Some New Old Riojas, Priced for Immediate Enjoyment!

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We are pleased to have received an extensive collection of old Riojas from a single Spanish cellar. All of the bottles have at least several decades of age and are ready to drink now. Mature Rioja wines offer reliable pleasure through generous, shimmering Tempranillo fruit and textural depth, frequently at more affordable prices than other great European wines with comparable age.

Traditional local winemaking in Rioja favored rustic young reds known as vino de cosechero, made with the stems and a sort of carbonic maceration in stone lagares and cement tanks until the 1850s-60s. It was during this time that the two great Marquéses - Luciano Murrieta y García-Lemoine (Marqués de Murrieta) and Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga (Marqués de Riscal de Alegre) - initiated the shift to Bordeaux-inspired methods following stints in France. Not long after, French merchants and growers descended upon Rioja from oidium- and phylloxera-stricken Bordeaux, in search of a new, consistent supply of quality grapes and wine.

Fermentation in large wooden vats (and sometimes stainless steel), gentle extraction, and long aging in small barrels of American oak would come to define the style of Rioja now considered classic. We are always on the lookout for bottles from the 1960s and 1970s, the end of a golden era, before quality was corrupted by industrial farming and the race for higher yields.

In addition to famous favorites like Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, Marqués de Murrieta, Marqués de Riscal, and Faustino, we are eager to feature lesser-known bodegas like Berberana, Bilbainas, Franco-Espanolas, and Palacio, who produced classic, age-worthy wines of integrity during this era. We opened a dozen or so bottles this week and found them to be in very fine form - open, interesting, flavorful, and alive! All of the bottles benefited from a couple hours of air. (We chose not to decant or double decant them, though it would not have hurt.)

Biographical information for producers can be found in individual item descriptions below. We hope you enjoy the opportunity to explore these delicious Spanish gems! Ariana Rolich

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Berberana 1964 Rioja Reserva

Bodegas Berberana was founded in 1877 by the Martinez Berberana family, who ran the winery in its original location in Ollauri (Rioja Alta) for 90 years until its sale in 1967. It was sold once again in 1975, after which production expanded significantly. Researching blends is difficult for wines of this era, though it appears likely that this reserva has approximately 20% Garnacha and some Mazuelo in addition to Tempranillo. The 1964 displays a lot of poise and concentration for its age, with vivid red plum and cranberry fruit, savory paprika, cedar, and salty mineral notes. Elegant and satisfying at this moment, but it will be nice to taste again in 5 years! Ariana Rolich

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Berberana 1970 Carta de Oro Rioja Crianza

Bodegas Berberana was founded in 1877 by the Martinez Berberana family, who ran the winery in its original location in Ollauri (Rioja Alta) for 90 years until its sale in 1967. It was sold once again in 1975, after which production expanded significantly. Researching blends is difficult for wines of this era, though it appears likely that this crianza has some Garnacha and Mazuelo in addition to Tempranillo. Silky and supple, this graciously mature vintage has lovely black cherry fruit and skin flavors, with delicate undertones of  hoisin sauce and salty plum. The tannins have softly matured, allowing the intrinsic acidity to shine. A great example from this excellent Rioja vintage. Ariana Rolich/Jonas Mendoza

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Bilbainas 1970 Rioja Pomal

Founded in Haro in 1901 by a Bilbao wine merchant, Bodegas Bilbainas is the largest estate in Rioja Alta. Viña Pomal is named for Bilbainas' single vineyard of Tempranillo planted on gravelly limestone soils (near the intersection of the Ebro and Tirón Rivers in Haro), which produces wines of power and grace that evolve for decades. The 1970 has lively aromas and a clear, accessible palate with strawberry preserves, orange rind, gentle tannins and mineral earth. Highly recommended. Ariana Rolich

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Felix Azpilicueta Martinez 1970 Rioja 'Siglo' Crianza

Félix Azpilicueta founded Bodegas Azpilicueta in 1881 in Fuenmayor, the heart of Rioja Alta. In the first of many structural shifts, Azpilicueta merged with two other Rioja wineries in the 1960s to form Bodegas AGE. (It went on to be purchased by British drinks conglomerate Allied Domecq, which was eventually taken over by Pernod Ricard.) Their burlap-wrapped Siglo bottling took the mass market by storm and it is the 1970 vintage of this wine that was the near-unanimous darling at a recent tasting of mature Riojas. Exuberant, spicy and floral aromas danced about the delicate yet flavor-packed palate of red berries and berry seeds, savory green herbs, citrus oils, sea salt, cinnamon, and floral hints on the finish. A delicious surprise from a fantastic vintage! Ariana Rolich

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Franco Espanolas 1970 Rioja Royal

True to its name, Bodegas Franco-Espanolas was founded in 1890 by a Bordeaux wine merchant with French and Spanish investors. Sold in 1973 to a large conglomerate, the Franco-Espanolas label persists to this day. We haven't tried any contemporary vintages, but bottlings from the 1960s and '70s are perennial favorites of our Rioja-loving clientele. This 1970 Gran Reserva is an easy introduction to the brand, with aromas of coffee beans and sweet raspberry which combine on the soft, pretty palate with cedary spice, leather, and bitter earth. Ariana Rolich

