Miguel Torres: hombre
Miguel Torres is in danger of becoming a wine legend. Why danger? Well, I once asked the big man himself what it felt like to be a wine legend. His eyes widened. “Please don’t call me a legend,” he entreated. “It makes me sound old.”
So let me start by saying that Miguel Torres is not old. Mature, like some of his wines, certainly. Wise and experienced, undoubtedly. But also a man whose wits are most definitely all about him, and whose mind remains in prodigious, razor sharp form.
That said, he is retiring soon. It says much of the man that he was the one who introduced a compulsory retirement age in the company – 70, in case you’re interested – and, despite his father stubbornly remaining in charge in his dotage, Miguel is rigorously sticking by his protocol. “Problems in family firms are most often caused by family,” he notes, wryly. Miguel’s eponymous son (known as Miguel junior) and his daughter Mireia are poised to assume the reins, but their father notes that the firm is, “now looking to get the best balance between family and non-family.” In other words, Miguel Jr and Mireia will have to earn their stripes if they are to succeed. Tough love indeed.
One other incident struck me during the tasting, and it’s an aspect of Miguel’s character that I’ve noticed and admired before. It was when we were tasting the flight of Mas La Plana wines, and the 2006 was corked. Quick as a flash, he asked for the cork. In order, he said proudly, to claim a refund.
Nothing gets past this man.
And so it was we settled down, amid the Toby jugs and warship oils of Naval Club, to taste Miguel Torres’ wines. These were served in flights of six, apart from the last, and all reds were served from magnum – an important point to bear in mind, especially with reference to some of the older vintages.
Notes on the wines are as per the tasting booklet supplied by Torres. This was sometimes frustrating, as I’d have liked to know precise alcohol levels, blend percentages etc. But Miguel is not a man easily drawn on such detalia (frustrating for detail geeks like me). I’ve asked MT’s UK PR supremo Kate Sweet for details and will hopefully post them in due course. [Postscript: the ever-efficient Kate has now done this and alcohol levels are detailed below.]
(Apologies if the tasting notes below are a bit involved. This article is also being reproduced in notably high-brow wine publication Circle Update – so please take or leave any of it. Alternatively please feel free to get in touch if you want to query anything or just give me a slap for being too pretentious.)
Torres’ flagship Spanish white is an oak-aged Chardonnay grown in the Milmanda estate in Conca de Barberà, and sells at around £22. By Miguel’s own admission, this wine was made in a “New World” style in early vintages (“rich, fat, lots of fruit”) but more recently has been aiming for a fresher character. It showed.
Milmanda 1997 13% (10 months French oak)
Golden hues; super honeyed nose with notable honeycomb oxidative development. Interesting nose, but very developed. Mushrooms and old furniture. Palate is mid-weight, savoury, oxidative (aldehydic) in nature. Showing its age a bit, really, but still quite pleasant if this is your taste. A bit prickly on the finish. Lowish acid but balanced. 6/10
Milmanda 2002 14% (12 months new French oak)
Pale gold; nutty woolly notes, some development but not very expressive. Beeswax. Fresh acidity, appley, and full in palate with lots of nutty depth. Acid more prominent than the 97and it’s better for it. Light spice, savoury nutty tones. Quite warm/spicy on the finish…highish alcohol? But altogether more to it than the 97 and good as a result. Just lacks that elegance and integration on the finish of the world’s best Chards: bit prickly and “unsewn” as the French put it. 7/10
Milmanda 2004 13.5% (10 months new French oak)
Solid lemon colour. First aromas are youthful fruit – apple, pear, peach – and almost an exotic apricot/white pepper edge as if some Viognier had been blended in. Full, rich; quite unctuous in style but good acidity and tight core of minerality and ripe citrus fruit. I find this one the most satisfying so far. Yes bit prickly and broad, but also has a dense core to it that needs time and promises well, so drink from 2-6years. Good nutty savoury tones. Bit hot again. 7.5/10
Milmanda 2006 13.5% (10 months new French oak)
Lemon with golden hues. Elegant restraint on nose – beeswax, glazed fruit hints. Seems more developed than the 2004! Palate is mouth-coating, very elegant and almost unctuous in texture; umami richness. Soft, glazed, elegant – and very well balanced. Very different style to 04 but i like this – more restrained. Perhaps a bit more edgy. Almost as if wild yeast were used here and not in 04 (though Miguel certainly doesn’t mention this)…refined, rounded, glistening glazed fruit. Persistent and elegant. But drink up because it does seem a bit prematurely aged. Possibly the result of the hot conditions? 8/10 (Worth noting, though, that this was not everyone’s favourite by a long shot – Miguel himself didn’t seem to think it worked.).
