I have just returned from a few days in and around Barcelona, where I had been invited to join Miguel Torres and his family to the opening celebrations for their new single vineyard cellars.
It was Torres’ single vineyard Mas La Plana that put the estate on the fine wine map back in the 1970s, when it triumphed at the Paris Wine Olympiad organised by Gault-Millau, beating all comers including Chateau Latour. Whilst Mas La Plana has continued for almost 40 vintages, Torres has expanded with several other single vineyard projects in Spain, including the range-topping Grans Muralles, from a vineyard cultivated since the 13th century and now planted to Monastrell, Cariñena, Garnacha, Garró and Samsó.
>Grans Murailles is now Torres’ most expensive wine at over £40 per bottle, and a vertical tasting of it and other interesting single vineyard wines follows.
The new cellar is a stunning complex, housing not only the winery and barrel cellars, but also what amounts to an entire wine theme park. There are multimedia shows, a museum, tasting room and sculpture park, and a very nicely done sound, light and animation show that takes place within the cellars. Sited close to the town of Vilafranca del Penedès, it is a world-class addition to wine tourism.
It was terrific to meet not only Miguel and his artist wife Waltraud (pictured), but also their children, Mireia who is Winemaker and Miguel junior, who is Director of Marketing. We were also joined by Miguel’s sister Marimar, who runs the eponymous Torres’ operation in the Sonoma Valley, and who had flown in for the occasion.
Though obviously of great significance for the business, there was an air of genuine family celebration at the opening, especially as the cellar is officially named the Waltraud cellar. Waltraud’s work adorns the walls of several rooms. As well as its design which sits ‘quietly’ in the Penedès landscape, Miguel also spoke with passion about the 12 million Euro building’s ecological credentials.
These include ‘bio-climatic’ architecture that employs turf and water in the roof structure to require minimal energy for temperature control, and 12,000 square metres of solar panels that will generate around 15% of all the energy required by the complex. Indeed, with only a few years until he retires and hands over to the fifth generation completely, Michel spoke of his concern for the environment and for sustainability. He himself drives a Prius hybrid vehicle – one of more than 100 owned by the company. He has also been buying land at high altitude, not currently able to sustain viticulture, with an eye to its potential in 50 years if climate change makes the plains of Spain less suitable for cool-climate grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
Mas La Plana
Next day we took a tour of some of the single vineyards, before heading to the beautifully restored Mas Rabell farmhouse, where Mireia led us through a tasting of six vintages of Mas La Plana, starting with that 1970 – the wine that put Mas La Plana on the global map.
The Mas La Plana vineyard lies in Penedès, not far from the Torres family home. At just 29 hectares, the vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and consists of yellow/brown loam and gravel soils over clay. There is a very low content of organic matter. The site is well ventilated, and enjoys a Mediterranean climate because of its proximity to the sea.
As you will see from the notes, that 1970 vintage blended 30% of other grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon, and the oak barrel regime has changed subtly over the years too. But I was hugely impressed by the consistent quality and very specific expression of Cabernet Sauvignon given to these wines by the Mas La Plana vineyard.
Mas La Plana costs around £23.00 per bottle, and is in some branches of Sainsbury’s, Morrison, Waitrose, Fenwick’s, Great Gaddesden Wines, Harrods, House of Fraser and Makro. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Mas La Plana 1970
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Ull de Llebre, 10% Cabernet Franc fermented in steel, aged six months in new American oak, then 12 months in second and third-fill French oak. Fading brown colour with brick to ruby at core. Lovely old wine vegetal sweetness on the nose, with notes of dried blood, truffle, prune and that echo of very sweet black fruit. On the palate lovely sweetness still, with masses of clove and spice, and still a fine core of redcurrant and cherry acidity. Lovely soft, truffly finish. The yield at this point would have been 50 – 60 hl/ha. 91/100
Mas La Plana 1981
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Mas La Plana, aged six months in new French and American oak, then 15 months in second and third-fill casks. From a dry year, though enough rains that vines were not stressed. 100% Cabernet for the first time, and yields becoming lower. Lots of brick on the broad rim, retaining some ruby at core. Earthy, truffly, very spicy nose again, with notes of Caraway seed, fig and clove. On the palate there is more richness and hints of almost minty blackcurrant fruit sweetness that the 1970, but the powerful, spicy core comes through on the mid-palate and that truffly, earthy quality. 90/100
Mas La Plana 1998
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Mas La Plana, aged 18 months in Nevers French oak. Over 30 days of the summer with temperatures over 30c. Good, solid, quite vibrant ruby colour at 10 years old, with some of that vegetal character of damp undergrowth, but a much more solid, though still spicy black fruit. The fruit here is very firm, with a liquoricy tannic edge, and plenty of grip. There’s a raisined quality too, then good acidity pushes through giving this an edge. A layered, fascinating win, though it lacks a little of the 1981 and 1970’s seductive charm perhaps. 90/100
Mas La Plana 2001
Sorting tables introduced for first time. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Mas La Plana, aged 18 months in French oak from selected coopers. Solid, dense ruby colour. Much more pure cassis nose, with hints of violet and red cherry, in a nicely lifted fragrance. Dry, warm year, again with over 30 summer days over 30c. The cedary quality of the oak begins to build, with nuances of Sandalwood and green peppercorns. On the palate this has a silky, mouth-filling texture and intensity, with real concentration. The very ripe, almost raisined quality is there, but this is juicy too, with a blackcurrant ripeness at its core. There’s something a touch leathery and gamy. The acidity and tannins add a lot of structural backbone and some real bite in the finish, with that array of exotic spices and slightly espresso coffee quality of the oak adding a plushness in the finish. Very young, but terrific quality. 92/100
Mas La Plana 2004
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Mas La Plana, aged 18 months in French oak. A consistently warm summer after a cool spring. Harvest was actually two weeks later than usual. Bright but deep crimson colour. Very alluring, smoky, exotic incense-like quality to the oak here of very high quality. Beneath, the fruit is opulent, suggesting round, rich, fleshy red berries and ripe blackcurrant. There’s a touch of that undergrowth vegetal quality in the background. On the palate this has fabulous concentration, with the supple, fine tannins immediately adding grippy weight. The core of black fruit pushes through however, with a good edge of liquorice and cherry skin acidity and then the spice and coffee-bean richness emerging in the finish. 91/100
Mas La Plana 2005
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Mas La Plana, aged 18 months in French oak. Warmer than average vintage, but lack of summer rain led to vine stress and yields down by 35%. Also introduced a new vertical pneumatic press. Deep, dense, even crimson colour. Again, that exotic, incense and joss-stick allure of the oak is the immediate impression, before a touch of green peppercorn and then solid, concentrated black fruit with great ripeness. There’s a hint of something chocolaty too. On the palate this is very firm and very fresh and racy. There’s a lovely cherry and plum-skin tartness, and then the palate broadens, blending smoky, fat black fruit and something much edgier, and crisper, like liquorice and black plum. This is very youthful, the slightly raw edge of the tannins needing time to soften, but it is an intense and very tightly-wound, powerful wine of huge potential. 93/100
See all stockists of Mas La Plana on wine-searcher.com.
