Spanish culture and history has always held a romantic and special place for many of us, but in the last few years their wines started to become a staple for some many drinkers across the world, and for good reason. One of the most popular regions in all of Spain is the northern region of Rioja where the magical grape Tempranillo reigns supreme. The soil here is actually a gorgeous red hue which lead the originators of the wine in the area to call it Rioja, which means red! You have to love the simplicity of that.
The region also qualifies as a D.O.C. (Denominacion de Origen Calificada) which basically states that the Spanish government allows all wines that are made here, under the set standard laws of wine making, to label themselves as Rioja. However, the labels that we see at our local stores and in restaurants can seem a bit daunting, so let’s demystify the labels and get a better understanding:
Rioja – the youngest of all labels, spending less than a year in an oak aging barrel
Crianza – aged for at least two years, at least one of which was in oak.
Reserva – aged for at least three years, of which at least one year is in oak. Not necessarily produced ever year.
Gran Reserva – aged at least two years in oak and three years in bottle and not necessarily produced every year.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk specifics. As with every wine growing region in the world, vintage is always a very important thing when talking about wine however in Rioja, vintage IS what matters. The better the vintage (growing conditions, drainage, heat, rain, frost, etc), the better the wines tend to be. One of the best vintages in decades (if not centuries) was the 2001 vintage where the hot, dry weather lead to perfectly ripe grapes which lead to extremely opulently flavored wines with wonderful power and structure.
The shining star of this small corner of the world in this Bacchus-approved vintage is a company called La Rioja Alta (named after the sub region of Rioja Alta on the western edge of Rioja) and their proprietary blend called Vina Ardanza. The Vina Ardanza is only made in what the winery deems “the greatest vintages” from a blend of Tempranillo and the lesser known native grape, Graciano. This legendary blend (only made 3 times in the 100 years) is aged for 5 years in barrel and 5 years in bottle prior to release. A SUPER Gran Reserva with a Reserva label on the bottle! How many wines have you had that are 10 years the day they hit your store’s shelves and they’re this phenomenal?
The 2001 Vina Ardanza is an example of excellence (receiving a 94 Point score from Jay Miller of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate Issue #189) for a price that will shock you; under $40! Normally, people have to pay mortgage-payment-esque prices for wines of this caliber, so to achieve greatness under $40, this is a definite MUST have wine and worth every penny!