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La Rioja Alta is a traditional Rioja icon—for more than a century, one of the region’s greatest producers. And in recent decades, it has been one of the most ardent defenders of the methods responsible for one of the world’s most distinctive and long-lived styles of wine.
In fact, La Rioja Alta is even more traditional now than they were three decades ago. In the 1980s— when other bodegas were rushing to embrace more modern methods—La Rioja Alta was actually increasing time in both barrel and bottle for their entire range.
And, the 1990s saw a return to complete control over their cooperage—sourcing, importing and curing the traditional American oak from which they fashion their barrels, key to maintaining its stock of more than 40,000 barrels, both old and new.
Since its founding by five growers in 1890, La Rioja Alta has been located in the Barrio de la Estación—the neighborhood around Haro’s railroad station that is home to fellow giants López de Heredia and CUNE. The firm continues to be owned by the same families today.
While, in common with its iconic neighbors, La Rioja Alta makes a wide range of wines, the two that define the estate are the rich, spicy Viña Ardanza Reserva—named after one of the bodega’s founders—and the ethereally scented and elegant Gran Reserva 904.
Viña Ardanza, from a longtime La Rioja Alta owned plot in Cenicero—is about 80% Tempranillo with the balance Garnacha, aged for three years in American oak barricas.
In classic Rioja fashion it is the richer of the two, and this is reflected in its Burgundy-shaped bottle, just as Lopez de Heredia’s Bosconia and CUNE’s Viña Real are. On rare occasion, from especially great vintages such as 1964 and 2001, Viña Ardanza has been aged longer and bottled as a Reserva Especial.
The more elegant, perfumed Gran Reserva 904, in its Bordeaux-style bottle is almost all Tempranillo with a bit of Graciano. It is both more structured and longer-lived than Ardanza, owing to its great Rioja Alta terroirs in Briñas, Labastida, Villalba, Rodezno and Fuenmayor, and a full four years of barrel aging.
With the delicacy of red Burgundy, but aromatics all their own, both are exemplars of the character that have made La Rioja Alta a giant of traditional Rioja for 127 years.
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