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#CarpeDiemWine: is it time to uncork special bottles? A few old vintages that we tasted in recent months. Photo credits: Amaya Cervera and Yolanda Ortiz de Arri.

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#CarpeDiemWine: is it time to uncork special bottles?

Amaya Cervera and Yolanda Ortiz de Arri | November 11th, 2020

For wine lovers, Carpe Diem (Seize the day) involves jealously guarded bottles (obviously different for each of us, based on our individual tastes and budgets) which never seem to find the perfect occasion to be opened. At Spanish Wine Lover, we have started to uncork a few old vintages tasted over recent months and written a piece with our impressions. Our aim is to expand the list up until Christmas and invite readers to join us and share their experiences in the comments section or on social media with the hashtag #carpediemwine.

Barón de Chirel Reserva 2008 Tinto, Marqués de Riscal (Rioja)

Released for the first time in the 1986 vintage, this is arguably the first modern Rioja wine. It was inspired on Riscal’s ancient Reserva Médoc which ranks among the most long-lived reds stored in the “Botellería Histórica”, the house’s magnificent historical cellar. Tempranillo grapes are sourced from some of the best and oldest vineyards (the winemaking team calls them “pata negra” after the prized pork breed destined to Iberico meat). They are blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and aged in French oak barrels. 

Winemaker Guy Guimberteau, profesor at the University of Bordeaux, provided the technical assistance to design the first Barón de Chirel. He was one of a long list of French winemakers who have traditionally advised Marqués de Riscal. He was preceded by Émile Peynaud and followed since 1997 by the late Paul Pontallier, former managing director of Château Margaux, who also contributed to shape the style of Barón de Chirel. 

The powerful, structured profile of the wine sparked a small revolution in Rioja at a time when polished, light-coloured reds, marked by the ageing process, were the norm in the area. The Cabernet, a valuable source of structure and freshness, is euphemistically referred to in technical sheets as "other". This grape variety, which is not authorized in Rioja, can only be grown "experimentally". According to Riscal, it accounts for around 30% to 35% of the blend.  

2008 can be described as one of the last cold vintages in Rioja —in its most traditional sense— of the 2000s. I often find that many 2008s feel closed or lack expression. This one, however, displays lovely aromas and captures the distinctive finesse of Rioja. The elegance of Cabernet Sauvignon (blackcurrant, mint) is present and the wine has an Atlantic rather than Mediterranean profile. This is not a powerful wine, but a vibrant, balanced, medium-bodied red, firm and lively, with a long finish and enough grip to develop beautifully. It has certainly benefittted from the time spent in bottle.

Barón de Chirel is only released on the best vintages. It wasn’t produced in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1997, 2007 and 2009. Further information on the history of the brand and of Marqués de Riscal can be found in Andrew Caillard’s book Marqués de Riscal. A travel through timeA.C.


Aalto 2010 Tinto (Ribera del Duero)

The choice was verified in a vertical tasting held a few days ago at Aalto with the presence of the winery's technical team, led by Mariano García and Antonio Moral, and general manager Eduardo Ferrín.

According to Antonio Moral, 2010 is one of the best vintages in Ribera del Duero in recent times, comparable to 2004 and 2005. It was the star of a tasting that also featured a young, promising 2018, very much in line with the style of the brand; the complex, persistent, finely textured 2016 with good cellaring potential; a lighter yet surprisingly fresh and balanced 2013; a dignified 2007 that evidenced a challenging vintage but lacking the volume and persistence of the finest vintages; and a 2000 that stood the test of time. “It is complex and elegant, but that’s it,” said Mariano García. All the wines were poured from 75 cl. bottles.  

Judging from this set of outstanding but also extremely difficult vintages, one could say that the best drinking window for Aalto wines ranges between 10 and 20 years, perhaps longer if the wines are in magnum or other large bottles. Annual production includes 15,000 magnums of Aalto and 3,000 of the top Aalto PS. Larger sizes —3, 5, 18 and 27 litres are also available upon request. The 27-litre container costs €1,100 —it might seem expensive but as general manager Eduardo Ferrín explained, making these mammoth bottles involves a fairly large number of breakages.

Back to the 2010 vintage, what made it so remarkable? Probably its depth, freshness and exuberance. I usually get herbal and dark chocolate aromas in Aalto, and they were particularly evocative in this wine. It made me think of the complex mix of herbs in vermouth and the tempting alcohol-soaked chocolate. The palate was broad and aromatic, with round tannins and silky texture. Incidentally, as Antonio Moral explained in a previous visit, 2010 set a new trend towards lower alcohol and less extraction at Aalto. Interestingly, Aalto 2010 was more approachable than the same vintage of the top Aalto PS, which felt firm and tight and could clearly benefit from further cellaring.

