Marimar Estate – Northern California's best Pinot?
We had the absolute pleasure of welcoming Cristina Torres, daughter of Marimar Torres, to Armit Wines for an intimate tasting through the entire range of Marimar Estate; a winery with vineyards in the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast. Expectations were high as Decanter recently proclaimed the 2006 Marimar Mas Cavalls to be “Northern California’s best Pinot Noir”, as well as Michael Broadbent declaring “it needed a poet to describe it”.
The tasting with Cristina was full of joy and Californian charm, the conversation naturally led to her idyllic childhood of skipping through vines underneath the beautiful climate of the region. Whilst her anecdotes may echo informality and a level of ease, make no mistake, these are serious wines with depth and complexity. This is the result of unmatchable pedigree, stemming from a winemaking bloodline spanning three centuries. Marking its origins in the legendary Torres estate in Spain and stretching across to Chile and the USA, the Torres dynasty is a pillar in the wine world.
A Californian Albariño
We started the tasting with the Marimar Estate Albariño. Not being familiar with any Albariño from California myself, my first feelings were curiosity with a touch of excitement. This was quickly followed by pleasant surprise as the essence of this Spanish variety was captured with great vigour yet formed its own identity, displaying slightly riper fruit than its Galician counterparts. The ripe stone fruit carried hints of tropical melon and banana, combined with 50% malolactic fermentation giving the wine a rounder and creamier feel than your typical Spanish Albariño. This is however, cleverly balanced by the hallmark minerality and mouth-watering acidity of the variety. Delicious, refreshing and full of character.
Chardonnay comparable to Burgundy..?
A look down the list to the La Masia Chardonnay was met with less surprise and more anticipation. I am a sucker for well-made Californian Chardonnay and the joy of discovering one is similar to unearthing a precocious talent; a young and maligned underdog that you have desperately tried to champion to the sceptics. Getting the balance right must start with an emphasis on the vineyard and finish with the smart touch of a quality winemaker. When this happens, Californian Chardonnay is extremely attractive and, in my blasphemous opinion, sits side by side with quality Burgundy.
A gentle use of American Oak allows for delicious notes of Vanilla and Coconut to match bright fruit notes of citrus that starts with lemon and leans towards subtle hints of orange and lime; at times moving onto the riper fruit notes of apricot and melon. Getting this balance right is not an easy task, many producers fall down the trap of explicitly ripe fruit or they simply annihilate the fruit with an unnecessarily heavy use of oak. In the case of Marimar Estate’s La Masia Chardonnay, this delicate balance is found to create an enticing Chardonnay that goes down far too easily. From the gentle use of oak, to the clever rearing of the grapes, restraint is shown across the winemaking. The estate is clearly dealing with high quality fruit and careful vineyard management seemingly runs in the veins of Marimar Torres, an inherited trait from her European ancestors. Chardonnay of this quality and price is unheard of in Burgundy and although calling this a direct substitute would be an insult on both sides, this is a gorgeous alternative with very high standards. I strongly suggest securing a few cases from this excellent vintage.
Their Dobles Lias Chardonnay (Exclusive to Armit Wines) is their top Chardonnay. Dobles Lias means Double Lees in Spanish and this wine spends 20 months on the lees. Extended lees contact is a traditional Burgundian technique which adds richness, texture and complexity. This has the richness and sumptuous texture associated with this extended ageing yet remains perfectly clear, focused and precise. The weight and power is set off perfectly by fresh acidity and a real vein of mineral, salty freshness. This is deeper and more serious than the Masia as the Dobles Lias is made only from their top, age-worthy parcels. The Dobles Lias will cellar well but is stunningly expressive, layered and quite simply spectacular today. There is certainly no need to wait.
For those who prefer their Chardonnay unoaked, their Acero Chardonnay is very balanced and well made, providing a pleasurable drinking experience for all.
Three delicious Pinots
Saving the best for last, we tasted across the three Pinot Noirs, the wines that brought this estate international recognition beyond the already rich reputation of the Torres family. The La Masia Pinot Noir 2009 was an excellent entry level Pinot Noir. Crunchy red fruit mainly comprised of raspberries and cherry drops is delicately balanced with lingering minerality and clean, refreshing acidity. The palate is bright, cheerful and generally crowd pleasing without the same level of complexity as their more premium offerings. Less complexity does not mean lack of balance; this wine is perfectly put together and incredibly delectable.
The two Pinot Noirs that really caught my imagination were the Cristina Pinot Noir and the much-heralded Mas Cavalls. The Cristina is barrel selected, where the best barrels are compiled for maximum ageing potential. Needless to say, this wine is Cristina’s namesake and she explained with great enthusiasm how it is made to best display the terroir of the original Don Miguel Vineyard, named after her late Grandfather, Miguel Torres. Similarly, the Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir reflects the Doña Margarita vineyard in the Sonoma Coast. Both wines displayed a complex array of dark red fruit, Christmas spice flavours of cinnamon and cloves as well as clean, refreshing minerality and acidity to match. These excellent Pinots were both at a very high standard and I would be happy to secure a parcel of either wine. For me, the Mas Cavalls displayed more complexity in its fruit along with some delicious spicy notes of red pepper, red liquorice and mint, whilst the Cristina contained delicate, soft meaty notes along with some sweet vanilla to match. Both wines had tremendously supple tannins matched with a lingering finish that harmonised with the nose and palate perfectly.
Critical acclaim that’s hard to disagree with
Praise of the high order given to Marimar Estate from Decanter or any reputable wine critic is hard to come by. Apart from the congenital skills Cristina takes from her mother in terms of presenting their wines, each individual bottle spoke for itself. Personally being an American wine enthusiast, I must say that Decanter leaves little to disagree with. These are up there with the finest Californian Pinot Noirs that I have had the pleasure of enjoying.