Old Vintage Riojas: world fine wines at its best.Jos is wating in front of the Hotel Lobby. Marques de Riscal has been a great place to enjoy Rioja: breakfast is delicious, beds are big and comfy, rooms are spacious, service is great, the SPA relaxing and well located and the a civilized wi-fi policy with no complicated password and awkward charging fees.The only pity is that despite me asking several times to visit the cellar to try some old vintages the only reply has been an expensive price list to purchase some wines.Mike has already genereously cheked out for everybody and is reading his newspaper in the van. AJ and Chaz arrive promptly ready for another day of tastings.We are going to CVNE another very big operation with over 500 hectars.This is another one of the few reamining classical Rioja wineries. Some of the old vintages are still alive and kicking. We are given a tour of the cellar before our "old vintage fix":). Unlike Lopez, Rioja Alta and Muga, here there's not someone in charge of the winery to share wine making philosophy. We are accompained by a very nice lady and then Eva -the young wine maker- is holding the tasting.The barrique area is a very elgenat biginnin of the XXth century room with high cealing and wooden beams. No wonder is that impressive as the architect of the Eiffel Tower made it.
Even more impressive though is the "wine cemetery" were hundreds of old vintages are finining. The rooms here are covered with a thick dark grey mould which covers so extensively everything to be appearing almost alive.
Very cool. Back in the tasting room a geranius and over the top asparagus flavored Vina Real Gran Reserva 1975 seems in a very bad condition. The the wine was shoing signs of sweet and sour and a soapy bacteria spoliage. Sadly we couldn't open another one. Chaz and AJ start smiling though when on the Vina Real Gran Reserva 1978 which this has proven to be one of the best wines of the trip: ruhubab, black cherry, herbal, elegant with quite a dense lingering palate.I also whished we could have open another Gran Reserva Vigna Real 1987 as the one opend had a "bret" -stong animal- nose a metallic bite and a dary finish.Better chances with the Imperial Gran Reserva 1988 with sweet tobacco, dates and figs and a chocolat powder: Imperial is a darker driven style compared to the Vina Real. Not bad though with a 50% ratio of good old wines! Today CVNE has changed the 4 to 6 years of ageing in old American oak for a more modern belnd of American and French oak with a higher new barrel touch. As a result the wines tend to be a little more colourfull, dense and "prune" like, but in doing so loosing a bit of elegnace, The 1999 Gran Reserva Imperial was proving exactly this point.
And now...off we go to Extebarri to eat at one of the world best "Asador".
Owner and chef Vittorio is in front of the grill: here the secret of the cuisine -great ingredients aside is the super refined house smoked preparations.We start with grilled butter.
Yep! No mistake: butter! The round ball is cow, the square is goat milk, both with a extra fine bread crumbs on top. Very good but still...butter. So we deiced to keep it on the side to spread it on bits of bread during the meal. The goat one was quite magic though with a Laphroigh like touch.The a little cup with smoked ricotta and a squash marmellade. Super delicious with the ricotta being made directly by Vittorio with smoked milk.Both dishes perfectly matching the Silex 1998 which in the end turned out to be a little too sweet though.
An applause welcomed the classic bread, anchovies and butter. The meatiness of those anchovies is going to linger for quite a while in my memories.
LosGambas are fresh and juicy with an almost raw texture and a full-on mineral smokiness. Funny enough the CVNE Vigna Real 1962 goes perfectly with the dish.
AJ was meant to have this at WD50 in NYC, but the wine list at Extebarri -altough well designed, doesn't have old vintages, so we had to go for it!!! Viva AJ!The wine was in perfect conditions with a great tension, strenght and red fruit. No signs of decay at all and very long finish.
At this stage Mike has gotten to the end of the bone of his gigantic steak. Good on you Mike! This man's spirit never fail to be positive, supportive towards other's decisions and appreciative of whatever people might do for him. He is also an enquiry mind who always asks questions of all sorts, engages conversations and try to learn constantly! When I turn 80...I wanna be like MikeSmoked oyster of the bay of Biscaglie was very pulpy sea water juicy. The squid with its inktender and sweet and the salted cod with pimiento so tender and naturally and pleasantly greasy that although full...I had to finished it.