Milmanda 2007 14% (12 months new French oak)
Young, fruit forward – apricot, peach, pear. Aromatic lift. Oak in background – in fact, very subdued. Palate attack is fresh and full, light spice. Palate is noticeably fresher and more lifted than previous styles, with mineral tones. Balanced, persistent. Touch of spice and heat on the finish. Seems a bit simple? Perhaps youth. Don’t let the freshness get in the way of complexity! Chardonnay needs good oaking – just to be in balance with fruit too. A transitional wine? 7/10 (But many particularly liked this one…the British palate in action?)
Milmanda 2008 14% (12 months new French oak)
Smoky pear + ripe citrus. Attack is fresh but also savoury in its nutty integration. Full, firm, grippy and engaging. I think the best of the new era. But much better oaking (perhaps a heavier year to support the oak?) And I’m a Chardonnay tart so I love the oak. Only gripe is slight heat on finish. 7.5/10 and maybe to improve.
Mas la Plana
One of the first estates that the Torres family planted when they decided to move from simply making wines from other peoples’ grapes and into owning vineyards (in the early 1960s – an initiative of Miguel’s). At that time, Californian Cabernet Sauvignon was all the rage – so they planted that.
Then, at the Gault-Millau tasting in Paris in 1979, there happened what Miguel described cutely as “an incredible accident”. The 1970 Mas La Plana (back then just the “black label”) beat the likes of Sassicaia, Châteaux Latour and La Mission-Haut-Brion in a high-profile blind tasting. “Don’t ask me how we did it,” stated Miguel with characteristic modesty, “but perhaps Latour wasn’t showing too well that day.” (This kind of understatement is typical of the man – and of course he’s very well aware how endearing it is to hear – nevertheless it’s refreshing in the world of bullish wine CEOs.)
However, Miguel did note in passing that the 1970s Mas la Plana (hereafter MLP) was now dead in the bottle – “no longer a match for Latour 1970” he commented wistfully – but that he did love the 1975. And rightly so. MLP is a wine built to age – its firm tannin and fresh acidity cry out for cellaring – in a way that defies its price tag of around £25 per bottle.
MLP 1975 12.5% (90%CS, 10 Cab Franc; 6 months in new US oak and 12 in 2nd and 3rd casks)
Pale garnet, actually quite youthful for its age in core. Forest undergrowth, mushroom nose, creamy note still there from US oak. Aged cassis. Elegantly aged CS. Tobacco and graphite. Juicy attack with furry, grainy tannin (some from oak?) Pleasant mid palate. Comes up slightly short on back palate – fading a bit – but lovely flavours remain in mouth of cassis, cinnamon, dried and fresh fruit. Tannin drying out a bit too. But elegant and feminine. 7.5/10 and drink up!
MLP 1981 12.5% (100CS; 6 months new French and US oak and 15 months in 2nd and 3rd year oak casks)
Medium ruby with brick edges. Polished furniture, slight menthol. Spicy dark black fruit, some liquorice and coffee. Firm savoury attack – juicy fruit, some dried, with firm tannin. Elegant development. Quite an austere style but all perfectly in balance – just needs a good lamb shank. Incredibly, still seems like it needs to develop more in an aromatic sense (though from a tannin point of view i’d suggest drinking earlier rather than later). Not an obvious wine but a very refined one. 8/10
MLP 1993 14% (100%CS – 6 months new French oak and 12 months in 2nd and 3rd French oak casks)
Leathery undergrowth, some car polish. Sweet red fruit and cream notes. Dried fruit. Confiture. Elegant CS palate shot through with flavours of cassis, graphite and tobacco. Firm tannin. Juicy core. Again, savoury, grown-up style with lovely linearity and persistence. A claret lovers’ style, with a touch more richness. Very well done. 8/10
MLP 1998 14% (100%CS – 18 months Nevers oak barrels)
Creamy toasty cassis. Seems young. Smoky. Youthful – not showing a great deal aromatically. Some dried fruit development emerges. Very firm, very austere tannin. Crisp, grippy acidity. You could argue this was a bit lean and awkward – but i think it will benefit from time (another 5 years at least before drinking.) 7.5/10 but to improve.
MLP 2005 14% (All CS, 18 months new French oak)
Mid-deep ruby; expressive creamy coco nose – very young – slightly high-toned floral hints. Seems a bit confected, but this character will fade with time. Firm, structured attack with firm tannins from the off. Minty cassis and plum flavours. Quite layered. Big. But with lovely dense core of rounded tannin, savoury minerality and pressed fruit. Big, spicy, but beautiful and savoury. One for the future. Drink from 2015. 8-8.5/10 and to improve. Best of the flight.
MLP 2006 14% (100% CS; 18 months french oak)
Young smoky leafy cassis, seems less extrovert than the 05. Yes, perhaps a lesser vintage. But still very good linearity and dense core. A lighter style than 05 but good. 7.5/10, to improve.
