TN: 70s Rioja and Bellota Ham


The 70s were maybe not the most glorious decade for Rioja, but you could say that in that decade lots of things changed. Marques de Caceres started out with the 1970 vintage, giving birth to “modern Rioja”. For a few years I had collected selected bottles of Reserva and Gran Reserva (+ one Crianza as by-catch) from the better of the 70s vintages, such as 1970, 1973, 1975, 1976 and 1978. Many wines of the large brands are not too hard to find at auctions (at reasonable prices) because of the large quantities produced. Some wines we had were German bottlings, labeled as “Spanischer Rotwein”, bottled by a German agency. So, besides the risk of the wine not having been stored properly, there was the additional risk that the German bottling is significantly different from a Spanish or other bottling.

All wines were decanted to separate the depot and given in between 10 and 90 minutes of air. We tasted blind, but uncovered after each flight.

We combined the wine tasting with a small tasting of six different Belotta hams and Belotta Chorizo, which went very well with the wines. They were:

Chorizo Campaña Ciurana Iberico Bellota.
Paletilla Ibericos Frexnense Bellota
D.O. Huelva Jabugo Sellecion Cebo
D.O. Extremadura Bellota
Jamon de Jabugo 5 Jotas Bellota
D.O. Huelva Jabugo Summum Bellota

Here are some notes to the wines in the order tasted. As I wrote them from memory, they are not very accurate and the points are only a tendency.

  • 1970 Bodegas Bilbainas Rioja Viña Pomal Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Cloudy crimson red. In the nose, this shows signs of age, is already a bit tired, yet still displays nice aromas of black coffee, leather, some strawberry, blackcurrant. Not very complex though. On the palate, it has mild acidity, the tannins have faded, it’s rather soft, yet is ok structured. It was fine for some four hours. (85 pts.)

  • 1973 señorio de Prayla Rioja Gran Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Clear medium red with some brown and watery edges. In the nose, this is relatively fresh with red currant and strawberry, oriental spices (kardamom), quite high overtones. On the palate, it has rather fresh acidity, some grip, a good structure, but a rather short finish with dry and dusty tannins and some tartness. Past its prime. (85 pts.)

  • 1976 Vizconde de Ayala Rioja Rioja Santiago Crianza - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
    Brick colored. In the nose, this is not dead, but quite simple with warmish aromas of bonfire and also some spiciness. On the palate, this is not very harmonic, rather short, yet still just alive. Taking into account that this is a supermarket Crianza from 1976, it has kept rather well, but other than the age bonus, this wine gives little pleasure. (75 pts.)

  • 1973 Martinez Lacuesta Rioja Gran Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Brick coloured. In the nose, this is very Rioja to me with some spiciness, cedar wood, red currant, autumn leaves, some wet earth. On the palate, I like the structure very much, this is silky, yet has some grip. It’s quite spicy, has medium acidity, still some freshness and a tart finish. (88 pts.)

  • 1973 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Rather light crimson red with some brown in the watery edges. In the nose, this is not too expressive with notes of cedar wood, sous-bois, truffles and hints of fruit (small red berries, maybe some cranberry) as well as lemon peel. On the palate, it is a bit tired. However, there are some nice leathery aromas and the finish is medium long. (88 pts.)
  • 1978 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Light crimson red. In the nose, this is great with a full bouquet of mostly secondary aromas (some ground coffee beans, autumn leaves, black truffle, leather), some oaky spiciness as well as hints of black and red berries. On the palate, there’s good grip under a velvety structure with very appealing acidity, rather soft tannins and even some mouthwatering juiciness in the medium to long finish. (92 pts.)

  • 1975 Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alavesa, Rioja
    Very full purplish red, hardly any signs of age. In the nose, this is truly amazing, monolithic, hardly changes at all over the course of several hours in the decanter. There’s lots of cassis, some juniper, black cherry, some oaky spiciness. On the palate, it’s rather tart, but has great structure, a quite prominent and almost piercing acidity, lots of tannic grip in the finish. This still seems very young. It may be a tad monolithic right now, but there’s still lots of life in this beauty. (94 pts.)

  • 1973 C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Imperial - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Brick coloured. In the nose, this is not great with rather strong signs of age (beef broth), some lemon peel, hints of leather. On the palate, it’s worn out, rather tired and ends abruptly. Not much harmony. Maybe better from better bottles. (80 pts.)

