The wines of Jean Leon, Penedes, Spain
Part 4 of my visit to Torres, one of Spain's most important wine producers

Thereís an interesting story behind the Jean Leon winery. Itís now part of the Torres empire, and is run by Mireia Torres, daughter of Miguel Torres senior, but it was founded by a larger-than-life character called Jean Leon.

Jean Leonís real name was Cefferino Carion. Born in Santander, Spain, in 1929, Cefferino experienced tragedy early on when his father and older brother died in a fire. So he decided to leave Santander. As a young man, he set off on a journey that took him to Barcelona, then to Paris, then to New York.

It took him eight attempts at stowing away before he finally got to leave by boat for the USA, and when he arrived he joined the US Army and served during the Korean War. Returning to civilian life, he changed his name to Jean Leon and got a US passport, heading off to Los Angeles to try to make it as an actor. His acting was bad, and so he started work as a taxi driver.

Jean Leon must have been a magnetic, persuasive personality, because itís at this point that things took off for him. He met Sinatra, and started working as a waiter at the restaurant owned by Sinatra and Di Maggio. He became friends with various Hollywood stars, and in 1965 opened a restaurant together with James Dean, called La Scala, in Beverley Hills. This became a celebrity haunt. Apparently, Jean Leon was one of the last people to see Marilyn alive. So the story goes he supplied her with her favourite dish on the day she died Ė Fettucini. This was also the favourite dish of President John F. Kennedy.

Leon's success brought him a bit of money, and decided he wanted to buy a French Champagne house. This proved to be a little out of his means, so he turned to the country of his birth, Spain. In 1962 he bought a 150 hectare property in central Penedes, at an altitude of 300-400 m, 20 km from the sea, tucked behind some mountains. This was a new concept in Spain: the Pago, or single vineyard property. He took out all the original local varieties and planted the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, new varieties for the region. People thought he was crazy. The first wine released was the 1969 Gran Reserva.

Leon sold the property to Torres in 1994, shortly before he died of cancer. His son and daughter remain in the USA: she manages La Scala, while he works for the government.

Mireia Torres (above) has been working with organics here since 2008, and from 2012 the wines will be certified. The majority of vineyard sites on the estate are calcareous clay, a good soil for winegrowing. I wasn't expecting to like these wines as much as I did. After all, it's just not cool to plant international varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet in Mediterranean climates any more. But the wines here show a great capacity for developing with age, as the tasting of older vintages showed.


Jean Leon 3055 Petit Chardonnay 2011 Penedes, Spain
3055 was the number of Jean Leon's LA cab. Fresh with lovely balanced pear and citrus fruit. Very subtle toasty richness. Lovely focus and concentration, a stylish wine. 91/100

Jean Leon Vinya Gigi Chardonnay 2009 Penedes, Spain
From a 5 hectare single block, fermented in new French oak. Really intense and concentrated with bold toast, nut, fig and honey notes. Powerful flavours of mineral and spice, with notes of toast, fig and herbs on the palate. Really magnificent: powerful yet fresh. 95/100

Jean Leon Chardonnay 1997 Penedes, Spain
Gold colour. Rich complex nose of bread, toast, honey and dried apricot. The palate is concentrated, bold and smooth with lovely toast, peach and bread notes. Soft but still well defined, this has aged beautifully. 96/100

Jean Leon 3055 Petit Merlot 2011 Penedes, Spain
15% Petit Verdot in the blend, 5 months French oak. Sweetly aromatic, pure, floral cherry and berry fruits. Fresh, supple, sweet and vivid with direct berry fruits. Really delicious with good definition and nice grip. 90/100

Jean Leon Vinya Palau Merlot 2007 Penedes, Spain
Fresh, berryish and with a hint of mint on the nose. The palate is fresh and fruity with nice brightness and some savoury, mineral structure. Very sophisticated with nice balance and some elegance. 92/100

Jean Leon Reserva 2006 Penedes, Spain
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc. Rich but restrained with spicy, savoury characters, a distinctive gravelliness and attractive midweight fruit. Refined with good ageing potential. 92/100

Jean Leon Gran Reserva 2001 Penedes, Spain
Since 1996 this has been 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet, rich, ripe open nose with sweet, alluring berry fruits. Ripe, supple, warm palate is sweetly fruited with notes of spice, tar and minerals, as well as soy sauce notes. Seductive and mellow. 94/100

Jean Leon Gran Reserva 1994 Penedes, Spain
Fresh and smooth, in an elegant style with ripe berry fruits and a soft, rich texture. Fresh palate has a herby, minty edge and is warm and broad with some earthy, leathery notes in the background. In a good place and drinking very well now. 95/100

Jean Leon Gran Reserva 1982 Penedes, Spain
Just 12.5% alcohol! Warm, sweet cherry and berry fruit nose with hints of earth and iodine. Smoothly mineral, spicy palate is super elegant, in a ripe style. Sweetly fruited and complex with real elegance and beauty. It still has fruit but also a magical smooth harmony to the flavours. 97/100


Wines tasted 07/12  
Find these wines with


Back to top