There probably isn’t a Rioja lover alive today who hasn’t heard of La Rioja Alta, the region’s most “fiercely traditional and proud of it” winery, situated in Haro’s historic Barrio de la Estacion (station quarter). It is responsible, among other things, for the universally recognized and much-loved Viña Ardanza brand, a wine which remains astonishingly good value and remarkably consistent, despite the vintage variations.
La Rioja Alta has been in the business for over 125 years, founded in 1890 by five canny investors who agreed to pull resources and provide vineyards, land, and capital for the fledgling project; in the wake of the phylloxera epidemic that had devastated French vineyards, these pioneers saw a lucrative opportunity to supply wine to the eager palates of Paris and beyond. Hiring French oenologist Albert Vigier was their first good move, and they purchased oak barrels from Bordeaux.
After just a decade, the estate earned a formidable reputation for the quality of its wines, which was boosted when one of the founding fathers, Daniel Alfredo Ardanza y Sánchez, merged his own Ardanza winery with La Rioja Alta in 1904. Today, this pioneering and brave move is commemorated with the flagship Gran Reserva 904 brand, a wine that is not released until some 10 years after the harvest. Its twin, Gran Reserva 890, is surely one of the region’s greatest wines – complex, velvety, rich, and long-lived.
Indeed, this practice of releasing wines when they are ready to drink, incorporating long aging regimes in barrels and the bottle, is a rarity today, earning La Rioja Alta the perhaps deserved title of “staunch traditionalist.” Yet this iconic winery is no stick-in-the-mud either. Since the 1970s, they have refined and modernized their approach without sacrificing the founding members’ original vision.
For a start, La Rioja Alta has switched its reliance from bought-in grapes to estate vineyards and expanded its presence to other regions, and moved to new premises in Labastida in 1996. Moreover, the current range of wines varies enormously, and some of them are decidedly modern in style. The fruit-driven, concentrated, and deeply colored Viña Alberdi is a testament to that fact.
But despite these concessions to modernity, La Rioja Alta remains at its core a family-run enterprise, still run by the descendants of the founding families. The current chairman, Guillermo de Aranzabal, is the fifth generation of his family to work in the business, and his children will undoubtedly take their place in the future. This family spirit and devotion to excellence ensure that La Rioja Alta has no equal, even today, and the family is very welcoming to visitors on a La Rioja Wine Tour organized by Cellar Tours.
Gran Reserva 904
90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 4 years in three-year-old American oak casks. It is then subject to a further 4 years bottle age before release. One of the region's greatest wines, 904 is approachable on release but will benefit from cellaring.
Gran Reserva 890
95% Tempranillo, the remaining 5% Graciano and Mazuelo. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 6 years in four-year-old American oak casks. It is then subject to a further 6 years bottle age before release. The prestige wine of the property.
80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha. After fermentation, the Tempranillo is aged for 3 years in American oak casks, the Garnacha for 30 months. It is then subject to a further 2 years in bottle before release. The flagship wine of La Rioja Alta and one of Rioja's most popular and renowned wines.
95% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo. After fermentation, the wine is aged in three-year-old American oak casks for 3 years. It is then subject to a further 2 more years in bottle before release.
100% Tempranillo. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 2 years in American oak casks – the first year in new oak – and aged in bottle for a further year before release. A concentrated, modern style Rioja perfect for red meats and BBQs.
Carretera Haro Labastida
Km. 2.6, 01330 Bastida, (La Rioja)
Tel +(34) 941 3103 46
- DOC Rioja
- Area under vine
- 450 Hectares (owned)
- Age of vines
- 30 years+ Low yields
- Oak barrel origin
- Julio Sáenz
- La Rioja Alta SA
- 1.400.000 bottles per annum, depending on the vintage
- Grape varietals
- Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo