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Magnificent Rioja

The title for this post didn’t come up easily. I was back and forth with myself many times. The reason? Tasting these Rioja wines was a phenomenal experience, something which  doesn’t happen often during one’s lifetime. The brightness and openness of the 65-years old Rioja was nothing but stunning – but I think I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to the beginning.

I happened to fall in love with Rioja wines about 4 years ago, after attending a Rioja seminar at PJ Wine store (the owner, Peter, is anything but fanatical about Spanish wines – of which PJ Wines houses an amazing selection all the time). At that seminar I was lucky enough to try 1964 Monte Real Gran Reserva Rioja and that was a revelation – the wine was fresh and bright, as it would’ve been may be 5 years old, not 40+. After that tasting I became Rioja fan for life. I have to also mention that even today, you can buy 1964 Rioja starting from less than $300 – for comparison, a bottle of 1966 DRC will set you back for about $10,000. I rest my case.

When my friend Zak told me that we can get a bottle of 1947 Rioja directly from the winery for less than $400, the decision was instantaneous – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is worth it (don’t remember how many bottles were still available, but surely there were not that many). So we got that 1947 bottle and after a little while, were able to set the date for the tasting.

To make sure our 1947 Rioja will not feel lonely, we got a few more bottles to keep it company. You can see the full line up on the picture above, and here is an exact list:

2008 Raventos & Blanc Reserva Brut Cava
1993 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco
1947 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
1976 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
1995 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
Pinord Moscatel NV

There is one more bottle in the picture – Jorge Ordonez Malaga – but, guess what – we never opened that, being quite overwhelmed by the desert time (it is a great bottle of desert wine, but – oh well, there is always a next time).

We started with Cava, of course. It was fresh, round and pleasant – not necessarily hugely distinguishable, but definitely a nice bottle of wine to have before dinner starts.

The first foray into magnificent world of Rioja was with the 1993 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco. I will gladly challenge you to find a bottle of 19 years old white wine which will taste as fresh as this 1993 Rioja. May be you will have some luck with white Hermitage, Chablis or some of the white Burgundies, or may be some of the really obscure grapes like Romorantin – but in any case I’m sure it will not be easy. This wine was fresh and complex, with mineral notes, hint of white apple, perfect mid-palate weight and still bright acidity. Definitely a ”wow” introduction into the ”wow” lineup of reds.

Needless to say that we started with 1947 Rioja. Considering the tender age of 65 years, the first challenge of course was to get the cork out. I wish we had one of those glass cutting devices described in the PJ Wine blog post, which simply allows you to cut the whole neck of the bottle with the cork in it, and not worry about cork crumbling into your wine – well, we don’t drink wines of that age often enough, so we had to stick with more conventional tools, like the two-prong cork puller.

It almost worked.. and then not. It took two people and good 5 minutes of time to get cork our, little by little, piece by piece – but we managed to do it almost clean, with may be one or two tiny pieces falling back into the bottle.

Cork is out, and wine goes into the glasses. First thing to note is color, which is still red and not brown – of course it is not purple, but it is dark garnet red. And for the taste… Should I simply tell you that wine was magnificent and leave it at that? Well, okay, it wouldn’t be fair. Let’s continue. On the nose – coco powder, cedar dust, hint of cinnamon, smoked paprika. On the palate – good amount of red fruit, wine comes in bright and youthful, with good acidity. Then second wave came in as wine opened up a bit, with more sweet fruit and then tannins kicking in. I don’t want to bring in exotic animals to describe this wine, as Joe Roberts did with a black panther, so my description will be simple – grace and elegance. I can only wish to have the same grace and elegance myself when I will reach that age.

Moving along, it is now time for the 1976 Rioja. 29 years younger than the previous wine and… ahh, so different! Barnyard on the nose, very pungent, savory, with hint of the same barnyard on the palate, dried cherries, earthiness. If umami is a part of the wine tasting profile, this wine definitely had it.

And for the 1995, we decided to give it a little breathing time – it spent 2 hours in the decanter. The wine was fresh, with beautiful garnet color, bright fruit, very good acidity and soft tannins, touch of eucalyptus and cedar box. Very youthful and upbeat, if you will.

After tasting this line up of the magnificent Rioja wines from the same producer, the most interesting question in my mind is ”how will these wines evolve?”. Even the 1947 didn’t reach the end of life considering the way it was showing, never mind 1976 and 1995. Will pungency of 1976 stay, or will it evolve to something akin to 1947 in 29 years? How will 1995 taste in 48 years, and will it even last that long? These are all great questions I will not get an answer to – but this is part of the wine connoisseurship game – think about the future but definitely appreciate and enjoy what you have right now (huh – feel free to beat me up in the comments for banalities).

So far we I didn’t tell you about the food – there was a lot of great food. While you can’t taste it anyway, here is at least a picture of one of the dishes – roasted potato encrusted striped Bass:

We also had “death by chocolate” desert which perfectly paired with Pinord Moscatel, which happened to be well aged (the bottle simply got lost under the shelf and was “discovered” many years later).

Overall, this was a great experience, which will stay in memory for a very long time. To tell you honestly, I think it will not be easy to top off this experience, but as the very least I can promise to share all that with you. Wish you all great fun with wines – cheers!

  1. May 20, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I love Riojas. Your description of the 1947 had my mouth watering.

    I am quite jealous. A great experience for you and a great post for us!

    • talkavino
      May 20, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      Thank you very much for your kind words! It was all in the wine…

  2. PSsquared
    May 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    I agree with NJV, I’m a fan of Riojas, and your experience sounds incredible. I cringed at the cork not coming out. I’m glad it worked out.

    • talkavino
      May 20, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      Thank you for the comment! Considering the age of that bottle, I think the cork was in a very reasonable state – not that I have lots of experience to compare, but this is just what I think. In any case, getting the cork out is the part of the experience.

  3. May 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you for sharing! It sounds like it was wonderful!! What a great experience!

  4. October 27, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    I would have been scared that the 1947 would not be good anymore. Sounds like a one in a lifetime experience 🙂

    • October 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      Also I miss NJ Vinoman. I’ve visited his blog a few weeks ago to ask if something has happend to him but he never replied. I enjoyed his blog a lot – was the first blog I subscribed to actually..

      • talkavino
        October 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm

        I’m with you – I enjoyed his posts very much. And then he abruptly disappeared… I’m also wondering what could’ve happen…

    • talkavino
      October 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm

      Rioja is one of the best wines when it comes to aging and value – definitely worth seeking out.

      Sent from my iPad

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