La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva 1999
Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to disappear to Spain for a couple of days, travelling to Logroño via Santander. The purpose of my trip was to visit the winery at Marqués de Murrieta, an impressive establishment which is currently undergoing an incredibly severe restoration in parts, and also to see the manufacture of oak barrels at Logroño's leading coopers, Murua. This latter part turned out to be the most fascinating aspect of the trip, something that surprised me a little. The process of transforming weathered oak, with its rough and somewhat dishevelled appearance, into a new and gleaming oak barrel which is without doubt a thing of beauty, was remarkable. Although mechanised to a degree it is still a labour-intensive process and the end result is close to a work of art. It would be interesting to add a feature to this site looking at process in more detail, and indeed I may well do that. In the meantime, I felt like cracking open another bottle of Rioja on my return, and leaving my small stock of Murrieta Castillo Ygay to one side, I chanced upon this bottle waiting in the 'drink me' pile. Perfect!
La Rioja Alta is, alongside Murrieta, CVNE and one or two others, one of my favourite producers in what is perhaps Spain's most famous wine region. Although best known for their Gran Reservas, the 904 and the 890, their are also three brands at the Reserva level, Arana, Alberdi and Ardanza. These three wines are named after the founding families of La Rioja Alta, and it is the latter I prefer. Typically selling for about the same price as Musar, it offers an excellent example of the classic Rioja style, traditional and yet full of texture and interest, and certainly well endowed with complex nuances. This particular vintage has a deep and vibrant hue, and indeed the nose provides a lifted, complex array of aromas. There are notes of roasted meats, oil of oranges, roasted berry fruit and rich spices, with a touch of high-toned Balsamic character and some good quality oak too. The palate is just delicious, fresh and broad, with plenty of style. Rich, round and textured, creamy and meaty, but with a nice definition and well integrated tannins. This wine has a lot of presence on the palate and is just excellent value. And we have some great vintages - the 2001 in particular - to look forward too in the next few years. 17.5/20 (11/6/07)