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Executive editor Thomas Matthews joined Wine Spectator in 1988. His tasting beat is Spain.
Thomas Matthews

A Beautiful Traditional Rioja

La Rioja Alta Rioja Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial 2001

Thomas Matthews
Posted: February 3, 2012

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.

Dave Devine
Leverkusen, Germany —  February 3, 2012 9:18pm ET
Thanks for that, Thomas. I was getting worried because it had been so long since the last "What we're drinking." I really enjoy this column, and the La Rioja Alta sounds lovely.
Thomas Matthews
New York City —  February 4, 2012 9:49am ET
Dave, Thanks for your support. I guess life got busy. We certainly didn't stop drinking! We'll try to keep these little reports coming.
The 3rd Corner
Palm Desert, CA, USA —  February 11, 2012 5:33pm ET
This is one of my favorite wines on the floor right now, I'm happy to see it get some press!
Tami Wong Buyer/Somm 3rd Corner Encinitas
Thomas Matthews
New York City —  February 12, 2012 11:14am ET
Tami, Sounds like a restaurant I would enjoy!
Todd Prucyk
Vancouver, BC —  March 13, 2012 6:05am ET
This wine is a must try for anyone wanting to see how good "traditional" Rioja wine can be. I've had it several times in a half bottle format and it is delicious. I can't wait to see how this wine will taste in the future. Thanks for the article.
Ngiare Jane Hubbard
Cary NC United States —  July 19, 2013 1:21pm ET
My husband tried this wine last year and loved it so much that he brought home a few bottles for safe keeping as well as one for me so I could try it. I was also so impressed with this wine that we went out and bought a few cases of it the same week. We open a bottle every 6 months or so to taste it as it matures.

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