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Marimar Estate, Sonoma

by Tom Cannavan, 02/14

marimar Having built a global business from their HQ near Barcelona in the north of Spain, the Torres family is one of the world's most important wine producers. Not only do they have a local portfolio that ranges from huge volume brands like 'Viña Sol' to expensive cult wines like the 'Mas La Plana', but they now operate across Spain's best wine ranges in Priorat, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and elsewhere. Torres has also extended its reach globally, with its large-scale operation in Chile (where they were the first foreign company to establish a wine production business) and to the Marimar Estate in California, first planted in 1986.

Marimar Estate is named after and run by the eponymous Marimar Torres, sister of Miguel Torres, the current patriarch of both the Torres family and global wine business. Marimar move to California to live in the 1970s, and I guess the Torres genes naturally led her into the winemaking business. After a two year search, she found the piece of land she wanted in Sonoma's Russian River Valley, 50 miles north of San Francisco. Today the Don Miguel Vineyard consists of 12 hectares each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Marimar is pictured with her daughter, Cristina.

Marimar Torres says the vineyard is "unique in California because it is totally European in style." The vines are trained close to the ground on an open vertical trellis, following the slope of an east-facing hillside. Also, the planting density is four times more than is traditional in California, promoting competition between vines which naturally diminishes their vigour and yield. Marimar also carried out extensive research on vine clones, planting a complex mix of Burgundian and local clones that she says gives greater complexity. For Chardonnay she planted the See, Rued and Spring Mountain clones, whilst for Pinot Noir there are six clones: Cristina 88, Swan, Pommard, Lee, Dijon 115 and Dijon 667.

Following a few years of experimentation, Marimar Estate took the plunge in 2003 for conversion to fully organic farming. Out went the use of synthetic chemical sprays and treatments, and in came the sowing of cover crops between rows to add organic matter, encourage biodiversity and insect life, and as a nitrogen fixer. Their own organic compost has replaced the use of synthetic fertilisers. The natural progression was towards biodynamics, and certification followed. Although she has described the move to biodynamic farming as "a leap of faith," she also believes the move has made the wines "more reflective of their terroir."

I really enjoyed these wines. Although the 2008 Cristina Pinot was a little baked and a touch overripe for my tastes, the 2009 La Masia was superb and seemed to suggest a move in a more elegant direction. The two Chardonnays would be easy to underestimate in a big, speed-tasting line-up, but I thought they were both beautifully balanced wines with the class and precision to stand amongst the best. It's an impressive estate, marching to its own beat.

the wines

Chardonnay Marimar Estate in imported into the UK by Fells. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Marimar Estate, La Masia Chardonnay 2010, USA
Whole-bunch pressed and barrel fermented in French oak (20% new) this wine was then aged for 10 months on its lees in barrel. There's a fine, green bean vegatility to this along with oatmeal and almond and a core of racy citrus and apple that immediately makes me think of Burgundy. With time a deeper, green fig component is there, but it stays fairly crisp and fresh. On the palate there has weight and volume. It's 14.5% ABV does give a little alcoholic heat, but the freshness is there through the white fruit flavours and the core of acidity. Not quite as linear and laser-like as the Acero 2009, but a lovely Chardonnay. 91/100. 28.02, Vintagemarque.com, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Marimar Estate, Acero Chardonnay 2009, USA
This wine takes its name from the Spanish word for 'steel', reflecting the fact that it is an unoaked cuvée. Fruit is said to be carefully selected for its flavour and aroma intensity and as with all of the wines comes from the Don Miguel vineyard (where Marimar Torres first planted Chardonnay in 1986). Pouring with a pale green colour, the wine is indeed explosively fragrant, with an exotic bloom to orange and lemon, and a green herb and mineral intensity. It is very brightly focused, with a piercing suggestion of freshness. In the mouth there's an almost Sauvignon Blanc-like vibrancy, that vivacious fruity punch marrying to pithy grapefruit citrus and a shimmering, salt-licked acid finish. Singular stuff. 92/100. Around £23, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Pinot Marimar Estate, La Masia Pinot Noir 2009, USA
The La Masia cuvée is fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak barrels, 32% of which were new. The vineyard is planted with six clones of Pinot Noir. It is a smoothly aromatic wine where a keen juiciness is suggested of cherry and raspberry, but with an exotic tobacco and spice background and something almost pear or peach like in the mix. Lovely stuff on the palate, the thick seam of spiced black fruit is solid and supple, but that wreathing smokiness and tingle of peppery spice is there, with fine, but rich and chocolaty tannins and good balancing acidity. Lovely, powerful with 14% alcohol, but has real freshness. 93/100. 33.31, Vintagemarque.com, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Marimar Estate, Cristina Pinot Noir 2008, USA
This is a barrel selection, and combination of Burgundy clones and the 'Swan clone', brought to California by Joseph Swan. The colour shows a little development and is medium-deep. On the nose there's a solidity and earthiness. It is a good expression of Pinot on the plummier side, even verging into prune notes, though there is a teasing glimpse of more floral and lifted spice. On the palate this has a touch of mocha and chocolate, and a really sweet core of ripe fruit that is delicious, if a touch overripe, but there's an edge here, with a sinewy grip to the tannins and plenty of acidity that means though it finishes with spice and fruit extraction. There is a slightly baked quality to the fruit compared to the fresher 2009 Masia, but it is not clumsy style. 90/100. Around 37, see all stockists on wine-searcher.