A specialized online retailer with a great selection of Riojas and other legendary brands like Vega Sicilia, Vino Vintage Santander is a paradise for fans of old Spanish wines. From now on it will be easier to find the (Spanish) wine of your birth year or a specific wine for a special celebration or anniversary.
Vino Vintage Santander stocks around 500 different wines, from a Viña Real 4th Year (€20) or a Monte Real 1971 (€25) to a Vega Sicilia Único 1932 on sale for €1,200. Marqués de Riscal 1875 is listed on the website, but it is no longer available, explains Rodrigo Prieto, the man behind this project. As a child, Santander-born Prieto started collecting cigarette packets. Now his father owns the biggest collection found in Spain.
Family ties led him from cigarette packets to wine. His father-in-law was a doctor and a passionate wine lover who regularly bought classic brands throughout his lifetime directly from some of the best producers in Spain. At home, old wines were regularly poured, enjoyed and generously given away. Prieto recalls for instance that Tondonia 1934 was the wine served at the wedding of the collector’s sister. What a choice!
After the doctor’s death five years ago, members of the family found themselves with a collection of around 15,000 bottles made up of 600 different labels in which the likes of Cvne, Tondonia, La Rioja Alta, López de Heredia, Riscal, Paternina or Vega Sicilia were extremely well represented. There were classic vintages like 47, 55, 64, 70… and a small albeit exciting collection of old white Riojas, many of which -as is the case with Viña Ardanza from La Rioja Alta- were discontinued some decades ago. Rodrigo Prieto stresses the great ability of white Tondonias to age (often higher than reds) or the even harder to find white Ygays from Murrieta, along with other brands, such as Cvne’s Monopole or Paternina’s Diamante, which are considered quite average nowadays but enjoyed some glory in the past.
Stocks of Vino Vintage Santander display a revealing overview of the history of bottled wine in Spain. Other than Rioja, you can find selections from Palacio de Arganza (Bierzo), Marqués de Monistrol (Penedès), Yllera (Castilla y León) or Señorío de Sarría (Navarra), most of them from the second half of the 20th century. And what about an exotic Batalla de Almansa Gran Reserva 1964? The collection also includes Mauros from the 70s, Artadi’s Viña El Pisón and Flor de Pingus from the 90s; and you can also find the first Pesquera (Ribera del Duero) vintage, 1975, which is undoubtedly a collector’s item.
Thanks to their reliable provenance (directly from the producers to the collector’s cellar) and to suitable storage conditions due to the characteristic high humidity in northern areas of Spain, Prieto says his bottles are in similar conditions to those cellared by the producers themselves.
Vino Vintage Santander sells its wines in Spain, the EU and Russia. For other destinations buyers are encouraged to contact the company privately.
In addition to selling, he offers a consultancy service for old wines. “Everyone in Spain has an old Vega Sicilia at home”, says Rodrigo, “but people usually feel disappointed when I tell them what their wines are worth; they expect them to be more valuable”.
One of the website’s most attractive features is the fact that for the first time prices of various vintages and brands are displayed. Consumers can get an idea of their value, especially having in mind that these wines have been bought and sold privately given the absence of wine auctions in Spain. Compared to leading French labels, Spanish wines are inexpensive, specially for international collectors, but Prieto points out that as demand continues to increase, prices are rising at a similar rate.
For those eager to learn more about old wines, Rodrigo Prieto recommends to start with classic brands at around €40-70 a bottle. Beginners should also be patient as old wines are really different from 21st century styles. “It is important to take some time to learn about present times. Today, wines are made in a completely different way. We have always argued that old wines were good and we have fought for their quality to be acknowledged. But we are still far from achieving the same recognition as great French wines or Italian Barolos.”
We took the opportunity to ask Rodrigo Prieto about how to assess, handle and serve old vintages. These are his recommendations:
Always check the ullage or fill level, the condition of the capsule and the colour of the wine. Although these are key elements to assess quality, “there can always be surprises when you open the bottle”.
Use red-hot tongs to open a very old bottle so that you don’t have to worry about the cork at all. Tongs require some skills, so an easier alternative for the non-initiated is the Durand screw cap, which combines a standard screw with a set of two blades that separate the cork from the glass while the screw holds the cork together.
Don’t ever decant old wines. “The best thing is to pour them in the course of a long meal so that you can witness how the wine develops in the glass” says Prieto. Sometimes the wine may seem worn out, he adds, but it can completely change in about an hour. “The last glass is always very different from the first one”.
Wouldn’t you like to give it a try?