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An Old-Wine Dinner at Urban Butcher in Silver Spring


When  I heard that Chef and Owner Raynold Mendizabal of Urban Butcher was willing to participate in the Bring Your Own Bottle of wine I knew there was no choice but to arrange for a wine dinner.  This may seem far from extraordinary but Urban Butcher is located in downtown Silver Spring in Montgomery County, Maryland.  BYOB is still relatively new in my county.  This restaurant is not far from my house and that of other friends.  The restaurant wine dinners I have attended have always taken place in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Virginia.  The thought of drinking old wine at a local restaurant which butchers local heritage breeds was too much to resist.  Through email and in person Chef Raynold Mendizabal was excited for such a dinner.  Having seen the proposed list of wines the menu was left up to him.  Our dinner was to be facilitated by Sommelier Rachael Buehrer.  She recently sold her wine business and moved to Washington, DC, so she could be near her mentor for her Master of Wine studies.

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Our dinner began with oysters to accompany the white wines.  From there we moved on to bacon made from a pig raised in Wheeling, West Virginia.  It was aged for quite some time then subtly smoked with three different kinds of wood.  This made way to excellent house-made charcuterie accompanied by grilled bread.  From the lardo to the pate there was a hit for everyone.  Our main course consisted of a leg of lamb that was raised in the Shenandoah Valley.  It was complemented by subtle flavors of pesto but it was the natural flavor and texture of the lamb which I found incredible.  We accompanied our lamb with broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes.  The evening wrapped up with a selection of local cheeses in excellent condition.   Everything was served at a temperature which best highlighted the course and nothing stood in the way of the wine.  Jenn felt that Raynold’s enthusiasm showed through.

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This was no ordinary grouping of wines for dinner, rather it was old Rioja tasting which explored many bottles dating back to 1950.  Following my discussions with Mannie Berk and my experience with his 1922 Marques de Riscal, Rioja Reserva I decided double-decant all of the old Rioja.  At the Old Wine Dinner hosted by Darryl and Nancy I finally saw how effective the Durand was.  I asked Darryl to bring his Durand which he handed over.  I prepared all of the bottles by cutting the foil tops and wiping the tops of the corks.  I pushed quite hard on the 1955 Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso, Reserva Especial which caused the cork to go down the neck.  I do have a cork extractor but I left that at home so we pushed the cork into the bottle and decanted the wine into a decanter with a spherical body.  Darryl said the Durand was easy to use so I took a go.  The extra wide screw went into smoothly and anchored the cork as the Ah-So portion was wedged in.  I then grabbed both portions and with a combination of turning and pulling, the first cork came out without issue.  The rest of the corks did as well.  If you have never used one then find a friend who has one and give it a go.  The 1955 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vendimia Especial threw the most sediment, amounting to gobs of it, closely followed by the 1964 La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904.  The other four Rioja threw a small amount of fine sediment.

  • 1950 Satisfactory (DOC), Mediocre, 200-day cycle. Frosts in April and cold September, with poor ripening.  Very rainy June. (La Rioja Alta).
  • 1955 Excellent (DOC), Excellent, 195-day cycle.  Frosts in April. Well-distributed rainfall during cycle. (La Rioja Alta).
  • 1964 Excellent (DOC), Excellent, Excellent and plentiful. 210-day vegetative cycle, including a month of June which was relatively cold and one day of frost in April (La Rioja Alta).
  • 1970 Very Good (DOC), Very Good, 195-day vegetative cycle. Preceding winter cold and wet. Late budding. There were no spring frosts. Summer hot and wet. Some hail in June. Autumn mild with very late leaf-fall (La Rioja Alta).

To some degree the evening felt like vinous archaeology.  Finding old Rioja in the United States is possible but not common and this is perhaps reflected in the scattered tasting notes and minimal posts.  From Spain the Vinos Clasicos blog has many tasting notes and pictures of old Rioja.  Richard Jenning’s Fully Mature Reds at Reasonable Prices? Think Rioja appears to be the best recent American blog post.  This post is also relevant since three of the old Rioja came from the Rare Wine Co. specifically the 1950 Berbera, 1964 Gomez Cruzado, and the 1964 La Rioja Alta.  The 1955 Bilbainas, 1955 Palacio, and 1970 Riojana were recently imported by Flatiron Wines & Spirits.  My lack of experience with old Rioja is conveyed in my shorter tasting notes, I had to reflect more and did not necessary know how to convey the aromas and flavors, but this allowed me to simply be curious about what was in the glass.

