A week ago, in a cramped and airless room on a cold and blastery day in Harrogate, I tasted ten fine, old wines. Barometric pressure was not really low enough to make it a true ‘Root Day’ according to the Biodynamic almanac. The corks however were pulled at the last minute to guard against old wines crumbling on contact with unused to amounts of oxygen. First out were two white Riojas, 1989 and 1986, both from Bodegas Marques de Murietta in the village of Ygay, a short distance from Logrono. Both were golden yellow, crisp and oaky, with 90% Viura and 5% each of Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca in the blend. The oxidised style is not everybody’s favourite but the 1986 wass more appealing than the 1989, with less perceived oxidation and more ‘freshness’, if that is the correct description of a 24 year old white wine! The bodega no longer makes this wine, their current white being Capellania, a single vineyard in the hills above the winery I remember visiting a few years ago, with 100% Viura from vines over fifty years old, aged for 21 months in American oak. Abbott’s Prayer 1992, Stephen & Pru Henschke’s Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend from their Lenswood vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, has lost all its ‘Ozziness” and is on its downward path, though still perfectly drinkable. Ch. Musar 1986 is fading and disappointing making one wonder whether its prudent to part with large sums of money asked for older vintages of this wine. Flash heated Chateau de Beaucastel 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape has lost some colour but has retained its wonderful aroma and gentle, satisfying mouthfeel and length. It was light and soft and delightful to drink now.
The 1993 Ch. Paul Blanck from Costieres de Nimes has the unmistakable nose of southern Rhone Syrah and is meaty and robust and satisfying. Grand Pontet 1990 was an absolute delight – fragrant, soft, complex and whispering with a clear sense of place. Despite its age, my companions thought the wine was at its peak. The humble Cru Bourgeois Ch. Coufran 1990 in half bottles, amazed everybody – till fragrant, sweet and a delight to drink despite its 20 years in a small bottle. Vouvrey Cuvee Alexandre Vieilles Vignes SGN 1990 from Domaine des Aubuisieres was simply stunning. Golden yellow with botrytis on the nose and intensely sweet with lovely crisp acidity, it makes you feel glad that you are still alive!
For most, the 100 years or more old Madeira Verdelho Velho was the star of the evening. The odd shaped litre bottle dribbled its golden-brown nectar, sweet but with fine crisp acidity, caramel, nuts, honey, the taste of brandy in the background reminding one of its subtle but ever-present might. It was a wine to remember for a long time – a wine to tell your grandchildren about.