A very good vintage producing wines of impressive intensity
This was the year in which Rioja was ‘promoted’ from DO to DOCa, and the growers really wanted a blockbusting vintage to show off their new rating, but they were to be disappointed (until 1994, indeed). The winter of 1990/1 was, for once, a ‘typical’ winter with attendant rains and snow on the highest ground, leading into a cold and rainy spring, with a sharp frost on the 22nd April in the highland areas of Rioja Alta and Alavesa, putting the flowering back between two and three weeks. In June there was an infestation of insects in the Tempranillo but this was cleared in Rioja Baja by the third week of June and in the highlands by the end of the month. Summer was dry and hot and the vines made up for lost time in the spring. Most of the rain came late – in September and October, and this took the quality edge off the vintage. A hailstorm on the 11th September did severe damage to vineyards in the western part of the Rioja Alta and the rains brought Botrytis in its wake, although white varieties were hit harder than red. At vintage time the wines were characterised as high in acid and a little under-ripe. The average quality was somewhere between 3 and 4 throughout the region, but good producers turned out some very good wines.
Only Rioja Alavesa escaped both the hail and the Botrytis.
Martínez Bujanda reported a significantly better harvest than most other producers, with Faustino and Marqués de Vargas reporting worse. However, 5% of the harvest went into Gran Reserva wines and the best of these are still excellent.