La Rioja Alta S.A. is one of the most renowned producers of traditionally-styled Rioja, with a history dating back well over a century. Originally founded as the Sociedad Vinicola De La Rioja Alta in 1890 by five viticultural families of the Basque and Rioja regions, the name was soon changed to simply La Rioja Alta.
The company now owns two wineries with the original building located in Haro, being joined by a second, modern winemaking facility built in 1996 at Labastida just 1.5km to the north-east. The new winery contains temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks, allowing La Rioja Alta much greater control of the fermentation process. The estate covers 360 hectares of vines with parcels in much of the best parts of the Rioja Alta subregion. Though primarily Tempranillo, small amounts of Graciano and Mazuelo are planted and the estate also has 63 hectares of Garnacha vines in the Rioja Baja subregion.
The winery has its own cooperage producing barrels from oak imported from America and dried for two years. The production of their own barrels had been an integral part of La Rioja Alta in its early days through to the 1950’s but the practice had stopped until 2002 when the company returned to tradition and revived its in-house cooperage.
Returning to their own cooperage is not the only move to traditional practices shown by the estate. During the 1980’s, many Rioja producers were experimenting with shorter aging times in order to produce fresher, more ‘modern’ style wines that embraced a trend for more fruit-forward wines. La Rioja Alta decided to go against the trend and actually increased the aging of their wines in barrel and bottle, cementing their commitment to quality, traditional Rioja wines. Even the entry-level Viña Alberdi receives two years aging in oak and an additional three years in bottle.
The Viña Alberdi is 100% Tempranillo selected from the highest plots of their Rodezno and Labastida vineyards. The vines here are over thirty years old and grow in a soil composed of limestone and clay between 480 and 790 metres above sea level.
Next in the line-up is the Viña Arana Reserva Rioja, made up of 95% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo, given three years barrel age with racking every six months.
One of the true stars of the La Rioja Alta range is the Viña Ardanza Reserva. First created in 1942, it is named after one of the founding families. It is only produced in the best years, La Rioja Alta skipped both the 2002 and 2003 vintages, and the current vintage is the 2004. The wine is made up of 80% Tempranillo from thirty year old vines and 20% Garnacha coming from very old, goblet-pruned vines 600 metres above sea level in Rioja Baja. The Tempranillo spends 36 months in American oak while the Garnacha receives ‘only’ 30 months in oak to preserve its freshness, before the components are blended and bottled. The wine receives a further four years bottle age. Structure, elegance and aromatic complexity are the hallmarks of this superb example of traditional Rioja wine.
The two top wines of the range are the Rioja Gran Reserva 904 and Gran Reserva 890, named after the years they were first produced (1904 and 1890 respectively). Both are made up of a strict selection of the best grapes, 90% or more Tempranillo, from La Rioja Alta’s oldest vines. The 904 receives four years in oak before bottling while the 890 is aged for six years in barrel before additional bottle aging.