Before the smoked ice cream Chaz and I had to sacrifice ourself to finish a little beef-steak which was so good that I didn't strugle in the slightest:) Before leaving a little coff - the best of the trip- PS: it was Italian:))))
A little goodbey to the sheep and off to San Sebastian for pintchos and txacoli.
Maria Cristina Hotel is in a great location, next to the old town, with the view of the sea and very comfy and elegant classic architetures and decorations. Only minus: charging for wi-fi:(
Mike went a little shopping to take a presy home for his wife while Aj, Chaz and I go check for wine shops and the little tapas bar.
It doesn't take to long before we start becoming old vintage thirsty.So while Mike says goodbye for a relaxing evening we head to Recondo, the Spanish restaurant with the highet number of bottles and above all old Riojas:)We we realized this little heaven was so close, alhtough very tired we didn't make a pip about it, we just smiled and went for it.As we apporach the table they bring us the menu. We ask for the wine list: three please! They giggle and leave us alone. They must have come at least twice sking if we wanted to order any food, but in our wine trance we must have sent them away. We then come up with our "tasting strategy" of the night: Lopez de Heredia, Rioja Vina Tondonia 1934.
We tell the waitres who looks at us and leave. We weren't dressed that fancy and, thanks to Chaz who is 24, looking very young for that stuff!A minute later arrives Martin -the sommelier-. He is worried that we might not enjoy the wine. He goes with the same refrain that we were given most of the times when showed our interest fot the old Riojas: these wines are very lean, sometimes dead, cemetery wines, old, etc. We kind of had to give him our credentials and invite him to bring the baby. He tryes to take us away from that choice, to go for something denser and bigger and newer. We ask for some suggestions but he doesn't seem to be wanting to give any specific proposal.Our eyes are glood to the wine list; there is silence all around; the guest at the nearby tables are looking at us; our mouths are shut. It felt like an hour, Martin wasn't going to give us any tips. Chaz was looking desperate and AJ a little concerned, while I was lost among the hundreds of labels and a bit of a shaker without lead situation!
I checked the vintage chart again. Aj told us '34 was one of the few excellent ones. Chaz was still fastly turning the wine pages to find something hidden -he is great at that!-. I was getting lost with Vega Sicilias and other stuff, but then I back up AJ's idea: let's stick to the plan, let's go '34. We love Lopez wines, we love Maria Jos's passion so let's just learn and enjoy a little more of that.Chaz looks relifed, AJ goes ahead with the order.He comes back with the funny portable fire with a funny metal cluch. We though it must have either a torture tool for "old School wine lovers" or way to melt the wax.Martin finally arrives with the pretty 1934. He is still very serious. We are too.
He put the wine torture around the neck of the bottle... a few second and...the neck is broken. Edurne, the sweet owner, has been attending the event and gets the first sip. I can detect Martin's eyes smiling, he must have sniffed the stuff! We are given a pinch and all my tiredness goes away in a split second. Martin is reliefed to see that the bottle was great and that we immediately recongised that as one of the youngest, and most complex wines that are probably put there.We all cheer at it, at good health and friendship. This is why we drink wine, anything else doesn't really matter!Chaz becomes a happy bunny, AJ inspiringly thirsty...
Some food arrives at the table: scrabled eggs with mushrooms, some tuna stake tartare and roasted veggies. We are still studing the wine list and we go for a nother couple of bottles to enjoy this opportunity. Most of the 70's are infact aournd the 30 price range!!!1981Vigna Tondonia Lopez de Heredia and 1964 904 Grand Riserva Rioja Alta.
The 1981 Vigna Tondonia was hunting ethereal as Chaz described it; with a distinctive Ibiscus, sour cherry, leather and gun flint, truffle and medicinal herbs. Palate was very dense a luscously sweet.The 1964 Grand Reserva 904 Rioja Alta was a little more on the funky character, more animal, sweet tobacco, very musky, super dense and a clay/earthy mouthfill.Just incredible. I mean hanging around with people you like in a restaruant run by extremely sweet and kind owners and waiters on a hill overlooking SanSebastian and drinking three great old wines.As time goes by the wines change their profile. Our first love Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia 1934 doesn't give up its youthfull red berry crush, savoury, sapid and with a brilliant and transparent light inside. Porcini mushrooms, orange peel and sage on a tense and juscy palate. All this I will savour it foerver!