2001 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 904

Hello friends. Exciting offer today, as we have one of the crown jewels of a Rioja winery steeped in long, rich tradition:

Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96pts.” [Note: this review was published in 2010; hence the reference to the release 3 years hence.]

La Rioja Alta is a classic Rioja producer, in the vein of Lopez de Heredia. They have stubbornly resisted modernity, going against the grain as much of Rioja has gotten bigger, riper, richer. For that, they are rewarded with love and admiration from those of us who care about terroir expression and who want our Rioja to taste like Rioja, not like new-world Tempranillo.

Producers like LRA don’t follow the short-term winds of fashion. They play the long game. They think about how their winery will be viewed in decades, in centuries. Here is the wonderful writer Neal Martin, writing for Wine Advocate back in 2012: ““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… 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 from.”

A passage like that underscores a) how beautiful this winery is; and b) what a pity it is that Neal Martin’s time covering Spain for Advocate was so short. When Martin visited LRA, he also got to taste the 1964 vintage of Gran Reserva 904. The La Rioja Alta family has made it clear that they view 1964, 1973, and 2001 as their greatest vintages to date, and so I think it would be instructive to include Martin’s 97pt review of the 1964. Written a half century post-vintage, it gives some indication of the immortal aging curves of the best wines from La Rioja Alta: “The 1964 Gran Reserva 904 is a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Graciano and 10% Viura that was raised for one year in an 18,000-liter vat and then six year in old barrels with nine rackings. It has a brick core with a tawny rim. The nose is very fragrant and sensual with crushed flowers, small dark cherry, minerals and a mature Musigny-like aroma. It is very pure and beautifully defined. It is less coarse than the ‘73 Gran Reserva 890 tasted alongside, the tannins finer and more supple, with wonderful cohesion and harmony, plus a silky smooth texture that glides across the palate. It does taste like a great old Burgundy, but the harmony, freshness and complexity is one of the finest I have encountered on any Spanish wine. This is a wine made of dreams.”

LRA releases two Gran Reservas, the 890 (commemorating the founding of the winery in 1890) and the 904 (commemorating their gaining of most of their most important vineyard properties in 1904). This 904 is a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, aged entirely in four-year-old American oak barrels made in-house (yes, they make their own barrels) for more than four years. The wine was bottled in June 2006, where it has now rested for another eight-plus years, putting us at a remarkable thirteen years past vintage. Only in Rioja.

It clocks in at 12.5% listed alc, totally typical for La Rioja Alta but a few degrees lower than many modern Riojas. The nose is already haunting: cherry and espresso, woodsmoke and pipe tobacco and sweet cedar, rose petals and earthy, woodsy notes of forest floor and chanterelle mushrooms. On the palate, you notice the bright beautiful acid first. This is the spine that is going to endure and keep this wine interesting for half a century. There’s salt-dusted fruit paired with plenty of savory character (beef stock and olive and dried herb). The tannins are already fine-grained and are beginning to integrate. This is balanced, beautiful, evocative wine; the kind of bottle I find moving.

I drink plenty of Rioja young, but there are really only two Rioja producers that comprise the bulk of my cellar: Lopez de Heredia and La Rioja Alta. This is one to stash away a case and open a bottle every five years for the next sixty. Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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