Made in a walled former Cistercian monastery’s vineyard, Grans Muralles has picturesque origins. It also has a great story, in that it’s the repository for many of Miguel’s little beauties: vines saved from obscurity but which constitute some of Catalonia’s oldest winemaking heritage. The firm has long pursued a policy of seeking out obscure old vine varieties in the area, culturing them and then planting them out. Typical examples are the likes of Garró and Samsó – and others are to follow, said a clearly excited Miguel. After the Chardonnay of Milmanda and the Cabernet Sauvignon of Mas La Plana, Grans Muralles is Miguel Torres’ homecoming.
All wines spent 18 months in French oak barrels. It costs around £50 a bottle. Grans Muralles is hereafter abbreviated to GM. All wines are 14% alcohol.
GM 1996 (Monastrell, Garnacha, Garró, Samsó)
Mid ruby. Prominent aromatic development: leather, anis, dried fruit and baked herbs. Grippy tannins; palate lacks fruit and has largely dried out. What a contrast to the older Mas La Plana wines! Over the hill. Archaeological interest only. 5/10
GM 1997 (Mon, Ga, Garro, Samso, Cariñena)
Mushrooms and sweet jammy red fruit. Some animal bretty tones in here. Firm tannin. Quite drying and savoury – perhaps the brett – but retains a juicy jammy confiture core that’s still quite attractive. Needs food but round, complex, meaty and very much alive. Good. But funky and not everyone’s cup of tea. And drink up! 7.5/10
GM 2000 (Mon, Ga, Garr, Sam, Cariñena)
Youthful toasty dark fruit with wild herb notes and light leather/anis. Quite Mediterranean. Juicy palate entry, layered fruit and creamy oak spice. Dense and to develop still yet (2-5 years more, I’d say) but attractive and drinkable now. Impressive, seems more cohesive and concentrated than the previous wines but not going over the top. Savoury. Very good. 8/10 – to improve.
GM 2001 (blend per 2000)
Crème caramel and plum aromas. Seems young. Creamy oak quite prominent on palate. Yes, young, quite tight and self contained. Not very friendly just now – needs another year or two I’d think – but interesting. Quite a “Spanish” style due to the oak prominence. More of a minor register than the major of 2000. But still balanced, elegant, very drinkable. Savoury finish. 7.5/10 and to improve.
GM 2002 (same blend)
Quite mute though notes of anis, Mediterranean herbs and ripe plums emerge. Some tar and also floral hints. Dark choc and hints of raisins. Tight, rounded, mineral palate. Not big but very dense and rounded. Lovely stuff. Succulent yet self-contained, focused and linear. My style of wine. Tannins are round yet structuring. Lovely creamy layered black and red fruit flavours. Can drink and enjoy now but will age up to 10 years. Lovely stuff. Touch of heat on the finish. But i don’t care. 8-8.5/10
GM 2003 (blend as above)
Nutty creamy red fruit aromas. Damsons. Firm tannins. Good, structured, young but round. But it doesn’t deliver the same kind of core satisfaction than 02, 01 and 00 do. Seems to lack a little weight and gravity/grounding. 6.5-7/10
Made for the King of Spain no less! Apparently, Don Juan Carlos came to visit the estate in 1995 (you soon learn that, despite the characteristic modesty, Miguel Torres is a supremely well connected man) and displayed an affection for Bordeaux-style blends. So Torres made one, and asked permission to call it Reserva Real (Royal Reserve). They said yes. And now, Torres notes in passing, it sells a lot in Asia as, “they like to spend a lot of money on a bottle of wine”.
We tried the first and latest releases of Reserva Real (RR), which sells at around £68. Both wines were 14.5%.
RR 1997 (CS, CFr, Me; 18 months new French oak)
Lovely elegant bordelais nose with tobacco, cedar, dried fruit and graphite. Also a touch of meaty yeastiness – possibly brett, a recurrence of the problem we also saw in the same vintage of the Grans Muralles? Full palate, firm tannin, juicy layered palate with lots of fresh and dried red/black fruit. Wow – really tannic. Forceful, masculine style. Tannins could be easier…this cries out for food (doesn’t work without it). But there’s also some lovely evolved claret-esque character here. I think a bit of brett has crept in here and dried out the tannins. Shame! 7/10
RR 2006 (CS, Me, CFr; 18 months new Fr oak).
Lots of creamy oak and ripe blackcurrant. Palate dense, firm tannins, but also juicy confiture edge. Well balanced if quite austere in style. Should age well…drink from 2012. Bit hot on the back palate? Not my favourite kind of wine: bit too hard and bold and unloving. I want succulence! I want to be seduced, not lectured! But maybe that’s just the over-exuberance of youth. 7/10