Quality is generally high, but high yields meant some green harvesting. A ‘useful’ vintage, probably for drinking relatively early.
Rioja enjoyed a very hot summer after a wet and cold winter and spring, although the lack of rain in August and first half of September caused worries that the grapes would not be able to develop fully. Rain came, however, in mid-September, and this, in turn, led to worries that the grapes would swell and become ‘flabby’ if the rains continued for too long. As it happened, the last days of September were dry and bright, and the main harvest started at around that time.
The unique weather conditions meant that the vines had produced many more grapes than usual, and the Consejo Regulador decreed that a substantial amount should be left on the vine, to ensure that the official quota was not exceeded – one report suggests that some 80,000 kg had to be officially abandoned to ensure that quality and price were maintained.
The harvest finished over the weekend of the 24th-26th October, just before the arrival of more rain and fog which could have caused further problems.
In terms of ripeness, as is usual the Rioja Baja recorded good sugar levels as well as phenolic ripeness. Coupled with advances in viticulture and bodega technology, this has resulted in some very good wines – much better than we once expected from this subzone, and this in spite of a May hailstorm which damaged some 1,700ha of vines. Also, picking started very early here, on the 27th August.
Rioja Alavesa suffered more than the other two subregions from the early and late rains, and has made some excellent cosecha and Crianza wines, but probably fewer Reservas and Gran Reservas than in a regular year. Rioja Alta seemed to have the best of both worlds, escaping the worst of the rains and enjoying a long, hot summer.
The famous names with large vineyard holdings, as ever, come to the fore, as they have the capacity to select the ripest, healthiest grapes for their upscale wines. It’s in the nature of Rioja that the same top 20 or 30 bodegas will shine every year, so a list is a little invidious. However… in Rioja Alavesa relative newcomers (1991) Agrícola Labastida are showing great prowess; so too even newer Bodegas Amaren (1995), an offshoot of Luís Cañas; Izadi and Remírez de Ganuza are on top form, and it will be interesting to see what becomes of the old Domecq bodega and vineyards, now part of a joint venture between Bodega Muriel and Marqués de Riscal (though that won’t be until the 2010 vintage is released).
Rioja Alta stars include Contador (formerly Benjamín Romeo); old-stagers Bilbaínas; Bordón, Peciña; La Emperatriz; LAN; Muga and CVNE are all reliable, year in and year out, and RODA and Finca Allende continue to astonish.
Rioja Baja stalwarts include Barón de Ley; Palacios Remondo (the family winery of Álvato Palacios); and look out for Finca Manzanos, a family-owned company with a brand-new purpose-built bodega, and the Escudero brothers with their new Bodega Valsacro. Rioja Baja is fighting back from its old reputation of producing hot, high-alcohol wines from the Garnacha: it’s doing a great deal more than that.