Calgary Wine Life: Torres Mas La Plana 40th Anniversary Tasting

16 07 2014

photo 4For the CEO of a global wine empire, Miguel Torres Maczassek is a pretty chill guy.  Soft-spoken yet jovial, the 5th-generation head of one of the wine world’s largest family businesses initially comes across as unassuming, but his passion for his multitude of intercontinental wine projects and his pride in the Torres family legacy shines through whenever he speaks.  Torres (the estate) has vineyards and properties across all of the major wine regions of Spain and many other countries, and Torres (the man) recently spent 3 years living in Chile running the family’s operations there, making connections with local growers and taking steps to preserve and revive some of the country’s oldest known varietals.  He was in Calgary recently to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of Torres’ flagship red, Mas La Plana, which I have had and enjoyed many times before and which is one of those rare premium wines that can still be found locally at a fairly reasonable ($50ish) price point.  We had the opportunity to track the evolution of this wine through four different decades, from the 1980s to the 2010s, and to witness firsthand the steps taken to fully realize the family’s vision for its top bottling.

photo 1

Mas La Plana has always been something of an oddity.  It is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine from a single vineyard of the same name (“Mas La Plana” roughly translates to “flat farmland”) located in the heart of the Penedes region in northeast Spain, near Barcelona, an area largely otherwise known for aromatic whites and sparkling Cava.  It has always been bottled in a Burgundy bottle, featuring gently sloping shoulders leading out to a wide base, while most other Cabs tend to take residence in the straight-sided, round-shouldered Bordeaux bottle.  It is a truly sui generis wine, initially conceived by Torres Maczassek’s father (who was also named Miguel Torres) in the late 1960s.  The Mas La Plana vineyard was initially planted to Garnacha and Tempranillo, but in 1966 Torres started planting Cabernet — which was illegal at the time in Penedes and had to be done in secret — using vine cuttings from, among other sources, Bordeaux 1st Growth Chateau Lafite.  Spanish wine was not the easiest sell internationally in the mid-20th century, and Torres thought that a truly Spanish expression of the globally friendly Cabernet Sauvignon might not only peak interest in Spain as a source of fine wine but act as a gateway to help expose consumers to Spanish varietals.

photo 3The first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Mas La Plana vineyard was produced in 1970 and bottled under the name Gran Coronas.  Wanting to test the mettle of his new project against the best (and to prove to his recalcitrant father, who was named, you guessed it, Miguel Torres), the 4th generation Torres entered the wine into the prestigious Gault-Millau Wine Olympics in Paris, where it went up against the top wines of Bordeaux and elsewhere in a blind competition.  It won.  (Second place:  Chateau Latour.)  Just like the effect that the 1976 Judgment of Paris had on Napa Valley Cabernet, the Gault-Millau result gave Gran Coronas instant international credibility and drove demand.  Over time, the Torres family opted to name the wine for the vineyard from which it was born, and now Mas La Plana continues to walk its own unique path as the prime ambassador for the possibilities of Spanish Cabernet.

We were offered four different vintages of Mas La Plana at the tasting:  1989, 1996, 2005 (from magnum) and the not-yet-released 2010.  The wines reflected changes in weather, vineyard management and winemaking style over the years, a trend towards riper, less herbal-tinged grapes and away from the overt notes of American oak.  Each decade of Cabernet represented at the tasting stood apart, and for reasons beyond mere bottle age; it seemed like Torres was constantly working on this project, continually looking for the best ways to express its vision.  The tasting was fast-paced, but I kept notes as best I could of each iteration of this intriguing wine.

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Mas La Plana 1989

1989 was a very warm vintage that arose out of a cold, rainy winter.  This wine, which just turned 25, was first notable by virtue of its deep, thick, garnet colour, still fully opaque at the core even after a quarter century in bottle.  Earlier vintages of Mas La Plana were harvested fairly early and were lower in alcohol and acid-focused; this one clocked in at 12.5% abv.  Mellow and mature, it gave off savoury aromas of tomato leaf, dried flowers and umami/soy sauce, with just a hint of dusty fruit lingering underneath.  The tannic grip of the wine was still present, carving a path through sunbaked earth, anise, dried red fruits, rose petals and parchment and turning slightly tart on the finish.  Quite traditional in style, the 1989 was just starting to fade but was still a joy to drink, light and elegant, a classic Old World representation of Cabernet.

90-91 points

Mas La Plana 1996

In contrast to 1989, the 1996 vintage was cooler and more difficult, and it took a very long time before the grapes were sufficiently ripe to harvest.  You would generally expect that this would result in a thinner, lighter-bodied wine, a hypothesis that initially appeared to be borne out by the much more translucent ruby-tinged hue of the 1996.  But the ’90s also brought a slightly riper flavour profile to Mas La Plana, and the additional fruit proved to be a strong asset to this bottle.  The nose was immediately brighter and more intense than the 1989, featuring darker currant fruit and charred wood, clearly more international in style.  On the palate the wine exploded, fresh and powerful, far more youthful than its 18 years, with a swirling mix of leather, pomegranate, blackberry, cedar and savoury spices and acid for miles, giving it a sense of verve and a clear edge on the finish.  It did not seem tired at all, and I was quite taken by it, although it had a slightly fuzzier sense of identity than the 1989 — nothing about it necessarily took you to Spain.  Still a beautiful wine.

92-93 points

photo 5Mas La Plana 2005

The meteorological seesaw continued, as we were back to a warmer vintage expression of this Cabernet for the Mas La Plana tour of the 2000s.  By 2005, the vision of Mas La Plana was starting to become more and more complete, both in vineyard and in bottle.  Coming from a magnum, the bottle age effects on this wine were greatly reduced (since the ratio of trapped oxygen in the bottle to wine is much lower than with a standard-sized bottle) and the wine was still quite tight and youthful as a result.  A lustrous ruby-purple in colour, the 2005 had a much rounder mouthfeel and a higher alcohol level than its predecessors (14.05%), but these were more than equally matched by soaring powerful tannins and mouthwatering acid — structurally, it was extraordinarily well-balanced.  The flavours were still coming together, but anise, black currant, cinnamon, dill and tobacco all crept up at different times, making this the most typically Cab-like of the wines we tasted.  You could tell that all of the aromas and flavours were still integrating, but the structure was the story of this wine.  This could last for a very long time.

91-92+ points

Mas La Plana 2010

To complete the weather pattern, 2010 was a cool vintage that saw harvest delayed until October to ensure ripeness.  However, the extra hang time allowed flavours to develop slowly, and Miguel Torres was quite enthusiastic about the potential of this vintage, the 40th vintage of Mas La Plana’s existence.  The 2010 is not currently out on retail shelves, but remember to look for it when it arrives, as it is nothing short of remarkable.  It is a vivid purple in the glass and has an absolute black currant laser beam of a nose — slight floral and vanilla tinges, but primarily just the Platonic ideal of currant surging out at you.  The tannins are massive, but fine and polished, and they don’t mask or overwhelm the black fruit, earth, spice and potent acidity that cascade across the tongue.  The wine somehow feels both fully realized but still capable of so much more growth; it is unapologetically modern but still does not lose its character or its sense of history.  Beautiful and well-contained, it is not exactly like other Cabs I have had, but walks its own, uniquely Spanish, path.  This is astonishingly good for its price point and a stunning value compared to other top global Cabernets.  Seek it out.

93-94 points

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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