La Rioja Alta is one of the oldest family-owned wineries in the greater North-Central area of Spain. On July 10th, 1890, five families joined together in a dream to make top-tier wines from their homeland, Rioja. Fast forward to the year I was born, 1976, where they started a private wine club for their select friends and customers. Now on to 2015, they are celebrating their hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary as a winery that is still family-owned.

As this picture shows, they have enough wine in their cellars to last 8 whole years selling wine in the worldwide marketplace, without making another bottle! This, the special care they take in aging their wines, is what makes La Rioja Alta special.

The labeling laws in Spain, and in Rioja specifically, are a little tricky. The main categories – Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva, all carry a standard aging requirement. This means that to legally be labeled with one of these categories, the wine must be aged for a minimum amount of time. And this is not just in cask or barrel – it is also in bottle for the high end! Crianza must be aged for at least two years, one of which must be in oak barrels. Reserva must be aged for at least three years, one of which must be in oak barrels. Gran Reserva must be aged for at least five years, two of which must be in oak barrels and the remaining three of which must be in bottles.” (Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible) And this is what makes La Rioja Alta shine… they go WAY beyond the aging requirements and hold back their offerings from the marketplace until they think they are ready. Most wineries can’t afford to do this, and leave it up to the consumer to do the aging and decide when the best time to open the bottle might be. Take for instance the Vina Ardanza Reserva. The most current vintage on the market is 2005. If they were doing the minimum required aging, it should be anywhere between 2010-2012! Earlier this year, I had the privilege of tasting the new releases from the winery. The Crianza was like drinking a Reserva, the Reserva like a Gran Reserva, and the top-end, a 1998 Gran Reserva was life-changing.

High-end Rioja like this is sometimes overlooked in the American wine culture, most likely because we love our Cabs around here! But what you get with something like Vina Ardanza (which was on the Wine Spectators Top 100 for 2014) is a wine that has not only been aged perfectly, but has silky elegance, wild and rustic fruit and aromas, and sweet vanilla from the extended American oak aging. It’s really amazing stuff. “Dark ruby red with an orange tint on the rim. Intense and lively on the nose, with spicy and balsamic aromas, scents of vanilla, coconut shells and black pepper with undertones of blackberries. Well-structured on the palate, perfectly balanced in acidity and alcohol content, with soft and silky tannins. The long aftertaste displays flavors of fresh blackberries along with spicy woody notes.” //