My children and I went to our last meal on Saturday before they had to return to England for school. I chose Carlito’s Gardel, the Argentine restaurant I like on Melrose in Los Angeles. I win all around here. Good wine from Argentina. Good steaks for me and Jack, and pasta with tomato sauce for my 8-year-old daughter, Isabel. She lives on pasta, pizza and ice cream. I guess she learned it when she lived in Italy for the first six years of her life!
Anyway, I was enjoying dinner with the kids, and Max, one of the owners, brought around two glasses of wine. One I ordered and the other Max said he had opened yesterday and he wanted me to try it. “I want to test you like your father did the other day,” he said -- I guess he reads my blog too.
I didn’t mind his challenge. I had never had the wine I ordered, the 2003 Luigi Bosca Gala No. 1, which is a new wave designer wine from Mendoza made from a blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tannat. So I didn’t know what to expect. And, of course, I didn’t know what the other wine was, although I assumed it was red.
Max brought the two wines. The one on the left was dark colored, almost purple, with lots of jammy, plumy and vanilla aromas that followed through to a full bodied palate, with velvety tannins and a medium finish. I thought it was very, very good but maybe was a little disjointed. I gave it 89 points.
The second wine was lighter colored with an amber, garnet tint. It was hard to see because the room was a little dark but it definitely looked older than the first one. The nose had a vanilla, stewed fruit, leather, and volatile aroma. It was medium bodied, with fine tannins and a medium finish. I thought it was fading a bit. It seemed like an old style Spanish wine. Perhaps Rioja? But why would I be drinking that here? I thought.
I told Max what I thought – wine one from Bosca and two, Spanish. He looked surprised. He gave me the thumbs up. Suckling one, Max zero.
What I was surprised about was that the Rioja was from La Rioja Alta, and that it was a Gran Riserva 604 1995. This is supposed to be the producer's best wine, plus it was from a great vintage. But it was slightly funky, volatile. I would say it was a case of unclean winemaking, like dirty barrels. It wasn’t bad – 84 points – but it wasn’t very exciting either. Max said that he wasn’t very excited about it either, when he had it the night before.
That’s a shame. I have fond memories of drinking wonderful bottles of La Rioja Alta from the 1964, 1968, 1970, and 1976 vintages in the late 1980s. My club in London had the wines on the wine list and the wines sold for next to nothing. They were as good as drinking wonderful, mature premier cru Burgundy. In fact, I used to trick some English wine merchant friends by serving the wines in Burgundy glasses and asking them what the wine was.
Unfortunately, the 1995 La Rioja Alta I had on Saturday night, with its obvious faults, would not have tricked anyone. I wonder if it was just a bad bottle…?
I am off to Nicaragua this morning for an assignment with our sister publication Cigar Aficionado. Check out my reports from there, if you have time. I am not sure the internet connections from Esteli will be all that good. Wish me luck.
Serry Osmena — Los Angeles, CA — January 8, 2007 11:37am ET
Cesar Venta — VERACRUZ , MEXICO — January 10, 2007 8:48pm ET
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