Bodegas Beronia was founded in 1973. My particular bottle of 1982 Bodegas Beronia, Rioja Reserva was vintaged the same year González Byass bought the winery. The estate is famous for their barrels made from American oak staves and French oak heads. The fruit for this wine was sourced entirely from Rioja Alta, a higher altitude region that produces brighter and lighter wines. The nose on this wine reflects its age with mature notes that remains aromatic for hours. In the mouth you get a sense or origin for this is a fully mature, bright wine with texture from the remaining structure. I recommend drinking it now but it should hold its current state for years to come. Given the release price for the current vintage, this vintage only costs an extra $1 per year of age. It is available at The Rare Wine Co.
1982 Bodegas Beronia, Rioja Reserva – $50
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%. It is a clear, light garnet color. There are good aromas of modestly sweet fruit, vanilla, and a sweaty note. In the mouth this is fully mature with a very fine texture from the structure. It is a gentle wine with moderate body, watering acidity, and a generally bright and slightly tart profile. It remains aromatic. *** Now but will last.
There is one great source for traditional, old Rioja in America and that is Mannie Berk of The Rare Wine Co. One of Mannie’s recommendations is the 1970 Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Rioja Bordon Cosecha Especial. Bodegas Franco-Españolas dates back to 1901 when it was founded by Frederique Anglade. The name reflects that fact that the operation was financed with both French and Spanish funds.
Frederique Anglade was a merchant who largely shipped Rioja in bulk back to France for blending. In 1890 he began to mature small amounts of wine for direct sale thus providing a foundation for the winery. By 1905 he was sending 60,000 hectoliters of wine to Spain, Europe, and America as well as producing some 200,000 bottles a year.
According to Jean Read in Wines of the Rioja (1984) no vineyards were owned so both fruit and finished wine were purchased from all over the region. Several different wines were made including this mid level Rioja Bordon which was regarded as “fuller bodied”.
At nearly half a century of age this wine still retains sweet, concentrated flavors of red fruit. The 1970 vintage is an excellent one and it is clearly reflected in this wine. The wine peaks after half an hour with gentle, ethereal flavors, the right amount of acidity, and a bit of grip for substance. The estate was sold off in 1973 so this is one of the last wines released under the original ownership.
1970 Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Rioja Bordon Cosecha Especial
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There are aromas of sweaty leather, wood, and red fruit. In the mouth are sweet, concentrated flavors of strawberries. Light in body, the sweet red fruit returns in the middle before the dry finish. The wine cleans up a bit with the right amount of acidity, a bit of grip, and a very gentle ethereal sweet flavor in the aftertaste. With air it adds both meat and blood notes. ***(*) Now.
It was time for dinner following an afternoon spent on Madeira research with Mannie Berk, founder of The Rare Wine Co. We made our way to the Common Lot in Millburn, New Jersey where we met up with John Junguenet. If the Junguenet name sounds familiar that is because John is the son of Alain Junguenet who founded Wines of France in the 1980s.
Mannie first met Alain Junguenet in those early years when Alain started off by importing Beaujolais. They traveled through France together and remain friends today. With John’s rise in the family business, new friendships are made, thus I found myself drinking several incredible bottles with two men whose lives are steeped in wine.
A very quick check reveals I have never drunk Coche-Dury with more than a decade of age. To move back nearly three decades is downright exciting! Our bottle of 1988 Coche-Dury, Meursault Les Rougeots was in very fine shape. Both the aromas and flavors bring forth green apples and stones with a particular tangy grip. The acidity is bright but provides tension matched by the texture of the wine. There is, perhaps, a sense of maturity on the nose but this wine should drink great for at least a decade.
The name Henri Jayer should need no introduction. He made some of the most sought after Burgundy which also became the most expensive Burgundy in the market. However, there is also coveted Burgundy from the other Jayer brothers, Georges and Lucien. A bottle of 1989 Lucien Jayer, Echezeaux Grand Cru was our first red wine. The three brothers each owned distinct parcels in Echezeaux with Lucien’s being Les Treux. Vineyard work and winemaking were a bit of a family affair such that Lucien tended the vines and Henri made this particular wine. [I do see that John Gilman writes that Lucien made the wine.] Regardless of winemaking, this is a young, pure, initially elegant wine. It ever so slowly responds to air, building both aroma and depth to the tense red fruit.
We then moved back to the 1960s. One sniff of the 1964 CVNE, Vina Real, Rioja Reserva Especial transports you to another era. A quick inspection inspired Mannie to decant this bottle. This is beautiful, traditional Rioja with no sense of fragility to the lifted, sweet flavors which fill the mouth and cling through the aftertaste. I really enjoyed this bottle.
