Hello friends. Our main focus for La Rioja Alta these past few years has been the string of exceptional vintages they’ve released of their Gran Reserva 904 (2001, 2004, 2005). As good as those wines have been, I know their $50+ price points preclude many of us from jumping in.
So today, I want to focus on the other end of the spectrum, the first step down the rabbit hole that eventually leads to you convincing yourself that $50 isn’t really that much to pay for Gran Reserva Rioja. Today I want to offer La Rioja Alta’s gateway into Rioja Tempranillo, their charming Alberdi.
[Except, because I’m me, I also need to include a few bonus goodies: one Albarino from the LRA family, and one opportunity to buy a ‘90s vintage of LRA’s flagship wine.]
2009 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Reserva
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].
Alberdi is notable for a few reasons. First, it’s the lowest-priced wine in the LRA lineup. Second, it’s the only 100% Tempranillo in the lineup, coming from 30-plus-year-old vineyards at 1500-2000’ above sea level. And finally, it’s the youngest of LRA’s wines. Which is of course a testament to Spain in general, and La Rioja Alta specifically, and their stubborn insistence on holding their wines until maturity. The fact that the youngest wine in their lineup is a 2009 vintage is just staggering. This was aged for two years in American oak; the first year in a new barrel, and the second in barrels averaging three years old. It was bottled in March 2012, more than four years ago.
It clocks in at 13.5% listed alc and offers a nose of ripe red cherry, smoky tobacco and tea leaves, and loamy earth. A note of orange peel adds complexity and intrigue. The first thing you notice on the palate is that this is a fleshy, openly delicious vintage, especially by La Rioja Alta standards. In fact, the one quibble I have with Josh Raynolds’ tasting note below is the drinking window. For me, this is pleasurable right from pop-and-pour; I don’t see any need to wait another four years to open this bottle. While it is generous by LRA standards, I should note: this still has plenty of this winery’s signature emphasis on earth and acid, still has plenty of crepuscular leafy charm. As an introduction to the house style, and to traditional Rioja in general, it’s difficult to think of anything better.
Vinous (Josh Raynolds): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”
2014 Lagar de Cervera Albarino Rias Baixas
Bonus wine #1. Lagar de Cervera is LRA’s home in Galicia, inaugurated in 1988 after they decided to eschew Rioja Blanco in favor of Albarino from Rias Baixas. From estate vineyards and done all in stainless for a fresh/clean style. Lime and pineapple and marmalade fruit mingle with loads of mineral salty goodness. This drinks very much like a wine grown by the seaside, and indeed the winery is a mere two miles from the Atlantic. For hot summer decks, for shellfish and finfish pairing, this is tough to beat.
1998 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890
Bonus wine #2. Total number of bottles that get imported into Seattle: 30. Total number of bottles still available: 22. This is a special wine for LRA, made only in the finest of fine vintages (less frequently than the 904 bottling) and with production levels at about 20% of the 904. It’s 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano, and 2% Mazuelo, all from vineyards 40 years old or older. The wine spent six years (!!!) in barrel before bottling in September 2006. It has now spent nearly another decade in bottle. Our team had the pleasure of sampling a bottle of this recently. I thought it tasted like old Pauillac. Pat thought old Pomerol. All these beautiful wines tend to converge as they age, and what’s left is quality, quality, quality. This is a glorious expression of old Rioja, magically complex: spiced fruits and spiced meats, cedar and mint, orange peel and brown sugar, soy and hoisin, earth and loads of dust. The list goes on and on, and changes with each passing hour open. I find it moving just smelling a bottle like this, let alone tasting it.
Alberdi and Lagar are first come first served up to 12 bottles each. For the GR890, let’s limit order requests to 3 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.