Rioja is Spain's answer to Bordeaux - a big, ageworthy red that often spends extended time in oak before further aging in bottle.
Aged wines have a character that is quite different from anything else - whilst modern wines for early drinking emphasise fresh, primary fruit, aged wines have an elusive, secondary harmonious mellowness.
The grape of Rioja is Tempranillo whose bramble-and-cherry flavour profile is quite different from that of Bordeaux's Cabernet and Merlot, whilst the use of American oak emphasises vanilla sweetness.
Imperial Gran Reserva 2004, £26.99, Waitrose, Majestic, Wine Society, Berry Bros, D.Byrne, Tanners, Harrods
Purplish in the glass, faded around the rim and some brick-red tinge.
Nose of bramble fruit, red and black cherries spice and mintiness with aged gaminess.
Ripe fruit on the palate, aged leathery-farmyardy-gaminess with perfectly ripe, soft velvety tannins; good savoury length and persistence - harmonious.
Balances mellowness with vibrancy - distinguished but still energetic, like an elder statesman. Classic, textbook aged Rioja. Very Good Indeed.
Match with plain-roast red meat such as beef or venison.
Viña Real Reserva 2006, £17.49, Majestic, The Wine Society, Berry Bros & Rudd, D.Byrne, Wimbledon Wine Cellars, Harrods
Purple in the glass with just some fading around the rim.
Textbook nose of bramble fruit and cherries, with sweet vanilla spice and truffley undergrowth.
Well-balanced on the palate with good fruit, fresh acidity and ripe tannins with still a touch of firmness - there is more primary fruit here and less aged character - a classy wine, but not quite in the same league as the Imperial. Good.
Match with roast lamb or beef.
Both are good, both are priced above everyday drinking levels. However, the Imperial - older, mellower, less primary and more elusive - is somehow indefinably better.
And if you've never had a wine that is starting to be properly mature, it is as good a place to start as any and see what all the fuss is about.
Both wines provided for review.
Aged red wines: Wines of A Certain Age, Haut-Brion vertical, Crus Bourgeois vertical
Other CWB comparative tastings: Pinot-off, Wine in Threes
CVNE - website
The Wine Society - website
Majestic - website
Waitrose - website