  • 1978 Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Gran Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
    Rather full cherry red. The nose was promising at first, rather warm with some bonfire and spice. It does fall apart in the glass unfortunately and gets more and more diffuse. Mostly malty notes remain. On the palate, it’s quite worn out, still fine to drink, but also rather diffuse with strong notes of malt. Short finish. (81 pts.)

  • 1976 La Rioja Alta Rioja Viña Ardanza Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Brick coloured. In the nose, it’s not bad with some oriental spices, hints of red currant, some mushrooms and forest floor. On the palate, it’s not very harmonic, the acidity is quite strong, the tannins rather harsh and dusty. It’s drying out in the finish. (83 pts.)
  • 1978 La Rioja Alta Rioja Viña Ardanza Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Medium crimson red with watery edges. In the nose, this is similar to the 1976 with mostly secondary aromas, but a little more residual fruit (red currant, sour cherry), more harmony and more life. On the palate, this is also relatively lively with fresh acidity, some fruit, yet - like the 1976 - drying tannins in the rather tart finish. (87 pts.)

  • 1978 Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Viña Albina Gran Reserva - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Brick coloured. In the nose, this seems way past its prime with lots of beef broth/gravy, some celery, mushrooms, no fruit left. On the palate, it’s rather worn out and tired with not much life in it. Maybe a bad bottle?

  • 1993 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Reserva Viña Tondonia - Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
    Medium yellow. In the nose, this is simply fantastic, super fresh, extremely consistent in its aromatics, harmonic, well structured and appealing. There’s some lemon juice and rind, passion fruit and pineapple, some nutty notes, a touch of vanilla. On the palate, it’s equally great as in the nose with great structure, lots of harmony, clear aromas and great freshness. Everything in the right place and so juicy. (93 pts.)

We had bottle luck, no corked bottles and none that were totally over the hill. Still, some wines tasted tired and should - based on other Cellartracker notes - have been better. Wine of the night for most was the 1978 López de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva. I slightly preferred the monolithic and rather young tasting 1975 Castillo de Ygay Gran Reserva Especial, but the López de Heredia was a bit more classic in its profile. Positive surprises were the 1973 Senorio de Prayla Gran Reserva, a bodega/brand, nobody of us had heard of before, and the 1973 Martinez Lacuesta Gran Reserva. Maybe the biggest disappointments were the 1973 C.V.N.E. Imperial and the 1978 Riojanas Vina Albina, both of which were well past their prime and only hardly alive. Regarding the two La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza from 1976 and 1978, I was thinking that it may be better to just drink these within five to six years after release (maybe with some exceptions, like the 2001 Reserva Especial). Both wines, as well as a recently drunk 1995, did not seem to benefit much from extended bottle age.

While there were some great wines in the tasting, after all there were only very few wines that gave real drinking pleasure in a sense that you would like to drink a second glass. But it was certainly interesting to taste the range. Furthermore, some people in our group were already at legal drinking age when the wines were brought to the market and had actually tried some of them young. So it was interesting to discuss how the wines tasted young.

Posted from CellarTracker

Wow - too bad Steven. Some of the 73s and 78s I’ve had have been really good, and in fact, if someone bottled a GR, it can be worth looking at. The CVNE and Riojanas must have been bad bottles because I’ve had them both and they’re delicious. But as you note - that’s a risk you run with those wines - who knows how they’ve been stored? Too bad. Better luck next time.

no pictures of the pork? smh

As I commited sacrilege against ham culture and didn’t buy and slice whole hams, I preferred to not take pictures :wink:

Overall, I was actually relatively satisfied with the performance of the bottles we had despite some bottles not being as good as I had hoped. At a recent mixed Rioja tasting, we had two bottles which were entirely dead (Berberana GR 1952 and 1964) and two corked bottles (among those Ygay GRE 2004). Plus, I must say that I was maybe a bit more critical with these wines than the others at the tasting. Then again, the Imperial and Albina didn’t appeal to anyone and it really does look like we simply had bad bottles. I’ll actually look out for some more 1970s Rioja. At least, they’re not that expensive.

Thanks for your notes!
Classic Rioja wine certainly deserves more attention than it gets.