I have recently returned from a trip to La Rioja Alta which was enlightening, entertaining and most of all, incredibly interesting. I had never been to Rioja beforeso to see the vineyards and taste through many of the finest wines of the region put them very much into perspective.
We arrived very late on a Tuesday evening and immediately got stuck into La Rioja Alta's 1998 vintage of Gran Reserva 908. I have never had this before so it was great to try – it is just starting to shine with wonderful ripe dark fruits on the palate intermixed with smokey, gamey flavours. The oak is still noticeable but this is still a young wine and will drink for many years to come.
The next morning saw us congregate at 9.00 am to see La Rioja Alta's main winery. It is very impressive, using the latest technology to ensure the old-fashioned techniques are not lost but indeed improved. Every consideration has been made to ensure the wines are as clean and pure as the producer intends.
After a very interesting tour of the winery, we then set to tasting the wines. They were:
2001 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890
95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo. The nose bursts with dark cherry fruit with complex notes of spice, vanilla, truffle and cinnamon. The palate is supremely well-balanced with gorgeous dark fruits and a hint of cocoa which leads to a very long, very energetic finish. The perfect combination of power and elegance. Absolutely lovely and the wine of the trip.
2004 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904
90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano. Red and black fruits emanate from the glass with earthy, spicy notes. There is even a touch of Pinot 'farmyard' to it giving it great interest. The palate is fresh yet ripe and the red fruits fit well into the compact structure. The hint of coffee on the finish leaves you wanting more.
1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904
90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano. Coffee and Asian spices dominate the nose with hints of leather and cherry fruit. The palate is very well-balanced with a hint of orange peel giving it freshness and complexity. This is fully mature now and the tannins are supple and gracious.
All the wines are very different in style, stature, maturity and complexity but one thing is true, they are made with the utmost care and attention and all of them have the very best qualities that Rioja has to offer.
After the tasting, we headed to the dining room to have lunch. After a few local (and delicious) tapas, we adjouned to the table to have some of the best lamb chops I have ever had accompanied by probably one of the best Riojas I have ever had, the 1989 vintage of Gran Reserva 890. This was astounding, combining caramel, spice and dark cherry fruit on the nose with a sensational palate of raspberry fruit. This is perfect now and shows how great this cuvee can be with some years under its belt.
I could go on and on about our very gracious host, the exemplary company and the fantastic accommodation but I believe the wines were the stars of the show and would recommend them from top to bottom.
I have been told the 2001 vintage of the 890 will be released shortly and I can only advise everyone to buy some of this. The 2001 vintage in Rioja is one of the greats and though you can undoubtedly drink it on release, it will also repay keeping and grow in complexity and stature.
Thank you very much to AR for inviting me and to Fran and the team at La Rioja Alta who made our trip so interesting and enjoyable.