Every time I sit down with a Lopez de Heredia wine—whether the entry level Cubillo or a ’47 Bosconia Gran Reserva—I have felt it deserves a kind of celebration, or at least a proper meal. A couple nights ago, Lopez got both.
A friend of mine who used to work with me at Little’s Wine invited me to share in the experience of her ’81 Bosconia Gran Reserva—a wine even Maria Lopez de Heredia feels is among her favorite of all the Bosconias in her extensive collection which dates back to the earlier part of the last century. Another friend contributed the ’81 Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco to offer up a white wine from the same vintage.
For those who are less familiar with this winery, it is an estate in Rioja alta that dates back to the late 1800’s, when Don Raphael Lopez de Heredia came upon these soils, fell in love and began to grow grapes. He was one of the first three houses in all of Rioja to produce wine. Unlike the hundreds that exist today, little has changed about the way this estate makes wine. You quite literally feel you are taking a step back in time, tasting what wine would have been a hundred years ago.
Lopez wine is an experience. Such a memorable experience, in fact, that several have been known to fall helplessly into its entrancing grasp. Eric Asimov of the New York Times, David Rosengarten, not to mention several random bloggers such as myself have been taken aback by Lopez’ exceptional, sometimes surprising and always breath-taking disposition in their wines. Few other wines have accumulated such near obsessive accounts for its scintillating singularity.
An epic meal was created to pair with these and other notable wines at Colt & Gray—fast becoming my new standard hang out in Denver. Here, the cocktails are genius, the décor refined and the food doing its best to keep up with the finest of ‘comfortable’ pubs in New York. In my humble opinion, they’re killin’ it.
To celebrate the gathering, we began with bubbles. No less than a ‘grower’ Champagne: Aubry Premier Cru, a stellar selection at only $37. This has often been my ‘favorite’ bubbly around the store simply due to the fact that you seldom find such screamin’ quality to price ratio. It’s a funky one, with notes of yeast, hazelnut and apple. The body is rather heavy, the bubbles fine and the finish lingers. We were delivered a classic pairing of crispy, salty French fries (fat+salt=good Champagne pairing) as well as a miniature cup of white truffle soup with crispy shallots. The bubbles were catapulted into notes of mushrooms, wet soil and sherry-like nuances.
As the ’81 Lopez white fell into my glass, the golden liquid rising slowly, I do believe a little rush of endorphins released within my brain. I was giddy. I actually giggled. Lopez has a way of making me feel like I’ve just slid on a pair of earmuffs in the middle of Grand Central Station.
I ogled the amber hue, anticipating the bouquet that was before my nose. So familiar, but always so unexpected. I never quite know how those Lopez wines manage to do that. On its own, it offered up notes of wet pebbles, lemon zest, herbs and apple left on the counter for a while. It really wasn’t until it was introduced to food, however, that its noteworthy complexity surfaced.
It was a rather gruesome course. A smattering of sweetbreads (baby calf thymus), foie (the liver of a very force-fed and fattened duck) and head cheese (meat jelly made with the head flesh of a pig) was laid before my eyes. I almost punked out, but I would have received a rash of harsh stares, a lecture and certainly never again another invite. I feebly took a sliver of each to my plate. In fairness, I was happy I had an opportunity to try such hardcore English fare—when would I EVER order it on my own?! In a word: never. But it wasn’t so bad… when you tried desperately to not consider the, uh…source.
The sweetbreads coerced the salinity from the white—a savory, salty character came through that brought images of fresh seafood and olives to mind. The bartender, Kevin, who dined with us, made the ever provocative point that it’s funny that with an animal part that is actually soaked in milk during its creation of the dish, it actually brings out an anti-malo trait wine. It is extremely briny, not soft and creamy.
With the head cheese, dried orange peel emerged. The acidity just ‘popped’, as one person put it. Mulling spices came through. It was fascinating!
Finally with the foie gras upon raisin bread, sweet raisins and vanilla were what deepened the finish of the white. There was more weight on the palate, and the flavors seemed more integrated and soft. Not a lot of individual nuances could speak, however. Nonetheless, it was a complimentary pairing. Nothing dissident to note.
Maybe an hour later, tertiary qualities of baking spice, violet and toasted nuts came through. It was then that it was really ready to talk—a whole 4 hours after being opened.
The next course was hardly ‘G’ rated either, as they placed before us beef blood pudding and a hefty lamb shank…bone mostly certainly apart of the costume. Before I set out to conquer my meat, I pondered the red in my glass: the ’81 Bosconia Gran Reserva. Even before food, it was showing excellent minerality, mossy undertones, wet leaves and pond on the nose. On the palate, dried cranberries and tart cherry vied for attention. With the lamb, sweet fruit and spice elevated.
The final red we consumed was a 2006 Gaillard ‘Malleval’ St. Joseph. I actually brought this one. I longed to show off an aged Barolo or well-rested Bordeaux. But I wanted to bring a wine I was more hesitant to pull off the shelf—one that would greatly contrast the aged Rioja that undoubtedly was our focus. Why compete… when you can’t? That just bastardizes other phenomenal wines that deserve their special meal one day.
It was a baby. I knew that. But it still didn’t mean we couldn’t appreciate its evolution. Even with a two hour decant, the oak was loud on the nose—sweet vanilla, bacon fat, raspberries a slate rose to greet me. I was nervous it would overpower the food, until I saw what the chef had in mind. He was a genius. Everything he brought out took the wine to a different dimension.
There was a chicken thingy with spicy bbq sauce (fish sauce and honey were largely responsible for this). All of us were shocked it didn’t die on the tongue with the Gaillard. Rather, a bouquet of dark floral bloomed up front and hot spicy cayenne notes were prominent on the back palate.
The roast duck magret enticed a myriad of minerals to speak—iron and blood came to the fore (I know, yum, right?). Returning the rim to the nose after a slurp and again violets and rose were there.
A side of ratatouille brought the oak back out again, as ripe black berries, cinnamon and nutmeg sang a sweet, scrumptious chorus in my nostrils.
We had two beers to finish the evening: the Bruery Oude Tart—a Flemish style red ale aged in oak barrels. Unfiltered and bottle conditioned. It smelled of strawberry cheesecake, rhubarb and even kiwi, though no fruit was added to this natural sour. An interesting ale. I am not huge for beer, but my schnoz liked this one. Admittedly, my palate…did not.
The next was one that has always been one of my favorites: the 2009 Ommegang Three Philosophers. Here, some cherries are added to the blend, but it is not sickly sweet as you might expect. It is remarkably balanced and smooth. Musky on the nose with a soft candied finish.
Nights such as this one make me so grateful for discovering the passion I did. It brings me in circles of others who don’t take for granted the senses we were given naturally. Life’s short. Pop some special bottles now and again over a meal shared with friends. No other time of year is this more enhanced than winter, if you ask me. Huddle up inside, keep warm with laughter, and insulate yourself with fatty, heartwarming (and sometimes gross-sounding) grub.