Something happened to the 1969 J. Pedroncelli Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock, Sonoma County at some point in its life. Soft and limp, it was set aside. The 1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley did not disappoint. It opened up with air, becoming the sort of intensely pleasurable wine you want to drink all by yourself. But then you would feel guilty for not sharing the experience with your closest friends.
1988 Coche-Dury, Meursault Les Rougeots
Shipped by Radman & Co. Imported by Grand Cru Inc. Alcohol 12.5%. There is a fine nose of stones, gunsmoke, and apples. The aromas become even deeper with air. In the mouth are finely textured flavors of green apple. This wine has a tangy grip, plenty of stone like flavors, and bright acidity. There is great tension and attractive texture on the mouth. Drinking brilliantly but will easily live on. ****(*) Now – 2027.
1989 Lucien Jayer, Echezeaux Grand Cru
An Alain Junguenet Selection imported by Wines of France. The young nose is pure, full of beautiful aromas of red fruit and perfume. In the mouth the red fruit oscillates between tang and tart, building flavor and citric grip with air. There is a hint of smoke. This bottle is in fantastic condition as this tense wine slowly builds, adding both flavor and persistence. The structure and acidity are there, capable of supporting years of future development. ****(*) Now – 2032.
1964 CVNE, Vina Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Ahhh, that familiar old Rioja nose. This is a grippy, mouth filling wine with sweet, lifted flavors that cling to the mouth. It tastes of another era with its vintage perfume notes and ability to brighten up and build flavor with air. The aftertaste is very persistent. Drinks great now but will last. ****(*) Now – 2023.
1969 J. Pedroncelli Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%. It smells off on the nose and while better tasting in the mouth, it is limp. Not Rated.
1978 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Volcanic Hill, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.5%. The dark aromas make way to minty, dark fruit which fills the mouth with both menthol and animale flavors. The wine improves markedly with air, revealing it as thicker, racy, and oily. It has an almost grainy texture to the black fruit. An excellent bottle with years of life ahead. ****(*) Now – 2027.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a raft of wonderful wines in 2016, thanks in large part to the generosity of DC’s wine-loving community. Of the many tasted this past year, two in particular stand out to me as the most memorable.
The 1994 Lopez de Heredia Blanco Gran Reserva Vina Tondonia was simply the most mind-bogglingly complex and delicious wine I had all year. From the pull of the cork, it showed a soaring, kaleidoscopic nose, with swirling aromas of salted caramels, vanilla, honey, jasmine, ginger, almonds, and orange peels. It was sensuous, smooth, and nutty on the palate, with a level of refinement to rival the noblest Grand Crus and a salty finish that left my palate tingling for what seemed like minutes. A true masterpiece from this venerable house, and one that will last a geologic age.
This summer, I had the privilege of attending a Chateau de Beaucastel vertical dinner that featured more than a dozen vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape reds from this benchmark producer. While the dinner included numerous sterling bottles (the 1990, 1981, 2001, and 1983 were especially excellent), it was the 1964 Beaucastel that lingers most in my mind from that evening. Swirling aromatics of campfire smoke, cinnamon spice, and stewed strawberries had my head spinning. On the palate, the wine was full of soft, sweet fruits that reflected the wine’s maturity, but it was also brimming with vigor and energy that belied its 50+ years. While not the qualitatively “best” wine of the night, it was the one that challenged my assumptions about the aging potential of Chateauneuf du Pape and will have me seeking out many more old CdPs in the new year!
I was careful to note I drank from a magnum of 1976 Lanson, Champagne and even took a picture of the bottle of 1996 Louis Roederer, Cristal Champagne and Jacque Selosse, V.O. Champagne Extra Brut. However, my tasting note for the 1998 Dom Perignon, Champagne “racy, yeasty, rich, mineral wine flavors” is unaccompanied by a picture. This might sound haphazard but Champagne is the first thing drunk after the all-day Sercial Madeira tasting. The need to refresh oneself with Champagne and talk to old friends leads to a sort of frenzy. Everyone jockeys for a pour of Champagne. It is not a time to take note.
Dinner is seated, at a very long table. The pace of wine is measured by the sommeliers who impose a logical order on what is drunk. Every guest is encouraged to bring a magnum of mature wine or preferably two bottles of the same. This is not always possible so there is a large variety of red wines. I take pictures and jot down brief impressions so I may recall the evening later on. There were only two off bottles this night the 1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and 1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley. In Germany 1959 is a legendary vintage and in America both Joh. Jos Prum and Heitz Martha’s Vineyard are legendary wines. In some punishing coincidence a friend brought a bottle of 1975 Martha’s Vineyard to my house this year. It was off too. Damn and double damn.
