Best "Traditional" Rioja ?

Julian - a)those distinctions are kind of meaningless and b)are you drinking now or in the future?

All of the centenary wineries produce "traditional" stuff, if you start counting sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. What was traditional before that is largely forgotten.

Oldest is Marqués de Riscal, founded in the 1850s. If you can find their wine from the 1920s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s, consider yourself lucky. And buy the 2001s, 2004s, and 2005s.

Then there's Marqués de Murrieta, founded in
1852. They haven't released their 1981 yet because they think it's not ready.

Those two are the beginning of "traditional" Rioja. They brought the idea back from Bordeaux.

Then there's Bodegas Bilbaínas, founded in 1859.

Almost a generation later, there was another group of wineries founded. López de Heredia-Viña Tondonia came about in say, 1877. They're the fashionable one today, but that's a recent thing. They're friends, and I like their wines, but they're definitely not the only winery in the region.

There's CVNE, since 1879. They may be the single greatest producer in the region. They also own Vina Real, which dates from the 1930s, and Contino, which is more recent but which produced one of the single best wines I've ever tasted.

Rioja Alta and Bodegas Riojanas were founded in around 1890. Bodegas Palacio came around 1894. Muga came in the 1930s.

But then there's Beronia, which was only founded in the 1970s. And Marqués de Cáceres, which was also founded in the 1970s. And Bodegas Ontañón, which came in 1984 and Bodegas Ondarre, founded in 1986 and Bodegas Abel Mendoza, founded in 1988.

All of them make "traditional" wine in that they make Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reservas. But most of them also make wines that don't follow those regimens.

There are many many other wineries, but that should give you a start.

As far as vintages go, I'd suggest 1964, or 1973 or 1981 or 82. That's what you want out of a great Rioja. If you're looking at more recent vintages, 2001 and 2004 and 2005 were great years but it's kind of dumb to talk about "modern" and "traditional" with wines that are so young. A 2001 is NOT an aged wine. And that's where the distinction breaks down. If people bothered to try some of the "modern" wines after they have say, at least 20 years on, they'd be quite surprised. And if they'd tried the Lopez de Heredia wines when they were young, they'd be even more surprised. People want to go on about how they tried some wine that was 30 years old and another that was 4 years old and then they try to draw comparisons that are pointless.
Well put GregT!

I have limited experience with Rioja but have enjoyed most of the wines I've tried, from Crianza through to Gran Reservas.

What is your experience with Montecillo? I've been impressed, as well as disappointed - but mostly impressed. Their Crianza and Reserva seem to provide good value for the money.

Their 1991 Reserva Especial was the big disappointment (vintage?). Recently a 1981 Gran Reserva (Magnum) was a real treat.

The other Rioja, worth noting, I've enjoyed is Faustino (Reserva)
I'm not going to try and add to what GregT said - but would be happy to open wine for him in return for more info.....

GregT - just curious - who do you think does the best job of getting the "vintage" chart/assesment for Rioja right? I have heard a fair amount of conflicting info on 91 and 94 and am trying to cut through the chatter. As an aside - I have had the bottle 91 Lopez Gran Reservas and the Cune 94 imperial GR and loved them all... Thanks!

G
GregT

Thank-you kindly for the most informative post; you certainly understand Rioja. Most appreciated.

With regard to my initial request for recommendations of traditional rather than modern or international wines, this was a polite way of saying that Mr. Parker's (and Mr. Tanzers) tastes for more extracted fuller bodied, more intense and often higher alcohol wines are not always mine. And that I value elegance, finesse, interest and complexity over intensity and hedonism. And wines with local interest rather than international popularity. Letting the grape and terroir (rather than the heavy wine makers hand) shine through. Enough said; it was not my intent to get into a discussion on this topic.

But just to say that I do welcome most change and enjoy some (but not all) "modern" wine making techniques. Any suggestions on any fine Rioja wines would be gratefully received.

Cheers

Julian
I don't know if Vina Valoria would be considered "traditional", but they do keep a reasonable number of older vintages in their library and release them from time to time (with new corks & labels). For example their 1968 Rioja Cosecha proved to be an affordable, and easily available, birth-year wine for me, and was in great shape when I opened it for my 40th.
Vinyrd - that's a wine most people don't know. I happen to have some of those 68s and 73s because some close friends were the importers initially when those wines were first found. Then RWC went around their backs and tried to do a deal. As the Corleone's would say, t's business, not personal, but it was a little dodgy nonetheless. And RWC was selling them for probably double what the other guys were.

The wine had been refreshed or re-bottled at some point but whatever the case, they were and are really good. Like everyone else, the producer had cork problems - I have a bottle of the 73 in my kitchen right now that's corked to hell, but people weren't as p.o.'d in those days as they are now, and that was still during the Franco era or just after, so they didn't have access to all the resources and cash people have today. I didn't mention those wines because who would ever be able to find them? But consider yourself lucky. Great values for what you pay. More recent vintages sadly, may not be in the same league.

