FOOD & DRINK / Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter savours this week's best buys

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The Independent Culture
IT HAD always been the ambition of Don Miguel Torres, domineering patriarch of the big and beautiful Spanish wine firm of Torres near Barcelona, to get his wines into every Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe. He used to tick off his conquests in each new edition and was inordinately proud, before his death two years ago, to have captured two-thirds of the constellation. In French starred restaurants, Torres was, and is, often the only non-French wine listed.

The Torres wines are ideal for restaurants - fruity and easy drinking, immediately appealing and reliably well made - and for the same reasons yummy to drink at home. They are untypical of Spain, partly because of the grape varieties (often French classics blended with Spanish to make a dozen different wines), and partly because of the way the grapes are grown and vinified. Don Miguel's son, Miguel Torres Junior, trained and researched in France and is a revolutionary even in the Penedes, the most modern of Spanish wine regions. The biggest family- owned wine company in a country where co-operatives and big wine-blending merchants predominate vastly, Torres has 1,500 acres of vines planted largely up in the hills, in cooler areas than most of the local competition's.

My current favourite among the affordable whites in the range is the elegant and subtly oaked 1991 Torres Fransola Green Label, which is grassy-herby, ripe and quite rich. It is made from Sauvignon Blanc and the best of the white Catalan grapes, the Parellada ( pounds 6.66 Hammonds of Knutsford, pounds 6.99 larger stores of North Eastern Co-op, pounds 7.29 David Byrne of Clitheroe, pounds 7.75 Weavers of Nottingham, pounds 7.83 including delivery on UK mainland Laymont & Shaw of Truro, pounds 7.89 Moreno Wines of London W3 and W9).

Among the reds, don't be put off by the little black plastic bull dangling around the neck of the 1990 Torres Sangredetoro, Tres Torres. This is a brilliant, soft, easy-drinking wine made from local Garnacha and Carinena grapes, with flavours of blackberry, herbs, raisins and vanilla ( pounds 3.92 Hammonds of Knutsford, pounds 3.99 Bottoms Up, Thresher, Wine Rack and E H Booth supermarkets, pounds 4.29 selected Tesco and David Byrne of Clitheroe, pounds 4.78 Waters of Coventry, pounds 4.83 Laymont & Shaw of Truro, pounds 4.99 Moreno Wines of London W3 and W9). 1990 Torres Coronas also slips down very easily, with its savoury, blackcurrant and blackberry fruit and a hint of vanilla. This wine is made from the star local red grape, the Tempranillo, with a little Cabernet Sauvignon ( pounds 4.12 Hammonds of Knutsford, pounds 4.49 Asda, Tesco and David Byrne of Clitheroe, pounds 4.62 London Wine of SW10, pounds 4.99 Unwins and Victoria Wine, pounds 5.08 Laymont & Shaw of Truro, pounds 5.22 Tanners of Shrewsbury, pounds 5.29 Moreno Wines of London W3 and W9). The reverse - mostly Cabernet with a dash of Tempranillo - goes into 1987 Torres Gran Coronas Reserva, wonderfully ripe, quite complex and mature, with savoury, cedar, blackcurrant and fig flavours and a hint of farmyard and oak (pounds 6.39 Hammonds of Knutsford, pounds 6.95 David Byrne of Clitheroe, pounds 6.99 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up, pounds 7.04 London Wine of SW10, pounds 7.52 Weavers of Nottingham, pounds 7.58 Laymont & Shaw of Truro, pounds 7.79 Sainsbury's, pounds 7.94 Tanners of Shrewsbury, pounds 7.99 Moreno Wines of London W3 and W9, pounds 8.15 Lay & Wheeler of Colchester).

I rarely swoon over a Spanish white wine, but 1991 Torres Milmanda Estate Chardonnay ( pounds 17.98 Hammonds of Knutsford, pounds 18.75 Laymont & Shaw of Truro, pounds 19.15 David Byrne of Clitheroe, pounds 19.99 Portland Wine Co of Sale Moor, Manchester, pounds 21.90 Gauntleys of Nottingham, pounds 23.50 Le Pont de Latour of London SE1) is stunning by world standards, a match for fine Burgundy at similar prices, elegant but with rich, complex flavours hint of butterscotch, banana, toast, butter, biscuit and toffee. Miguel Torres works mainly with grapes from the Penedes region, immediately to the west of Barcelona. This wine, however, comes from the family's estate in neighbouring Conca de Barbara, a beautiful region of rolling hills, hazel and almond trees and vines. This is the highest part of Catalonia, where a cooler climate makes for especially elegant wines.

Outside Spain, Miguel Torres Junior bought an estate at the foot of the Andes in Chile in the late 1970s. The seven Chilean Torres wines are also very soft and approachable, though with fewer real stars than the range from the Penedes. Some are excellent, however: 1992 Miguel Torres Bellaterra Oak Matured Sauvignon Blanc, Curico has a lovely balance of coconutty oak, and ripe gooseberry and tropical fruit flavours ( pounds 4.85 Hammonds of Knutsford, pounds 4.89 David Byrne of Clitheroe and pounds 5.19 The Garland Wine Cellar of Ashtead, Surrey); and 1992 Miguel Torres Chardonnay, Curico ( pounds 5.29 Hammonds of Knutsford, pounds 5.39 David Byrne of Clitheroe, pounds 5.66 by the case only Ratcliffe Wines of Rockbourne near Salisbury, pounds 5.79 The Garland Wine Cellar) is crisp and lemony, with a hint of honey and biscuity oak.

Marimar Torres, sister of Miguel Junior, set up her own vineyard and winery in California in the late Eighties,

collaborating with Miguel. The first (1992) vintage of Pinot Noir is to be released next year, but the second vintage of her Chardonnay has just arrived in Britain and is superb in a fine, subtle way. The 1990 Marimar Torres Chardonnay, Sonoma County Green Valley ( pounds 11.19 David Byrne of Clitheroe) is a lovely, complex wine, with yeasty-biscuity, honey and savoury flavours, and apple and pineapple fruit.

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