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The wines of Marimar Estate, Sonoma, California

Marimar Torres, sister of Miguel, represents the Californian outpost of the Torres wine empire, but she has chosen to avoid using the Torres name on the label of her wines: instead, they are labelled Marimar Estate.

After working in the family business as export director for Torres in Europe, Marimar moved to California in 1975 to try to crack the US market. In the following years, Torres sales leaped from 15 000 cases to 150 000 cases annually. Evidently, though, she had ambitions of her own that went beyond her role with Torres.

Marimar began planting the Don Miguel vineyard on land she had owned for a while in 1986. 30 acres were planted to Chardonnay, and shortly after another 30 acres of Pinot Noir went into the ground. The location she chose was in the Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma, some 10 miles from the Pacific and 50 miles north of San Francisco. By Californian standards, this is cool climate. 

Viticulture followed a European model, with a planting density of some four times the Californian standard, at 2000 plants per acre, on a low hanging vertical trellis. Marimar also opted for a mix of clones in pursuit of complexity. Chardonnay is Rued, Spring Mountain and See, while Pinot Noir is Cristina 88, Swan, Pommard and the Dijons 115, 777 and 667.

A second vineyard, Doña Margarita, was planted in 2002, in the Sonoma Coast appellation. There are 60 plantable acres here, although just 12 were planted in 2002 followed by a further 8 in 2005. All are Pinot Noir.

After trials went favourably, the Don Miguel vineyard was converted to organics in 2003. Tilling is used for weed control rather than herbicides; cover crops such as peas, vetch, bell beans and oats are used, and composting is preferred over synthetic fertilizers. Currently, Marimar is beginning to implement biodynamics. 

The results? Some impressive wines. By comparison with red and white Burgundy these wines seem quite full-on, but by comparison with the California style, they are elegant and more European. I was very impressed, particularly by the Pinot Noirs, although I wasn’t hugely keen on the rather full-on, intense Dobles Lias Chardonnay.

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay ‘Dobles Lías’ 2003 Russian River Valley, California
Alluring deep yellow/gold colour. Powerful nose of vanilla, toast and bread, with some toffee and caramel. There’s a bit of lemon, too. The palate is powerful with angular flavours of vanilla oak, some tannin, nuts and bread, and an oily texture with some alcohol, too. Almost too much flavour: really needs strongly flavoured food to accompany it. Too much for my palate. 86/100 (c. £25 World Wines 4U)  11/06

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2003 Russian River Valley, California
Good yellow colour. There’s some vanilla and toast complexity to the full, rich fruit on the nose which has some lemony freshness. There’s plenty of richness on the palate, but it stays savoury and there’s good balance. Smooth, classy and concentrated, but there’s restraint here and freshness. Should evolve nicely. 91/100 (c. £19, Fareham Wine Cellar, Rodney Densem Wines, Portland Wine Co, Handford, James Fearon, Sandhams) 11/06

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Acero Chardonnay 2005 Russian River Valley, California
Aromatic and fruity, this well balanced Chardonnay shows quite rich tropical fruit/pineapple notes countered nicely by some lemony acidity. There's plenty of richness, but it's not at all overdone: balance is maintained. Unoaked, and probably better for it. The alcohol level, at 13.5%, is pretty sane for a Californian Chardonnay, too, which suggests that they got the balance right on the vine. I like this. Very good/excellent 90/100

Marimar Estate Doña Margarita Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Sonoma Coast, California
First release from a 12 acre organic vineyard six miles from the Pacific, with 2340 vines per acre (high density) trained low. 62% Pommard clone and 38% Dijon 115 clone. Aged in a mix of half new and half one year old French oak barrels for 11 months before being bottled unfiltered. This wine has a deep colour, with a nose of sweet dark cherry and blackberry fruit, complemented with a bit of spicy oak. It needs a bit of time to open out. The palate shows lovely savoury dark fruits with a firm spicy structure. It's fresh, purely fruited and focused with some elegance, but it is currently quite primary and tannic, with a bit of high class oak evident. There's some nice earthy complexity, together with the faintest hint of rhubarb. There's some real potential for development here: quite a serious, full-on expression of Pinot Noir, albeit at quite a high alcohol level (14.5%). I'm impressed. Very god/excellent 92/100 12/06

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2002 Russian River Valley, California
Dark, spicy and meaty with sweet cherry fruit. There’s some tannic structure, good acidity and lots of flavour. This is quite a rich Pinot Noir, but it’s delicious and still varietally true. Nice balance. 92/100 (c. £23 Portland Wine, Ava Wines, World Wines 4U, James Fearon, Thos Peatling, Handford, Sandhams, Amps Fine Wines) 12/06

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Pinot Noir Christina Selection 2005 Russian River Valley, California
Named after Marimar’s daughter. A really attractive, balanced Pinot Noir with a nose of sweet dark cherry fruit and a spicy overlay. The palate has supple, quite elegant dark fruit with a nice savouriness and a bit of earthy structure. Subtle meatiness and a hint of soy and cola. Quite complex and balanced: new world in style but with restraint. 91/100 (£29.95 Handford) 12/06

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