Mariano García summed up the general feeling when he succinctly described Aalto 2010: “elegant, nuanced, life, drink now”. It is very likely that the 2010 is now at its best. A.C.


Cirsion 2012 Tinto, Bodegas Roda (Rioja)

This red, seen as the time as ultra-modern in style, was first released with the 1998 vintage. Roda’s obsession with tasting grapes on the vineyard helped this Rioja producer to discover that some Tempranillo biotypes polymerised tannins on the plant itself, similar to a process that occurs during winemakin. The result was a ripe, concentrated wine wrapped by a gentle, round texture that allowed to shorten ageing times to less than 10 months to produce a powerful, almost explosive red capable of giving pleasure almost from the very moment of its release. 

I had a very special bottle stored in my wine cooler: a limited edition signed by Roda owner Mario Rotllán to mark the winery’s 25th anniversary. It was given as a present to us professionals after an intense day of celebration in October 2013 when we had the chance to taste different vintages of Roda, Roda I and Cirsion from the 1990s and 2000s. The 2012 Cirsion was the youngest wine in the selection. My notes from that day describe a wine with deep, almost opaque, purple colour, with violet and very ripe black fruit aromas. Concentrated, powerful, almost overwhelming, it somehow managed to perform a sort of pirouette to maintain its balance. I also wrote: “you certainly won’t be able to drink anything after this.”

Seven years later, it shows a deep cherry colour and has retained the dark, ripe fruit character. There are some new kirsch, spicy nuances (cedar, tobacco), but it feels tight and with hardly any evolution on the nose. The most obvious difference is on the palate. It is still a modern Rioja but it feels tamed and refined, its power tempered. It was interesting to taste it next to an older 2006 vintage. It was in good shape too, but tasted less lively and the fruit was subdued. 

In fact, 2012 marked a turning point for this brand, initially conceived to be a very specific type of Tempranillo. After a warm vintage marked by a drought, 10% of Graciano was added to the blend, a novelty that was maintained in subsequent vintages, arguably contributing to improve Cirsion's cellaring potential. Wine enthusiasts are unlikely to have kept many bottles of Cirsion in their cellars. Its powerful style and high price (current vintages retail at around €170) belong to a time when most Riojas of its kind were drunk young and exhibited as a symbol of status or ostentation. Those who did, however, will be able to enjoy a restrained version, still with plenty of fruit, or perhaps choose to wait a few more years. A.C.


Gran Reserva 904 2005, La Rioja Alta (Rioja)

 A classic among classics, the 904 is one of my favourite historic Rioja reds, even more so, I dare say, than the more structured 890, which tends to be more elusive in terms of finding its peak drinking point. The best vintages of the Gran Reserva 904 capture the quintessential finesse and elegance in Rioja, with their aromatic complexity and silky texture.

The oldest bottle in my cellar was a 2000 that matched this profile, but felt lighter and less expressive than this fabulous 2005 with amazing energy. Rated as an excellent vintage in Rioja, the 2005s are developing beautifully. That year also saw some key improvements at La Rioja Alta -grapes were harvested in 350kg bins and delivered to the winery in refrigerated transport.  

After a spicy, minty nose with leather, kirsch and hazelnuts, the palate is an explosion of aromas. The best part of this finely textured, yet firm red displaying vibrant acidity is the exuberant, sapid finish with plenty of minty notes.

Originally named Reserva 1904, the wine was released to mark the merger with Bodegas Ardanza, a company owned by one of La Rioja Alta’s stockholders. Although it used to include Mazuelo in the first years, the wine is now a blend of Tempranillo with around 10% Graciano. Grapes for this vintage were sourced from vineyards over 40 years old located in Briñas, Labastida and Villalba. The wine was aged in barrels for four years; rackings were performed every six months. Four additional vintages have been released since then: 2007, 2009, 2010 and the current 2011. A.C.


Hacienda Monasterio Reserva 2010 Tinto (Ribera del Duero)

How long do you have to wait to uncork a good Ribera del Duero? 2010 is part of a trio of consecutive vintages which were rated “Excellent” during the period 2009-2011, even if producers may have different experiences or preferences. 2010 was a relatively cold year in the area –an advantage for winemakers who do their best to interpret the vintage. And both Peter Sisseck, Hacienda Monasterio’s star advisor as well as technical director Carlos de la Fuente, are good at this.

