Our last day and a half in Rioja was almost as packed as our first. We began with another winery visit, this time to La Rioja Alta. I had some experience with their wines in the United States. My reward to myself for finishing my senior thesis was a delicious bottle of their 2005 Vina Ardanza, and I was excited to visit their winery in person. It also proved to be a nice complement and contrast to Lopez de Heredia in how top wineries in Rioja have managed the twin and sometimes conflicting forces of tradition and modernity.
La Rioja Alta was founded at the end of the 19th century by five Riojan families. I enjoyed how the history of the company was reflected in the names of their wines. The Gran Reserva 890 refers to the year the bodega was founded—1890, while the Gran Reserva 904 refers to the year (1904) when a merger of the companies created today’s La Rioja Alta. Meanwhile, the names of the top reservas (Vina Ardanza, Vina Arana, and Vina Alberdi) are the names of a few of the founding families!
Our tour followed a tour that was similar in format to our tour of Vina Tondonia, with a visit to the coopery, tanks, and then cellars. One difference is that while at Vina Tondonia primary fermentation still takes place in giant oak vats, at La Rioja Alta it takes place in large, temperature controlled steel vats before being sent to American oak barrels for aging. The American oak barrels at La Rioja Alta are used for 7 years, after which they are sold to Scotland for aging whiskey!
We ended with a tasting in the showroom of four of their red wines (the 2008 Vina Alberdi, 2006 Vina Arana, 2007 Vina Ardanza, and 2004 Gran Reserva 904) and one of their whites, and Albarino from one of their estates in Galicia. The Vina Alberdi was a young, easy-drinking and delicious Rioja. The 2007 Vina Ardanza was a classic Rioja reserva, but seemed a little lighter than the Vina Ardanzas I had from previous vintages (2004 and 2005). The Gran Reserva 904 was the most complex of the three, and while it was also very, very nice now I would love to be able to taste it again in 5 years and see how it develops. All in all, it was a wonderful experience for only 10 Euros a person.
That afternoon we took a beautiful hike through some of the vineyards nearby. While we passed some vines which were grown on trellises, many more were grown lying low to the ground as “bush vines,” the traditional way of growing grape vines in Rioja. It was a wonderful end to a surprisingly affordable 3 days wine tasting in Northern Spain. My only regret was that we weren’t able to visit CVNE. I’ll certainly be back…and this time I’ll be bringing more than half a case home with me!