Since its beginnings in 1890, La Rioja Alta S.A. always insisted on producing the finest wines possible from the excellent climate and soils of the Rioja region in Spain. Today they’re quite large, with a production of about 3 million bottles per year and relatively wide distribution throughout the USA.
La Rioja Alta was initially formed as “Sociedad Vinicola de La Rioja Alta” by five families the Rioja area. Rioja Alta is actually the name of the north-western part of the Rioja region, where many of the finest grapes are grown. So a year later, in 1891, the founding families changed the name simply to La Rioja Alta. They also named a woman, Doña Saturnina García Cid y Gárate, as their first president, a very forward-thinking notion in those days. Although the company today is publicly traded, it’s still controlled by the original five families.
La Rioja Alta’s primary labels are the following:
- Gran Reserva 890
- Gran Reserva 904
- Viña Ardanza
- Viña Arana
- Viña Alberdi
Gran Reserva 890
La Rioja Alta’s initial and only wine for nearly two decades was known as Reserva 1890, named for the year they were founded. This wine is now the Gran Reserva 890 – they eventually dropped the “1″ when stricter labeling requirements went into effect.
The Gran Reserva 890 is considered one of their top wines, and it’s made only in years which they consider exceptional vintages. The 890 is their top offering, always really good and as far as Riojas go, fairly expensive.
Gran Reserva 904
In 1904, Alfredo Ardanza, one of the original founders and also owner of Bodegas Ardanza, proposed a merger of the two companies. The Gran Reserva 904 was created to celebrate that merger.
This one is typically 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano and aged 4 years in barrel and another 4 in bottle before it’s released. This wine is also one of their traditionally strong offerings, released only in excellent vintages. Over the past decade and a half, the Gran Reserva 904 has seen as astonishing resurgence with the latest vintages being among their best ever.
Viña Ardanza Reserva
Named after one of the founding families, the Ardanza label was created in 1942. Like the Gran Reserva 904, this is also one of their traditionally strongest and also aged for a long time, previously 42 months in barrel and now 36 months in barrel.
This one’s makeup is a little different than the 904, with 20% Granacha instead of Graciano. Like the 904, the Ardanza is released only in excellent vintages and a select few Ardanza vintages are classified as “Reserva Especial” to further denote their specialness. In fact, only 3 Ardanza vintages came with that extra classification, the 2001, 1973 and 1964 (which along with the 1964 vintage of Gran Reserva 904 achieved a 97 rating from Robert Parker, the highest ever Parker ratings for La Rioja Alta wines).
Viña Arana & Viña Alberdi
The Arana label, along with the Alberdi, are certainly very fine labels although perhaps somewhat lesser labels in the La Rioja Alta lineup – but keep in mind that’s definitely a relative notion considering the unusually strong company they keep.
The Arana is 95% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo, while the Alberdi is 100% Temranillo. These two wines are made in a more modern style, meaning with less aging, each with around 2 years in oak barrel.
Expansion & Other Labels
In the 1980s, the company decided to go against the trend and they started increasing the aging of all of their wines, both in barrel and bottle, which is how they ended up with the remarkably long aging mentioned above for some of their higher-end labels. This long aging is now a defining characteristic of their wines.
They also acquired additional vineyards to ensure greater control over the quality of their grapes – La Rioja Alta insists on producing wines only from the grapes they grow themselves in their own vineyards. For example, in 1988 they acquired Lagar de Cervera, and in the early 90’s they purchased vineyards in Ribera del Duero, where they produce the Bodegas Aster label.
Today La Rioja Alta owns four estates in Spain: the original two based in Rioja, one Ribera del Duero and another in Rias Baixas.
We’re very pleased to include a number of La Rioja Alta bottles in our Wine Store, we highly recommend them.