Two treasures from Rioja

Sometimes I find a bottle of Rioja from a winery’s private stock. It never ceases to give me a thrill to taste something that only a few people have ever tasted. Last Friday I shared two bottles like this with some friends at our house near Santander.

The first one was ‘Cosecha de Familia gran reserva 2001’ from Bodegas Beronia and how I got my hands on it is as interesting as the wine itself.

Last Friday we went on a pilgrimage to a small church, San Pedruco, near Ajo, where our summer home is located.  We spent most of the day eating and drinking and decided about 5 PM to walk down to the beach for a swim, hoping that it would clear our heads.  On the way, one of my friends ran into a woman who had lived in the same trailer park years before, and she offered us a swim in her pool and a cup of coffee.

Afterwards, she showed us her trailer, which had all sorts of small buildings added on, including a wine cellar.  She offered me the bottle of Beronia, asking me to open it for dinner that night.

Well, we did.  The label said ‘89% tempranillo, 6% mazuelo and 5% graciano, from vineyards over 25 years old; aged for 28 months in French and American oak and for a further 48 months in the bottle before release’.  It also said ‘prohibida la comercialización’ (not for sale).

It had a garnet color, an aroma where stewed fruit, spices and herbs predominated as well as balanced acidity.  It was a little rough around the edges and we all agreed that the wine needed to breathe more.  However, with four avid wine drinkers sitting around the table, the bottle was empty before we knew it.

Since we had started with a nine year-old wine I decided to throw caution to the wind and open a bottle of Martínez Bujanda reserva 1981.  This, too was a bottle from the winery’s private stock that I used to receive as a Christmas present, and ‘Feliz Navidad’ (Merry Christmas) was even printed on the label.

For a 29 year-old wine, it was delicious.  I remember back in the 1980s when both the 1981 and 1982 were released, the 1982 was rated ‘excellent’ while the 1981 was ‘very good’.  As these vintages aged, experts here began to comment that the 1982 had developed more quickly while the 81 would be at its best later. My tastings of these vintages over the years have confirmed this.

My notes from last Friday said ‘light brick color, delicate aromas where cedar, spice and tea predominate, and on the palate, a light mouthfeel.  Has seen better days but a great example of traditional Rioja’.

‘Cosecha de la Familia’ (the current vintage) is advertised on the Beronia website while the Conde Valdemar 1981 is only alluded to as a vintage in the family cellar on the Bodegas Valdemar site.  These wines are real treasures that you have to look for.  I hope you find them.  They’re worth trying!

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