Torres New/Old World Value Duet

8 09 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

New/Old World.  Pink/red.  Value/value.

New/Old World. Pink/red. Value/value.

Over the past couple years, Torres has become my Old Reliable, the brand that never lets me down regardless which sub-$20 value offering I’m trying, regardless where in the world it’s from, and regardless of my level of expectation or uncertainty going in.  It has now been named the World’s Most Admired Wine Brand for two years running by Drinks International (to get a sense of that accomplishment, others in the top 15 this year include Vega Sicilia, Chateau d’Yquem, Ridge, the First Growth Chateaux Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion, and Tignanello), and it succeeds without a multi-hundred-dollar wine on its resume and with wineries on three separate continents, focused on marrying high quality with affordable pricing wherever it goes.  That combination is not easy to achieve, but Torres makes it look routine.  I had a chance to toast the end of summer amidst the weekend snow in Calgary with two QPR (quality-to-price-ratio) gems from the Torres portfolio, one from the New World and one from the Old, each crafted with the same evident care and attention.

2014 Torres Las Mulas Rose

I added that bit about “regardless of my level of uncertainty” above as a nod to this bottle.  I am usually pretty confident opening any bottle of Torres wine…but I thought that a $15 Chilean rose named after a mule (actually, many mules) might be a test to my faith.  Turns out that I needn’t have worried; the mule rose was actually the Torres family work ethic on steroids.

Look at that colour!!

Look at that colour!!

The name “Las Mulas” (The Mules) has multiple explanations that each tie back to the wine inside the bottle.  It is first and foremost a nod to ancient viticultural techniques, where mules were commonly used to tend to the vineyards in a pre-mechanical world, because all of the Torres Las Mulas lineup is derived from machine-free vineyard work and hand-harvesting and all grapes are fully organic, grown with no chemicals or pesticides.  This sounds nearly unbelievable for a wine at this price point, but Chile’s climate and soils help the country dodge the bulk of common vineyard pests and allow for organic viticulture without the organic price tag.  The “Las Mulas” name is also a reminder of the amount of work that goes into the production of these wines, grown on extremely nutrient-poor soils to concentrate and enhance the character of the grapes.  I would also call it a reference to the stubbornness of the Torres family to avoid easy, fertile soils for even their entry-level wines to achieve maximum flavour and expressiveness in the bottle.  And yes, there is apparently also a mule in this vineyard.

Apart from its nomenclature, this rose was interesting because it was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, not usually the primary red grape of choice for pink wine.  Some roses have a delicacy of colour, leaving them pale and slightly orange in colour, either due to the use of thin-skinned red grapes or to a very short maceration period (the time when the grape skins are in contact with the pressed grape juice, which is what gives red wine its colour).  This is not one of those roses.  It was a DEEP, dark exuberant pink, nearly magenta in colour, reflective of both Cab’s thick skins and a 22-hour maceration time, on the higher end for rose.  The nose melded the defter, fresher aromas common to a good rose (bath salts, talcum powder, watermelon, pepper) with more bombastic, bass-toned notes teased out by energetic New World Cab:  bright cherry, blackberry and even grape fruit, as well as a salty/sweet/tangy zippiness that can be best summarized as “margarita”.

Stelvin Rating:  6.5/10 (Avoids the cardinal sin of being plain black - with a llama!)

Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (Avoids the cardinal sin of being plain black – with a llama!)

As suggested by its smell, the Las Mulas Rose had a rounder and more assertive mouthfeel than most pink wines, along with a clearly discernible shot of tannin that lent some surprising structure to the wine’s potency.  However, the story of The Mule for me was its shockingly roiling level of acidity, carefully controlled and masked by a subtle 9 g/L of residual sugar but still electric and mouthwateringly zippy.  To give you some acid context, the pH of this wine (2.9) lines up with the pH levels of the most powerfully acidic Rieslings in the Okanagan Valley, which are in turn some of the lowest pH Rieslings in the world.  And this is a Chilean Cab!!  Insane.  Sweet grapefruit, blood orange, cherry Nibs and sugar-dipped rhubarb flavours are lent some edge on the palate by prominent mineral chalkiness, leading into a surprisingly lengthy finish.

I can’t believe this wine is $15.  Las Mulas’ amazing acid/sugar balance and bold flavour would easily stand up to – and absolutely rock with – Chinese or Thai food, even curries, but it is fantastic on its own and has the body and depth to be an intro rose for red wine drinkers.  I will never doubt you again, Chilean mules.

88 points

$15 to $20 CDN

TopBottles

2012 Torres Altos Ibericos Rioja Crianza

Crazy Torres fact:  despite being one of Spain’s most recognizable wine exports and making wines all over its home country, Torres didn’t make a wine in its nation’s most famed region until 2006’s Ibericos Rioja Crianza.  Now, six vintages later, the wine gets an external facelift with snazzy new labelling that reminds me of a traditional yet stylish necktie…not sure if that’s the look they were going for, but I like it.  

New snazzy necktie label.

New snazzy necktie label.

The name story for the Altos Ibericos is slightly less intriguing than the mule story above, but equally purposeful:  the “Altos” comes from the area of Alto Otero in western Rioja’s town of Labastida, where the label’s winery is located; the “Ibericos” is (more obviously) a nod to the Iberian Peninsula that is home to all of Spain.  This Rioja is 100% Tempranillo and saw 12 months of oak barrel maturation (the minimum required for the Crianza designation) and then — and I quote the winery’s website here — “a long time” in the bottle, an unspecified period that Rioja’s labelling rules require to be at least another year.

This is a more modern and fruit-focused style of Rioja, something instantly suggested by the Ibericos’ dark, thick and purple colour, with little to no thinning at the rim.  Right out of the bottle, its predominant aroma was that of coconut flakes, a hallmark smell of the American oak barrels preferred in Rioja, but with a bit of air this became one of a symphony of smells emanating from the wine, along with deep blackberry, black cherry and fig fruit, cinnamon and more exotic spices like garam masala, and a frothy, creamy sweet coffee note that I’ll call “frappuccino”.

Cork Rating:  7.5/10 (A touch short and maybe composite, but stunning.)

Cork Rating: 7.5/10 (A touch short and maybe composite, but stunning.)

Smooth and chocolatey at first on the palate, the wine is then lent some grip by sandy, grippy tannins that kick in halfway through.  The enduring trace of coconut remains, joined by classically Riojan flavours of smoke, tobacco, cherry, parchment, sunbaked earth and spice.  I know the words “classically Riojan” and the following list of flavours don’t seem to jive with the “more modern and fruit-focused style” I described above, but the Ibericos somehow seems to be both:  the secondary/tertiary flavours are there in spades, but the backbone and essence of the wine remains pure juicy fruit.

There is a certain nobility to this bottle, even though it is, and tastes like, a more value-oriented offering.  It is a sensible luxury, like a fine cigar in a bottle.  I’ve previously said on this site that I think Spain is the value wine capital of the world, and wines like this, that bring a little more energy and vibrancy than traditional-style Rioja without abandoning the soul of the region and do so at a price tag under $20, help prove the point.  Torres seems to bring New World verve to Old World regions and Old World character and connection with the land to New World regions; it is quite literally the best of both worlds.

88- points

$15 to $20 CDN

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