The Reserva, together with the Reserva Especial, is produced in limited quantities (only 14,330 bottles of the Reserva 2010 were released) and intended for cellaring. Ten years seems very little time for this red which felt still young, with lots of lively red and black preserve fruit, depth and complexity (mint and scrubland notes with some spices and kirsch). It is formidable on the palate as it completely fills it, but it is more about fruit, volume an depth than structure or tannins. There are two key elements: the gorgeous, silky, voluptuous texture that makes it very approachable, and the extremely long finish.

This Reserva cannot be described as a fresh wine according to current standards, but despite the 15% abv stated on the label, it is perfectly balanced. Alcohol contributes with glycerin thus enhacing its texture and roundness. This serious red is perfect to be drunk during the cold months of autumn and winter. It will shine at any Christmas table paired with the most special dish on the menu (preferably meat), yet I think it could have slept quietly for another ten years in the cellar. A.C.


Viña Tondonia Reserva 1999 Blanco, R. López de Heredia (DOCa Rioja)

Over the last decade, the two top whites and the rosé of this venerable house in Haro have become cult wines among wine enthusiasts around the world thanks to their longevity, eternal classicism and scarcity.

The generosity of my good friend Rocío Orbea and these times of pandemic, in which many of us have realised that we have to open more and store less, made it possible for us to recently enjoy a bottle, absolutely heavenly with a wild oven-baked sea bass.

Rocío bought a couple of bottles at the winery's shop in Barrio de la Estación back in 2014, when they were still merrily sold without allocations, and kept them in her refrigerated cabinet until this year. The years have only rounded off its complexity, maintaining the wine's acidity and extraordinary volume, with subtle hints of evolution in the nose but where the fruit is still noticeable. Balanced and fine, and still with cellaring potential for those fortunate enough to still have any bottles in their possession.

Its vinification and elevage follows the same traditional principles. It is a blend of Viura (90%) and Malvasia (10%) from the Viña Tondonia property next to the Ebro river aged in seasoned American oak barrels for six years, with two rackings per year before a long resting period in the bottle.

If you spend a considerable amount of time browsing the internet, you might be able to find a bottle of this wine (the current vintage is 2009, €35), but only the red wines and Viña Gravonia, López de Heredia's most humble white (€22), are currently available on the open market. Y.O.A.


Vega Sicilia Único 1996 Tinto (Ribera del Duero) 

It was the oldest vintage and the star of the Vega Sicilia vertical tasting held at the Enofusión congress in January this year. The 1996 was tasted alongside the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 vintages of Único. 1996 was rated Excellent in a decade when the term Average was still used (1993 was the last vintage to obtain this qualification). It also marked a trend towards higher percentages of Tinto Fino in the blend. This indigenous variety, known as Tempranillo in Rioja, represents 90% of the blend in 1996, compared to 80% to 85% in previous vintages during the 1990s. The remaining 10% is Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Perhaps what makes this vintage so special is that it delivers everything one expects from a great Único in terms of complexity and finesse, but also of structure and cellaring capacity. With superb acidity, wonderful texture and persistence, this is a wine with plenty of life ahead. In fact, Pablo Álvarez, who has been in charge of Vega Sicilia since 1982, said that 1996 is one of the vintages that are developing most beautifully over time. In her notes written in 2013 for the book to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Vega Sicilia, wine expert Serena Sutcliffe described 1996 as "a dream vitage -acidity will carry it through to infinity”. An she concluded: “I have to be around to see it in its prime, but will I be in the same good shape as the wine?

It was very interesting for me to compare it with 2006, one of my favourite vintages among the latest Vega Sicilia releases, although it might not be as long-lived as 1996. A.C.

Gran Juvé & Camps Gran Reserva 2012 (Cava)

Although it seems evident by now that long-aged Cava can develop beautifully over the years, very few wine lovers save some space for them in their cellars as they do with their favourite still wines and perhaps some champagnes. In this context it is understandable that prominent producers in Spain have sought to release limited editions of late-disgorged, library-style, sparkling wines. Once the bottle is in the hands of consumers, the most important thing is to know the date of disgorgement; that is, the moment when the wine is no longer in contact with its lees and bottle ageing starts. How long should we wait to uncork the bottle from then on? 

