Marimar Thinks Spanish

I first tasted the wines of Marimar Estate a decade ago, from a single vineyard in the relatively cool Russian River Valley in California. In common with most in that region, the estate specialism is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Russian River is acknowledged as one of the sweet spots for Burgundian varieties in the USA.

Torres goes to California

Marimar estate was founded in the 1980s by Marimar Torres, sister of Miguel Torres who runs the family’s Spanish and Chilean operations. Marimar planted her vineyard on the site of an old apple orchard in one of the coolest and foggiest region of the Russian River Valley, ten miles from the Pacific coast. The three wines featured in this tasting all come from this vineyard which is farmed sustainably, organically and biodynamically. A second vineyard, Doña Margarita, was subsequently added. It is in the Freestone Valley, just seven miles from the Sonoma coast and planted to Pinot Noir.

Marimar says she first visited and fell in love with California in 1973, a time of “a very different Spain,” she recalls. Spain was still under the rule of Franco, and as a woman with two brothers Marimar knew her opportunities in the family’s business would be limited.  It took some persuasion to get her father’s approval to set up her vineyard and winery in the USA, though brother Miguel continues to be a trusted advisor.

Marimar and CristinaFor this tasting Marimar was joined by her daughter, Cristina. Having worked at the estate since 2020, Cristina has taken over as General Manager as of 2023 and, as Marimar says, “after five generations of father to son businesses, this is the first time a Torres winery will be handed from mother to daughter.”

The Spanish Connection

Was it inevitable that Spanish grape varieties would feature in Marimar’s story? After all, her winery is built in the style of a Catalan farmhouse and she is a renowned cook and writer on Spanish cuisine. Her first planting of a Spanish variety was Paralleda, one of the stalwarts of Cava and the grape behind the Torres family’s huge selling Viña Sol. It did not produce terribly exciting results and the experiment was abandoned.

Wine bottlesHer next foray into Spanish varietals was with Albariño. Cuttings were brought from Spain in 2004, and the first wine was released in 2010. Tempranillo followed, the bedrock of so much Spanish wine from Rioja to Ribera del Duero. Again, the cuttings came from the family’s vineyards in Cataluña. Marimar laughs as she tells the story: “these were ‘suitcase cuttings’,” she admits, the term used for vine cuttings smuggled into the country without following the import and quarantine rules of that time. “I’d never do that now,” she confesses, and she did get into trouble when the authorities found out. Thankfully, after an inspection of the now planted vineyard, everything was approved and the first Tempranillo was bottled in 2013.

The most recent Spanish arrival on the estate is Godello. Now on its second release, this time a Californian nursery was able to supply the vine cuttings which “saved so much time in gaining approval.”  When asked if that was the final installment of the Spanish journey, Cristina reveals that yet another Galician variety has recently been planted, the red variety Mencia.

The Wines

Reflecting the very different conditions of growing and making wine in California and rural Spain, the prices of these wines is high compared to typical Iberian examples you might find on the shelves. Whether that is a price you are prepared to pay is an individual decision, but I have to say that the quality of the wines is exemplary, with good varietal character and just a glimpse of that Californian sunshine in each bottle.

(2024) Second release of this wine, another Galician variety from the cooler northwest of Spain. A more neutral nose than the Albariño, but with more mealiness to the aromas, perhaps to do with 46% of the wine being made in concrete eggs?  That oatmeal character translates to the palate, again long lees ageing surely emphasising that. Plenty of juicy lemon and taut, crisp apple acidity. UK price and stockists to be confirmed.
(2024) Having first planted this variety in a coastal vineyard in Sonoma, that proved too cold to ripen this variety, even though it famously reaches it's peak in the Atlantic-influenced Galician region of Spain. It was re-planted and thrives in the Russian River Valley. Fermented with indigenous yeast and with extended time on the lees, there's a delightfully floral aspect to this - somewhere between floral and leafy, soft green herbs, firm white fruit aromas. Nicely textured, this burst with juicy citrus on the palate, but there's plenty of dazzling acidity. Something a little like green fig shows ripeness, in a fresh and delightful Albariño.
(2024) Marimar says she experimented with a Tempranillo for a decade before deciding quality was right. This, with seven years under its belt, is glorious with a beautiful quality of oak from 12 months in French oak barrels, 50% new, coopered by Magreñán from the Vosges forest. It was bottled in August 2018. This has a fabulous nose, bloody and game-streaked over really ripe, deep berry fruit, a slick of chocolate underpinning. The palate has bountiful fruit, depth and texture with that touch of roasted coffee bean adding plushness. A Rioja Reserva of the highest level would stand alongside this, and it does have that extra ounce of Californian fruit intensity perhaps.

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