Lots of mature Rioja (1942-1996) in NYC

Got together with my brother, a few of the NYC regulars (JC, Ramon, and Dale), and a few new wine friends for a wonderful night of mature Rioja at Noreetuh in Manhattan. It was a special night, the food was spectacular and the wines were nearly all firing on all cylinders. It is not every night that we get to taste so many mature classics from Rioja, including from 1964 and 1981 which are considered amongst the vintages of the century in the region. I don’t think these wines are for everyone stylistically, given the high American oak and distinctly lemony acidity, but I love them.


  • 1996 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Viña Gravonia
    Badly corked.
  • 1996 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Reserva Viña Tondonia
    Wow, really good. Smells of sherry, almonds, fresh ground ginger and unsweetened caramel. Attack seems sweet like caramel at first, yet this is actually quite dry with grapefruit and linseed. Good layered mouthfeel, long lingering acetic finish. In that oxidative style but still fresh and has enough fruit for balance. Not something for everyday, but special. 92 pts.
  • 1987 Marqués de Tomares Rioja Reserva Blanco
    Tastes like a bordeaux Blanc after the Tondonia. Shockingly light and fresh still. Dominated by flavors of fresh honeydew melon, wonderfully intact, a little honey on the attack, a bit light on the backend. 90 pts.


  • 1973 Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Ygay Etiqueta Blanca
    I was quite charmed by this, perhaps because it showed the most like claret. Sweet nose of tobacco and earth, reminds me of a Graves, just lovely. High acid but good fruit too. Nice length, tart notes, some savoriness, still has some structure (someone says that 73 was a big, tannic year in Rioja). 93 pts.
  • 1989 Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Ygay Reserva
    Huge oak on the nose still, quite woody palate as well, super lemony acids, almost giving it a white wine profile. Nice midpalate weight, quite rustic and intense with loads of sour-saison notes. Most at table think this is too young, I find it the oakiest wine of the night both aromatically and on the palate with lots of dry wood tannins. If oak integrates, could get better. 89 pts.
  • 1942 R. López de Heredia Rioja Viña Bosconia
    Incredibly dark color. Beautiful fruit still. Monolithic at first, but with air, starts to give dill and balsamic and scents of lime zest. Tart, lean, sour cherry fruit, classic Rioja. Gets much better with some air, fanning out on the palate and showing more complexity. Must have been a monster in its youth. Special to try such a museum piece. 93-94 pts.
  • 1947 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia
    FLAWED, fully maderized.
  • 1964 Bodegas Franco-Españolas Rioja Royal Reserva
    I like a lot, one of the most mature wines at the table, wood completely integrated, very fresh and bright, complex with citrusy acids and spicy fruit. Good depth and length, but nothing explosive. Rather it charms with aromatic expressivity and a silky resolved palate. Lovely. 92-93 pts.
  • 1966 Bodegas Franco-Españolas Rioja Royal Reserva
    Very good, but not a complete as the 64 served next to it. This has a bruised fruit note, smelling of sur-maturité, lacking the freshness of the 64 while seeming a bit bigger bodied. I’d still happily drink any time and probably rate it higher if enjoyed by itself. 90-91 pts.
  • 1981 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia
    Terrific showing, if not quite as explosive as prior bottles. Quite Burgundian in profile, shy nose at first, lovely fresh rounded palate but still quiet. Has sneaky depth and everything is perfectly integrated, I like the fruit profile of sour cherries, but not too sour or acetic. Tasting this Lopez wines tonight makes me realize how much less new oak they (appear) to receive than the other wines, which I prefer. 92-93 pts.
  • 1964 C.V.N.E. Rioja Viña Real Reserva Especial
    In the running for wine of the night. Wonderfully youthful, with great fruit and grip still. Seems to transcend the Rioja profile, with a bit more structure and fruit intensity than the others, showing just a timeless red wine magic. Darker colored than the other wines except perhaps the 42 Bosconia. Cherry fruit, licorice, herbs, cigarbox, big and bright. Balanced, fully mature, spicy yet buttoned-down. 94 pts.
  • 1985 C.V.N.E. Rioja Viña Real Reserva
    I’ve had this wine several times before, and it shows very differently in this line up than other nights, seemingly exceedingly young and fruit-forward. It does come across as rich and layered with a high-toned minty nose, lacking the integration and the elegance of the older wines. This makes it popular with one or two at the table who prefer a bigger, fruity wine. At any rate, this wine is quite intense with all that sour cherry Rioja fruit bound with lemon acids and notes of dill and some exotic spicy liqueur nuances. Excellent to be sure, and hard to believe that it really needs more time, but I am left little doubt that my remaining bottles will hold decades longer and hopefully gain a little more nuance in the process. 91 pts.
  • 1982 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 904
    Sweet’n’sour palate again like most of these Rioja, with plenty of dill and lemony acids. This has a silky smooth attack, one of the most resolved palates of the night with great layers of spicy fruit to go with the terrific acidity. Stacked with fruit and flavor compared to some of the more delicate wines on the table. Would be my favorite perhaps, except that it still has a super oaky nose, borderline too woody for me. Hence, hard to rate: 94-95 pt palate, maybe 88-90 pt bouquet.
  • 1995 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia
    Opened later on a whim, I was worried it would show too young after all the senior citizens, but this is an outstanding Bosconia and already giving lots today. Again, quite Burgundian in texture. Clean, bright fruit, terrific depth and balance, fresher than some LdH wines and also shows very little if any new oak influences. Doesn’t seem fruity yet has all the fruit needed to balance the acids and structure. If you own some, you are lucky and will enjoy this wine for decades to come. 93 pts.


