surinenglish

Hollywood to Catalonia

Leon's real name was Ceferino Carrión (Santander, 1928) and in 1941 he stowed away on a boat to New York. Within hours of arriving he was washing dishes for $4 a day. As Jean Leon he fought in Korea, and on demob worked as a waiter in Hollywood, where he became friends with the likes of Natalie Wood, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Judy Garland and James Dean. Dean proposed they become partners, but was killed the day before they were due to sign the agreement. Undeterred, Jean borrowed $3,500 from a friend and opened La Scala society restaurant.

Marilyn Monroe always dined early, as did Paul Newman, followed by Humphrey Bogart, Warren Beatty, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Fred Astaire, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and many other stars. When Marilyn Monroe called Jean at the restaurant on 4 August 1962 to ask him to send some food round to her apartment, Jean took it himself. On arrival he realised she was not alone, so left the tray at the door. The next morning Marilyn was found dead.

The intrepid ex-waiter returned to Spain in 1962 to fulfil his lifelong ambition of making wine. He found a vineyard in Catalonia's Penedés region and bought cuttings of vines from Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild and Corton Charlemagne that were unknown in Spain. Other vintners thought he was mad, but he hired oenologist Jaume Rovira with a simple instruction: make the best wine in Spain.

Currently the flagship of the Torres-owned bodega is the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, and in exceptional years a Gran Reserva is made, this being the wine served at Ronald Reagan's investiture in 1980. If you thought the best Spanish red wines only come from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, you are in for a pleasant surprise. There are also wines made with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Xarel.lo. The 3055 range (Leon's New York cab licence number) offers a Merlot-Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Rosado.