Going back in time with this baby...last month we unveiled this same winery's 2001 Reserva that, thirty cases later, has the whole gang here going bonkers for old Rioja. Now we're stepping it up, and stepping back a few years, for the granddaddy offering...
La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 904 1998 - Yes 1998! - $44.99 net - 95 pts Wine Advocate - review below
Fourteen years old. That's pretty cool. But make no mistake, this is not an old wine. This is the current release, fresh from the winery, and while it is ready to go NOW, it has, oh, another 15-20 years of life left in it!
It immediately offers up aromas and flavors that only come through extended oak and bottle aging - cedar, sandalwood, orange peel, black tea...I just kept sticking my nose in the glass again and again, each time picking up more savory, secondary aromas...this whiff balsamic, that one cigar box...oh la la!
But at its core, the wine is positively radiant with bright, juicy fruit. Black raspberry, blackberry, pure and precise and concentrated yet shockingly fresh and vibrant. Surrounding the fruit there are earthy tobacco notes, and a fresh mineral backbone, coming from the Rioja Alta subzone's limestone and calcium soil. Higher elevation vineyards help maintain a balance of acidity. Adding in 10% of the low-yielding Graciano to their Tempranillo provides licorice and spice perfume and a richer, more intense color.
Then the finish... oh... that finish... long... and smooth... and seamless, with each note of fruit, earth and spice perfectly harmonized with the other. Only aging can accomplish that folks! This baby was aged four years in cask, then racked from barrel to barrel every six months for two more years to naturally remove sediment and allow for gentle oxidation. And not just any oak casks - La Rioja Alta makes their own! They import the wood from America, and then dry it in their own coopery for 2 years before crafting the barrels, which they tailor to their exacting specifications.
Wow... perfectly-aged juice direct from the source? Not just highly-rated but mature and ready to go? But with another 15 years or more of life left in it? That's when I start to getting giddy and looking to see how many bottles I can fit in my cellar!
This wine arrives Thursday, please reply to order.
"The 1998 Gran Reserva 904 is a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano aged in American cask for four years. It has a very fine nose with notes of dried honey, cloves, raisin and wild heather that blossom in the glass. The palate is medium-bodied with a touch of orange peel on the entry. It has an effortless sense of harmony and poise, with a crisp tense finish and suffused with a sorbet-like freshness. It just dances across the palate, a memorable Rioja with style and panache. Drink now-2030.
La Rioja Alta formed part of my "classic Rioja" day that included Lopez de Heredia and Muga, the triumvirate of wineries in Haro all but a minute's stroll from each other (which would have been fine, but for the spontaneous downpours). I have admired their wines for many years, Rioja that speaks so eloquently and with such clarity of their place. La Rioja Alta was founded in the town of Haro in 1890. They own 450 hectares of vineyard from which their entire portfolio is sourced, predominantly Tempranillo complemented by Graciano, Mazuelo and Garnacha. Another tenet is their use of American rather than French oak. The wood is cured for two years outdoors before being shaped and hammered into barrels at their own cooperage. Although the estate owns vines in Ribera del Duero and Rias Baixas (to be covered in later reports) I focused upon recent releases from their two Rioja lines: Torre de Ona and of course, La Rioja Alta itself. 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." WA
"Bright red with an amber rim. Pungent, expansive scents of dried red fruits, potpourri, vanilla and pipe tobacco, with a spicy overtone. The silky palate offers penetrating redcurrant and bitter cherry flavors sweetened by notes of vanilla and mocha. Finishes smooth and long, with very soft tannins and lingering floral notes. Ready to drink but there's very good depth here, suggesting (along with this wine's track record) that it will reward further patience." IWC