  • 1985 Bodegas Toro Albala Montilla-Moriles Don PX Gran Reserva
    This was the current release in 2011 when I was in Spain. Liquid sugar, with molasses and maple syrup. Exotic scents of licorice, incense, char. As always, super sweet and unctuous on the attack, yet hyper bright and fresh on the finish. A little goes a long way. Wonderful in its style. 93 pts.

Amazing recap Pat! Thank you.

Most enjoyable. Very nice notes, PM!

Took minimalist notes on my part, but will add photo for now.


What a great note. You are fantastic at concise and insightful notes.

Patrick was in town from Colorado, and some of the usual suspects and a few new friends gathered at Noreetuh, where we were very well treated. I enjoyed the walu dish, pork jowl musubi, ankimo torchon, tuna poke, truffle wontons, mentaiko spaghetti, and Wagyu beef with rice and mushrooms. I hear after I left more pork jowl was consumed, along with dessert.

Wine theme was Spain (well really Rioja)

1996 Lopez de Heredia Gravonia Rioja Blanco (corked)
Seems to be a great wine lurking, but TCA always wins.

1996 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva Rioja Blanco
Oxidative style, but in a really pleasant way- salted nuts! Saline, nutty, citrus, flowers. Great length. B+

1987 Marques de Tomares Rioja Reserva Blanco
Incredibly light color, bright and grassy, tangy, shockingly young. B+/B
1973 Marques de Murrieta Etiqueta Blanca Rioja
I liked this, but not as much as some others. Nice cherry fruit, touch of dill, quite lively but I thought a bit one-dimensional. B

1989 Marques de Murrieta Ygay Rioja Reserva
Young, red fruit with mushrooms and tobacco, a touch lifted and oaky but I enjoy. B+/B

1947 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva (flawed)
Never tasted this, cork was dried out and Justin said caramelized flavors.

