Hello friends. We’ve surprised a lot of people over the past few years with our list’s interest level in one of Rioja’s crown jewels, the Gran Reserva 904 from La Rioja Alta. We basically decimated the entire Seattle stock of both the 2001 and 2004 vintages, and the 904 has since been out of the Seattle market. Until now.
The first wave of the new vintage has just landed, and thanks to our list’s previous support, we’ve got dibs. That vintage is 2005, and it brings to a close a series of three vintages in five years (2001, 2004, 2005) rated as Excellent by the regulatory board of the Rioja DOC. As you can see from the board’s chart, after 2005, there have only been two Excellent vintages in the subsequent decade. Those were 2010 and 2011, so it might be a loooooong time before we see another vintage like 2005 hit our shores.
[Note: I’m also going to include a reoffer link at the bottom for La Rioja Alta’s Ribera del Duero property (called Aster); the 2009 has already been a popular reorder target as folks begin to taste it.]
Wine Advocate (Luis Gutierrez): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96pts.”
What a terrific note from Gutierrez! And accurate too. This is – as usual – a marvelous mix of cherry fruit and savories (mushrooms and browning meat) and exotic leaves and spices. He’s also right that it packs an eye-popping level of concentration on a frame that is insistently medium-bodied. The texture, the flavors, the overall package: all true to Rioja. This 904 is a modern classic.
I know calling a $50 wine a “bargain” (as Gutierrez does, and as I would echo) is likely to chafe the chaps of a few, but this really does offer untold pleasures for its price point, and it offers a wine that is glorious now, but will only continue to unfurl over another two decades in bottle. I know many of you are already rapturous about the ’01 and ’04, so I’m likely preaching to the choir here, but I just cannot recommend this bottle highly enough.
Now then, some reminders on what LRA is all about: 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: [TEXT WITHHELD].
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. Since I’m making claims about being able to hold these wines for decades past vintage, 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: [TEXT WITHHELD].
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 four years. The wine was bottled in November 2010, where it has now rested for another five-plus years, putting us at a remarkable eleven years past vintage. Only in Rioja.
Originally offered November 13, 2015, and a popular reorder target recently as bottles got opened over the holidays. Excerpts from original offer: Wine Spectator (Thomas Matthews): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”
I love the history of La Rioja Alta’s expansion into Ribera del Duero, because it speaks to their obsessive pursuit of quality. So, they first entered the market by purchasing land in 1990. It was planted in 1991, yielded its first usable fruit in 1993, and for the next six vintages (1993-1998), they sold every single grape they grew. Finally, in 1999, they kept some of their grapes to make wine, but the eventual wine did not pass the muster of the owners, and it was sold off in bulk. In 2000, they finally made a wine, and they also built a winery onsite at the vineyards. And then in 2001, according to the winery: [TEXT WITHHELD].
That, my friends, is commitment to a quality product! And it shows. This is 100% Tempranillo (called Tinta del Pais in this part of Spain) grown on high altitude vineyards above 2000’. The wine was aged for 22 months in barrel and then bottled in July 2012, where it has been resting for three-plus years. It offers a wonderful nose of blackberry and black cherry fruit, beef stock, and appealing smoky slatey minerals. A real live-wire in the mouth, this has terrific intensity and density with no excess weight. It’s generous, perfumed, and openly delicious, a wonderful yang to Rioja’s yin.
Please limit order requests to 12 bottles of each wine, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in the next week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.