Serendipity and the joys of old rioja

There are days when becoming a wine bore seems the best decision I ever made. One such time was last Saturday. My father had been to the local auction house and bought a job lot of old wine for £50. There were two cases. About half were probably undrinkable, ordinary wines that had been kept too long, but amongst the dross there were some wines with potential. I set aside some Apostoles Palo Cortado sherry, some old Vin Santo and Monbazillac but these were the wines we tried at the weekend:

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There are three riojas and a red burgundy. The 1990 Mercurey was amazingly robust with a great earthy taste, the Riscal Reserva was a disappointment, a ’99 and already on the way down, the Faustino I ’76 Gran Reserva was showing its age but still enjoyable. The highlight however was the Berberana Carta d’ Oro Reserva 1975. Wow, what a wine! It was the most beautiful colour, a vivid red with only  a little browning at the rim. One sniff and the aroma of cigars filled my nose. There was a touch of mushroom but no mustiness or vinegar. What was remarkable, however, was the vigour of the fruit, sweet ripe strawberries and a touch of orange. There was a hint of tannin and then the most gorgeous finish of walnuts and tobacco. This was one of the best wines I’ve had this year. My father described it as like a good red burgundy and there was definitely something burgundian about it though I’ve never tried one this old. Very very few burgundies would last this long.

What’s remarkable about the Berberana is that it was never an expensive wine. This wasn’t a Chambertin-Clos de Bèze or a Musigny. This wasn’t an artisan/ icon/ prestige wine. Berberana Carta d’ Oro Reserva costs about £15 a bottle these days. This producer doesn’t have the best of reputations. It may have been better in 70s but even then it wasn’t in the first rank of rioja producers. This wine would have been made in large quantities mainly from bought in grapes. It was a commercial wine, not the sort of wine that gets wine bores hot under the collar, but this must have been an exceptional wine when young to last this long and improve.

For some the joy of wine is about trying 100 point wines or cult producers but for me serendipity is the most pleasurable part of being a wine bore. I love going to friends houses and seeing if they have any gems lurking in their cellars or kitchen cupboards. From now on I’m going to be scouring the catalogues at provincial auction houses. £50 for a wine of this quality is an a bargain. And there’s still 20 bottles from my father’s haul to try.

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About Henry

Henry Jeffreys was born in London. He has worked in the wine trade, publishing and is now a freelance journalist. He specialises in drink and his work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. He was a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury 2013) and his book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass was published in November 2016.
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