I have had a love affair with Rioja for the last fifty years and I think they are well aware of it at my local wine shop The Fine Wine Source in Livonia, Michigan. I mean back when I was a student and just starting to learn about wines, I could buy two wines from Rioja, basically for the price of a Bordeaux. My early mentors used to also tell me, that vintages were not reliable or necessary to worry about, and I have never been able to ascertain the validity of that, but I have also not been able to get that thought out of my memory banks. Though when I was a kid, Rioja wines were very accessible, in fact more shelf space was devoted to Spain, than to California.
La Rioja Alta S.A. or the Sociedad Vinicola de La Rioja Alta was founded in 1890 by five families from Rioja and the Basque, and in 1904 the Ardanza winery joined the firm. The estate also has about four-hundred hectares of vineyards planted in the Rioja region, including the Rioja Alta area. The flagship of the firm is the Gran Reserva 890, and the second label is Gran Reserva 890 (which was formally labeled Reserva 1904). Now onto the notes of La Rioja Alta S.A. Gran Reserva 904 2011, and 2011 was declared and rated as “Exceptional.” The wine is eighty-nine percent Tempranillo and eleven percent Graciano. Initial Fermentation is done in batches for a period of seventeen days and some batches were allowed to complete Malolactic Fermentation for a period of seventy-five days. The wine is then aged for fifty-four months with house-made barrels of American Oak. A deep garnet-red wine with notes of black and red fruits and traces of orange zest, with secondary notes of cedar/cigar box and spices. On the palate tones of fruit, silky tannins and totally balanced delivering a nice long delicate finish of fruit and balsamic.
The second wine we had was La Rioja Alta S.A. Vina Ardanza Reserva 2015 and is one of three Reserva wines that they produce. This wine is seventy-eight percent Tempranillo from thirty-year-old vines on their main estate vineyards and twenty-two percent Garnacha (Grenache) from a forty-hectare vineyard in the Rioja Oriental (formerly known as Rioja Baja). The fruit is hand-harvested and destemmed, and this was the first year that they used an optical selection process, and examined each berry. Initial Fermentation and Malolactic Fermentation took about seventy-five days. The Tempranillo was aged for thirty-six months and the Grenache was aged for thirty months and then the final blending. This Garnet-red wine offered notes of red fruit, baking aromas, licorice, coffee, cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon. On the palate, this was a powerhouse of fruit, totally fresh with full tannins, very chewy, and a nice long finish of fruit and spices. We tasted these two wines in reverse order, and I made a suggestion that they should do the tastings in this sequence, because the Vina Ardanza Reserva to me, just stole all the thunder, it was such a magnificent wine and the aging potential has to be at least ten to twenty years, easily.
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