1942 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva
This was a bottle that had been pulled because of fill, but fill looked fine to me for almost 80 years old- maybe 4-5 cm. Pretty exotic nose, macerated cherries with sandalwood and anise, mushrooms, kept evolving. Gets a bit disjointed in end, but quite the experience. B+/A-
1981 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva
Lovely and elegant, floral and herb notes over solid red plum and cherry fruit, not a blockbuster but sweet and balanced. A-

1982 La Rioja Alta 904 Rioja Gran Reserva
Still apparent oak, but lovely bottle, with red and black cherry fruit accented with spice and leather. Powerful compared to preceding wines, but not heavy. A-
1964 Franco-Espanolas Royal Rioja Reserva
Mature but not tired, lots of citrus zest and spice over quiet but pleasant fruit. Good length, good acids. B+/A-
1966 Franco-Espanolas Royal Rioja Reserva
Some preferred this to ‘64, not me. But I did like- high toned, bright, good fruit but not as long as ‘64. B/B+
1964 CVNE Vina Real Rioja Reserva Especial
Wildly delicious,. Red and black cherry, anise-y herbs, cigarbox. Exotic but classic at same time. A/A-

1985 CVNE Vina Real Rioja Reserva
Slightly lifted nose but not problematic, dark fruit, smoke, very tasty. B+
1995 Bosconia Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva
This was a late addition, and I really enjoyed, but took no notes.

I needed to catch train and missed the 1985 PX
Fun night, great food, great wines, great friends.

Grade disclaimer: I’m a very easy grader, basically A is an excellent wine, B a good wine, C drinkable. Anything below C means I wouldn’t drink at a party where it was only choice.Furthermore, I offer no promises of objectivity, accuracy, and certainly not of consistency.

Sounds like an awesome tasting! Thanks for the notes Pat

Nice work Pat. I’m shocked at that Etiqueta Blanca. The vintage wasn’t considered particularly good overall although some bodegas, Murrieta for example, made pretty wonderful wines. But remember that wine was a crianza, which was their lowest level wine, and Franco was still around, so there weren’t a lot of innovations or advances going on. I’ve had some other 73s from them that were brilliant. Nice tasting!

Thanks for the feedback, all. Ramon, share your impressions even if you don’t have notes!

RE the 73: it was popular at the table overall I think, but not all loved it (see Dale’s notes above, with whom my impressions otherwise synced up very closely).

Fantastic notes. Thanks.

Most any tasting of older Riojas from good estates has the potential to be revelatory. I am repeatedly amazed at how well these wines age and what they turn into, given enough time. I’m also impressed that there are a few estates that have gone way, way over the top oak-wise (la rioja Alta for example), but that most estates’ wines eat their oak fairly well eventually. I believe our tasting group will be doing an older Rioja tasting in March, perhaps not so exalted, but still including some pretty good wines.

A most fun wine dinner it was. Highly knowledgeable and cool Spanish wine experts that made it more fun to drink and eat, the good foods and service at Noreetuh, and, of course, the impressive breadth of Spanish wines.

My top wine was the 1964 CVNE Viña Real Reserva Especial.

I’d split my 2nd and 3rd best votes among the 1942 LdH Bosconia GR, 1981 LdH Bosconia GR, 1982 La Rioja Alta 904 GR, 1964 Granco Españolas Royal Reserva, 1973 Marques de Murietta Ygay Etiqueta Blanca, and the 1985 Bodegas Toro-Albala Pedro Ximenez GR. These would be straddling at or between A-/B+ in my ratings.

Even after my initial ranking, other than the 2 wines that were deemed unfit to be poured for the occasion and both of which I did not try, I will happily/gladly/joyously drink any of the other ones that we had. Those mature whites were also high in the fun-to-drink factor.

It’s always a good time catching up with the Martin brothers (Patrick and Brendan), and having our customary post wine-dinner cleansing ale(s), this time at the local bar/pub in the East Village. Also, as always, very glad to have Jim/Maurice/Justin/Dale/JC at the table with their knowledge, fun company and generosity.

And isn’t Noreetuh just a gem of a restaurant for wine dinners? Jin is a wine lover himself and makes such an effort that his guests have a great time.

