1994 Riojas: drink now

Murrieta RiojaEighteen years of age is just a little too old to be young, yet not quite old enough to have any worldly-wise maturity. But what applies to humans doesn’t necessarily translate into the world of wine – particularly if you’re a red from the Spanish region of Rioja. These 1994s are at their best now and there just ain’t any point holding on to the corkscrew any longer.

grapesA warm summer that lacked the usual ferocity of dry heat and grape shrivelling hot winds meant that the Riojan grapes of ‘94 were plump, wonderfully ripe and ready to release aromatic juices that would ferment into long-lived Reserva and Gran Reserva wines.

The Consejo Regulador Rioja, which sounds much more poetic than the Riojan Wine Control Board, ensured the Reserva wines sat for at least one year in an oak barrel while the Gran Reservas got a least two.

Rioja labelAnd what did this do to the taste of, at this point, still young blend of Tempranillo grapes, oomphier Graciano and tannic Mazuelo? Smoothed out any rough edges and added a hefty dose of spicy oak flavours. Add onto this a further decade of aging in a cork-stoppered bottle and the final result is a drink that has more in common with a malt whisky than a wine.

Because aging breaks down those initially sweet fruity flavours into their more basic constituent parts which, to some, can taste rather fusty – so expect smoky liquorice and cocoa rather than sweet cherry and blackberry.

These aren’t the flavours that everyone wants in their wine but if you want a change from baby-young bubblegum sweet reds then a 1994 Rioja is worth a punt.

And Majestic has four rather interesting examples in at the moment:

Vina PomaRioja Reserva 1994, Viña Pomal


If you thought all Riojas were heavy, hearty wines then think again, this Reserva from Pomal is wonderfully light in the mouth with cherry and cocoa flavours spiced up with a bit of chilli hotness.

Rioja Reserva 1994, Beronia


Strangely beguiling aromas of damp wood and rhubarb followed by flavours of sharp redcurrant smoothed out with cocoa.

Rioja Gran Reserva 1994, Urbina


Take a sniff inside your best leather handbag, or if you haven’t got one of those then a briefcase will suffice, and you’ll get an idea of the aromas wafting out of this wine. Add on a mouth feel of chewy tobacco and flavours of smoked cherries and you might be mistaken for thinking this was a malt whisky rather than a very adult wine. Drink it now and enjoy yourself.

Rioja MurrietaRioja Reserva 1994, Marqués de Murrieta


Another strange mix of aromas in this ’94 example: leather, sausage and old strawberry jam. A light-bodied wine with deep flavours of liquorice, freshly milled black pepper and roasted damson.

This article has also appeared as Paula's Wines of the Week on MatureTimes.co.uk