Julian - I get what you're saying but there are 2 points to consider. First, the crianza/reserva/GR system is kind of a problem today and as a result, many people are not putting their wine into those categories. You have things like "roble" or "joven" or "seleccion" or "vendimia seleccion" that don't really have any legal standing. I'm not opposed to that at all FWIW - I think you should always have change and flux. What happens though is that you have wines selling for say, $150 or more that are called "joven", which could be pretty much anything. Literally it means "young", but there is no requirement that it be anything in particular.

Moreover, a lot of those people are using French barriques and they're making the wine for points. Some of those wines BTW are really good, but they are not what people think of when they consider Rioja. It's almost as if you had a Volnay and a Brian Loring wine from the same region. Both are valid in their way, but they have little to do with each other besides the fact that they use the same grape, maybe even the same clone!

We have a group that gets together regularly to taste those wines and finally banned one from the tasting because after a few years it frequently showed some kind of damage. It seemed dirty on the finish and that got worse. One critic, who obviously hadn't had it with five or six years on, gave it 100 points and a life of 100 years. It's the signature wine of the type you refer to. But you put that next to a wine from Lopez that's been in tanks for years and bottle for longer, and you wonder WTF?

Second point however, is one that people overlook. You have the properties of the raw material to work with - the grape. Muga, trying to meet market demand, in addition to the reserva/GR wines, decided to make a "modern" kind of wine and they called it Torre Muga. These days they also make an even higher-end wine called Aro. Anyhow, I was at a tasting and Isaac Muga was pouring and I asked him about aging it, since I'd very recently had a bottle of the 1996 that a friend was keeping just to see what happened. His hunch, born out by our tasting, was that it would become increasingly like a "traditional" wine.

"Oh no," said Muga. "Drink it now! Otherwise you just end up with a gran reserva!"

And in fact, that's what happens to some of the better wines. They're released young but they age wonderfully and at 20 years, they really start to converge.

Some of them never will, that's for sure. But don't discount all of them. Right next to the vineyards of Lopez are the vineyards of Roda. Those are considered polar opposites in terms of style. But taste some older Rodas today and you'll be very surprised and if you like the "traditional" style, you'll be happy to have them.

Cirson I don't know, never been my fave. But the old Roda 1 can be pretty good.

Monticello is an older house. It's owned by the Osborne family these days. Middling producer for the most part, solid but not exciting. I rarely drink them because there's so much better. The GRs in good years are quite nice though. Same with Faustino although even more so. Typically underperforms in grand fashion. Then you find a wine on year and wonder why they can't do that all the time. The 94 for example.

As far as vintage charts, the generally acknowledged years from the 90s are 94,5,6. That doesn't mean the other years are awful - remember Rioja is a very big region, but in say, 1997, you might want to avoid those wines. 1998 wasn't all that great either, but some wines are still pretty good. If you have a producer like CVNE, they can do serious selections, so you're better off with them than a small producer who might have been hailed out. Had a 1991 recently and it was great, so I wouldn't avoid those. More recently, 2001, 4, 5, were great, with 05 probably the best, and then 09 and 10.

But then you have 2002. Rainy year. I was a complete skeptic but was at LdH and she pours some and says "what do you think?" I ended up taking some home. Who knew? And the whites from that year are even better, if you like their style.

Cheers!
quote:
Originally posted by vinole:
quote:
Originally posted by Jcocktosten:
We had a CVNE from the 50's (perhaps it was a 62, I don't recall) I believe at Bern's for Vinole's 50th birthday. Was amazing fresh and vibrant


It was 1954 and agree it was remarkably vibrant at that age.


Thanks, that is what I thought, but the vintage eluded me.
quote:
Originally posted by KSC02:
Another excellent, very informative, post from GregT.


+1

Greg, thank you for this-- and really, all your other frequent informative and thoughtful posts. You are a true asset to this community.

I should have written that a long time ago.
quote:
Originally posted by GregT:

We have a group that gets together regularly to taste those wines and finally banned one from the tasting because after a few years it frequently showed some kind of damage. It seemed dirty on the finish and that got worse. One critic, who obviously hadn't had it with five or six years on, gave it 100 points and a life of 100 years. It's the signature wine of the type you refer to. But you put that next to a wine from Lopez that's been in tanks for years and bottle for longer, and you wonder WTF?



Thank you for the wealth of info. Much appreciated.

With this line, would you care to name the producer you are referring to? (I have the sneaky suspicion you might be referring to Artadi, and am trying to figure out when best to drink the few bottles I have).
Red - I don't really want to trash a bodega particularly since it's my understanding that they've taken care of that issue now, but that's truly an amazing guess. Not exactly who I had in mind but as close as you can possibly be and for the same reason. I'd drink those Artadis. Same issue. More of a retronasal thing at first but once you pick it up you can't ever miss it.
GregT

thanks again Greg!

