June 8, 2011

For the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, Rioja produced one of the world's most distinctive styles of red wine—a marriage of Northern Spanish grape varieties (led by Tempranillo) aged in American oak for up to six or eight years or even longer. With the delicacy of red Burgundy, but aromatics all their own, they stood the test of time, developing into wines of great style and elegance with age.

Like other traditional schools of winemaking, this classic style of Rioja was an accident of history, having been born in the 1870s and 1880s when Bordeaux needed to replace wine lost when Phylloxera ravaged its vineyards. Rioja was a convenient source, as it lay just 200 miles south of Bordeaux and was spared Phylloxera until 1899. Now-famous companies like López de Heredia, Marqués de Murrieta, and CUNE were founded-housed in exotic Victorian bodegas and drawing on hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of vineyards. They provided wine to the Bordelais but also to the world. And a singular style of winemaking evolved.

The Riojans proved that they could make wine as fine as those of France and do so on a large scale. But in the 1980s and 1990s, this traditional style of Rioja very nearly perished. As in other regions throughout the world, young winemakers abandoned the methods traditional to their area in favor of modern techniques perfected elsewhere. This change may have occurred with particular speed and passion in Rioja, as Spain looked to the future, coming out of its painful four decades under Franco rule.

There was an explosion of new wineries in Rioja, and virtually every one of them turned its back on the classic American oak barrels in favor of new French barriques. They also adopted vinification and aging techniques that we are more accustomed to see in California or Tuscany.

Fortunately for those of us who love traditional wine, old-style Riojas have not totally disappeared. A few diehard bodegas continue to turn out soulful Riojas like those made 50 or 100 years ago. The most notable example is of course López de Heredia, which refuses to give into fashion and has changed very little in the past century. But there are others who continue to make at least some wines that are essentially traditional, such as La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Riojanas, and CUNE.

But the other glimmer of light is that Riojas are among the world’s longest-lived red wines, capable of aging gracefully for 30, 40, or 50 years, with ease. And until very recently, old Riojas—lovingly cellared by the producers and great restaurants in Spain—could still be had at bargain prices.

For years, we’ve been buying old Rioja whenever we’ve had the chance, inspired by a tasting we’d attended in London in December, 1998, featuring wines from a private Madrid cellar. It was one of those wine epiphanies that changes us forever. Since then, we've been plumbing similar collections from Spain, paying sometimes laughably low prices for 30, 40 and 50-year-old treasures.

But such purchases may soon be impossible. With the greatness of these old wines becoming more and more appreciated, and since young wines are rarely made in this style anymore, prices are going up at a staggering clip. Part of the problem has been that the traditional producers themselves have been forced to protect their vanishing stocks of library wines as demand soars.

Interest in these great, irreplaceable wines is just beginning to build, and it’s looking like a repeat of what has happened with traditional Barolo and Barbaresco. For now, there are still bargains to be had, but the window of opportunity won’t be open forever.

Related Products

Description Notes Avail/
Limit
Price
2022 Alegre Valgañón Rioja Blanco LG92+
VM91
12 $22.95 add
2019 Alonso & Pedrajo Suane Rioja Rosado Reserva 12 $34.95 add
2017 Artuke Rioja El Escolladero TA97
LG95
3 $115.00 add
2018 Artuke Rioja El Escolladero TA97
LG95
2 $115.00 add
2020 Artuke Rioja El Escolladero LG96
TA96
2 $75.00 add
2017 Artuke Rioja La Condenada TA98
LG96
2 $165.00 add
2018 Artuke Rioja La Condenada TA98
LG97
2 $150.00 add
2019 Artuke Rioja La Condenada TA97 2 $150.00 add
2018 Contino Rioja Garnacha JG94 4 $49.95 add
2020 Contino Rioja Vina del Olivo JS98
JG95+
12 $125.00 add
2020 Contino Rioja Vina del Olivo 1.5 L JS98
JG95+
4 $250.00 add
2021 Contino Rioja Vina del Olivo TA99 12 $145.00 add
2011 CUNE Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 1.5 L JS94 6 $139.90 add
2001 CUNE Vina Real Oro Rioja Gran Reserva 1.5 L 1 $149.95 add
2016 CUNE Vina Real Rioja Gran Reserva WA95
TA95
JS95

Read Notes
12+ $59.95 add
NV Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Rioja 5 Ano (1970s Release; Privately Sourced) 3 $145.00 add
1973 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Blanco Rioja Gran Reserva (ex-Lopez de Heredia Library) LG98 1 $1,095.00 add
1987 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Blanco Rioja Gran Reserva JG94+ 1 $595.00 add
2006 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rioja Reserva (ex-Lopez de Heredia Library) 1.5 L WA94
Read Notes
6 $149.95 add
2007 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rioja Reserva (ex-Lopez de Heredia Library) 1.5 L WA96
TA96

Read Notes
5 $125.00 add
1997 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rosado Rioja Gran Reserva ST91
JG91
1 $495.00 add
2019 Álvaro Palacios Quinon de Valmira LG98
TA97
2 $345.00 add
2014 Peciña Rioja Crianza 1.5 L JG92+
WA90
JR91
6 $44.95 add
2017 Peciña Rioja Crianza LG91 12 $20.95 add
2014 Peciña Rioja Gran Reserva VM93
LG92
12 $42.95 add
2015 Peciña Rioja Gran Reserva Finca Iscorta LG94
VM94
12 $49.95 add
2016 Peciña Rioja Reserva LG93
VM92
12 $27.95 add
1964 Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva (ex-Riojanas Library) JG95+
JROB17
6 $395.00 add
1975 Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva (ex-Riojanas Library) 1.5 L JG94
Read Notes
6 $595.00 add
1982 Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva (From a Private Collection) 2 $195.00 add
1998 Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva (ex-Riojanas Library) JG94 12 $59.95 add
2004 Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva (ex-Riojanas Library) JG92
JG92

Read Notes
12+ $42.50 add
2005 Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva (ex-Riojanas Library) JG95
JG95

Read Notes
12+ $39.95 add
1975 Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Reserva (From a Private Collection) 3 $275.00 add
1970 Riojanas Vina Albina Rioja Gran Reserva 12+ $245.00 add
2001 Riojanas Vina Albina Rioja Gran Reserva (ex-Riojanas Library) JG93+
JG93+
JG93+

Read Notes
12+ $45.00 add
1952 Riojanas Vina Albina Rioja Reserva (From a Private Collection) 2 $595.00 add
1964 Riojanas Vina Albina Rioja Reserva (From a Private Collection) JG93 2 $295.00 add
1982 Riojanas Vina Albina Rioja Reserva (From a Private Collection) 3 $175.00 add
1922 Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 1 $750.00 add
1951 Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 1 $450.00 add
2015 Telmo Rodríguez Rioja Las Beatas LG100
TA98
JS99
2 $895.00 add
2016 Telmo Rodríguez Rioja Las Beatas LG99
TA98
JS100
1 $750.00 add
2017 Telmo Rodríguez Rioja Las Beatas LG98+
TA97
JS97
3 $595.00 add
2017 Telmo Rodríguez Rioja Yjar 1.5 L 1 $695.00 add

Please Wait
Adding to Cart.

...Loading...

Wine barrels in a cellar

Which site would you like to visit?

By clicking the retail or wholesale site button and/or using rarewineco.com you are choosing to accept our use of cookies to provide you the best possible web experience.

Read more about the cookies we use

Wine barrels in a cellar

Are you over 21?

×