Earlier this year, Eric Asimov wrote a terrific article in The New York Times about how wine consumers have little patience, or little money to spend on treasured wines that need 10-15 years in a cellar before they are ready to drink. Instead, some wineries are holding the bottles long enough that upon release, they are ready to drink. What a terrific concept!
The flaw in this fairytale, is that it’s a terrible business decision to hold wine at a winery for up to 15 years before sending them to market. Frankly, we’re surprised that their accountants haven’t killed them and drank the wine themselves. Another quirk is that the wineries that are indeed practicing this “aged wine for the consumer” business model, mostly come from the frequently overlooked Spanish region of Rioja.
Why are we so afraid of Spanish wines?
They are unique, interesting, complex, full of character and are generally quite a bargain. It’s as if the wine gods finally gave us what we wanted, and we scoff and ask to see something from Napa.
Three wines in particular impressed us for the price:
La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva “904″ 1998 ($40) – A book can be written about La Rioja Alta, one of the oldest wine collectives in Spain. Five Basque and Rioja-based vine growers created “Sociedad Vinicola De La Rioja Alta” in July of 1890, a year later the company changed names to La Rioja Alta, and they’ve been producing classic Spanish wines for over 120 years. More than any other producer, La Rioja Alta waits until the wines are ready to drink before release. It’s a wine full of class and grace, while being slightly oxidized for it’s age. Honey, raisin and lavender are present with a lighter, fresh palate and long finish. Only 12.5% alcohol. 3.5 Stars
Lopez de Heredia Rioja Reserva Tondonia 2001 ($35) – If you know Spanish wines, you know Lopez de Heredia. Their Tondonia Reserva 2001 solidifies their status as one of the top, traditionally producing wineries in the entire world. Nothing gimmicky here, notes of cranberry tart, red cherry and leather meet a fairly acidic palate with firm structure and balance. It’s not for everyone, but if you can appreciate the style, it’s fantastic. 3.0 Stars
La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial 2001 ($25) – This is a brilliant wine, and if you can’t get your hands on the “904,” buy the Ardanza Especial 2001 by the truckload. A bit more masculine and powerful than the first two, the Ardanza has a deep, sexy intensity that you seldom see in a Rioja. Notes of raspberry, cherry and lavender are complemented by a velvety-textured palate and a sweet, hanging finish. Could be one of our top wines of the entire year. 3.5 Stars