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We started with a trio of white wines.  The 1976 Bassermann-Jordon, Forster Jesuitengarten, Riesling Auslese was purchased several years ago from Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.  It proved to be a very solid, fully mature Riesling.  I see no reason to hold back.  Darryl had read some comment about Elio Altare’s 2009 Campogrande, Cinqueterre having some evocation of Riesling and perhaps it did for a few minutes.  This odd-ball wine made from Bosco and Albarola certainly worked well with the oysters.  The final white 2012 Willi Schaeffer, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling Trocken, Grosse Gewachs was stellar on the nose and though young in the mouth, the lively and precise flavors were so easy to appreciate.

Advertisement from Anuario del comercio, de la industria, de la magistratura y de la administración. 1905, no. 2, page 1,461. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.

Advertisement from Anuario del comercio, de la industria, de la magistratura y de la administración. 1905, no. 2, page 1,461. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.

The bottles of old Rioja all reacted differently to air.  I must admit I was very surprised how the 1950 Bodegas Berberana, Gran Reserva continued to develop the entire evening.  I enjoyed it very much and everytime I revisited it, there was something more to show.  Unfortunately, the 1955 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vendimia Especial was drinking past its peak.  Despite that, it wasn’t going anywhere, it drank the same on the second night without the help of Private Preserve.  The 1955 Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso, Reserva Especial only took a short period to show itself off.  With an attractive maturity on the nose my palate was pleased by hints of ripeness to the blue fruit.  It was quite good before it started fade which was no deterrent for the bottle was finished.  The 1964 Gomez Cruzado, Honorable, Gran Reserva was decidedly alive and over two nights consistently showed a funky old-school flavor.  This perhaps made it polarizing in my view but still good for a glass.  The 1964 La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904 surprised me as much as the 1950 Berberana but this time it was the complete change in nature from air.  At first I found it a simple, thin wine of red fruit but after one hour it opened up both on the nose and in the mouth to show what could be considered classic flavors of cedar, red fruit, and acidity.  Finally, I thought the 1970 Bodegas Riojanas, Vina Albina, Gran Reserva showed the youngest because it still had some chewy concentration which was easy to appreciate.  I particularly liked the salty note in the finish.

We had a bit of a segway with the 1986 Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe.  The cork having crumbled upon removal this was decanted into a sparkling water bottle about three hours before we tasted it.  Lovely, classy flavors but it needs more cellar time.  The 1998 Artadi, Vina el Pison, Rioja had some deep aromas upon decanting which morphed into distinctive Big Red spice.  However, it remained unyielding in its firmness with no indication of what is to come.

We wrapped up the evening with a stellar pair of wines.  The 1967 Barros, Colheita, Port surprised me with its youth and vigor, it was almost thick in the mouth.  The 1940 H.M. Borges, Reserva Solera, Sweet, Madeira cork might have disintegrated upon removal but it blossomed in the decanter.  It was a lovely Madeira showing attractive texture, impeccable acidity, and as Darryl wrote, “just about the perfect balance between dry and sweet.”  There was clear attraction to this pair of wines for both were finished as people lingered.  I am still excited that we could source affordable bottles of old Rioja.  As Darryl wrote, ” I remain amazed that we had 6 bottles of old Rioja from 1950 thru 1970 and no duds, some better than others, but nothing corked, nothing cooked, all in good shape.”  I’ll be on the look out for other bottles of old Rioja and suggest you do too.

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1976 Bassermann-Jordon, Forster Jesuitengarten, Riesling Auslese, Pfalz
Imported by Woodley Wine & Liquor.  Alcohol 10%.  The color was a medium tawny caramel.  The nose was a little grainy with apricot notes.  In the mouth the wine was very fresh to start, certainly drier but lively with good acidity.  It softened up with air to reveal a little residual sugar in the aftertaste.  Unbroached bottles will last but no need to wait any longer and make sure to finish the bottle in one go.  *** Now-2019.

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2009 Campogrande, Cinqueterre
This wine is a blend of Bosco and Albarola sourced from vines planted in 2005.  Alcohol 12%. This had a delicate and odd nose, perhaps a little cheese at first before the aromas became hazier.  There were drier flavors of stones in the mouth with upfront flavors that tasted young.  For a few minutes I could see the association with Riesling.  ** Now-2019.

