The history of Rioja wine is about as old as it gets, starting with the first Phoenician settlers in 11th c. BC. Not surprisingly, ancient Romans founded many ofthe Rioja vineyards and some of their structures are still intact. Monks and moors exerted their influence over the millennia, but it took the devastation of France’s vineyards by phylloxera in the 1850’s to really kick-start the modern era of wine in Rioja. While classic, long-aging methods have many ardent adherents, wineries pursuing a modern-style red ready for earlier enjoyment have attracted new fans. Whether you’re drawn to traditional, classic wines or a more modern style that bends the rules, there is something in Rioja, and in this tasting, for you.
La Rioja Alta
Classic, traditional, yet constantly evolving
Haro, Rioja Alta since 1890
2008 LA RIOJA ALTA Vina Ardanza Reserva $35
“This is the first vintage that includes fruit from the new Garnachavineyards, about 20% with 80% Tempranillo, aged separately in oak for three years before blending. Offers notes of roasted meat, cured leather, cloves, other spices and an overall balsamic character. The palate feels nicely built, with abundant tannins and good balancing acidity. 93 points.” – WA
2004 LA RIOJA ALTA Gran Reserva “904” 1.5L 96 pts. $125
“The 2004 Gran Reserva 904 is Tempranillo balanced with 10% Graciano. The wine aged for 4 years in used American oak barrels. This 2004, from a superb vintage, shows a superb nose redolent of balsamic woods, spices, leather, dried meat, incense and truffles. The palate shows fully resolved tannins, great acidity and pure, pungent flavors that linger in the mouth forever and that can only be Rioja. 96 pts.” –WA
2011 Rioja Vina Alberdi Reserva $25
100% Tempranillo, aged for two years in American oak barrels. The 2011 vintage offers the hallmarks of outstanding structure, color and aromatic intensity. Enticing aromas of wild red berries, raspberries, red currants and herbs against a balsamic background of vanilla, caramel and roasted coffee. Fresh and vibrant, with soft tannins on the finish.
Tradition and Modernity Side by Side
Haro, Rioja Alta since 1932
2016 MUGA Rioja Blanco $17.99
Barrel-fermented white composed primarily of Viura and Malvasía, with a tiny quantity of Garnacha Blanca which adds complexity and aromatics.Ttraditional in its blend and production, but unique in its higher levels of freshness.
2013 MUGA Rioja Reserva Unfiltered $30
“Blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, 7% Mazuelo, 3% Graciano (aged for two years in French oak barrels that are made at the bodega). Cherry and red currant scents are complemented by mineral and peppery spice notes and a hint of game. Sappy and incisive on the palate, offering juicy red berry, flavors that show an appealing blend of richness and vivacity. Finishes taut, smoky and long.” –Vinous
Lopez de Heredia
The ultimate Keepers of the Flame
Haro, Rioja Alta since 1877
2008 LOPEZ DE HEREDIA Vina Cubillo $30
Traditional Tempranillo blend with Mazuelo and Graciano aged for three years in American oak. Aromas of fresh red berries, cherry pit and pungent herbs, joined in the glass by subtle vanilla and herb nuances. Juicy and focused on the palate, offering lively red currant flavors that flesh out on the back half. In an energetic style, showing very good finishing energy and smooth tannins framing lingering red fruit. -Vinous
2005 LOPEZ DE HEREDIA Vina Tondonia Reserva $50
The 2005 Viña Tondonia Reserva is a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacho, 5% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo, fermented in the original oak vats that are now some 140 years of age. There is no temperature control and malolactic was also in the vat. The wine was transferred to oak barrels where it slowly matured in their deep, humid caves for no less than six years. this 2005 is nothing short of exceptional. It’s clean and complex, with more freshness. The wine is very spicy and with a palate that feels very balanced, livelier than in the past. It has a long finish where the flavors are clean. Easy to drink and very pleasurable.
Iconic Producer of Modern Rioja
San Vincente, Rioja Alta since 1996
2013 BENJAMIN ROMEO Rioja Cueva de Contador 94 pts. $65
“100% Tempranillo fermented in oak vats with indigenous yeasts and matured in new French oak barrels for 18 months. It has a clean, perfumed, subtle nose, very floral and sleek, polished and insinuating. Aromatic and open, with notes of spices (curry, nutmeg), aromatic herbs and wild berries; it turns more and more balsamic with time in the glass. The palate is silky, with an earthy touch, elegant but with personality, with sophisticated tannins and good acidity. Balanced and elegant. This is a great wine whose only problem is having a big brother called Contador. Wait, there is no Contador in 2013…94 pts.” — WA
2014 BENJAMIN ROMEO Predicador Rioja Blanco $35
“The white 2014 Predicador Blanco is a blend of 45% Viura, 39% Garnacha Blanca, and 16% Malvasía fermented in French barriques with natural yeasts. The wine was matured in barrel for eight months before bottlling. The wine has a good palate with weight and minerality that provides freshness. I feel like this bottling has matured with the years and gained in definition and character.” — WA