Sunday, November 17, 2013

Old Riojas don't die. They just get better with age #DWCC13

During the course of the lunch at Cune, our hosts popped open a couple of bottles of 1976 Imperial Gran Reserva and they were sublime.

After noting our interest in these wines, the Cune team circulated a list of the aged wines that they had for sale in the wine shop. Suitably impressed, and remembering our paltry fare from the previous night, I bought a bottle of the 1976 Imperial Gran Reserva and a bottle of the 1981 Viña Real Gran Reserva for us to consume at our hotel that evening. I was not going to be caught short again.

We got home very late after the RODA dinner (a long, but phenomenal, event) and repaired to our designated spot, the private lounge that is separated from the bar by the small reception area and elevator bank. The willing participants included Umay, Roger, and me. No Robert. I heard his voice over at the bar so I went over to let him know that we were awaiting his presence ... and he begged off. Weakly. I looked around for other potential victims and spotted Juan Martinez and David Marcos, the team leaders from Bodegas Gomez Cruzado. These guys had given us a tour of their facility -- and fed us -- just the day before. They were surely deserving of this honor. But first, what were they doing in a hotel in the middle of Haro after midnight. I asked them (presumptuous, I know). They had guys out harvesting at that time and had taken a break from receiving grapes to grab a coffee. Never one to drink coffee when wine was available, I invited them to come over and join us in drinking the two old Riojas. After looking at each other hesitatingly, the pull of the wine was irresistible (or they were just too kind to turn us down out of hand) and they followed us back to our enclave.

I began the proceedings by attempting to open the Imperial but the cork was soft and broke into two pieces. Now I like to think that I am pretty handy in recovering cork fragments but my attempt to retrieve the piece left in this bottle ran hard aground and Roger took over. He was able to get the remnant out but some of the detritus fell into the wine. We had no straining or decanting equipment so we powered ahead figuring that we would take care of the bits as we encountered them.

The Imperial 1976 Gran Reserva was light brown in color with caramel highlights. It had an opulent nose with aroma notes of orange liqueur, wet leaves, iodine, tobacco, and hints of floral elegance. Silky on the palate with bracing acidity. Additional dried fruit aromas and flavors contributed significantly to this wines complexity. While not up to the level of the bottle we had had at Cune earlier in the day, the 1976 was a blockbuster.

We next moved to the 1981 Viña Real Gran Reserva This was garnet at the core with an orange rim. A compelling nose with a core of dried red fruit, leather, and tea leaves leading the way to an orange zest. Enticing on the palate with a solid core of fruit, bright acidity, and caressing tannins. Classy and energetic with a long life ahead.

The Gomez Cruzado guys were fully engaged by this time. They were snapping pictures of the bottles and telling tales of bygone years. They did not want the night to end. They conferred with each other in muffled tones and one left and came back shortly with a bottle of 1964 Gomez Cruzado Rioja Gran Reserva Honorable. This was a fantastic bottle of wine and we could not believe that we were having the honor of tasting this bottle with these gentlemen at this hour in the -- now -- morning.

The Honorable had a pale garnet color with an orange rim. It had generous amounts of dried fruits such as apricots and orange zest accompanying tobacco, leather, and sweet spice. There was a consensus that the nose was reminiscent of a good old Tokaji. Graceful and alluring yet exuberant and penetratingly rich. Still fresh and energetic, displaying well-layered flavors lifted by racy acidity. A long, zesty aftertaste.

This was an awesome evening. Great wines and, just as importantly, great and insightful discourse with two leaders of a centenarian winery. We quizzed them at length on a wide range of topics and got the kind of dialog that you can only get at a bar at 3:00 am.

And all this on top of the RODA dinner.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Keith, thank you for making us remember that night once again and so lyrically. Thank you also for the CVNE bottles and making the night possible. Once for all, many thanks to Juan and David for the most memorable wine of my whole trip, the 1964 Honorable, a wine that truly deserves its name.

    Umay Çeviker

    1. Thank you for your gracious comment. It was a wonderful evening and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to meet you and share great Rioja wines on this trip.