Manzanos 1961

Vinous dreams come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s trying a revered vintage, getting a fantastic bottle at a bargain price, or perhaps even simply getting a night on your own without the kids to enjoy the bottle in question.

Thanks to the UK’s leading online wine merchant Laithwaites you can now sort two out of three dreams straight away, just leaving you to just find the babysitter.

1961 Banner

1961 was (and is) a well lauded vintage in France – Could this Rioja keep up the pace?  JFK had just become the US President, the space-race was in its infancy and the Beatles were still trying to decide on a band name.  We’re talking seriously old-school.

Commercially viable volumes of very old bottlings such as this are increasingly unheard of, and it is only thanks to the extremely close relationship between Laithwaites head buyer Beth Willard and winemaker Victor Manzanos, that such a rare gem has made it to the UK market.

Building a strong relationship both professional and personal, Beth was on hand to support Victor through the tough times following the sudden death of his father.  Maintaining almost daily contact as the London based Victor returned to Spain to take over the family business at just 19 years old, Beth was top of the list when Victor unearthed a fantastically old cache of bottles.

Beth takes up the story: “Until around 10 years ago Manzanos were a medium sized producer focused on the area around Azagra and Calahorra in Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja). They are now one of the biggest producers of wine in Rioja and Navarra, owning several bodegas and lots of vineyards throughout the whole region.”

“Their extended family has been a big holder of vineyards dating back to the late 1800’s and (because of the large expansion) only now has Victor had a chance to dig around to see what they actually hold. In Azagra, close to where the principle bodega is located, some of his relatives’ own tunnels are full of old bottles of wine.”

The great news for wine lovers is that these older wines are now being assessed with a view to offering further archive releases in the future.

Following the discovery, the hand-harvested 1961 (mechanical picking was still in its infancy then) was rebottled, recorked and relabelled as the original packaging wasn’t up to today’s commercial standards.  The wine, however, was perfect, spending 3 years in French oak and then having laid perfectly untouched since being bottled in the mid-1960’s.  I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

1961 Bottle

Manzanos 1961, Rioja, Spain, Tempranillo based blend, 12.5%, £30

Some older wines can disintegrate a bit when left to decant for several hours but I decanted, and wasn’t disappointed.  The wine evolved significantly over several hours.

Still retaining a glossy ruby colour, there were hints of garnet colouring to the core, and a light water-white rim.

Shortly after opening, the nose began with a Burgundian barnyard tone, but this developed to include figs, mushroom, roasted nuts and sweet tobacco.  Further developed fruit came in the form of herbaceous wild black cherry, a touch of red cherry, and a whole load of green bell pepper.

Pronounced in character with a real sense of density from the off, the wonderfully fragrant nose only got better as time went on, adding liquorice, bitter black chocolate and treacle/caramel.

The palate, as expected, was extremely evolved with the tertiary notes of roasted black coffee.  Chewy, dense, with an almost oily thick texture it was still rich and broth-like, but retained a refreshing zing of acidity to balance it out and keep it fresh.

Further black cherry fruit came to the fore over time, along with pepper spice, liquorice and a light vanilla relief.  Light chalky tannins were still evident.

The finish is in the 1-minute range, carried by the acidity, black cherry and caramel.  If I was being super-critical, it’s a shame that the finish didn’t last longer, but it was still more-ish enough to have me reaching for the next glass.

Quite austere on its own (but still medium plus in weight, so not heavy in any way) this would stand up very well to most well roasted meats.  Sadly I tried it on its own and can only imagine how it would have drunk alongside a beef joint.

Knowing that there will only be so many bottles available for a relatively short time, and at a very agreeable price, I have several more cellaring, so I’ll hopefully be able to find out in time.  I fully recommend that you grab yourself a bottle (you can purchase it here) whilst you still can to give it a try for yourself.

Drink to 2025.

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Restaurant Etiquette

10_Wine Rack

The approaching festive season means that its highly likely that you’ll either be invited to, or attend, a restaurant in the coming months. 

Whilst office parties rely on set menus and transient wine choices, more intimate gatherings can potentially propose certain wine-specific theatrics and, if you don’t know why you’re doing them they can cause confusion and even prompt cries of wine snobbery!

The most obvious example is the server asking you to taste the wine before you ‘accept’ it, which people often delegate to other members of the party as they don’t feel qualified enough to pass judgement.  Far from expecting that you are an instant wine connoisseur being given a last-minute option to double check that you’ve made an informed and delicious decision from the menu, or even a ‘get out of jail free’ card if you don’t like the wine you’ve selected, it’s simply a quality control check.

Wine is a living, evolving, drink, and the theatre derives from proprietors letting customers sample the contents to ensure that the bottle has been correctly stored and is free of impairments.  Tasting the wine, the perceived scary element, is actually largely unnecessary.  A dull colouring or an unexpected/pungent aroma will tell you all you need to know about the wine quality before it ever hits your lips.

Comedian Michael McIntyre does a wonderful routine (worth checking out on YouTube) where he mocks the perceived ‘try-before-you-buy’ wine process, and the fact that it is offered for no other beverage.  Should customers be allowed to know the breeding of the cows providing the milk in their cappa-frappa-cino’s?

Grumpy Waiter

Ultra-pretentious establishments may ask if you want to sniff the recently removed cork.  Once again, as the bacterial taint in wine historically came from the cork base touching the wine, this is a theatrical dinosaur rolled out to identify faults.

If you’re unsure which bottle to select, the best advice I can offer is to simply trust the wine list or, if you’re at an upmarket establishment with a wide-ranging selection, trust the sommelier.  Apart from the larger chains or less attentive establishments where wines may be listed on availability and profit margin alone, most restaurateurs are attuned to the implications of customers getting it wrong. 

Well aware that food and wine matching is a key part of the full sensory experience of eating out, much work goes in to the finished wine list, ensuring it complements the menu in the best possible way.  Sommeliers spend years training with the one desire of highlighting the best wines, based on customer preferences, food matches and individual budget.

Restaurants with a culinary direction will have also already done the hard yards for you so you can be confident buying a bottle of a grape variety you’ve not tried or heard of before.  Steak restaurants will list wines that go well with steak, Italian restaurants will list wines that go well with Italian food and so on.

Whatever you go for, in pretty much every case, the wine that goes best with a meal is the wine that is freely flowing.

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the November 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.