Last updated on June 24, 2023
One of the most notable wineries in the Rioja Alta Region of Spain is La Rioja Alta. In commemorating the winery’s 75th anniversary of the Viña Ardanza wines, the winery visited several American cities, presenting some of their current releases along with a vertical tasting. One city, Los Angeles, La Rioja Alta’s superb wines, highlighted a luncheon at Wolfgang Puck at the Bel Air Hotel.
Established in 1890 by five families, La Rioja Alta merged with the Ardanza Winery in 1904. Today La Rioja Alta’s philosophy combines traditional methods with new technology. The process is ever-evolving both in the structure of the wines and through the expansion of the winery production.
Winemaker Julio Sáenz Fernández has been at the helm for ten years. Under his tutelage, the wines produced could be described as new classics. Aspects that are unique to La Rioja Alto include 100% handpicked grapes, production of their own barrels in American oak, and 100% direct distribution.
Many characteristics of the wine are steeped in tradition and bring out the elegance, sophistication, complexity, delicacy, balance, and long life in each bottle of wine. The new world aspects of the wine include the color, freshness, fruit, and rounded tannins.
At the luncheon, both the winemaker, Julio Sáenz Fernández, and family member Guillermo de Aranzabal presented the wines.
Our luncheon began with the Lagar D Cervera Albarino 2016. An outstanding crisp and bright Albarino that one wants to keep sipping. This winery is one of the newest acquisitions of La Rioja Alto, especially since the winery is outside of Rioja and in Rias Baixas.
The first red sampled exemplified the old-new world direction La Rioja Alta strives to achieve. The wine Torre De Oña Martelo Reserva 2012 combines 95 Tempranillo with Mazuelo, Garnacha, and Viura. Wonderful florals permeate the nose. The wine is fresh with flavors of plum and very drinkable.
At this point, we moved to the vertical tasting of six Viña Ardanza wines. Before sampling these wines, one must realize that the winery does not produce every year. They only create vintages they deem worthy of distribution. In 10 years, there may be only 5 – 6 vintages.
The first, the 1989 Viña Ardanza, ended up being my overall favorite because of its elegance, balance, and lighter body. The flavors were sharp and distinctively tobacco and tomato. A Mediterranean quality was quite evident in this wine. In that year, the wine combines Tempranillo primarily with Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano.
By 1994 the winery was utilizing only Tempranillo and Garnacha as the grape varieties in the Viña Ardanza. In this year, chocolate and mocha were more pronounced. This, too, was an excellent vintage.
I found the 2000 Viña Ardanza a bit tight on the occasion of this tasting. The wine needs more time to develop. I look forward to sampling this wine at a later date.
Guillermo feels that 2001 Viña Ardanza was a very special year for Rioja wines. This vintage represents the first year the wine aged entirely in barrels coopered at the winery. Although considered a scarce year in terms of grapes; nonetheless, it made the wine exceptional. The color is very intense, and the wine complex.
The 2004 Viña Ardanza paired the best with the cuisine. Its elegance really shined through.
Finally, the 2008 Viña Ardanza, representing the 75th-anniversary wine, was exceptionally together and bright.
The Cuisine and Venue
Wolfgang always does a superb job of pairing the food with the wine, especially when for someone like me who has dietary restrictions. Of course, one of my favorites is Wolfgang’s grilled lamb; in this case, it was Oakwood Grilled Sonoma Lamb with Ragout of Summer Shelling Beans. Concord Grape Sorbet topped off the meal.
I think one of my favorite places for a wine tasting luncheon is the Bel Air Hotel. This hidden-away hotel, with its old-world charm in its own way compliments the wine. Each in their own way, exudes elegance.
As Guillermo has graciously invited me to visit his winery, I hope one day to take advantage of this opportunity to see the vineyards and winery that produces these exquisite wines in person. Spain is on my bucket list, and I hope a visit is in the near future.
Note: Common to the wine industry, the writer is often treated to wine tastings. While it bears no influence on this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.