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Franco Espanolas 1973 Rioja Bordon Crianza Consecha Especial

Franco-Espanolas has long offered two premium lines of wine. “Royal” is the lighter bodied, more Burgundian style Rioja; “Bordon” is the more robust, tannic, and Bordeaux-inspired one. Despite being only a Crianza, the 1973 Rioja Bordon Crianza has aged remarkably (one could say astonishingly) well, and will please any lover of old-wine straight from the bottle.  Full of brambly black cherry fruit, this full-bodied Bordon rounds out the palate with chocolate, carob, meaty, and savory flavors, while framed by finely grained tannins. Jonas Mendoza

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Franco Espanolas 1975 Rioja Bordon Crianza

True to its name, Bodegas Franco-Espanolas was founded in 1890 by a Bordeaux wine merchant with French and Spanish investors. Sold in 1973 to a large conglomerate, the Franco-Espanolas label persists to this day. Bottlings from the 1960s and '70s have been very popular with  our Rioja-loving clientele and tend not to need much air. The 1975 Bordon is fresh and alive, with strawberry and tomato aromas, and flavors of tart red berries, green herbs, lemon-lime zests, and vegetal rhubarb with hints of sweet smoke. Ariana Rolich

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Rioja Alta 1976 Rioja Ardanza Reserva (some damaged labels)

Any fan of Rioja Alta's current releases should taste a bottle of Ardanza with age. The 1976 vintage was nothing to write home about in most other collectible wine regions, but has proven itself to be quite delicious in Rioja. Ardanza contains up to 20% Garnacha, which makes it rich and visceral with age, with bold earth, roses, blood orange, and iron interlaced with musky fig and dusty purple berries. Ariana Rolich

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Lopez de Heredia 6 Ano Rioja Crianza Tondonia (bottled before 1981)

Prior to 1981, Rioja producers were not required to designate vintages for Reserva and Crianza bottlings. According to Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia, "6° Año" indicates that the wine had been aged for 6 years prior to bottling. Thus, as far as we can tell, this wine is from 1974 or earlier and may be a blend of vintages.

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Marques de Arienzo 1987 Rioja Gran Reserva

The wine brand Marqués de Arienzo was created in the mid-1980s after the House of Domecq (one of Spain’s oldest winemakers) decided to build a winery in Rioja in the 1970s. Arienzo was the second effort by the company to launch a Rioja brand; it became both a commercial success within Spain and internationally.  Domecq  was later purchased in 2005 by the French group Pernod-Ricard; the Rioja winery, vineyards, and brand name were  subsequently divested in 2010 to Bodegas Muriel  and Herederos del Marqués de Riscal. With a brick red hue, this fully mature Rioja entices with dried cherry fruit and herb flavors, along with subtle hints of roasted meat, dill seeds, and balsamic. This wine will benefit from decanting, and stands to improve after several hours of opening. Jonas Mendoza

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Marques de Riscal 1982 Rioja Gran Reserva

Camilo Hurtado de Amezaga, the Marques de Riscal de Alegre, returned to Elciego (Rioja Alavesa) from political refuge in Bordeaux with winemaking techniques that would shape Rioja's destiny. He made his first vintage in 1850. The 1982 Gran Reserva is an intriguing wine from a great vintage (and a good candidate for further cellaring), with spicy rose and animal notes, black cherry fruit, dark earth, cocoa, and a good bit of flavor and tannin from long aging (36-42 months) in oak barrels. Ariana Rolich

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Montecillo 1973 Rioja Reserva Vina Monty (arrives 4/25)

Bodegas Montecillo was established in 1874 under the name "Hijos de Celestino Najavas" by the sons of Celestino Najavas, and renamed in 1947 after Montecillo, a hill outside of Fuenmayor (Rioja Alta). Having studied in Bordeaux and Burgundy, the sons implemented modern French customs and techniques (tasting rooms, cooling equipment) in the pursuit of quality wine. In 1973, Osborne Wines purchased Montecillo and sold all of its vineyards. The 1973 is fully mature, with a delicate build, plenty of acidity, cedar, gently spicy berry fruit, and ferrous earth. Ariana Rolich

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Montecillo 1981 Rioja Gran Reserva Vina Monty

The 1981 Montecillo Gran Reserva was among the more powerful and forward of the older Riojas that we tasted from the 1970s and 1980s. With a deep brick red hue, the nose becomes quickly enveloped with deeply savory burnt tobacco and meaty notes. After about an hour in the glass, the palate becomes more fruit-driven with strawberry compote and wild blackberries, underlied by leather and sweet spices of clove and cinnamon. Medium bodied, the tannins are well-integrated, and the acidity drives both the savory and fruit flavors toward a graceful finish.  This wine is  ready to drink now: pair this with Manchego or simple preparations of lamb or beef. Andy Paynter

