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La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva Especial 2001

My wines of the week have been really Loire-heavy recently, with wines from Muscadet, Savennières, Vouvray, Quarts de Chaume, Bourgueil and Sancerre. Nothing wrong with that of course, but this week it's certainly time for a break. And with my departure for the 2011 Bordeaux primeur tastings imminent, meaning a strong weighting towards Bordeaux in my updates from next week, I think that region should be avoided also. And so this week I'm looking further afield, to Rioja.

La Rioja Alta has long been a regular favourite of mine; I've been drinking their wines since the 1989 vintage, and I still on occasion buy them, along with the occasional bottle from other favourites including CVNE, Marqués de Murrieta and Lopez de Heredia. Without a doubt it has always been the 904 which has been of most interest, a gran reserva which, once it has acquired sufficient age - which for me is about 15-20 years although I know for sure some would prefer decades more - is the perfect partner for slow-roast lamb. From the 904 you can go up the scale, to the more exalted (and pricy) 890 bottling, also a gran reserva, or you can come down to the popular Viña Ardanza, once an entry point to the world of Rioja for many I am sure (although as the price has crept upwards in recent years other wines now fill this role I think). In 2001, however, we have something a little more special, or especial to be precise. For only the third time ever (previous releases being the 1964 and 1973), the 2001 Viña Ardanza is to be released as a Reserva Especial. Having said that, having reviewed the technical details other than the quality of the raw material (which was very high in 2001, a fine vintage) I'm not entirely certain that the wine is any different to a 'normal' vintage of Viña Ardanza.

La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Rioja Reserva Especial 2001

The 2001 Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial from La Rioja Alta is 80% Tempranillo, largely sourced from the Viña Ardanza estate in Fuenmayor, in the Rioja Alta district; what doesn't come from here is derived from other Rioja Alta vineyards. The balance is Garnacha, sourced from Ausejo and Tudelilla in Rioja Baja. The fruit was fermented in stainless steel, regulated to 28ºC, and malolactic was complete before transfer into American oak in March 2002. The wine was racked every six months before eventual bottling in September 2005. This lengthy élevage shows through in the wine today which, although rich in pigment, with a very dark hue especially at the core of the wine, is showing the mature tones of age and time spent in wood. And yet aromatically this wine remains painfully youthful - to my nose at least, as I enjoy Rioja with a great more deal age than this wine has at present - with firm and vibrant notes of redcurrant and cranberry, white pepper, thyme, rosemary and blackcurrant, the fruit character suggestion of a rich substance rather than anything lean or bright. Certainly evocative and aromatic, and there are certainly some vanilla and chocolate-mint aromas from the oak flexing their muscles here, although these oaky notes are well-matched the fragrant fruit now, and will undoubtedly fade with time. It has a surprisingly cool and well-framed style at the start of the palate, but is also rich and showing plentiful substance. But there is still a precise and surprisingly stony grip to it, with softer honeyed substance towards the end of the palate, revealing plenty of peppery spice here also. An elegant style, but with a firm and energy-charged finish, I've no doubt this is going to do extremely well in the cellar, especially as it has quite some length to it in the finish. 17/20 (22/3/12)

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