I have a bottle of Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of the Year. Sort of.

Every year, when the Wine Spectator list of Top 100 Wines comes out, I like to play a game where I see how many wines on the list I’ve tasted and/or own.  This year, that number is 10.  Hey, 10% isn’t bad for an Armchair Sommelier.  And then comes part two of my game — are there any wines on the list that don’t cost the national debt of Lichtenstein that I can get my hands on?

The #1 wine this year is the Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004.  Rioja is my crack — I can’t resist it.  When I see a Rioja come across my laptop screen from WTSO, I fold like a soft taco . . . SOLD.  So, I thought, why not try to score some Cune.  Just for fun, I typed it into wine-searcher.com, and got a hit!  I knew if I didn’t act within the next 3.2 seconds, I’d lose out.  There was a 2 bottle limit, so I ordered two bottles.  A no-brainer.  I also ordered a couple of bottles of La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva 2004, #22 on the list.  Because I’m weak and I can’t resist.  We’ve been over that.

I couldn’t believe it!  What a score!!  It was too good to be true.  And if something seems too good to be true . . .

It probably is.

The box arrived, and I unpacked my prize.  I’m the proud owner of a bottle of Cune Rioja Imperial Reserva 2004.  Notice anything missing?  Like say, the word Gran??   I blinked a few times hoping my middle-aged eyeballs were playing a cruel joke on me.  Still no Gran.  And then I may or may not have used some inelegant language.


I’ve been duped!  No dumbass, you got ahead of yourself and ordered the wrong thing. Urgh.  I’ve made a terrible mistake.

One little word . . . it makes all the difference in the world.  Or does it??

I did a little research, and compiled the ratings for the 2004 Gran Reserva and Reserva:

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 7.52.20 AM

Wine Spectator tasting notes for the Gran Reserva:
Firm and a bit austere, this red shows depth and drive, with chewy tannins supporting plum, tobacco, licorice and mineral flavors. The structure is solid but the wine remains fresh. Maturing now, this has a long life ahead. Drink now through 2024. 4,000 cases made.–TM

Wine Spectator tasting notes for the Reserva:
This plump red offers cherry and berry flavors wreathed in spice, tobacco and cedar. Balanced and gentle, in the traditional style, but has enough structure for food. Drink now through 2014. 500 cases imported. –TM

There you have it.  It’s depth, drive, and chewy tannins that get you 5 extra points.

Even Wine Spectator hints at a thin difference between the two wines, saying, “these differences have not been systematic or consistent over time, and many older bottlings are not clearly labeled.”  Uh-huh.  I gotcha.

I think we’re splitting hairs here.  This is going to come down to my favorite wine axiom:

And did I like my Cune Rioja Imperial Reserva 2004?  You betcha!  I put my nose into the glass, inhaled, and my eyes rolled into the back of my head.  No need (well, almost no need) to taste it, I’d be happy to just sit here and smell it for the rest of the night.  This is everything I love about Rioja — a dusty, funky, tobacco nose, with flavors of figs and black cherries.  Gorgeous mouth-feel and well balanced tannins.


Even a mistake can turn into a happy ending.



      1. It sounds like bragging but I’m just so excited – here’s the full list:

        Vina Real Reserva Especial 1959
        Vina Real Reserva Especial Rioja 1964
        Vina Real Reserva Especial Rioja 1966
        Vina Real Gran Reserva Rioja 1970
        Vina Real Gran Reserva Rioja 1976
        Vina Real Reserva Rioja 1981
        Vina Real Reserva Rioja 1982
        Vina Real Gran Reserva Rioja 1991
        Vina Real Reserva Rioja 1995
        Vina Real Pagos de Real 2002

        I promise to write it up to the best of my ability!


  1. My hand is up as I am a Rioja and Ribera del Deuro sucker too. The smell or should I say “nose” is always so compelling. Glad that you mentioned the Ardanza as my local store has a mess of it. But on the missing “Gran”, I don’t know about you but I’ve found that laying down the Reserva a few years gives me the same buzz as the Gran and I’m saving a bunch. Now, where is my WS list to compare to my year.


    1. Mmmm . . . Ribera. Another favorite. I’m surprised you aren’t out of the Ardanza yet — such a bargain, really! And once WS annoints you . . . you know how that goes. I’m taking my other “gran-less” bottle and putting it to bed for a few years. Can’t wait to see what it does. Salud!!


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