Return of The Mules: Torres Summer Values

12 06 2016

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

It’s been so long since I sat down and wrote a straightforward normal wine review that I’m having trouble remembering how to start one.  Thankfully, I’m aided by an old PnP standby:  if they’re not there already, the Torres family of wines has to be close to the record for largest number of individual write-ups on this site, aided in part by their broad-based dual-continent operation and vast lineup but mostly by their consistent ability to deliver quality and identity for less than you’d expect.  I made the mistake last year of prejudging their “Las Mulas” line of entry-level Chilean wines by its lighthearted name and beast of burden on the label, only to be reminded by the emphatically delicious Las Mulas Rose that Torres takes all its wines seriously.  This year, with the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Las Mulas brand, I will not make the same error twice.

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The wines for Las Mulas come from Chile’s warm, flat and fertile Central Valley, where the benign climate and the absence of most common vine diseases make it the country’s most productive and most popular grape-growing region.  This can be both a good thing and a bad thing:  obviously getting your crop to ripen without heroic efforts is a benefit, but wine grapes specifically tend to derive much of their flavour concentration and character from having to struggle a bit to grow, and when they’re deprived of that opportunity to strive the results in the glass can be flat and uninteresting.  To combat the Central Valley’s generosity, Torres planted the Las Mulas grapes on nutrient-poor soils and entirely avoided the use of herbicides or pesticides (the vineyard sites are certified organic).  The vineyards are wholly hand-harvested, with nary a machine in sight, making this New World wine done in old school ways…yet somehow still hovering around the $15 CAD mark on the shelf.  Each of the offerings below cleared by (pre-primed) expectations for that price point with ease.

Stelvin Rating:  6.5/10 (Not totally out there, but llamas standing on Ms are cool.)

Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (Not totally out there, but llamas standing on Ms are cool.)

2015 Las Mulas Sauvignon Blanc

Like many New World Sauv Blancs, this one was fermented at quite cool temperatures to help preserve freshness and fruit flavours.  It was a surprisingly vivid lemon-gold colour:  no green-tinged water-white SB here, even on a wine that saw no oak and was barely a year old.  While the eyes may have been led astray from varietal standards, there was no mistaking Sauvignon Blanc’s impenetrable aromatic imprint on the nose, a powerful, almost pungent array of gooseberry, sweet pea and dandelion greens, surrounded by fruit that was part tropical (mango/guava) and part biting (lemon/rhubarb).  Bold yet chalky, the wine’s talcum powder texture toned down the brightness of the pineapple, Meyer lemon and orange zest flavours that otherwise invaded the senses; a slight tinge of grassiness holds off until you swallow but then lingers.  

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Of all the vinifera varietals out there, it seems (from a purely consumer perspective) that Sauvignon Blanc is one of the easiest grapes with which to make palatable yet inexpensive wines.  This one lives up to that theory and then some, delivering what it’s supposed in terms of representative flavours plus an extra layer of intrigue and complexity that Sauvignon Blancs at this price point often neglect to even try for.  For under $15, sign me up.

87+ points

$10 to $15 CDN

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2014 Las Mulas Cabernet Sauvignon

Drinkable varietal Cabernet Sauvignon at or around the $15 mark is now an endangered species, but I already knew that Las Mulas knew its way around the grape because the Rose that had previously won me over was (unusually) 100% Cab.  The juice of this wine received 20 days of skin contact (maceration) pre-fermentation and was fermented at much warmer temperatures than the Sauvignon Blanc above, then seeing 6 months in French oak before bottling.  Maybe it was the extended skin time, but there was something downright lurid about the colour of this wine, even as it was just resting in the glass, rich and sanguine but almost glowing with brightness.  The aromas were equally in-your-face, cherry Nibs and blueberry compote and blackberry pie singed on the edges with sunbaked earth and hot rocks.  Mercifully, while full and luxurious, the wine was not overblown once it hit the tongue; the fruit darkened and melded with mocha and After Eights before easing into a calmer, more restrained finish.  This is certainly an everyday drinking, casual-enjoyment Cab, as its smoothed-out tannins and easy mouthfeel made it approachable to all drinkers.  But it retains a sense of freshness throughout despite its potent, almost confectionary flavours, pumping the brakes at just the right time to stay within itself.

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I’m not sure the red Las Mulas Cab does quite enough to unseat the pink Las Mulas Cab, but both it and the Sauvignon Blanc push their weight around in the rapidly dissolving $15 price category.  Soon quality bottles in that range may well become an oxymoron, so enjoy these kinds of efforts while they last.

87- points

$15 to $20 CDN

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