. It's got good weight and length and a long savoury finish that is slightly salty. I found this to be fantastic food match to several of the tapas dishes we were presented with to taste with the wines - it was easily the most food-friendly wine of the line-up. I'm a little confused, however, as Juan told us no oak but the generic notes say a small portion was fermented in oak. If there is any oak, it is not very obvious. Does it really matter? Buy it anyway and try with some of the food suggestions below. 13.5% alc. $21.95.
Torres Viña Esmeralda 2002
A blend of Gewurztraminer and two types of Muscat grapes, the musky muscat aromas are pronounced on the nose. It's delicately floral with rose flavoured Turkish Delight becoming quite powerful as the Gewurztraminer component makes itself known. There's lemon, orange and apple flavours in the palate together with rose oil and white raisins. It's a light wine, an aperitif style and I can imagine it with bubbles, served very chilled on a hot summer's day. There's an ever so slightly savoury nuance on the fruity finish and the length is very good. I'm looking forward to seeing this in screwcaps in New Zealand, possibly as soon as the next shipment. 11% alc. $21.95.
Torres Sangre de Toro 2001
A medium pinky red colour and a raspberry cherry aroma, this blend of Grenache and Cariñena has medium tannins with vanilla, cherry and a touch of peppery spice. There's very little oak influence and the finish is dry though some sweeter jellied fruit lingers. A wine that would be good with lighter style tomato dishes. 13.5% alc. $18.95.
Torres Coronas 2000
A blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a pinky-red colour with more depth. It's smoky with liquorice scents on the nose then later a cherry fruit fragrance comes through. There's leather, plums, earth, savoury oak and a touch of peppery spice on the palate of this lively, well-balanced wine that has good tannins attuned to the fruit. In some ways it reminds me of a good Merlot that is not too fruitily sweet. It fills out well on the palate with a touch of mulled wine soaked citrus and well-defined blackcurrant dropping in on the smoky finish. Another food friendly, slightly savoury style. Recommended. 13% alc. $18.95.
Torres Gran Coronas 1999
This is exactly what I expect Spanish wine to smell like with the initial hit of sweet vanillin American oak, then maraschino cherry, smoke, tobacco and later leather and spice - and that's just the nose. It's a very savoury wine with earth, leather, rosemary (or a similar salty herb), tar and pepper with new car leather and spicy savoury oak that lingers well. There's absolutely heaps of structure and flavour with its rich dense tannins and leaves the mouth feeling spiked with its zingy oomph. A terrific wine with the cherry flavours coming back on the long rich finish. I was going to push this wine very favourably but a restaurant owner at the tasting said they have taken it off their wine list because of bottle variation. If you get a good bottle, however, you will not be disappointed. 13.5% alc. $27.95.
A mini-vertical of Mas La Plana
Mas La Plana is Torres' most prestigious red wine and it's made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. As well as the two current releases we were treated to two older vintage wines.
Torres Mas La Plana 1997
Deep garnet red, quite bright. There's tar, leather and cedary oak on the nose of this densely rich and tannic wine that coats the mouth with sweet tar and liquorice flavours together with lots of currents and spice, but it quickly shows some Bretty medicinal characters that I do not like and I found it difficult to get past this, though other people loved it. I also found it difficult to match to any of the Tapas. 13.5% alc. $66.95.
Torres Mas La Plana 1996
Garnet red with a blacky centre, there are hints of tar, leather and subtle farmyard on the nose, it's also slightly meaty, there's a scent of whole baked grapes and a floral connotation too. It's a dark tarry wine that's just starting to open up and herbal, smoky, cedary, spicy, sweet leather and currant flavours flow nicely across the palate. The finish is long and savoury. There's none of the vanillin characters that show in the older two, perhaps because this is made with 100% French oak.
This is a wonderfully structured wine, more reminiscent of Bordeaux than Spain to my antipodean palate. This wine is available now and I thoroughly recommend it. 13.5% alc. $66.95.
Torres Mas La Plana 1991
Garnet red of medium depth with pinky hues, this looks quite youthful and it tastes quite youthful too. It's a little shy on the nose but scents of maraschino cherry, spice and vanillin oak can be coaxed out. There's lot of life in the palate of this creamy wine, a seam of orange citrus gives it life and lift and there's something reminiscent of sweet cured spiced meats. It's a little grainy in texture with it furry, velvety tannins and the finish is dry and spicy. Sweet winey flavours linger with a cedary, liquorice nuance. A wine I would really enjoy drinking a couple of big glasses of. 12.5% alc. $n/a.
Torres Mas La Plana 1989
Pinky-red and fading in colour, this wine has a wonderful 'old' cedar nose with sweet American oak, subtle orange citrus and liquorice - Spanish wine as I remember it from when I was first introduced to the country's wines in the early 1990's. It's sweet and savoury with leather, tar and liquorice lifted buy the acidity. It's a little salty / savoury on the finish. Mellowing nicely and ready now. Matured in a blend of French and American oak. 13.5% alc. $n/a.
Some of the food that was served with the wines were just divine. The best match to the reds was a Roast Lamb on Borlotti Beans, Tomato and Haloumi with Anchovy Sauce and was absolutely delicious with the Coronas while the Chicken Liver with bacons, onions and mushrooms served on spinach was just scrummy and another good red wine match.
A Deep Fried Goats Cheese with Honey was excellent with the Vina Esmeralda while the Moorish Chicken Skewers on a Celeriac and Fennel Remoulade matched well to both the Gran Viña Sol and the Viña Esmeralda.
Grilled Porkbelly with Kumara and Mazanilla Cheese, the Pork Rillettes with Flatbread and Relish and the Fried Gourmet Potatoes with Chat Masala were terrific with the Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay.
Wines are imported by Eurowine and food was crafted by 'Craft'.
© Sue Courtney
29 July 2003