Every wine region has its innovators and its traditionalists, but the differences are perhaps most pronounced in Spain’s Rioja appellation. The traditional-style reds are long-aged in neutral American oak to make supple wines with flavors of dried fruit, tobacco and spice; the innovators harvest riper grapes, age them in new French oak and deliver more structured wines with flavors of black fruit and toast.
Some critics seem to feel that preferring one style or the other is practically a moral or religious choice. But I embrace both, as long as the particular wines are balanced.
Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to taste a vertical of Pingus, a limited-production Ribera del Duero from Peter Sisseck, which some consider a cult example of the modern style. (I’ll report on that in another article.) Afterward, I stopped by Tia Pol, a tapas restaurant in Chelsea, for a bite to eat, and ordered a half-bottle of Viña Ardanza red from La Rioja Alta ($42), one of the old-school traditionalists.
Viña Ardanza is a vineyard near Fuenmayor in the Rioja Alta subregion of Rioja and is planted to Tempranillo; the wine draws 80 percent of its fruit from there, supplemented by 20 percent old-vine Garnacha from the Rioja Baja subregion. The wine matured for 36 months in old American oak. The bodega was so pleased with the quality they labeled the wine “Reserva Especial,” which they’ve only done before in the 1973 and 1964 vintages. (However, they did not raise the price from their normal reserva level.)
The wine was lovely. It was quite full-bodied, yet classically supple and fresh, with bright cherry fruit accented with mineral, licorice and smoke notes. I rated it 92 points, non-blind, and reflected that—at the highest levels of quality, such as Pingus and Ardanza, and given some age—somehow modern and traditional began to resemble each other in true and lovely ways.
WineSpectator.com members: Get scores and tasting notes for other recently rated Rioja reds.