I love old Rioja. So it was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to a vertical tasting of Beronia Gran Reserva, held in the West End on 29 September.
I went with some trepidation, though. I had not tasted Beronia before but these wines surely would not match some of the golden oldies that I’ve had in recent years – 1962 and 1959 CVNE Viña Real Gran Reserva, for example, and Marqués de Riscal 1945 and 1900. (Smug? Moi?)
Based at Ollauri, just south of Haro in Rioja Alta, Beronia was established in 1973 and bought by the Sherry firm González Byass in 1982.
The viticultural and winemaking blurb is pretty standard (i.e. boring) but Beronia does do something novel with its barrels. For the top wines – like the Gran Reserva – “mixed wood” is used, with the barrels’ covers made of French oak and the staves of American oak. This equates to about 1/3 French and 2/3 American in terms of surface area. A fellow taster remarked that it would probably be easier and less expensive (these hybrid barrels cost 25% more than “monovarietal” barrels) to age the wine in separate French and American barrels and then blend it together.
The wines were consistent in style, with a distinctive saline note in several vintages, but that is not to suggest that they were particularly good. Perhaps I’m being hard on Beronia but I do think that old Rioja is, or certainly can be, one of the greatest wines in the world.
Then again, the 1995, 1994 and 1987 were all corked. I cannot recall ever attending a tasting with such a high rate of corked bottles. Even more depressingly, the corked 1994 and 1987 seemed to pass most people by. Maybe they had different bottles to my table, where only the gentleman opposite me had also noticed the cork taint.
The youngest wine and the current release, the 2001 was turning to garnet. A bit of oak “dust” at the end of the nose at first. The saline taste was really quite odd at first – I’ve never noticed it so much in a wine before. Other tasters might call it minerality. The ’01had a typical Rioja structure – some tannin, plenty of acidity and a bit of oak flavour. It was nothing special but this could easily go to 2020 and beyond.
At first the 1985 seemed ill at ease – I though it might be another TCA victim. It got better with aeration but that brought a Band-Aid Brett note to the surface! This was a hot year, apparently, which has manifested itself in a slightly raisiny nose, though the acidity is good. Beronia’s winemaker Matías Calleja called this wine “brusco” (brusque). It’s good for another five years at least.
Depending on your view, the 1982 was either spicy or Brett-tainted! Like the ’85, it still had plenty of acidity but it was drying out on the finish. Drink up before 2015.
The 1981 Gran Reserva was similar styled to the 1982 but had less of the waspish acidity. The nose was brighter and less veiled by Brett (or whatever it was with the ’82). It finished with a punch of grippy old fruit rather than the whimper of the previous wine. I think this will keep going a bit longer than the 1982.
The slightly deeper colour of the 1978 was a promising sign. Depressingly, the sweet fruit at the front of the palate was followed by something a bit murky in the middle. But it got its act together on the rich and smooth finish. This authoritative Rioja will outlive some of its younger relations, I think.
Finally, the 1973 was the first Gran Reserva release from Beronia. The salinity was almost overwhelmed by the blistering acidity that lingered on the finish. A good wine but the 1978 just beat it.