I have just written up a Marques de Murrieta Rioja tasting, where we got to drink, among other lovely older wines, a bottle of Castillo Ygay 1925. It was remarkable.
Tasting old wines like this can be a bit random. By the time a wine is more than 20 years old, there’s no such thing as ‘that wine’ – each bottle takes on a personality of its own. You can’t talk about the 1961 Palmer, for example, as being a great wine. It’s not a single wine: each bottle will be different because of issues such as storage conditions (key), cork quality (key), and even bottling procedures (variation creeps in at this early stage; if just takes a while to show in most cases). A bad data point proves nothing, because of these factors. But a good data point is significant: you only need to try one fantastic example of an old wine to know that there’s a chance that you’ll find other great bottles of that wine. For some wines, though, all bottles will show signs of decay, and it’s such a shame that they haven’t been drunk when they’d have offered a lot more pleasure. There comes a time where you have to acknowledge that a certain wine is no longer drinkable, even from well stored bottles with good corks.
Often, you have to make excuses for very old wines. You can see some greatness behind some weird funkiness, or some oxidative characters – or the wine may even have got to the stage where it tastes of old wine and nothing more. A great old wine should still be recognizable as an expression of place, to my mind, but this isn’t always the case. I suppose you can have a wine in mellow maturity without too many old off-notes that can’t be placed precisely but which still offers a lot of drinking pleasure.
Back to this Rioja. It was memorable, and for all the right reasons. Fortunately, no excuses needed to be made. It had survived, and survived well, and this is really rare in a wine of this age. Generally speaking, fortified wines often live longer than table wines, and Madeira lives longest of all, but here we have an 89 year old table wine that is astonishing.
Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1925 Rioja, Spain
49% Tempranillo, 19% Garnacha, 17% Mazuelo, 15% Graciano. This was aged for 8 months in 18500 litre tank, 5 years in fairly new American oak barrels, and then 33 years in old, large American oak barrels, bottled in 1964. It’s slightly cloudy and a deep brown/red colour. Savoury earthy nose. Fresh, lemony edge to the palate with warm, savoury, slightly balsamic characters and bit of fruit, still. Lovely balance despite the age with complex, concentrated flavours. Still very much alive and quite delicious. It’s nice not to have to make excuses for such an old wine. 97/100
See also: Do you like old wine?