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A smooth, savoury and stylish Exhibition-label bottling from La Rioja Alta in Spain. This is a graceful, mature reserva made from 100% tempranillo using the traditional method of long ageing in American oak barrels.
Product Code: SP16171
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Headquartered alongside Bodegas Muga in the Barrio del Estación, the old railway quarter of Haro – a popular location for wine exporters during the phylloxera crisis in France - La Rioja Alta is one of the most resolutely traditional of the region’s bodegas. It was founded in 1890 by a consortium of five families, including the Aranas, Ardanzas and the Alberdis (names now immortalised as Reservas. See below), and now commands an impressive vineyard portfolio of over 700 ha, comprising 470ha in the Rioja Alta, 65ha in the Alavesa, where Barón de Oña is produced, 63ha in the Baja, 74ha in the Galician denominación of Rías Baixas and 95ha in DO Ribera del Duero. As the company expanded, it outgrew its premises in Haro, which now house corporate offices, a visitor centre and shop and a wine storage facility. The main business of La Rioja Alta takes place these days at its purpose-built winery in Labastida, a mile down the road, a strikingly handsome stone building completed in 1996. The fermentation tanks are set under the wooden floor of a stunning, light-flooded hall, the sparkling steel lids visible, and beneath them is a huge barrel-ageing cellar. It’s reckoned that La Rioja Alta have, at any given time, some 45,000 barrels on the go, and carry around eight years’ worth of stock. Sensibly, the company does its own coopering in-house. Oak is imported from Ohio and Pennsylvania, but there is little reverse traffic, the company’s second biggest export market after the UK being not the USA but Mexico. La Rioja Alta excels in classically styled reservas and gran reservas which are given considerable cask ageing. What sets this bodega apart from other traditionalists is that the wines succeed in retaining striking vigour and fruit whilst undergoing their lengthy period in cask. They are released for sale only when fully ready to drink and always have an air of graceful maturity about them.Three wines are produced at reserva level. Viña Alberdi is 100% tempranillo, aged for two years in cask, and two in bottle. Viña Arana is a blend of 95% tempranillo with 5% mazuelo, made in the supple 'Rioja claret' style and has three years in cask and two in bottle. With 80% tempranillo and 20% garnacha, and an extra six months in cask, Viña Ardanza is the most traditional-tasting and in exceptional vintages (to date, just 1964, 1973, 2001 and 2010) has the additional description of especial. The extended ageing which is winemaking policy here would normally qualify both Arana and Ardanza as gran reserva, but this designation is reserved for the two top-of-the range 904 and 890 bottlings. The former, is 90% tempranillo with 10% graciano, aged 4-5 years in cask and a further 4 in bottle. 890, made only in the best vintages and presented in numbered bottles, is overwhelmingly tempranillo (96%) with a little graciano and mazuelo and has a whopping 6-8 years in cask and 6 in bottle. Not surprisingly, we source The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva from La Rioja Alta. Two years in cask and then further ageing in bottle results in a complex and mature wine, the concentrated, silky fruit and cedary character of which have won it a great deal of critical acclaim in the press.La Rioja Alta also has a Galician estate, Lagar de Cervera, run autonomously of the Rioja operation in the village of Fornelos. Here they make, among other things, superb albariño from 75 hectares of vines, the largest holdings of any Rías Baixas winery. They began with five hectares in 1988 and have acquired sites around the area as they became available, and in 2013 opened a new, state of the art winery.
