White Rioja: Celebrating Ageing

We had just returned from our vineyard in Somló, Hungary and the next day I happened to celebrate my birthday, but both fridge and pantry were impossibly empty to improvise any sort of a meal. So, the opportunity presented itself for us to use the member’s gift vouchers for a birthday lunch in the Lido in Clifton, Bristol on Sunday. The Lido’s restaurant is located on the mezzanine of the restored Victorian swimming pool and spa, and serves excellent Spanish cuisine with the occasional North African or Mediterranean twists.

One of the things I really like about the Lido is that they bake their own sourdough fresh every day, which makes for a great appetiser when served with a rather sharp and spicy olive oil and washed down with a glass of bone dry Prosecco. It also allows time to choose one’s meal from a short, but frequently changing menu as well as ponder over the considerably longer wine list.

We both opted for the burrata as the starter, which opened up with its creamy and rich texture beautifully in the mouth and the small semi-green and red tomatoes complemented it nicely. For mains we went separate ways. The North African vegetarian mezze included sufficiently soft and fragrant falafel balls, creamy hummus and gently smoked baba ganoush among other delicacies. The mackerel was soft and moist on the inside with a lovely crispness on the outside, whilst the garnishing included some spinach, just perfectly wilted.

Our choice of wine was a bottle of white Rioja: Viña Tondonia’s Reserva 2004. The waitress kindly conveyed the message of the restaurant manager that the wine would probably taste a bit like sherry and if we did not like that, we should feel free to choose another one. I appreciated the customer service, after all it was £60 for the bottle, but said I would be very happy for the bottle to be opened. In fact, I could hardly wait to savour this aged white wine from the Haro-headquartered Rioja producer known for its traditional style of wines.

It proved to be an excellent choice to accompany the whole meal, as the complexities and nuances of the oxidatively aged and genersouly oaked white wine continued to open up throughout the meal. White Rioja will often be classified as traditional or old style, when the producer ferments and ages the wine in American oak for a considerably long period of time. In this instance, Viña Tondonia’s 2004 vintage reserva, made of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia, was barrel aged for 6 years and enjoyed another 9 years of bottle maturation before we consumed it. Unlike crisp white wines, it had a textural richness and, in addition to flavours of vanilla, apple compote, star anise and cloves; it certainly displayed a bit of bruised apple, sherry and roasted nutty flavours too. It was just appropriate that we marked our birthdays with a bottle, which proved that ageing with grace is a question of care, respect and patience.