A Visit to La Rioja Alta

Even though we were an hour late, venerable Bodegas La Rioja Alta graciously welcomed us to lunch last year.  (We’d been held up next door at Bodegas Muga by the charming Jorge Muga.  He was pouring Prado Enea Gran Reservas from 1970 and 1994. Who in their right mind would rush
out the door at that moment?)


Director of P.R. Gabriela Rezola, and winemaker Julio Sáenz of La Rioja Alta gave us a tasting of their entire portfolio, including the 1995 Gran Reserva 890 which is still improving in the bottle.  Established in 1890, La Rioja Alta is one of the oldest wineries in Rioja and is a benchmark for traditional Riojas.  Tasting the wines of both Muga and La Rioja Alta back to back was like meeting successful cousins.  Each raised in the same soil, but with their talents deployed in equally accomplished ways, these two wineries are a microcosm of what is happening in Rioja right now.

One of the incredible wines we tasted that day is now in stock.    2001 Viña Arana Reserva Rioja ($32.00) is La Rioja Alta’s Rioja-meets-Bordeaux red.   The 2001 vintage was excellent and Viña Arana displays all of the beautifully ripened fruit of this harvest.  Aged for 3 years in used oak barrels, it shows “…  “Complex aromas of dried red berries and cherry, with complicating notes of cured tobacco, cedar, smoky minerals, vanilla and rose. Smooth, nicely concentrated and sweet, offering cherry-vanilla and candied floral flavors supported by soft tannins. This fully mature Rioja finishes with alluring sweetness and a lingering note of dusty, dried flowers. 91 points Stephen Tanzer

Other La Rioja Alta wines in stock:
1995 Gran Reserva 890 Rioja ($145.00) Aged 6 years in oak and a further 6 years in bottle before release, it is “Complex, expressive bouquet displays red- and blackcurrant, cherry, cigar box, vanilla bean, cola and pipe tobacco, expanding with air and picking up potpourri and mocha qualities. Sweet, deeply concentrated red and dark berry flavors are impressively lithe, with silky tannins adding gentle grip. Candied flower and baking spice notes linger on the impressively long, energetic finish. There’s no way I’d have guessed this wine to be 18 years old. Hold it for another ten years, or more, or serve it now with Middle Eastern-spiced lamb shanks.” 93 Stephen Tanzer, 95 points Wine Advocate
1997 Gran Reserva 904 Rioja ($52.00) A fresher style than Gran Reserva 890, it is aged four years in oak and 4 years in bottle before release.  “Seductively perfumed nose offers a complex bouquet of dried cherry, vanilla, cola, potpourri, smoky minerals and cedar. Silky red berry and cherry flavors are sweetened by vanilla bean and take on tannic structure with air. Becomes deeper and riper on the impressively long, sweet, lightly chewy finish, which strongly echoes the cherry and vanilla qualities. I’d serve this with strongly seasoned grilled steak or lamb.”  92 points Stephen Tanzer, 94 points Wine Advocate
2000 ViZa Ardanza Reserva Rioja ($35.00) “Cherry-vanilla, tobacco and dried raspberry on the nose, with subtle baking spices, cedar and herbs adding complexity. Suave red fruit flavors are sweetened by vanillin oak spices and gently propped up by silky tannins. An understated wine that’s sure to be dismissed by those who find ostentation in wine a virtue, but this will work wonderfully with grilled or braised meats, or not-so-strong cheeses. And the length of this Rioja is pretty sneaky.”  90 points Stephen Tanzer


2009 Yellow + Blue Malbec, Argentina ($11.99, in 1 Liter recyclable Tetra Pak). This tasty Malbec is super for picnics and hikes, and would be an ideal beverage to sip at the Seafair Hydroplane Races on Sunday. The ultimate “green” wine, it is shipped in bulk to North America to minimize the carbon footprint, and the recyclable packages are filled here.  And the wine inside?  It’s a perfect companion to cured meats, cheeses and even potato salad.  With aromas of black cherry and flavors of ripe berry, chocolate and savory herbs, it is smooth with fine tannins.  Yellow + Blue Malbec has a lingering finish and is also certified organic.

2008 Sol de Levante Monastrell, Jumilla ($11.99)  Aromas of mature fruit, cherries and blackberries are well balanced with smooth tannins and a pleasant sweetness. Full-bodied and structured, this 100% Monastrell can be served with poultry or spicy fare.  Poured by the glass at Ocho Tapas Bar in Ballard.

2005 Dominio de Valdelacasa Cosecha Toro ($22.99)  This bright and full-bodied red goes through numerous changes on the palate.  Sweet ripe blacktop berries and vanilla have a toasted, charred backbone.  Dominio de Valdelacasa is light on its feet with great balance and notes of licorice on the persistent finish.   This would be excellent with beef filet and chimichurri sauce.

2004 Matorramero Reserva, Ribera del Duero ($29.99)  This finely chiseled red is so good that it could easily become addictive.    Ripe boysenberry and dark chocolate have coffee and graphite notes with excellent balance.  With lots of lift, bright fruit and minerals, it has a lengthy, delicious finish.   Oh, and the price is about half as much as other Reservas from Ribera del Duero.


Queso Varé – A farmhouse goats milk cheese from Asturias–grassy, buttery with notes of lemon and a mild tangy finish. Priscilla’s new favorite cheese!

El Cantu – Similar in texture to cheddar, this new organic cow’s milk cheese comes from the small Asturian farm of cheese makers Anita and Valentin. Subtly sweet and creamy with notes of hay and a burst of sharp flavor.

Azeitão – This small round ‘torta’ like sheeps milk cheese from Northern Portugal just arrived. Most of you are already familiar with this uberliscious cheese. They are soft and gooey and perfect for your next picnic, outdoor concert, BBQ or small gathering. Cut off the top and scoop out this wonderful creamy cheese onto bread or crackers.


Authentic angulas in olive oil. The real thing from Galicia, $50.00/115 gr tin.

Cole’s Canned Portuguese Sardines and Mackerel.  After one taste we had to have them!    Both are wild caught and come smoked, in olive oil, or in piri piri sauce.    The mackerel is skinless and boneless, excellent in salads.

Pimenta Moida in bulk, $4.99 per pound   Stir this hot pepper sauce into soups or stews.  It’s also excellent mixed into cooked lentils.

Mexican wafer cookies with cinnamon, Horchata lolly pops, Guava Marmalade

Back in stockMole Negro sauce.  The last order wasn’t around very long, so come quickly if you’re a mole fan.


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