La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 904 1989
I think this week it is time to think about wine and food again, and whereas last time I chose a bottle specifically to drink with roast pork, this time I was looking for something that would pair up nicely with slow-roasted shoulder of lamb. I am sure many of us have our preferences when served with lamb, and no doubt they vary considerably; some will choose only Burgundy or perhaps a New World Pinot, whereas others will reach for something from Bordeaux. No doubt others prefer their favourite red, whether it be from the Loire, Languedoc or the lower Hunter Valley. In truth I think most of them will work well, just that some will work better than others in my personal opinion. Of course, matching wine and food is just as much a personal taste as your preference for wine in the first place, but I can’t help thinking that a mature Rioja is one of the better foils for some sweet, roasted lamb. An alternative choice, for those that enjoy it (as I do), is a mature bottle of Musar.
This was my thinking behind this week’s choice, the 1989 Gran Reserva from a bodega that I rate very highly indeed, La Rioja Alta. Over the last ten years or so Spain has experienced a vinous revolution, with many regions previously disregarded without a second thought now turning out the sorts of wines that score lots of points, and thus sell for lots of dollars. It is not a revolution I have kept pace with – so many wines, so little time – but the new-wave wines certainly seem the antithesis of the traditional style of Rioja. There are new-wave wines in this region too, wines that possess sweet fruit and even sweeter oak from new French barriques, but I am glad to say that there seem to be no such wines coming out of this particular bodega. This is a bottle that has lain in my cellar since purchase, which was probably 2000, or 2001 or thereabouts. The lengthy, high quality cork was extracted without difficulty, and showed the barest amount of staining up along its side; I’ve never had any issues with these bottles. The wine was decanted, but like most old Rioja only had the tiniest amount of sediment despite the wine’s age, an effect of that initial lengthy period in barrel. Nevertheless I felt a quick decant would help to bring the wine to life, and also bring it up to a good temperature. It certainly has a fine, mature colour in the decanter, a deep red with a little orange-tawny tinge at the rim. There are lots of secondary characteristics on the nose, which is dominated by a vein of volatile acidity, but with notes of leather, boot polish, sweetly roasted meats and a faint, subtle note of pepper. Lovely palate, ever so slightly lean, but filling out nicely as the wine warmed up just a tad. Very fine texture, cotton-like, with a full, integrated character. This is completely ready, full of delightful mature flavours, admittedly still with a firm vein of volatility although I find that very appealing. Most remarkable is the length – this wine fades immediately, then rallies to just go on and on. It is quite remarkable. A fabulous wine, which turned out to be a superb match with roast lamb, and I am happy in the knowledge that I have one more bottle (of this vintage) remaining in the cellar, and I have since gone on to acquire some more from a more recent vintage. 19/20 (19/3/07)