Some weeks ago, Meritxell Juvé, CEO of J&C Prime Brands, didn’t hesitate to bring a couple of old Cava vintages to the presentation of the company’s latest project in Ribera del Duero. The lovely aromatic complexity of the Millésime 2011, which had been disgorged in 2014, simply didn’t exist when the Cava was released. But the Gran Juvé & Camps Gran Reserva 2012, disgorged in 2017, stole the show. It felt at its peak with delicate, toasty and dried flower aromas followed by a broad, balanced, palate with freshness and persistence. The 2012 vintage was fresh, so that must have played a part, but it was obvious that the wine had plenty of life ahead. The Gran Juvé y Camps is a blend of Macabeo, Xarel.lo, Parellada and Chardonnay; grapes are sourced from a variety of family vineyards and it is only produced in the best vintages. Retail price for the 2015 vintage, their current release, is around €32. A.C.


Solear en Rama 1999 Saca de Otoño, Barbadillo (Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda)

The first unfiltered manzanilla on the market, Barbadillo's Solear en Rama is extracted from the barrels in four different sacas over the year. This En Rama concept paved the way for a style that is now widespread among quality producers in the Sherry region. The first saca was made in spring 1999 from 12 butts selected from intermediate soleras between Solear manzanilla and Príncipe amontillado. Each quarter, 2,000 half-bottles are filled from these butts, as well as 100 magnums —a novelty until then for biologically aged wines. I was lucky enough to be able to taste a sample of the 1999 autumn saca alongside another from 2020 during Sherry Week at a tasting organised by Ruben Luyten from the Sherry Notes blog. You can read more about this on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

The years have softened and rounded off the pungent aromas and energy of the wine, but the 1999 saca showed excellent balance and wonderful evolution in the glass with that unmistakable dry, salty manzanilla character and intense sapidity and concentration of flavours. Undoubtedly, coming from a half bottle stored in the cellar, this wine has been impeccably preserved but it shows that the evolution in the bottle of quality finos and manzanillas can be excellent, just as with other great wines from around the world.

Why not store away some bottles from the 2020 autumn saca and open them in a few years' time? The price of the half bottle is €14. Y.O.A.


Belondrade y Lurton 2012 White (Rueda)

With a background in fine French wines, Belondrade soon understood that the ultimate essence of Rueda and its signature grape variety, Verdejo, was to produce high quality whites, to the point that from the very start, Belondrade y Lurton was fully committed to oak ageing. Interestingly, Belondrade was our first "Winery to watch" at the launch of SWL in September 2014. A few weeks earlier, we joined other wine professionals to mark the winery's 20th anniversary, which was celebrated with a vertical tasting of virtually all the house’s vintages produced since 2001. 

A recent release at the time, 2012 was the youngest vintage at the tasting, but it marked several turning points. It was the first to come from a fully organic vineyard, the first to skip malolactic fermentation and the first to be aged in a brand new cellar, thus ensuring that yeasts effectively originated in the vineyard. Additionally, the use of oak was more subtle than in previous vintages.  

Despite 2012 being a dry vintage after several years of drought, the wine did quite well at the tasting. Six years later, I find it has retained the delicate character and complexity of its youth with neat ripe citrus (lemon), smoked and dried herb aromas without the slightest sign of tiredness. The palate is firm, with ripe lemon zest balancing the acidity and persistent savoury and salty notes on the finish. The bottle was kept in my wine cooler. Although the wine still has life ahead, it tasted great and I don’t regret having pulled the cork (I confess to have poured a few drops with the Coravin first). It can be purchased for €32 to €35. A.C.


Gran Muralles 1997 Red, Familia Torres (Conca de Barberà)

The latest presentations of new releases by Familia Torres have included treats such as a premiere of the house’s research project on ancient grapes and, most notably, old vintages of some of its premium wines. I have been lucky enough to attend a couple of vertical tastings of their Cabernet Sauvignon Mas La Plana and taste the legendary 1970 vintage that beat out Bordeaux grand crus at the Wine Olympics organized by French food and wine magazine Gault Millau. But I have always been particularly fond of Grans Muralles for its personality and the way it captures the essence of the Mediterranean focusing on indigenous grape varieties. Moreover, its ability to age defeats the cliché that wines from warm areas are unable to stand the test of time.  

1997, the second vintage of the wine, was notorious for rain and high temperatures. Vines were not particularly old at the time and the wine was not benefiting as much as today from the refreshing effect of ancient, late ripening grape varieties such as Querol and Garró. In fact, according to Miguel Torres Maczassek, Garnacha accounted for over 50% of the blend in contrast with the more prominent role played nowadays by Cariñena. This is a pure Mediterranean wine with spicy notes (cinnamon), morello cherry, preserved fruit, hazelnuts and earthy aromas reminiscent of mushrooms. The wine fills the mid-palate and has enough freshness to provide all-round balance. The silky texture makes it super attractive. Really superb after 23 years, although not a cheap choice. At around €170, this is one of the most expensive wines produced by the Torres family. A.C.

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