Of the good wines, they fell into two camps. Those which are too young to follow a tasting of 19th century Madeira and those which are appropriately mature. In this latter category two particular bottles stand out: 1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien and 1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County. The 1966 Ducru sports a fantastic nose. I find some old wines have a sweaty aspect to their nose almost like aromatic umami and this bottle did as well. The flavors were equally attractive with that sweet concentration of flavor from age. It does not just taste mature, it tastes different.
My experience with Californian wine only includes vintages into the 1960s. I can assure you the last wine I would have expected at dinner was not just a pre-Prohibition Californian wine but one from the 19th century. In a particularly unforgiving act of arson in 2005, some 4.5 million bottles of wine were destroyed including 175 bottles of Hellman Angelica and Port wine, certainly most of the remaining stock. I can only imagine a handful of bottles survive to this day. Now scarcity alone does not make for a fine wine, what is in the glass does. With a bit of volatile acidity and dust on the nose the 1875 Hellman may have given slight pause but in the mouth this is an unctuous, powerful, and mouth coating wine. I managed to prolong the pleasure for a few more weeks because I was allowed to take the empty bottle home. There was still damp sediment in the bottle so I stoppered it. Every few days I would smell the bottle to swim once again in 19th century aromas.
2002 Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos
Imported by Vieux Vins. The yeasty nose makes way to minerally, white and yellow fruit flats. This seductive wine is rich with a hint of yeast, ripe tannins in the finish, and fat in the aftertaste.
2008 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a fresh, lean wine that tastes yeasty and older in the mouth. IT leans towards pure lemon flavors.
2007 Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault
Alcohol 12.5%. This is a grippy, concentrated wine with fresh acidity. A little weight comes out with air but this is all about lemon tartness. To match the flavor is a fair amount of acidity.
1959 Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, feine Auslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Imported by O. W. Loeb & Co. Corked! D*mn!
1970 Domaine Dujac, Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes
Imported by Frederick Wildman. Alcohol 13%. The dark, garnet color matches the rather mature nose. In the mouth this is a very dry wine with old perfume mixing with linear, red fruit, The structure is still there, out living the fruit, as this gentle, old wine dries up.
1967 Odero, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The nose is a little stinky, which I find attractive, before aromas of candied cherry come out. This is old-school lively, with structure from the ripe tannins. Perfect for what it is.
1961 Burlotto, Castello di Verduno, Barolo
The foxy, earthy flavors come with initial concentration. It is a dry wine offering more flavor than the Oddero. Maturity has brought old-school flavors, a sweet aspect, and earth. It wraps up with drying, textured tannins.
1967 Cordezuma, Barolo
A Chambers Street Selection imported by T. Elenteny. The color is young, almost cranberry-ruby in color. In the mouth this is a simpler wine which is tart, citric, and bears less fruit.
1981 Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja
An odd wine with almost mushroom flavors, yeast, and floral pork (WTF!). The acidity is bound up with the modest bit of structure.
1990 Prunotto, Barbaresco Montestefano
Alcohol 13.5%. Tobacco. Young!
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Landonne
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is way too young. Structure, drying, and bracing at this point.
1995 Guigal, Cote-Rotie La Mouline
A Thomas Gruenig Selection imported by Torion Trading Ltd. Alcohol 13%. This is aromatic with a fine nose just beginning to take on mature aromas. In the mouth the red fruit is starting to soften a touch. Overall this is a focused wine with powerful structure through the fresh finish. Young.
1989 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Imported by Johnston. Alcohol 12.5%. The mature Bordeaux notes are starting to escape but this is still so young.
1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac
Shipped by SDVF. Imported by South Wine & Spirits. Alcohol 12.5%. This is more open with cassis, minerals, and fat. Nice.
1966 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
Shipped by Raoul Lucien & Co. Imported by Combeau-Collet & Cie. Alcohol 12%. The fantastic nose is aromatic and a touch sweaty with cranberries and red fruit. It develops some old-school perfume. In the mouth the flavors have some sweetness to them before the drying finish. A lovely wine at 50 years of age.
1966 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac
Shipped by A. de Luze & Fils. This is less giving, more linear, soon shutting down to simple, cranberry, and red fruit flavors. It is firm and tight in the mouth with a shorter finish.
1978 Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley
An off bottle.
