I really wanted to go bananas over this wine. I'm a sucker for mature Riojas and although this isn't a great sample, I think it's downright amazing that you can buy this in Spanish supermarkets for less than 20 euros.
But my dog crapped on the carpet so I was in a bad mood and a bottle of the 1996 Faustino opened minutes earlier turned out perfectly oxidized (Oloroso, anyone?), reminding me of the downside of romantic ol' Spain... No bottle variation, this, simply a wet, moldy cork, either indifferent production or indifferent storage, probably the latter, maybe even both.
The Rioja Gran Reserva hyperbole can be summed up as "a great wine, made only in outstanding vintages." Well, 1994 and 1995 are considered great years in Rioja and I've tasted enough to agree; 1996 is also considered very good to excellent and the 1996 Faustino (which I had a few weeks ago) was at least as good as other vintages I'd tasted. But 1998 is not highly touted from what I've read and the the 1998 Faustino is neither concentrated, nor complex nor elegant enough to be considered great. On the other hand, it offers the classic Rioja experience: juicy red fruits, tobacco, a hint of mildew, meaty, earthy overtones, fun, FUN acidity, soft yet chewy tannins. So it's not a great wine but few wines sold in Israel could touch it at the price it's going for in Spain.
I traded two bottles of Sea Horse for the two bottles I opened tonight, and even with an oxidized bottle, I figure I still came out ahead.