Torres’ Mas La Plana 45th Anniversary: Beijing Tasting

Edward Ragg Left: a Mas La Plana cake for the wine’s 45th Anniversary, Aria Restaurant, Beijing.   Right: Mas La Plana’s iconic black label and Burgundy-bottle shape.  Spanish winemaking dynasty Torres is this year celebrating the 45th Anniversary of its iconic Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon. Miguel Torres Maczassek, current General Manager of Torres, recently came to Beijing to celebrate this milestone and offer a comparative tasting of select vintages of Mas La Plana (see below), including the very first vintage 1970, as well as showing other innovative Torres wines at a dinner at Aria Restaurant. Torres’ winemaking history can be traced to 1870, but the family was involved in viticulture in the Penedès region as early as the 17th Century. Torres’ modern manifestation was realized by Miguel Torres, whose innovative approach, in planting international grape varieties alongside native Spanish examples as well as embracing the technology that changed the world of wine in the 1980s and after, was instrumental in putting the Penedès and Catalonia as a whole on the international wine map. It is not without exaggeration to say that Miguel Torres made ‘modern Spain’ the phenomenon out of which today’s Spanish wine world has grown, especially since Spain joined the European Union in 1986. (Above: Miguel Torres) Mas La Plana, philosophically, is very much part of that picture. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and made in an intensely fruity style that few wines from Spain in the 1970s displayed (Miguel Torres’ father was certainly nonplussed at this new style of wine his son was putting in bottle). It is important to remember that, apart from perhaps Rioja, Spanish wine was not well known internationally in the early 1970s. And, indeed, under General Franco and the uncertainty following his demise, the Torres family looked outside of Spain to ensure a future in wine production (beginning in Chile as early as 1979 and California in 1985). However, Miguel Torres was adamant that a modern Spanish wine produced from Cabernet Sauvignon would get the world’s attention, as it duly did in 1979 when the 1970 Mas La Plana (labelled ‘Gran Coronas Black Label’) beat a selection of Bordeaux First Growths in a Paris blind-tasting competition – in a sense following in the footsteps of those Californian wines that had performed so well in the 1976 Judgement of Paris.  But the other thing to appreciate about Mas La Plana is that, although Miguel Torres sought acclaim for the wine by relying on a famous international variety, the wine is not a ‘Bordeaux blend’. Philosophically, Mas La Plana shares more with Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon or those Napa Valley Cabs that are very close to being or are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Where Bordeaux struggles to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in the wines of the Haut-Médoc – seeking to add fruitiness to structure through Merlot and other varieties – Mas La Plana aims to represent Cabernet Sauvignon in as ripe and still refreshing a state as possible; with a stamp of the Penedès that makes this wine not entirely like Napa or Coonawarra or, indeed, anywhere else. But how did this unique Spanish wine come to fruition? During 1965-66 the Torres family planted Cabernet Sauvignon in its Mas La Plana vineyard, some 29 hectares surrounding the family home. The vine material came from Jean Leon, who, legend has it, surreptitiously took cuttings from the vineyards of Châteaux Lafite and La Lagune: Leon who had gone to California in the dream of pursuing an acting career, then opened La Scala restaurant, returning to Spain in the hope of producing a notable Cabernet Sauvignon he could then sell...

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An Introduction to our Tasting Notes

