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I have never attended a seminar at the London WIne Trade Fair before, despite having attended for 6 years or so. This year, however, I spotted an invitation too good to miss: John Radford’s “Rioja Through the Decades” tasting, intending to showcase some of the great wines from the best vintages over the last 30 years or so.


I could stop there, but that might be a little unfair, so here are some of my observations on the wines:

Wine 1: Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay 1978

It is understandable that the oldest wine should go first on such occasions, but it was a shame for the other wines as this was already, and remained, my ‘wine of the tasting’. It was still, 30 years on, stunning, delicate, with cherry fruit, accented by tobacco, raisin and balsamic notes, and just velvety smooth and delicious.

Most Rioja wines are not made this way any more, but this is one of the best explanations for how Rioja managed to stamp its authority on Spanish wines so firmly in the 1970’s an remains there to this day.

If you can find a bottle, it will be around £80 ($150) so not cheap, but really worth exploring.

Wine 2: Bodegas Montecillo Reserva 1982

Next up, another incredible wine. Another mythical vintage in Europe, and I must say that I have tried some 1982 Bordeaux wines before and I’d still buy this RIoja any day.

Unlike the Ygay, this wine has probably already achieved its peak. It had more berry fruit flavours, maybe even strawberry, than the Ygay on the nose, and the same spicy, balsamic notes of aged Tempranillo, but the tannins were a little more dried out and I would recommend not keeping this too much longer.

Wine 3: Marqués de Caceres Gaudium 1994

There is a big jump in styles from the previous wine to this one, but to be fair there were also 12 years of anticipation built into it. I must say that the nose I got on this was more vegetal than balsamic, plus lots of pepper, but the wine still appeared youthful and retaining some of the young tempranillo purple colour. The flavour was intense (compared to the delicate older siblings) with concentrated dark fruit and some menthol characters, and pretty high acidity.

Good, but the style was a little disappointing compared to the generous, older wines.

Wine 4: Conde de Valdemar 1995

This was an odd wine for me. I found the nose rather muted, and the palate was fruity, but so soft and mellow, it almost slipped over the tongue without registering it had been there. Can a wine be too soft?

The wine seemed good, but without a chance to actually taste it, I’m at a loss as to how to judge it. Maybe if the temperature had been a little lower it might have had a chance to shine. Who knows?

Wine 5: Ysios Reserva 2001

Possibly my least favourite wine of the tasting. I found that it was a little short on the finish and although it had spicy fruit, it lacked any freshness or intensity I might have expected on a wine that, really, compared to the previous wines, is still quite young, and from another classic vintage.

Wine 6: Heredad Ugarte Martin Cendoya 2004

The Queue

Here I differed from most of those at the tasting I think. This Rioja Alavesa wine tasted to me like it had a major Carbonic Maceration component (which you do get in Rioja, particularly in young wines from this sub-region). Unfortunately, it was combined with other mature fruit and had been oak aged. It might have been my palate, but the immature tannins of Carbonic Maceration wines work well when the wine is young, but if you oak it, the resulting taste can be very dry and sharp.

This was an interesting wine, but not what I expected from Rioja and I think it goes against the image of the proper use of oak to soften and integrate wines, so I struggle to really recommend it.

Wine 7: Luis Cañas Hiru 3 Racimos 2005

The final wine was pretty impressive. It is still very young, but very concentrated, really dark, and fruity. It has loads of nice oak, … but I also think this suffered a little from over extraction. The taste was very concentrated, but lacking in the mid palate, and ultimately somewhat short for a wine that is from one of the greatest vintages in European history, and for a wine that retails at over £50/$100.

My overall impression is that the new wines from this tasting (post 1990) were made in quite a different character to historic vintages, and to a certain extent you do them a disservice to compare them to wines made in more marginal conditions and in very different economic and social times.

This is one of the first times I have posted wine tasting notes on a blog, and I hesitate to do so and be honest to my notes from the actual tasting. However, I realise that few of us get a chance to taste such a range of wines, so I put these out there for you to review, agree with or disregard as you choose, but hopefully inform.

John Radford is a great expert on this region, and on Spain, and I feel privileged to have been
able to attend this tasting (especially considering that he could have filled the room twice or three times over with the number of interested visitors).