A sizeable portion of my modest cellar is taken up by bottles of Mas La Plana, a single vineyard cabernet that Miguel A. Torres started harvesting in 1970. In 1979, the wine became legendary when the 1970 vintage won the cabernet competition at the Wine Olympics put together by Gault-Millau, against the likes of Château Latour and Château Haut-Brion.
Despite this remarkable success, Mas La Plana remains highly affordable, compared to the wines it beat back in 1979. 40$ will generally be enough to get you a bottle of this remarkable cuvée that ages exceedingly well and provides, over time, a classic, elegant example of what cabernet sauvignon is all about.
In the mid-1990s, when SAQ organized a mail-order sale of wines from the Primum Familiae Vini (Leading Wine Families), I decided to purchase some older vintages of Mas La Plana (along with a bottle of Guado Al Tasso and other Antinori wines – but that’s another story), including 1981, 1985 and 1989. The wines were reasonably priced (by then and today’s standards), and it was a rare occasion to see how such wines could develop over time.
A year later, in London, a very nice gentleman at Selfridge’s wine department, whom I’d asked if the store had any older vintages of Mas La Plana, led me to the right place. They didn’t have any, but the salesman knew this Spanish wine merchant who did. As he told me how much he’d enjoyed tasting the 1970 “Black Label” with Miguel Torres himself, he gave me the address (I can’t remember the name, only that it was a little West and North of the city center) and off I went.
The place was a treasure trove of great Spanish wines, including at least ten vintages of Mas La Plana. I bought a 1985 and a 1988, and another 80s vintage, but chickened out before the 40+ pounds being asked of the 1976 and other early bottlings (I regret that now, but really couldn’t afford it).
Two of the wines were included in a vertical tasting we did with the regular group that my friend Bernard is still hosting to this day. The 1981 was fresh as a rose, distinguished, open and still promising. Which is why there are so many bottles still in my cellar. I know these wines can go on and on and on.
For my father’s 70th birthday (and my mother’s 65th), last week, I brought up a wine that had been harvested when my father was 50. It was particularly fitting, since the 1988 Mas La Plana obviously still had many good years in front of it.
(By the way, I was impressed to read on the back label that pesticides and herbicides were banned from the vineyard, twenty years ago, well before the current vogue of organic and “green” wines.)
The color was garnet, with a slight orange tinge on the edges, but still showing great concentration. Right from decanting, aromas of leather and cigar box, with a touch of red cherry and red currant showed through. Not necessarily complex, but very well-defined and elegant. Over time, a touch of coffee, mushroom and orange peel also became noticeable. Flavors were coherent with the nose, with some earthy touches and fine tannins.
Concentration was good enough to match a tasty, herb-encrusted leg of lamb with a tasty reduction of the cooking juices with a glass of red wine, and a side of salsify fettucine alfredo (a recipe inspired from one of my favorite chefs, Marcus Samuelsson). You need a full-flavored wine to match such dishes, and the Mas La Plana had enough gumption to do the job.
There was a bit of the wine left the next day, and it was still as bright, and perhaps even a little more expressive. Obviously, there should be a fair part of my cellar dedicated to Mas La Plana for years to come.