Tasting Notes: Organization When we first started a Dragon Phoenix blog (back in 2007), our somewhat naive aim was to present full tasting notes on the hundreds of wines we get to taste each year in a fully searchable format. We also had tasting notes ready to hand to transcribe from physical jottings made since 2003 – but, sadly, not from our first blind-tasting days back in 1999 (not that, back then, our notes were necessarily that informative!). Then Ryan Opaz (of Catavino fame) pointed out the great resource that is Adegga: not only a site where notes could be uploaded, but where each wine could be coded (via a unique AVIN) and its HTML code then used on other sites. It seemed to make much more sense to add notes to a ‘tasting community’ rather than have them sequestered away on a new blog and site whose real function was to inform people about wine education and the wine scene(s) in China. But much has changed since then. Dragon Phoenix took off and we quickly became too busy to maintain a blog; even when writing, we were typically producing articles and tasting notes for magazines in China and beyond or on other people’s sites. The result here is a mixture of notes uploaded directly to the Dragon Phoenix blog (now Wine News section of this new site) or via wine reviews linked directly to originals written (mainly by Edward) on Adegga. But the rationale and organization of these notes has always been the same. The full name and vintage of each wine is listed followed by detailed notes divided up into the following categories: ‘Appearance’, ‘Nose’ and ‘Palate’, followed by a ‘Conclusion’ and ‘Rating’ out of 20 (see Rating System below for an explanation of how to interpret our scores). These notes may appear in tastings covered in the ‘Dragon Phoenix Features’ category or in the ‘Odd Bottles’ section where often notes on individual wines appear. Rating System There are many rating and scoring systems used by wine critics and enthusiasts around the world. None is perfect, but wine would not be what it is – an evolving organic product, full of surprises – if it could be described exactly or in any sense finally. However, although individual wines are always changing – and although perceptions of taste are necessarily personal and subjective – wine critics have a duty to be open, transparent and consistent about how they rate wines. We follow a 20-point system because this seems to give us enough flexibility to assess a range of wines without having numerically baffling scores (the 100-point system seems unwieldy, although we recognize it works for other tasters and have experience using it ourselves on blind-tasting panels). The 20-point scale is also what we’ve grown used to adopting in professional wine challenges where large numbers of wines from vastly different categories are assessed. Here are what our scores mean (an explanatory note on how this system is relative to the type or category of wine scored follows): 18.5-20 A ‘Gold Medal’ winner: a very good to outstanding wine. Within the top of its class and a great example of its category. Of very high quality indeed. 17-18.4 A ‘Silver Medal’ winner. Very good quality wine. At an impressive quality-level, but not in the top of its class and not the highest quality example of its category. 15.5-16.9 A ‘Bronze Medal’ winner. Good quality wine. A good expression of its category, but not necessarily inspiring. Reliable drinking. 14-15.4 ‘Commercial’. Drinkable, but not good quality, not exciting and usually not a particularly good example of its category. Average quality, but without wine-making faults. 12.5-13.9 ‘Faulty’. Displays one or more wine-making faults. May still be drinkable, but is not recommended. Below...

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2004 Jurançon, Domaine Charles Hours, France

2004 Jurançon, Domaine Charles Hours, France Appearance: deepish amber gold. Nose: very attractive and spicy nose here from the Petit Manseng with nutty aromas and honeyed and candied fruits (lemon, orange, grapefruit). Palate: more candied fruit, good acidity and a lovely balance between the residual sugar and acidity throughout. Pretty good length. Conclusion: a very nice expression of Jurançon comparable in quality to Domaine Cauhapé. Very good. Rating:...

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2003 Chassagne-Montrachet, Marc Morey, Burgundy, France

2003 Chassagne-Montrachet, Marc Morey, Burgundy, France Appearance: medium gold-green. Nose: very attractive French oak nose matched by ripe citrus fruit – mainly lemon – and possibly some melon fruit too. Also mineral and savoury qualities. Palate: powerful lemon fruit, impressive acidity for the difficult 2003 vintage, lovely toasty oak and superb length. Conclusion: this was a very high quality Chassagne and very impressive given the hardships of 2003. This is the first time we’ve tasted Marc Morey’s wines – having drunk much more of Michel Morey-Coffinet in the past (Chassagne is a minefield of Moreys, Coffinets and other relations) – and we were definitely convinced of the quality here (tasted at an event where several bottles were served showing great bottle-to-bottle consistency). Rating:...

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2004 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Markus Molitor

2004 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Markus Molitor Appearance: green-gold, some yellow. Nose: apples and honey (more developed than expected), some kerosene. Palate: characteristic high acidity balancing lovely residual sugar. Refreshing, but already softening out seemingly. Conclusion: this was more advanced in age than I expected, but it’s rash to judge from one bottle. Molitor is a very good German Riesling producer and we will ideally leave the other bottle for a good while. Rating:...

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