The wine group I have previously mentioned that I get together with 2-3 times a month (on a good month) to taste wines with met last night. We tasted Rioja’s, and were treated to some older vintage wines last night. Our esteemed host was able to pick up 3 Rioja’s from the famed “Lopez de Heredia” winery and 4 others.
Of the 3 Heredia’s we had a ’99, an ’81 and a ’73 – what a fabulous year! We were all truly amazed that these older wines were still alive – which they were. How alive however became somewhat of a debate. More on that later. Before tasting the wines we were forewarned by one of the members that aged Rioja’s are soft & elegant and not the rich, big, concentrated wines we might expect from Spain. He was absolutely right as the ’99 Heredia was so soft & smooth I almost found it to be too much so. I wrote down that it was elegant, but that was partly because I wanted to write something nice (and seem sophisticated) so as not to write that I found it to be a bit boring – which I think would have been more accurate.
The ’81 however was a treat. Very complex. The others thought I was nuts as a few of them had finished their taste of this wine before I even tried mine. But I found so much going on in the nose that I was simply not ready to move on to tasting the wine. It started off with dried/jammy fruit. Moved on to tart berries. And then evolved onto what at first seemed like milk chocolate then became more bittersweet chocolate & finally struck me as rumball like. On the palate this wine was again very soft & elegant (there is that word again). the only disappointment was a finish that I thought could have been longer, but the finish on some of these wines was better the second time around.
The ’73 Heredia was very clear orange almost brown in color, with an almost clear rim – really showing its age. The nose started out with some off smells of rubber or corkiness but blew off somewhat to reveal a tarry earthiness, some subtle berries and even a little jammyness. On the palate this wine was very much alive as it was soft and silky with a slightly acidic and tart berry flavor.
Aside from the 3 Heredia’s we had a Crianza, 2 Reserva’s & 1 Gran Reserva. We did not conduct this tasting blind but I was not really paying much attention to name/label/status etc. That said, it was the Gran Reserva, a 1998 Muga Prado Enea that I enjoyed the most of the 4. This ruby/purple colored wine had A LOT going on in the nose. And it evolved in a short time in my glass. It began with hints of fruit and earth, and then showed some of the Piny-ness I have been detecting a lot lately. From there I sensed some oak, but there was more – and it was driving me a little nuts as I had a hard time figuring out what it was. And then it hit me. COLA – it was part flat cheap Cola, part Cherry cola. Real interesting & complex. On the palate it showed cherries (Bing cherries even), some mocha and was both mouth coating & silky smooth. Again, I was somewhat disappointed by what I thought was only a medium length finish. BUT, on the 2nd tasting of this wine about an hour or so later all the fruity, floral & cola aroma’s were still there while the finish this time was NICE AND LONGGGGG……
Back to an issue I eluded to earlier. The issue of how “alive” these older wines were. I suppose that their life was less of a debate then how to treat these senior citizens. I have always learned that older wines that once possessed a strong backbone – good acidity & strong tannins – are age worthy but as they age they soften, both in structure and mouth feel. The soft smooth mouth feel is one of the things that makes these ageable wines so desirable. But their age also has left them with little protection from the environment. Yes they can be decanted, but I learned that this was to remove any sediment buildup – not to be done vigorously to aerate (as is done with younger wines) as the aeration will hasten their imminent deterioration.
This deterioration is what I found with the ’73 & VERY SADLY with the ’81 Heredia. Now mind you, this is not a knock on the wines. These wines were both very much alive when we first had them. Just that extended decanting and then enough exposure to oxygen (to me) allowed these wines to lose whatever aroma’s they had left. On the palate they were both still OK, but I was disappointed that they really seemed to die.
It was a debate as our host and some others felt that this was simply how these older wines were, and that it did not suit my taste. Something which is a distinct possibility. Either way, overall the night was a treat as I had a chance to try the oldest wines I have ever tried. And becoming more familiar with aged wines is something I hope to be fortunate enough to continue to do.
Have a wonderful wine-weekend & Happy Spanish Rioja wine tasting!