Food & Drink Toro toro 

Value Vino – Great wines for under $15

Miguel Torres Jr., fifth-generation scion of Spain’s famous winemaking family, was recently in town to tout the wines of their far-flung enophilic empire, and he had some surprises up his Catalonian sleeve. We should probably start with Sangre de Toro, a wine to which many of us (though we played around with Mateus) lost our vinous virginity.

The bottle still sports that tiny, somewhat silly toro suspended from the capsule, but the wine inside has evolved over the years into a product that is all but unrecognizable as the stuff we slugged in the years of our collective curiosity. “We made small changes over time. It’s not oxidized like some wines you can find in Spain,” said the soft-spoken Señor Torres. “There’s more fruit than even 10 years ago.”

This 50th-anniversary bottling is golden in other ways, too. For starters, it smells spicy with a base note of blackberry, qualities belied by the bright, ruby-red color. On the palate, the wine, composed of garnacha and cariñena, is as lively as it looks, with more fruit and spice coming to the fore. “It’s not trying to be old-style or new-world, but a personality by itself,” says Torres, and it’s this mid-ocean demeanor that gives the wine its universal popularity — exported to more than 140 countries, Sangre de Toro is the biggest-selling Spanish red wine in the world.

In terms of terroir, Torre’s 2003 Coronas, made from 85 percent tempranillo, a quintessentially Spanish grape, was more clearly defined. Enlivened with 15 percent Cabernet, the Coronas is a more profound wine than the Sangre, with darker fruit and a slight smokiness. The percentages were reversed in the Gran Coronas Cabernet 2001 Reserva, which was released only after spending one year in oak and another in the bottle. Darker still, with cedar, black cherry, and black currant components, the wine wore its oak well, with none of the clumsiness sometimes conveyed when vanilla takes over fruit. At $50 a bottle the 2001 Mas la Plana is well beyond our price point for this column, nevertheless allow me also to mention this 100-percent cabernet wine from the Penedés region. Here we have a wine with gorgeous dark fruit and soft tannins that exhibits power and elegance — qualities that place it not mid-Atlantic but at home in either world.

Although reds — whether made in Spain, in Chile under the Santa Digna and Celeste labels, or in California by Torres’ aunt — are emblematic of the family’s wines, we did taste some very appealing whites, all bottled under screw cap. The 2004 Viña Sol is made from 100 percent parellada, another prototypically Spanish grape, and was utterly charming and unpretentious in its clean, fresh-fruit flavors. I didn’t taste the fennel suggested in some tasting notes, but I did get hints of lemon and green apple, evocative of a pairing with light shrimp salad and steamed mussels. The 2004 Viña Esmeralda was more assertive due to its blend of muscatel and gewürztraminer, two notoriously fragrant grapes. For all of its forthrightly floral qualities, including rose, the wine kept its cool behind a veil of bright acidity. The notes suggest melon with jamon serrano or pâté as an accompaniment, and I couldn’t agree more.

If the Torres wines are typical of a change in Spanish winemaking in general, then we have much to look forward to — including a great deal of confusion. “There are 64 appellations in Spain and that’s too much,” claims Torres. My suggestion? Start at the low end and work your way up. What’s to lose?



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