It’s funny how love of wine changes one’s perspective of the way one looks at the world. In the past, whenever I heard Spain being mentioned, my thoughts would immediately go to delicious sea-food paella, pitchers of Sangria, gorgeous flamenco dancers, matadors fighting angry bulls and to the iconic Michelin 3 star restaurant El Bulli run by Ferran Adria, considered by many as the greatest chef the world has seen. Not to forget that scene of “Tomatina Festival” from the popular Bollywood film ” Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” showing participants indulging in mock fights throwing tomatoes at each other. This was before I was introduced to Spanish Wines. Now I hear Spain and only get visions of robust Tempranillo, fruity Garnacha, and sparkling Cava, Spain’s answer to French Champagne but costing only a fraction of the price. It takes me to a wine making culture stepped in passion and dedication.
Spain has a unique distinction. Even though it has more land under vine than any other country, being the most widely planted wine producing nation in the world, Spain is ranked third in production of wine, behind France and Italy, mainly due to problem of low yields because of large tracts of infertile soil. It is a country which is blessed with an abundance of native grape varietals, over 4000 varieties. It also has a tradition of aging both red and white wines for an unusually long period of time before releasing them. However, it is only the last 20 years or so, which has seen a revolution of sorts in the Spanish wine industry, where it has gone beyond its traditional range of wines and now caters to every segment, from bargain to high end. This has been possible due to the diverse terroir of the Iberian Peninsula and the New World approach to wine making which produces wines that are balanced with fruit, terroir and wood.
The major red grape varietals of Spain are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Bobal, Cariñena and Monastrell (Mourvedre) while the white grape varietals are Albariño, Palomino, Airén and Verdejo. The three grapes used in the popular sparkling wine from Spain, Cava, are the local Spanish ones, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. Major Spanish wine regions include Rioja, often referred to as Spain’s Bordeaux and known for creating distinctive oak-aged reds made from Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero, termed as “the modern red wine miracle of Northern Spain” by Jancis Robinson, La Mancha and Valdepeñas for its high quality but less intense and complex Tempranillos at low prices, Rias Baixas known for its interesting unoaked white wines made from Albarîno, Catalunya for Cava, Priorat for its Grenache based blends, Penèdes for its still wines and Andalucía & Jerez for its Sherry which is a fortified wine. The word Crianza on the label of a bottle of red wine means that the wine is aged for 2 years , Reserva is aged for 3-4 years while Gran Reserva is aged for 5 years or more. Joven indicates a wine which has not been aged in oak and refers mostly to whites.
There is, however, one name which stands head and shoulders above all others when it comes to the Spanish wine industry and that name is Torres. Torres wines are produced on three continents and sold in 150 countries with annual sales of more than $280 million. Their big brands Vina Sol, Vina Esmerelda, Mas La Plana, Gran Muralles and Sangre de Toro are recognized names all around the world. Founded in 1870 Bodega Torres is the largest winery in Spain with extensive vineyards in the Denomination of Origin (DO) of Penedès, Conca de Barbera, Toro, Jumilla, Ribera del Duero, DOQ Priorat and most recently in DOC Rioja. They also run the Miguel Torres Chile winery and the Marimar Estate in California. Currently the company is run by the fourth generation of the Torres family headed by Miguel A.Torres.
It would not be wrong to say that Miguel A Torres is the man who has “changed the face of Spanish winemaking industry by using modern winemaking techniques and putting the wines of Spain firmly on the world map”. A prolific wine writer and a founding member of the Primum Familiae Vini, a group of world’s leading wine families, he was recently awarded Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Of late he has been championing the cause of Spain’s native grape varieties and talking about climate change and its impact on global viticulture.
Last month I got a chance to meet the brand ambassador of Torres Winery, Emma Llorens Navarro at the Torres Wine Dinner at Prego, The Westin, Gurgaon, along with Sumit Sehgal, Director of Prestige Wines & Spirits Pvt Ltd, the company which imports and distributes Torres Wines in India. Along with tasting some of the Torres wines which are available in the Indian market, I tried out the cuisine of the Italian Chef of Prego Emiliano di Stefano. As I have mentioned in a previous article that pairing food with wine is not exactly rocket science, but can be a challenging task even for professionals. When done right, it can enhance any dining experience. Chef Emiliano created out some interesting dishes for the Torres wine dinner. The first course of Roasted Seabass with Rice Cake & Crustacean Velouté (veloute is classified as one of the five “mother sauces” of French cuisine”) was paired with Torres Gran Viña Sol 2011. I was told by Emma that Viña Sol is a classic 50 year old brand produced by Miguel Torres in every vintage since 1962. It showed the world how Spain can make a dry crisp white wine from a local variety Parellada and this brand put Miguel Torres squarely on the world map. The second course of Truffle scented Mushroom and Fontina Cheese Lasagna (trust an Italian to dish out a perfect lasagna) was paired with Torres Coronas 2009, a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 9 months in French and American oak just to soften it a little.
The wine of the evening was the Torres Gran Muralles 2006, a blend of Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carinena) , Monastrell and two nearly extinct grape varieties Garro & Samso, this juicy opulent wine tasting of rich black fruit, licorice, spices and cigar box was a powerhouse. It was paired with the dish of the day Duo of Lamb with roasted pumpkin and spicy wine reduction. Finally the dessert, Almond diplomatic paired with Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro, one of Mediterranean’s most characteristic dessert wines, often described as perfumed nectar. What I have seen with most wine paired dinners is that since the chefs are given the freedom to create dishes which are not on the regular menu, they are able to conjure some brilliant dishes and Chef Emiliano of Prego did just that with the lamb.
The dinner ended with Torres Jaime I Brandy, a beauty with a concentrated and complex bouquet typical of lengthy ageing and a lovely lingering velvety finish.
What better way to discover a country than through its wines.
By : Lavina Kharkwal