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2012 Willi Schaeffer, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling Trocken, Grosses Gewachs
A Terry Theise Selection imported by Michael Skurnik.  Alcohol 12%.  There was very ripe fruit on the nose, which remained fruit driven and gorgeous.  With air the nose calmed down a bit.  In the mouth the flavors were exceedingly lively on the tongue with precise texture, young flavors, and a drier finish.  This oscillated a bit eventually opening up again in the finish.  Lovely stuff.  ***(*) 2015-2030.

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1950 Bodegas Berberana, Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  There was a fresh hint to the nose with some red fruit then vintage perfume.  It blew off a little cheesey whiff.  There were red fruits in the mouth, a minerally middle then some ripeness.  It had good acidity which was interwoven with vintage perfume and a sweet spice hint.  This nice wine continued to develop the entire evening until the very last drop.  **** Now-2024.

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1955 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vendimia Especial
Imported by T Elenteny Imports.  This wine is a blend of 70% Tempranillo and 30% Garnacha.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  The subtle nose cleaned up to reveal smokey bacon aromas.  The wine was more traditional with its red fruit but the flavors played it close.  There were still tannins mixed with the firm flavors delivered in an old-school style followed by an ethereal aftertaste.  With just a bit of air it showed watering acidity and a hint of ripeness in the aftertaste but this bottle was clearly beyond its peak drinking.  It was in that state all evening, drinkable but as a curiosity compared to the others.  ** Now.

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1955 Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso, Reserva Especial
Imported by T Elenteny Imports.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  This smelled like a wine at proper maturity.  There were still hints of ripeness in the mouth with attractive flavors that leaned towards blue fruits.  It responded well to air but after a few hours it became simpler and drier.  Prior to that it was quite satisfying.  ****  Now – 2019.

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1964 Gomez Cruzado, Honorable, Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  This had a floral, woodsy nose.  There were mouthfilling flavors of dried fruits and old-school flavors on the tongue-tip.  It became drier towards the finish where it showed some funk and attractive grip.  It eventually took on some weight before the persistent aftertaste.  Will last but a bit polarizing in flavor.  *** Now-2019.

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1964 La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  The nose initially bore ample aromas of metal and minerals but this morphed into attractive cedar and earth.  There were red fruits in the mouth which were clean and matched by its pure acidity driven nature.  There was a puckering, citric acidity aspect.  There were cherry flavors, a drier texture, and tannins in the end.  It took an hour to open up but did so very well. Thanks to Darryl for the picture.  **** Now-2022.

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1970 Bodegas Riojanas, Vina Albina, Gran Reserva
Imported by T Elenteny Imports.  Alcohol 11.0-14.0%.  The nose revealed a little wood followed by roast.  In the mouth were tangy flavors of red fruit that had citric notes.  The flavors were still concentrated and almost chewy.  There were wood box notes and an attractive salty quality at the end.  This old red had a persistent aftertaste.  Good wine.  **** Now-2024.

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1986 Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe
Imported by Ginday Imports LTD.  Alcohol 12.5%.  This young wine had lovely red cherry fruit which was gorgeously integrated with mature flavors in the middle.  This clearly needs more time as the citric tannins were surrounded by the flavor.  It was very persistent in the aftertaste.  ***(*) 2019-2029.

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1998 Artadi, Vina el Pison, Rioja
This wine is 100% Tempranillo sourced from a parcel planted in 1945.  It was aged 18-24 months in French oak.  Alcohol 13.5%.  This remained tight with aromas of Big Red cinnamon spice.  In the mouth were citric red fruit flavors that became linear.  It remained very tight with hard red cherry flavors followed by a brighter, mildly puckering finish.  I could work out some ripe strawberry notes by extensively working the wine in my mouth.  **(*) 2019-2029+.

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1967 Barros, Colheita, Port
Imported by Aidil Wines and Liquors. Alcohol 20%.  This was surprisingly powerful and youthful with nice residual sugar, almonds with air, and old wood.  It had some thickness to it.  **** Now-2039.

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1940 H.M. Borges, Reserva Solera, Sweet, Madeira
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 19.5%.  The nose had the attractive sweaty tangy aromas I have come to love.  It was youthful with vibrant flavors on the sides of the tongue, good texture throughout, and a spicy aspect.  A lovely wine.  **** Now-2059.

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