The Future Pours the Past: How Torres Mas La Plana Passes the Taste of Time
There was something poetic about having the new generation of the Torres family hosting a vertical tasting of Torres Mas La Plana, a wine hailed as the legacy of Mireia and Miguel’s father, Miguel A. Torres, and which was considered quite a risky venture at the time of its creation in 1970.
In fairness, a Cabernet Sauvignon made in Spain and contained in a Burgundian bottle is still an oddity even by today’s standards, but as they explained on the day -the Monday after Wine Culinary 2016 at Bodegas Torres’ visitors centre in Penedés-, it wasn’t a marketing stunt or an eccentric whim what motivated Miguel A. to keep the sophisticated yet unusual appearance: Originally packaged using what was available, no one dared to change a thing after its 1970 vintage won the Paris Wine Olympics in 1979.
Five decades after the 29-hectare vineyard became a pioneer in the use of Cabernet Sauvignon in Penedés (the grapes were planted in ’66), we step into the winery. “The vines are quite old now and the wine is way better than it was in the sixties and seventies”, explains Miguel. And as the plants get older, the equipment becomes more modern: a glimpse at their optical sorter of grapes confirmed that tradition and vision coexist in the Torres family.
The Taste of Time
A good vertical tasting is not only a showcase of the same wine in different vintages, it must tell a story and it must transcend a mere gathering to describe flavours and aromas. As we tried five different vintages of Mas La Plana, we tasted more than wine, we tasted the history and pride of the a family behind the most admired wine brand in Europe, we shared their hopes and dreams, thoughts about the future, uncertainty and courage.
ACT I – STAYING ALIVE | GRAN CORONAS (MAS LA PLANA) BLACK LABEL 1971
Disco might be dead but as the Bee Gees’ classic goes, this wine is Staying Alive. It was a tamer take on the varietal, as back then it was only 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 20% Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo) and 10% Cabernet Franc to balance it up.
This changed progressively and by 1978, the blending stopped and Gran Coronas (known today as Mas La Plana) became a 100% Cab Sauv. “The harvest used to start a bit later, the grapes were less ripe and the alcohol content was lower, at 12.5%” points out Miguel, as we discover aromas of cedar, cigar and bell pepper (this one courtesy of Ms. Cabernet Franc, they agreed).
ACT II – DELAYED GRATIFICATION | GRAN CORONAS (MAS LA PLANA) 1982
Closer to its modern style, this wine benefited from a rainy August followed by a dry September. As we perceived its leathery bouquet and austere features, Mireia and Miguel reflected on how consumer preferences impact fine wine.
“Nowadays consumers want to be able to drink the wine now, they don’t want to wait years to open a bottle. So the winemakers have to balance things up, because you’re making Mas La Plana and you want to please them but you also want the ageing potential”, explained Mireia.
ACT III – AGEING GRACEFULLY | MAS LA PLANA 1996
Now identifiable as a modern Mas La Plana, this one came from the decade which saw some key decisions: no more American oak, and from then now on the rule for maturing would be to do so for 18 months, exclusively in French oak; and also, the company moved towards environmentally friendly and sustainable practices.
Just before the turn of the millennium, Torres was recognised by Wine Spectator as The Most Important Winery in Spain. The wine itself feels full of life, and even though it’s old enough to vote, it’s aromas of cooked plum and cassis with clove and cherry jam are a promise of longevity.
ACT IV – THIS ONE IS A KEEPER | MAS LA PLANA 2004
The decade saw global warming and climate change entering day-to-day talk and perhaps the fact that Mas La Plana’s ABV surpassed the 14% ABV mark just one year before the UN’s Kyoto Protocol entered into force tells you something about the future of fine wines (hotter weather means riper grapes with more sugars and that translate into more alcohol).
As we tried a beautiful, velvety and elegant red, with a pleasant balance between toasted and ripe red fruit that will surely keep well for years to come, Mireia explained that “old vines are better equipped to deal with global warming because they have deeper roots” that are able to stay cool and reach further down the ground for water, compared to younger plants that might stress sooner under harsh conditions.
ACT V – VISION AND DETERMINATION | MAS LA PLANA 2011
But grapes can only get so old and roots can only dig so far, and the Torres family is well aware that the future of Mas La Plana (and of fine wine in general) has to be planted today. “In the next few weeks there’s going to be a meeting in Penedés and we’ll try to convince them to accept some indigenous varieties in sight of global warming, as we are planing now for the next generation”, said Miguel.
The most recent wine we tried on the day showed great potential. Only the best grapes passed through the optical sorter’s unforgiving robotic eye and a balanced, full bodied red with generous ripe black fruit and a herbacious and toasted background was the result.
Courage Doesn’t Always Skips a Generation
We finished the tasting convinced that the tenacity that has characterised the Torres family will live on. Aware of the challenges that a warming world will represent, Mireia and Miguel are far from sitting idle. Metres away from the bodega, there is a plot of land planted with numerous grape varieties that many of the attending experts were reading for the first time. Perhaps the future of Mas La Plana lies in some of that fruit.
“Climate change is probably the most important challenge any winemaker has. Not only us, not only Spain, but in Europe and everywhere, people will need to adapt”, says Miguel, and at Torres is not just a matter of reacting, but of anticipating and being able to run the bodega the way they make a Mas La Plana: balancing the importance of achieving excellence now, while thinking about the long term potential of their choices.
Where to find Torres Mas La Plana? The Corkscrew, Dublin; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin; Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Dublin; Joyces of Galway; The Wine Well, Dunboyne, Co Meath; and selected wine shops nationwide.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.