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Our mission to unearth caches of classic Rioja from the best cellars of northern Spain has led us to troves of great and rare wine. But it has also taught us two valuable lessons about aged Rioja.
The first lesson is that provenance is everything. Unless well-cellared, even the most famous old Riojas can prove very disappointing. And so, we’re not only obsessive about where we find our wines; we taste extensively to confirm top condition.
The second lesson is that sometimes it’s good to look past the label. While well-cellared bottles of old CUNE, López de Heredia and Bodegas Riojanas are predictably magical, there are some big surprises to be found among lesser-known bodegas, especially in great years like 1964, 1968 and 1970.
Which brings us to today’s offer. It’s a 3-bottle assortment (1 bottle of each wine) of three little-known overachievers from the great 1970 vintage:
1970 Lagunilla “Viña Herminia”
1970 Lan “Viña Lanciano”
1970 Bodegas Alavesas “Solar de Samaniego”
The key to the wines’ amazing quality after 49 years is that all three came from our all-time favorite private Spanish cellar, located in the heart of Rioja.
The owner had tight connections with all the producers in the region and knew what he was doing. He bought everything on release, and when he liked the wine, he also bought in good quantities. We’ve offered countless wines over the years from this guy, and they consistently mop the floor with bottles from other cellars.
Sadly, this could be our last offer of new wines from this cellar, as he decided to stop selling a few months ago (probably sensing the rising value of his remaining wines). We hope to be able to resume buying at some point in the future, but for now this could well be the last.
It’s no coincidence that all three of these wines come from producers located in Rioja Alavesa, which is known of the full-bodied age-worthiness of its wines. And each wine is a seamless expression of the richness, balance and longevity that are the birthright of wines from Alavesa’s sheltered limestone slopes.
Bodegas Lagunilla is by far the oldest of the three, founded in 1885 by Felipe Lagunilla, legendary for having been the first to graft to American rootstocks, which saved the region’s vineyards after Phylloxera. The rich, structured 1970 Viña Herminia—almost entirely Alavesa’s signature variety of Tempranillo—was skillfully blended from a number of Alavesa terroirs, aged for a year in tank, two years in barrica and another two in bottle.
Bodegas Lan was founded by two Basque families in 1970. They drew upon the expertise of gifted enologist José Manuel Aizpurua, both to make the wines and to design the efficient, modern bodega, located adjacent to Lagunilla in the valley between Cenicero and Fuenmayor. From the very poor, rocky soils of their vineyards, the 1970 Viña Lanciano—80% Tempranillo with the balance split between Garnacha and Mazuelo—aged 18 months in barrel, is an exemplar of Alavesa richness and finesse.
Also dating from 1970, Miguel Angel Alonso Samaniego brought together a group of growers, clustered around the high-altitude town of Laguardia, to create Bodegas Alavesas. The 1970 Solar de Samaniego was sourced from the group’s best Tempranillo vines. After fermentation of the whole berries in concrete tanks, and the aging in barricas was reduced to preserve its vibrant fruit and terroir expression.
It’s all here: 3 classic Riojas from a top vintage, carefully cellared to bring them to their current beautiful stage of development.
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