La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva 1997

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The company La Rioja Alta (as opposed to the region Rioja Alta) is one of the guardians of the traditional Rioja style. You could add CVNE, Lopez de Heredia, Muga and Roda to complete that distinguished list and they are all located in Haro; LRA have been there since 1890. Their Gran Reserva 904 is reckoned to be the longest living wine in the company’s portfolio, made from blending Tempranillo (90%) with Graciano (10%) and aged four years in American oak barrels, which the company source and manufacture in house. They own vineyards (425 ha) and buy from other growers, producing a total of 1.8 m. bottles p.a..

From the outset, this was a beautiful wine. The dense black colour had brickish edges and some gentle windows.  The bouquet had both delicacy and depth, with the typical leathery nose  but laced with raspberries (Jamie Goode opined strawberries, but we disagreed). There was also a whiff of furniture polish  – I know, that sounds terrible – on the nose. The palate was light, but packed plenty of punch as well as acidity as it ran to its dry finish. A lovely long, tangy, savoury mouthful of wine that you could drink on its own – it would almost be a shame to moderate the flavours with another. The sweetness was in the mid-palate, not at the finish; the mid-palate is where I want my sweetness in reds, and not in a jammy finale.

Currently Armit sell this wine  at £70, whilst Berry Brothers and Rudd retail it at £110. Richard will be able to supply more price details below.

[Richard: I see, rather to my horror, that I paid £85 for this in 2011. Edit: I didn’t. That was the Alta 890 1995 which was drunk ages ago. Further edit – it wasn’t –  I still have it. Maybe over Christmas…  The 904 was actually £27, so a bit of a bargain. Phew.

The weekend turned into a Rioja-fest since we (Angie and I) also tried a couple of 2001s.

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The Vina Ardanza (also made by La Rioja Alta) is a lovely wine (WS £18) and came top (in a WS bottling) in an informal Rioja tasting held with neighbours last year. Reserva ‘Especial’ is only accorded in exceptional years, this being the third ever – previously given in in 1964 and 1978. Fine tannins, lots of spice, tobacco and leather, rich but with a balancing acidity. Very drinkable even for those who are not keen on the style.

Even better was the Muga Gran Reserva, my favourite Rioja bodega. Very old school. Also from the Wine Society at a bargain £30 and also only produced in special years. Lovely enticing texture and a very nuanced taste, very fresh, possibly too young but wonderful to drink now.]

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