I have the utmost respect for winemakers who make decisions to not produce certain wines in their portfolio during difficult vintages. It shows a true commitment to quality that frequently comes at a steep cost.

La Rioja Alta, S.A., the producer behind Viña Ardanza Rioja had such a situation. The two successive vintages following their blockbuster 2001 offering were abysmal, meaning that the flagship Viña Ardanza did not get produced. I sorely missed the wine, since it had become a favorite with the 1996 vintage many years ago.

Viña Ardanza2004

The good news is that the wine has returned with the 2004 vintage and it is back in fine form. The weather during 2004 really benefited the vineyards of La Rioja Alta, allowing for a slow, balanced growing cycle that led to fruit of superior quality. The wine itself is a blend of Tempranillo (80%) and Garnarcha (20%), the former being grown on 30-year old vines planted in Fuenmayor and Cenicero (Rioja Alta), the latter on old goblet-pruned vines in Tudelilla (Rioja Baja). The blending of these two sub-zones within the greater Rioja region produces a well-balanced wine with great structure and finesse.

La Rioja Alta takes an interesting approach to the aging of their wine. Like traditional Reserva Rioja wines, the Tempranillo spent 36 months in American oak barrels with an average age of 4 years. Unlike more traditional wines, the Garnacha only spent 30 months in American oak that was 2 to 3 years old. The result is an interesting interplay between the more dried cedar-infused, leathery Tempranillo and a fresher, fruitier and brighter oaked Garnacha. The wine was finally blended and bottled in December of 2008.

If you are a fan of classic Rioja, then this wine will put a big smile on your face!

My tasting notes:

Bright, lively nose – spicy with vanilla, cedar and dried cherry hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and firm, dry tannin – good balance. Sour cherry palate with black pepper, oak and saddle leather notes. Classic Reserva Rioja. Moderate length – smooth finish with an evolving, layered complexity. Drinking well now and should continue to improve for the next 3 to 5 years in bottle.

At an average per bottle cost of $29.99 before customary discounts, this is a reasonable value and for lovers of classic Rioja, a real treat.