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La Rioja Alta, S.A., one of Rioja’s oldest and most renowned wineries, celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2015 and this year marks another key milestone: the 75th anniversary of its iconic wine Viña Ardanza...

Viña Ardanza – La Rioja Alta, S.A.

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La Rioja Alta, S.A. is a company steeped in history. The Sociedad Vinícola de la Rioja Alta, was founded in 1890 by five Rioja families, each of which is still involved as a shareholder, five generations later. The inaugural president was a woman, Doña Saturnina García Cid y Gárate and the first winemaker was a Frenchman, Albert Vigier, whose initial cuvée was the Reserva 1890, the predecessor of today’s Gran Reserva 890.

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La Rioja Alta, S.A. is a major Spanish company with renowned wineries in Rioja Alavesa (Torre de Oña), Ribera del Duero (Aster) and Rías Baixas (Lagar de Cervera) as well from vineyards across the Rioja DOCa, and its foundations rest on three great wines, the 890 and 904 gran reservas and the reserva, Viña Ardanza.

One of the guardians of the classic style of Rioja, it also aims to be at the forefront of modern viticulture and winemaking through experimentation and cutting-edge research and development. The company’s watchword is ‘evolution not revolution’: any change will come deliberately and with due consideration.

Julio Saenz, La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza

Winemaker Julio Saenz

The 890 and the 904, with their iconic labels, are renowned worldwide, but for many it is Viña Ardanza, 75 years old this year, which is synonymous with excellence in Rioja.

Viña Ardanza has always been a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha (there was some white Viura added in the early vintages). The former, which makes up some 80% of the blend, comes from the 30-year-old La Cuesta and Montecillo vineyards in Fuenmayor and Cenicero. The Garnacha has always come from Rioja Baja; for the just-released 2008 vintage, for the first time, it was sourced entirely from La Rioja Alta, S.A.’s own 67ha vineyard, La Pedriza in Tudelilla.

This Rioja Baja property, which is 550m above sea level, was planted in 2000. ‘It offers unbeatable conditions for growing this variety. Its nutrient-poor soil, covered with boulders, results in low grape yields and significant varietal typicity, rich in aromas, with a pleasant, elegant structure,’ says winemaker Julio Sáenz.

Since its inception there have been several great vintages of Viña Ardanza – three of them (1964, 1973 and 2001) bearing the label Especial – but the 2008 represents a significant evolution in the style of this iconic wine.

From the start, the quality was exceptional. ‘The vintage was characterised by high grape quality together with very low yields,’ Sáenz recalls. ‘Thanks to exceptional weather throughout the growing cycle, the grapes remained in magnificent condition, with excellent balance of alcohol and acidity. The Garnacha in our La Pedriza estate particularly benefited from the longer ripening phase, and we were able to harvest slowly and selectively, allowing us to pick each plot as the grapes attained the perfect level of ripeness.’

La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza

The wine was vinified in La Rioja Alta, S.A.’s state-of-the-art facilities in Labastida. This winery – described by UK wine merchant The Wine Society as ‘a strikingly handsome stone building… the fermentation tanks… set under the wooden floor of a stunning, light-flooded hall’ – was completed in 1996.

Viña-Ardanza-2008Tempranillo and Garnacha are harvested by hand, transported in refrigerated trucks and fermented separately with native yeasts under controlled temperatures. It is aged in American oak barrels made at the bodega’s own cooperage, with wood imported from the US and cured outdoors for two years.

The 2008 Viña Ardanza is an evolution, not a revolution. While still the same blend, this is the first vintage where all the grapes came from La Rioja Alta, S.A.’s own vineyards (the Tempranillo has always been estate fruit, but 2008 was the first year estate Garnacha grapes were used).

‘It was the first time we had 100% control,’ Sáenz says. He compares the 2008 Viña Ardanza to 2001 (which he considers one of the best ever made in Rioja). That year he started giving the Garnacha less time in oak – 30 months, compared with 36 months for the Tempranillo. ‘We improved the colour, the aromas and the flavours, giving the wine more freshness.’

The result is a polished, extraordinarily elegant wine. It’s restrained, with medium to high intensity, the colour of dark cherry with a garnet rim. The nose is intense and pure, with abundant notes of balsamic, fresh, ripe spices, peppercorns, coffee beans, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla against a background of red berries and herbs.

The wine is structured, balanced and ripe, the tannins silky and opulent, providing a long and elegant finish redolent of sweet cigarbox and spice. This is a wine which will be the perfect accompaniment for meat stews, roasts and barbecued red meat.

For Sáenz, it is a masterpiece. ‘The 2008 is fresher, with more fruit character, and very fine structure and wonderful colour. A lot of this comes from the La Pedriza Garnacha. It’s an amazing wine. In my opinion the 2008 is the perfect example of the new Viña Ardanza.’