I guess Mas La Plana inspired Miguel Torres to follow a path of researching and restoring some of Spain’s best vineyard terroirs, in order to follow a dream of producing truly great wines from Penedès and surrounding regions. Whilst Rioja, Jerez, and latterly Ribera del Duero took the plaudits as the homes of Spain’s greatest wines, Miguel Torres – proudly a son of this region as where previous generations of the Torres dynasty – quietly developed such wonderful vineyard sites as the Finca Milmanda, now home of some of Spain’s best Chardonnays, Finca Fransola where the Fransola Sauvignon Blanc is grown, and Grans Muralles.
Grans Muralles is a beautiful vineyard, surrounded by the walls of a 13th century Cistercian monastery, and planted with a range of indigenous Spanish grapes: Monastrell, Cariñena, Garnacha, Garró and Samsó. That is in complete contrast to Mas La Plana, made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon of course. The Grans Muralles vineyard in the DO Conca de Barberà has been cultivated since Cistercian monks introduced vines here in the 13th century.
Situated between the Milmanda Castle and the Monastery of Poblet, the site spans 94 hectares, though just 32 are dedicated to its eponymous wine. It took Torres’ viticultural team over 15 years of experimentation to select the vines best suited to these ‘licorella’ soils (slate and gravel). Torres has brought a new lease of life to the almost extinct Garró and Samsó.
Grans Muralles costs around £49.00, and stockists include Great Gaddesden Wines and Soho Wine Supply Ltd. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Also included here are notes on one or two other single vineyard wines tasted whilst in Spain, including Torres impressive new Priorat project.
Grans Muralles 2001
This wine spent 18 months in new French oak from Nevers and Vosges. It has a deep, dark crimson colour. Much creamier and apparently more ripe and cassis-like than the Mas la Plana, with very ripe and full, forward black fruit showing no sign of the truffle and vegetal character that so marks Mas la Plana. Lovely quality of coffee and cedar oak, and hints of a thyme-like fragrance. On the palate that ripe, sweet, very concentrated and supple black fruit floods across the palate. There’s plenty of grip, with liquorice and plum skins adding svelte but grippy edge. Very good balance here, with fantastic richness and harmony. 92/100
Grans Muralles 2002
Quite gamy and fleshy, with grilled meats and lots of cedar. More open than the 2001, which is not surprising given vintage conditions in 2002. Lots of gamy, structured depth and richness, with chewy tannins and very good balance. More open and approachable, and whilst this doesn’t have the ultimate concentration, and nor, I suspect the staying power of the 2001, it is a very, very good wine that makes for delicious drinking now. 91/100
Grans Muralles 2005
Very dark, but vibrant crimson/black. Hugely closed, muscular, dense and concentrated black fruit aromas. There’s a certain meatiness here. A tiny hint of something violetty and floral too, and again that little herbal hint. The palate has really intense, creamy and muscular fruit. There’s massive concentration here, with dry, savoury, slightly leathery black fruit. This broadens to show some spice, but that leathery, dark, tightly-wound muscularity is brooding and impressive, and suggests this certainly needs time. 93/100
Mirador del Castell 2006
From the Milmanda vineyard, this wine blends 85% Chardonnay with 15% Parellada, with part of the Chardonnay aged in Limousin oak. Very attractive, fresh nose, with a hint of grassy cut, but a lovely, refined stone fruit character with a background of sesame seed smokiness. The palate has a similar combination of ripe, quite luscious peach and pear, and that crisp, lemon and grassy, endive edge. The oak just adds a creaminess in the finish of this delicious and stylish wine. 88/100
Salmos ‘Perpetual’ Priorato 2005
Only 6000 bottles of this wine are produced, from old vines Cariñena and Garnacha, aged 15 months on the lees in French oak. It has a vibrant, deep colour, with very ripe, fruit-forward nose, with lots of juicy redcurrant and cherry crunch. Lovely freshness on the palate too, some chocolate and dense black plum, but retains its bright and crunchy structure with supple, creamy tannins and excellent length. 92/100