1992 Harlan Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Young and primary.
1937 Niepoort, Colheita Port
Imported by W. J. Deutsch Co. Alcohol 19%. There is a sweet start with flavors of black tea and wood. There is a fair amount of noticeable acidity before the slightly harsh finish.
1875 Isaias W. Hellman, Angelica Wine, Cucamonga Vineyard, San Bernadino County
Though there is some volatile acidity on the nose, it is fine and articulate, with a bit of dust matching its age. The fruit tastes so different. This is a powerful and lip coating wine which is still racy and sweet. The fruit persisted through the dark finish. With air this unctuous wine, with its plentiful residual sugar, builds glycerin and baking spices. In great shape!
David Bloch pulls the cork on a bottle of Rioja.
2001 Artadi, Pagos Viejos, Rioja
This wine is 100% Tempranillo sourced from 75 year old vines that was aged 18 months in 100% new French oak. A totally locked down nose when opened. Needs two hours in the decanter to open up. Quite dark in color – ruby/violet. Mildly tannic which makes this an ideal pairing with beef or lamb, or any game. A modern-styled Rioja that shows plenty of meaty and espresso notes, framed by near perfect acidity. A nice mineral streak too. Sweet, ripe fruit. Still young; but accessible. Many years of good drinking ahead, with the possibility of more development.
The parade of interesting wines I have tasted continue with five selections from Spain. It is interesting enough that each one is from a different vintages. Having drunk a modest share of mature red Rioja I suggest you try the 2010 Bodegas Olarra, Cerro Anon, Rioja Reserva if you want a similar experience at an affordable cost. The nose smells great with blood and meat, offering a counterpoint to the somewhat short finish. The 2011 Trosso del Priorat, Lo Petit de Casa, Priorat is no amped up Grenache based wine. Made from the youngest vines on the property, it is an elegant wine that will make you think of stones. The 2012 Barahonda, Barrica, Yecla offers strong value for only $12. Whereas the 2011 vintage had more complex, mature flavors, this latest vintage tastes younger and cleaner. The 2013 Finca Villacreces, Pruno, Ribera del Duero is a generous wine offering up strong aromas and a cloud of flavors in the mouth. It is a little on the young side but if you don’t want to wait a year then double-decant it several hours ahead. If you only try one wine from this list then the 2014 La Zorra, Teso Rufete, Sierra de Salamanca is the one. Not only is it produced from old vines of the rare variety Rufete, it smells and tastes like nothing else. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2010 Bodegas Olarra, Cerro Anon, Rioja Reserva – $17
Imported by Classic Wines. Alcohol 14%. The nose is great with bloody and meaty aromas which smell like a musky, mature Rioja. There are similar black fruit flavors in the mouth with slight grip, integrated tannins, chocolate powder, and some cherry notes. The finish is a little short with ripe and polished wood tannins. Neat! *** Now – 2020.
2011 Trosso del Priorat, Lo Petit de Casa, Priorat – $16
Imported by the Spanish Wine Importers. This wine is 100% Grenache. Alcohol 14.5%. This is a different sort of wine with framed suppleness around very fine tannins. There is a great note of dark stones, not to be confused with minerals. *** Now – 2018.
2012 Barahonda, Barrica, Yecla – $12
Imported by OLE Imports. This wine is a blend of 75% Monastrell and 25% Syrah that was aged for 6 months in French oak. Alcohol 14.5%. There is a black, mineral start then focused flavors of slightly bitter black fruit, camphor, and a minerally aftertaste. ** Now – 2017.
2013 Finca Villacreces, Pruno, Ribera del Duero – $19
Imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars. This wine is a blend of 90% Tinto Fino and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Alcohol 13.5%. The strong nose delivered aromas of tar and some oak. In the mouth is a cloud of flavor which exists around black stones, lipstick, and some very fine tannins. The wine is certainly black fruited but has a citric aspect. This dry wine reveals more power with air, taking a few hours to open up. It eventually reveals dried herbs in the finish which is only when the tannins are noticeable. *** Now – 2020.
2014 La Zorra, Teso Rufete, Sierra de Salamanca – $19
Imported by De Maison Selections. This wine is 100% Rufete sourced from 60+ year old vines on granite and sand soils. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks then aged for 4 months in French oak. Alcohol 12.5%. After a wee bit of stink blows off this aromatic wine smells distinct. There are moderately ripe flavors of minerals and red fruit with an ethereal sweetness. The wine becomes dry towards the finish where herb flavors come out. It leaves a satisfying tang in the end. *** Now.