Are there any sources that you recommend for great Rioja at decent prices? I have used the Rare Wine Co. a few times and have been happy with the bottle conditions, but do not see very many other places that reliably carry Rioja (particularly the older GRs from non-Lopez/Cune).

G
Well at the risk of sounding really sappy, thanks for the kind words everyone. Who knew?

quote:
Nice!! Remember, we don't like champagne which we find akin to corked white white wine. Other than that, feel free to post at whim.

I don't even know if this is on the right thread, but it's hilarious nonetheless. Not even sure I agree as I've had some pretty good Champagne, but as a complete dismissal or an entire category, well, gotta smile.

Thirsty - the RWC has a great business and I have purchased stuff from them in the past. More importantly, Manny was very cool when a moron was going off at a tasting, directed at me. RWC finds great wines and if they have something you like, I'd go for it. They've had a few dinners where they've invited a few folks who as a result, now fancy themselves as Rioja cognoscenti. No matter.

Today there doesn't seem to be a premier place for those wines. At one point it was PJs wine in NYC. They realized they didn't have a chance with French wine as there were established purveyors, and they wanted to, and in fact became, the premier place in the US for Spanish wine. They may still be the top place for sherry.

But times have changed and the economic crisis has had a huge impact and of course, they got rid of the people who know more about Spanish wine than pretty much anyone else I can think of.

On top of that, the Rioja producers realized what they had. So the wine that you used to pick up for $50 is now $125 or more. But still a bargain when compared to say, Hermitage or Burgundy for similar vintages.

K+L is doing some direct imports and I would encourage you to look at those.

Send me a note at wine.greg@gmail.com and I'll send you my recs, for whatever they may be worth.
Greg: I just giggled to myself reading your incredibly knowledgable notes and realize what a newbie I am with respect to wines. You take it to a different level, and the rest of us benefit from your educational posts. Keep up the great work and continue to provide us with your insights and wisdom. I totally appreciate your inspiring notes and agree with everyone above when we compliment you for what you contribute.
Been out of commission for a while so sorry for not responding. And thanks again folks.

Spo - interesting question. Remember that not all Spanish wine producers hold the wine for you - only those who designate the wine crianza/reserva/gran reserva do that. Other designations have no aging requirements and the wines can be released at any time.

But let's look at some data points that we do have and extrapolate. Most of the centenary wineries also make a kind of "modern" style as well. Muga for example, makes the Torre Muga and Aro, both of which are often termed "modern.

"Modern" means several things, but one of them is that they don't follow the crianza, reserva, GR model. Those wines are sold when the winery wants to sell them, regardless of whether they've aged some given amount of time in cask or bottle. So you can buy the Muga Gran Reserva, which is going to see the two plus three plus whatever other time they want to keep it at the bodega, or you can buy the Torre Muga and drink it quickly or in a few years.

I once asked Isaac Muga about keeping Torre Muga for years because we'd just had a 1996 a few nights earlier. He said to drink it fast, because otherwise you'd just end up with a gran reserva.

That's not a bad thing. But the wine was good on release, it's good now, and it will be good in the future. So that one didn't experience shut down.

If you taste LdH's wines before they're released they're quite fruity when young, which makes sense. They just don't release them that way.

OTOH, right next door is Roda and those wines are released much earlier than their neighbor's. I've not noticed that they shut down at all though.

Frankly, I've never noticed any Rioja to be "shut down"; they're just at different points in their evolution, but always drinkable. A gran reserva should never shut down - it should be drinkable on release and forever after. A wine called "seleccion" or something like that might not be quite "ready" on release, but I've never known them to shut down.

Merengue - best book out right now is pretty new and it was written by some of the people who know as much about Spanish wine as anyone in the world. It's called "The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain", written by Jesús Barquín, Luis Gutierrez, and Victor de la Serna. I don't know Luis but Jancis Robinson asked him to cover Spain for her, Jesús is a friend and an amazing resource, and Victor is an acquaintance and a curmudgeonly but incredibly articulate, humorous, and knowledgeable resource as well. You can't get any better teachers than those guys.

And again, I'd urge you to read the recent article by Tom Matthews - he covered some ground that virtually nobody talks about. I thought it was a really excellent job on the region.
quote:
Originally posted by GregT:
Merengue - best book out right now is pretty new and it was written by some of the people who know as much about Spanish wine as anyone in the world. It's called "The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain", written by Jesús Barquín, Luis Gutierrez, and Victor de la Serna. I don't know Luis but Jancis Robinson asked him to cover Spain for her, Jesús is a friend and an amazing resource, and Victor is an acquaintance and a curmudgeonly but incredibly articulate, humorous, and knowledgeable resource as well. You can't get any better teachers than those guys.

And again, I'd urge you to read the recent article by Tom Matthews - he covered some ground that virtually nobody talks about. I thought it was a really excellent job on the region.


Thanks just ordered it. And i did read TM's piece on Rioja and the retro tasting at Rekondo etc. Great article indeed one of the best by WS.

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