A few days ago, my old friend, fellow wine writer and bull runner Gerry Dawes was in town so a few of us went out for lunch. Basilio Izquierdo, owner of Bodegas Águila Real and former winemaker at CVNE, brought two bottles of CVNE Viña Real gran reserva 1976 and 1970 from his private cellar that were the hit of the meal.
The 1976 (13,5% alcohol) showed a light brick color with a classic Rioja nose of cedar and strawberry jam, light and delicate. On the palate, it showed good acidity but in my opinion, lacked a little crispness. If you have a bottle, I’d recommend that you drink it now.
On the other hand, the 1970 (13%) was at its peak. A light brick color like the 1976 but on the nose, at first a delicate floral, tea-like aroma that after 20 minutes evolved into delicate spices. On the palate, vibrant with good structure and crisp acidity. More alive than the 1976, it’s no wonder that 1970 was a very good vintage in Rioja.
We asked Basilio how to make a wine that can be kept for 40 years. First of all, you need healthy grapes and ageing in slightly used barrels for 3-4 years, using good quality corks, storing the bottles lying down at a more or less constant temperature with as little light and vibration as possible.
The ideal level of humidity in an ageing cellar is about 80%, difficult to obtain umless the cellar is underground. To do this in an above-ground cellar requires air conditioning and good insulation, a costly investment.
We ate a very Riojan meal of leeks in oil and vinegar, a tomato and onion salad, lamb sweetbreads and a bowl of ‘pochas’ (white beans that aren’t dried but frozen while they’re fresh). The wines went down very well and we were sorry that Basilio had only brought two bottles.
If you can get your hands on a well-cellared bottle of Rioja from a good vintage from the 60s and 70s (1964, 1968, 1970, 1975, 1978), take the plunge. You will discover why classic Rioja has been compared to fine Burgundy.