Agree. I think Rioja has the best aging potential of any wine in it’s price range. I’ve had bottles of Montecillo from the 80s that were singing, and I think the wine was quite inexpensive upon release. Last year I stumbled on a shop that had some old wines that look like they had been floating in the ocean for a few years, marked at 25-30euros. I bought a 1964 Bodegas Franco-Españolas Rioja Royal Reserva on a flyer and it was amazing. Went back and bought a bunch more (including one Montecillo Vina Monty; 3 of 4 were great, one was off). I got a 1955 Bodegas Bilbainas Rioja Viña Pomal Reserva for 45 euros that I’m cautiously optimistic on based on a total of 4 of 5 great bottles from the batch (albeit all from the 80s).

If the wine has passed, I’ll still enjoy the memories of discovering that trove.

My first time to Noreetuh, and I couldn’t agree more. The food and service were just awesome. From the street, you’d never know what a great venue it is, there’s not even a sign out front. My only quibble was how dark it is inside, we could barely see the labels! This ambience is great for a romantic evening, but subpar for a more serious wine dinner.

I was actually conversing with JC (or Patrick?) about this exact point during our dinner. As I’ve noted in this forum a few times before, La Rioja Alta 904s/890s are among the worst Rioja offenders with the take-no-prisoners-in-your-face-oak beverages when drunk within 20 years of vintage. However, all old and mature bottles that I’ve had from LRA (including this example from our dinner) have seamlessly integrated or, perhaps even just evaporated away, the uber oaky notes from when they were young and turned the wines into elegant and beautifully-complex Rioja.

Barry, I agree that these wines are ones with best aging potential in their price range. But as per your examples, at those reasonable prices, fine aged specimens can only be available in Spain. I’ve been at the lucky end of those Euro30sh purchases, too, when I chanced upon good 60s and 70s prominent-producer bottles in small wine shops in Barcelona. I don’t know if those wines can be had here in the US at anywhere close to those pricing, though.

I confess, I’ve had my doubt about Lopez de Heredia’s red wines through the years. I’ve always admired them, but wasn’t sure I always liked them. They have this strange acetic-vinegary taste, at least when young, that I don’t really like. When my wife and I were in Spain in 2011, lots of restaurants had the 2001 Tondonia Reserva Tinto on their lists for ~$25, and I kept ordering these on principle (so cheap!) even though I kept not digging the wine.

But I have now firmly come around to LdH, in part because my palate has shifted since 2011 and also because I am convinced that these just need to time to integrate. For instance, the 2001 Tondonia Reserva is still too young – one is better off drinking these wine from the 90’s, or better yet, 80’s vintages. And once mature, then these are among the world’s best and most distinctive wines, and represent sensational value if you skip the gran reserves (which were also quite good value until not all that long ago). But I have found the 04-06 reservas LdH quite enjoyable despite their youth (see: palate shift), and I always like their whites even if I don’t crave that style very often.

I like the other classic bodegas as well, most notably Muga (their traditional cuvees), Riojanas (are the post-2001 vintages just as good as before?), CVNE, and if old enough, Murrieta, but I usually find these wines too oaky and perhaps there has been a more generalized shift towards more modern stylings. This oak may integrate like it did for their vintages from of old, but I cannot really drink these young and the oak gives me doubts about their evolution. I was alone I think in finding the 89 Murrieta and the 82 Rioja Alta overly oaky at this tasting (though the LRA was still fantastic despite all the lumber).

I opened an '82 LRA 890 a year or two ago and it was great, but still overtly oaky, and probably will remain that way.

I hear you. Bought a 4-pack of 1994 LRA 890 (or were they 1995s) for like 50 bucks per in 2008/09 here in an NYC store with great Spanish offerings. Tested 1 and traded the rest away to my b-i-l with seeming over-oak that didn’t endear. If I’m wrong, will just look forward to b-i-l sharing during one of our future dinners.

This oak concern is why I stopped buying most Spanish wines.