Rioja sits shielded in northern Spain between the mountain ranges of the Sierra de Cantabria to the north and the Sierra de la Demanda to the south. Both of these rocky ranges play their part in creating a suitable climate for the production of fine wines, shielding the region from cold winds from the Atlantic and hot winds from the Mediterranean.Rioja is split into three sub-regions, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. Rioja Alavesa – Bounded in the north by the craggy Sierra de la Cantabria and in the south by the Ebro river, and sitting in the foothills of the former, Rioja Alavesa feels a distinct Atlantic influence on its weather, despite the protection of the mountains. It has twice the rainfall of Rioja Baja to the south-east and enjoys cooler temperatures on average. The classic Rioja mainstay tempranillo is king here and makes up more than 80% of plantings, supported by garnacha, mazuelo (aka carignan elsewhere) and graciano for red wines, and viura, malvasia and garnacha blanca for whites. Chalk and clay soils proliferate. Generally, the wines of Rioja Alavesa are considered the most finely balanced of Rioja reds.Rioja Alta – Elegant reds are considered the hallmark of Alta wines. A great chunk of the major producers are based in Rioja Alta, concentrated on the town of Haro. Warmer and a bit drier than Alavesa, it also enjoys slightly hotter, more Mediterranean influenced summers and has a range of clay based soils. The reddish, iron rich clays provide a nurturing home for tempranillo while those bearing a chalkier element support the white viura well. Alluvial soils closer to the river are often home to malvasia for blending in to whites. In this area mazuelo is a regular addition to Rioja blends, providing some tannic sinew and beefing up the colour, and the reds here will often take a more significant underpinning of oak.Rioja Baja – Most of Rioja Baja is south of the Ebro and further south and east of its neighbouring sub-regions. Summers in Rioja Baja are more often than not very warm and dry, with vineyards at lower elevations than its neighbours. Consequently soils are predominantly silt and other alluvial deposits with little chalk present, and garnacha reigns supreme among the red varieties because of its ability to deal almost effortlessly with the heat. As a rule, reds from Baja are higher in alcohol and less elegant than in Alavesa and Alta, though of course there are always exceptions and particularly so as viticulture and winemaking improves with every passing year.RIOJA CLASSIFICATIONS AND STYLES EXPLAINED The official Rioja classification is a guarantee of the amount of ageing a wine has undergone. Usually the best wines receive the longest maturation but this does not guarantee quality, which is why it is just as important to follow producer. Crianza: Minimum two years (with at least 12 months in barrel)Reserva: Minimum three years (at least 12 months in barrel)Gran Reserva: Minimum five years (at least 24 months in barrel)What can be confusing is that producers use different ageing techniques (for example some might use American oak, others French, others a mix of both) which will influence the style, structure and flavour of the wine. To help you find the style you like we have split the wines into the following designations. Traditional: Fragrant, silky wines from long ageing in cask (usually American oak) and bottle; ready to drink on release. Modern-classical: Younger, rounder wines that retain the delicious character of Rioja through cask ageing (often a mix of American and French oak) with the structure to develop in bottle. Modern: Richer, velvety wines aged for less time in newer (usually) French oak; released earlier and may need keeping.
The 2014 vintage in Spain has generally produced decent quality and good volume. In Rioja, however, conditions were challenging: after a cool spring, the summer was dry with warm temperatures, and Rioja looked set for an excellent harvest. But high rainfall and warm temperatures in September and October 2014 provided perfect conditions for fungal disease. Selection was therefore essential to make good wines. Some producers took decisive action: for example, Bodegas Muga invested in a new optical sorter which, though costly, meant only the healthiest grapes were included in the fermentation. 2014 is therefore a year to follow producers who were prepared to forego quantity for quality; these are the bodegas we shall follow. A clearer picture will evolve once the malolactic fermentation is completed.Ribera del Duero had a large 2014 harvest, in some cases 25% above average, so crop thinning was essential to produce good quality. Like Rioja it will be a vintage to follow producers who were prepared to make these sacrifices. Reports from Galicia are that the albariño vintage has proved quite tricky this year, with a reduced volume available. Late rains have affected the harvest and selection has been necessary in the vineyard; nevertheless they are pretty confident about quality. From Catalunya our key supplier, Tomàs Cusiné, is upbeat, especially about the whites, which combine flavour and freshness. In Priorat particularly, rain and hail caused worries about rot but good growers worked to overcome them and there is expectation that the reds will show lovely fruit and freshness and the ability to age well. Further south, drought in Jumilla (home to monastrell and where The Society's Southern Spanish Red comes from) reduced yields by 20% but this dry weather has meant grapes have ripened in perfect health.
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