LA RIOJA ALTA
LA RIOJA - SPAIN
“Quite simply, these are some of the finest Riojas that can grace your cellar: complex, refined, classic but without compromising fruit intensity and to reiterate: wines that speak about where they come from.” - Neal Martin, The Wine Advocate
La Rioja Alta continues to be one of the benchmarks for traditionally produced Rioja. Established in 1890 at the same spot where their head office sits today, their three Reserva wine brands, Alberdi, Arana and Ardanza are named after the founding families, all three of which remain shareholders. The company still maintains traditional Rioja winemaking practices whilst embracing many of the new technological advances. It is unusual for a great bodega of Rioja to own vineyards, but La Rioja Alta own 360ha from which they can source top-quality grapes, resulting in excellent fruit and richness throughout their wines. Tempranillo dominates the plantings, complemented with a small proportion of Garnacha and Graciano.
La Rioja Alta deem their Gran Reserva 890 their greatest wine, making it only in the very best vintages - on average three times per decade. The ageing of the 890 is painstaking, tireless and lasts for 13 years with no expense spared. The Gran Reserva 904 is no less prestigious, being made as infrequently as the Gran Reserva 890 but in a different style - old oak rather than new, and aged for nine years. A number of critics prefer this more immediately appealing style. Wine Enthusiast in fact named Gran Reserva 904 as their number one wine in the world in 2016. Both the 890 and 904 are released ready to drink, but also have the proven ability to age gracefully for decades.
This year sees the first release of the Rioja Gran Reserva Vina Arana. More accessible in terms of price and style, but made with the same painstaking care and attention to detail. 2012 was marked by drought in Rioja until rains arrived in September, refreshing the vines and allowing the grapes to attain perfect ripeness with superb concentration of flavour. Aged in three year old oak for three years, followed by three years in bottle, the wine picked a Platinum Medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards upon release.
La Rioja Alta's Reservas receive similarly high praise. James Suckling placed Vina Alberdi second in his list of the world's Top 50 wines under $50 (USD), and in 2015 a panel led by Tim Atkin placed Vina Ardanza as the number one Rioja in their Top 100 Spanish Wines publication. In 2014 Vina Ardanza was also Wine Spectator's highest awarded Spanish wine from any region.
Rioja Gran Reserva ‘890’ 2005
98 points, Tim Atkin MW -“Made with grapes from some of the winery’s oldest parcels in Brinas, Labastida and Villaba this really is one of the best 890s ever. Blending Tempranillo with 3% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo, it combines the grace and elegance of a great Musigny with the sweetness, focus and balance of a classic Rioja. Scented, complex and very long.”
98 points, James Suckling -“The aromas to this are stunning with dried strawberry, stone and fresh mushroom. Full body and very tight with incredible depth and structure. It goes on for minutes. One of the greatest ever? The new 1964?”
19/20 points, Jancis Robinson - “A classic rioja. Endless sweet spices and very marked aromas of vanilla, coconut, nutmeg and cinnamon. Wood dominates, but that is the delicious soul of rioja. The palate is exciting: deep, long, elegant, delicate, complex, with great class. What delicacy and softness of the palate! Its scent never ends and is at a precious stage of maturity. Very impressive.”
Rioja Gran Reserva ‘904’ 2011
96 points, James Suckling - “Lovely dried red fruit, such as plums with just a hint of prunes. Cedar, walnut and leather undertones. Full-bodied with lots of fruit, considering its age, as well as hints of smoke, tobacco, bark and black tea. Some balsamic at the finish. Traditionally styled with lovely results. Drink or hold.”
Rioja Gran Gran Reserva ‘Vina Arana’ 2014
96 points, Jamie Goode, Wine Anorak - “Three years in barrel and three in bottle. This has amazing aromatics: sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit with dried herbs, tar and spice, as well as some hints of vanilla and coconut, and sweet tobacco, too. The palate is juicy and supple, but also quite profound, showing cherries, berries, spice, sweet herbs, some cedar and coconut from the oak, and a lovely sense of harmony and precision. It’s a ripe wine, but shows such complexity and focus, with everything pulling in the right direction. I’m just so impressed with this wine: in its style – classical Rioja – it is just about perfect, and is beginning to enter a very long drinking window. So complex and layered and refined.”
Top 100 Wines of 2020, James Suckling
Rioja Reserva ‘Vina Ardanza’ 2012
95 points, James Suckling - “Traditional and beautiful in character with plum, balsamic, orange-peel and leather aromas and flavors. It’s medium-to full-bodied with creamy texture and a long, intense aftertaste.“
Best Spanish Red of 2020, Decanter Magazine