A Return to Ancient Rioja

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at Contigo, San Francisco, California

For lovers of mature, traditionally made wine, our favorite stomping grounds are Piedmont, Madeira, and Rioja.

There are two reasons for this. First, you can still find great old wines at remarkably low prices. And secondly, even ancient wines (when acquired from great cellars) can be counted on to deliver incredible drinking experiences with mind-boggling consistency.

While the longevity of wines from Piedmont and Madeira are well known, far fewer Americans have been exposed to the grandeur of old Rioja. But those who attended our wonderful Contigo dinner on June 1 may now understand our passion for these incredible wines. They experienced fourteen amazing traditional Riojas that made a strong case for the wine culture that once existed in Rioja.

But the wines we had in June hardly dented our library of old Riojas. And so on Tuesday, October 11, we went back to Contigo, with an all-new line-up. Included were not only 13 more red Riojas (from 1961 to 1985), but also four soaring examples of the classic barrel-aged white Riojas that are nearly extinct today. No wines will be repeated from the June dinner. Here’s the complete list of what we were drinking:


1981 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 
1987 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 
1991 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 
1998 Marques de Murrieta Gran Reserva Blanco 


1961 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva 
1964 Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina 
1967 Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Reserva 
1968 Franco-Espanolas Royal Reserva 
1975 Vina Lanciano Reserva 
1975 Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva
1978 Marques de Murrieta Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 
1978 Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Reserva 
1981 Bilbainas Vina Pomal 
1981 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Gran Reserva 
1981 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva 
1982 Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina Reserva 
1985 Cune Vina Real Rioja Reserva

The wines were accompanied by a special menu created for us by Chef Brett Emerson, who, since opening Contigo in 2009, has made it an elite address for Spanish food lovers in San Francisco.

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