Those visiting Miguel Torres Chile‘s charming little restaurant spot, but without bringing a requisite sense of winemaking history along with their appetites, are likely to come away thinking that this pioneering Spanish wine brand’s foray into Chile consists of some tasty juice and really good food, the end.
In the infamous words of the USA’s 45th president (who, incidentally, was elected to that office the night before I arrived at Miguel Torres Chile during a media tour):
Admittedly, the wine biz (spectacularly) overuses the concept of context, but Miguel Torres Chile is legitimately a brand that has to be experienced in context for it to make sense.
In 1855, Jaime Torres headed to Cuba and, a mere fifteen years later, returned to Spain stinking rich from time spent in the trade and oil businesses. The Torres family then began a successful wine business in the Penedès, and, in what I am guessing was the manifestation of Torres’ large-scale dreams, built the largest wine vat in the world. Everything went up in smoke during the Spanish Civil War, and it was after rebuilding that things started to get really interesting. The Torres clan eventually went on to pioneer mich of what we’d now consider normal winemaking in Spain, including the planting of international grape varieties, temperature controlled vinification, and the use of French oak barrels.
Fast forward to the present day, and you’ve got fourth generation family member Miguel A. Torres, a chemist by education and an author of several wine books, overseeing much of the family business (including giving approval to the final blends for some of the Chilean wines, to the point where samples sometimes have to be sent to him to taste in Spain)…
I was lead through some of the recent Miguel Torres Chile releases by the enviably-named Leonardo Devoto Magofke, formerly of Viña Errazuriz and now a part of the Viña Miguel Torres oenology team in Chile, helping to craft about 500,000 cases per year. There’s no shortage of ingenuity in the lineup, as you’ll see below:
Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (central Valley, $13)
This is part of the brand’s fair trade lineup of wines, and it is surprisingly persistent for a wine in this price-range, which ought to make regions producing more expensive entry-level fine-wine SBs pee themselves just a little bit. There are great herbal touches on the nose, lots of pithy grapefruit tastiness, along with stone fruits and white flowers to add a bit of palate depth and aromatic complexity, respectively.
Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserva Carmenère 2015 (Central Valley, $13)
This is a Carm. that’s clearly under control; it’s been tamed, in a good way. Lots of minerality, dark fruit flavors, tweet tobacco spices, chewy tannins, big acids, and a sense that Carm’s predisposition to pyrazines has been leashed up tight, so that you get more pleasant dried herb notes instead. Solid, and a nice introduction to a perennially misunderstood, gonna-need-a-few-years-of-therapy-to-cope grape.
Miguel Torres Vigno Cordillera Carignan 2013 (Maule Valley, $23)
Why Carignan isn’t regarded as Chile’s signature red grape, I don’t think I will ever understand, but this is a nice example of why lesser-known varieties from dry-farmed, 75-year-old vineyards should never be underestimated. Savory, tart, juicy, herbal, and even a touch floral, this is intellectually compelling stuff. The palate is silky and broad on entry, moving to black cherry and black raspberry fruitiness, and finishing with pucker-up-buttercup acidity. Break out during one of those “I need something different and I need it now” moments.
Miguel Torres Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Curicó, $55)
Named after the founder of Curicó, and coming from a vineyard where the vines are mostly in excess of 100 years old, this one gets a pass on utilizing the “old vines” term on the label. Savory cassis and dried herbs kick things off here, with earth and cloves and a little funk backing them up. Next up are black plums, minerals, and a ton of tannic and acidic structure, tension, and texture. This is one of Chile’s first true single vineyard wines, and deserves its iconic status, but… it’s just really sexy for its age. Think Helen Mirren…