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Montecillo 1982 Rioja Gran Reserva Vina Monty (arrives 4/25)

Bodegas Montecillo was established in 1874 under the name "Hijos de Celestino Najavas" (by the sons of Celestino Najavas) and renamed in 1947 after Montecillo, a hill outside of Fuenmayor (Rioja Alta). Having studied in Bordeaux and Burgundy, the sons implemented modern French customs and techniques (e.g. tasting rooms, cooling equipment) in the pursuit of quality wine. In 1973, Osborne Wines purchased Montecillo and sold all of its vineyards. Maria Martinez-Sierra arrived in 1976 to take charge of winemaking. She is an advocate of chemical-free farming and restrained, classically-styled wines. Her 1982 has many years ahead, firm and layered, with dark, spicy cherries, raspberry patch, herbal garrigue, wild flowers, and rich black earth. Ariana Rolich

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Montecillo 1987 Rioja Gran Reserva Vina Monty

Bodegas Montecillo doesn’t own any vineyards (a business decision made by the Osborne family in the early 1970s), but sources excellent Tempranillo grapes from across the Rioja Alta region to make its wine. The winemaker Maria Martinez-Sierra has been at the helm for nearly 40 years, and her Riojas continue to impress with their consistent quality. The 1987 Montecillo Gran Reserva immediately asserts with savory flavors of smoked meat, tobacco, and leather, along with burnt cherry and dill undertones.  This wine has considerable structure, not only a function of the winery’s dedicated onsite cooperage but also their use of traditional Bordeaux winemaking methods. This is another 1987 Rioja that’s fully mature, but stands to improve with several hours in the glass. Jonas Mendoza

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Murua 1970 Rioja Gran Reserva

Bodegas Murúa in the Rioja Alavesa was founded in 1926 and produced quality wines until 1974, when the head of the winery retired. In The Wines of Rioja, John Radford explains that Murúa was subsequently purchased by a neighboring bodega, Casa Masaveu, which assumed Murúa's name and assets. Some years later, members of the Murua family were denied commercial use of the name and resumed operations as Bodegas Muriel, the name under which they operate today. Ariana Rolich

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Murua 5 ano Rioja Crianza

Prior to 1981, Rioja producers were not required to designate vintages for Reserva and Crianza bottlings. "5° Año" indicates that the wine was aged for 5 years. Thus, as far as we can tell, this wine is from 1975 or earlier and may be a blend of vintages.

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Palacio 1978 Rioja Glorioso Reserva

Bodegas Palacio was established by Bilbao businessman and politician Cosme Palacio, his brother Manuel, and father Angel, in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa) in 1894. In The Wines of Rioja, John Radford tells a fascinating history: "This was not a good time in Rioja: no sooner had Cosme established his business than the phylloxera louse appeared and proceeded to decimate the vineyards. Some bodegas laid down and died, others fought the plague with every new idea at their disposal. Cosme's reaction was atypical: he simply moved his operation to Valladolid in Castile-Leon (where phylloxera would not strike for several years more), rented a bodega, and hired a promising young winemaker by the name of Txomin Garramiola to make a wine in the Rioja style, until he could return to Rioja. Txomin went on to make a wine called Vega Sicilia in 1915, and the region became the DO Ribera del Duero in 1982..." The bodega has changed hands a number of times since its initial sale in 1972, but the Glorioso lineup that was first bottled in 1928 persists to this day. The 1978 Reserva is 100% Tempranillo with a delicate floral and botanical nose, elegant tannins, and flavors of brambly purple fruit, savory chestnut meat, and salty earth. Ariana Rolich

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Palacio 1980 Rioja Glorioso Reserva (arrives 4/25)

Founded in 1894, Bodegas Palacio is a more-than-hundred year old winery located in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa. Glorioso was their first label, dating back to 1928. Michel Rolland started consulting for the winery in the early 80’s, so this vintage represents some of the last traditionally styled Riojas the winery made. With bold flavors of stewed red cherry and cherry tomato, savory dried herbs, and smoky undertones, this is mature Rioja to enjoy for immediate consumption. Jonas Mendoza

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Senorio de Libano 1982 Rioja Reserva Castillo de Sajazarra

At the end of the 1960s, the Líbano family bought a castle in Sajazarra (in the most northern part of La Rioja Alta) in order to rebuild it and make their home there. They started making wine inside the castle for their own consumption, but later expanded. The new winery was built in 1973 (within the castle’s gardens); all of the nearly 50ha of vineyards are owned and cultivated by the winery.  1982 was a remarkable vintage in Rioja (one of only 10 vintages deemed “Excellent” by the Consejo Regulador in the past 50 years). The Libano Rioja shows astonishingly bright red cherry fruit for a more than 30-year old Reserva on the palate, rounded out along with mature flavors of hoisin and celery stalk. A Rioja for immediate consumption. Jonas Mendoza

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