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Wine lovers urged to embrace old Rioja

‘Buy it while you can’ was the message from Sarah Jane Evans MW at a 50th anniversary tasting of Rioja’s classic 1964 vintage in London.

Old Riojas from López de Heredia

If lovers of old, rare wines are being priced out of Bordeaux and Burgundy they would do well to consider Rioja, reckons Sarah Jane Evans MW who led a fiftieth anniversary tasting of the iconic 1964 vintage in London last week. “With rains at the right time and a long ripening period it is commonly thought to be the greatest Rioja vintage of the 20th century,” said Evans who saw the tasting as “proof you can keep Rioja if stored in the right place and well-made to start with.”

“The best had that lovely attenuated elegance – the mix of forest floor aromas, cherry fruit freshness and mature, vanilla oak to make a really lyrical blend,” said Evans, who was particularly impressed by the Herederos del Marqués de Riscal. While praising the Consejo Regulador for boosting Rioja’s mainstream appeal, she wonders if “they’ve overlooked the great wines.” And if they are under-priced because the bodegas have “not taken themselves seriously enough,” she urged drinkers to: “buy it while you can.”

“It’s extraordinary that Rioja doesn’t feature more strongly on auction lists,” Evans continued. Comparing it to Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most heavily traded fine wine, she added: “I’m not sure Rioja ever really had a big secondary market profile, whereas Vega Sicilia always worked on its history as the ‘the wine of kings’.”

Anyone interested in collecting old Rioja is advised to think about the cellar history “Ask yourself where it’s been, and how it’s been looked after,” said Evans who also pointed out that the terms; ‘Reserva’ and ‘Gran Reserva’ date from 1972. Older wines labelled as such are either fakes or were labelled post-1972 in the cellar by the producer.

On the auction front, Acker, Merrall & Condit have a Spanish sale featuring old Rioja in New York on October 18th, as does Bonhams in London in December. “Basically Gran Reserva and Reserva from top bodegas with age sell well,” said Richard Harvey MW, Bonhams’ head of wine sales. “Crianza, even if mature, does not, especially if not from the top houses.”

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