Yes, I know, I know - it's been a while. Quite a long while, in fact, but I guess that is what "retirement" does to you. Not that I've been doing bugger all for the last 2 or 3 weeks.... I've been doing a few jobs around the house (I fitted some shiny new door handles to the upstairs rooms last week!), cooking meals and baking bread, attending wine tastings here and there, preparing updates and new tasting notes for my website, preparing a long overdue newsletter and - thankfully - preparing quite a few wine orders over the last few days. Incidentally, if you are one of the many customers/subscribers/friends who have sent me good wishes for my new "career" over the last few days and weeks, then thank you - they are all very much appreciated.
To tell the truth, although I've been getting on with plenty of the above, I have been taking it *relatively* easy since I gave up the day job. Then again, why shouldn't I - at least for a short while? After all, following 33 years of hard labour I deserved a rest! But now it is time to get a bit more serious about the future - and also to get blogging about wine once again. Here are 2 stunners to begin with.........
La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza 2001 Reserva Especial
The term "Especial" denotes a very special year in Rioja - so special, in fact, that La Rioja Alta have only ever used the term for this wine on 3 occasions, namely 1964, 1973 and 2001. And 2001 was indeed a very special year (not just in Rioja, of course, but over many of Europe's fine wine regions). I first tasted this wine in early October, when it blew me (and most others who tasted it) away with it's combination of concentrated, spicy fruit, restrained use of oak and sheer elegance. And since I have now secured a few bottles for myself, I couldn't resist opening one last night. The colour and overall hue is reassuringly light (as befits a wine that has been aged for the best part of 10 years before release (3 years in 4-year-old American oak barrels, the rest in tank and bottle) with a mahogany/blood red core leading to a pale-ish carmine rim. The nose exhibits more oak than I remembered from the previous bottle (different bottling/batch, perhaps?) but the kind of oak that is sure to hit the spot with lovers of traditional Rioja - polished old mahogany, vanilla, leather, cigar box and exotic spices abound. There's also an abundance of sweet, soft red and even white fruit aromas, which follow through on the palate in a rich, ripe, almost overlty sweet way to begin with. In fact, it is in some ways quite different to that previous bottle, which seemed at the time to be in the perfect place, whereas this one seemed a little too young - to begin with, at least. Not that it is too big or tannic, but simply that the fruit is so primary and so sweet. But peel away the layers and you find a wine full of complexity and promise for the future, with a wonderful layer of juicy, tangy acidity that balances things out beautifully. With time in the glass, the fruit really does blossom into something quite light, airy and lovely, whilst those spicy, leathery, meaty notes add yet more interest. And when I say "time in the glass", I really mean 24 hours of air, for this is a wine which really doesn't show it's true colours until the second night - a sure sign that it will evolve for a good number of years in bottle (and in this case, I'd say for at least another 10). It is a truly gorgeous - not to mention reassuringly traditional - Rioja, and I'm glad I have another 3 bottles to tuck away for my future enjoyment. Yum!
Talk about flowers, leather, old wood, forest floor and spice! I should say first and foremost that this is a fundamentally different wine from the Ardanza - for a start, it is made from a 50/50 blend of old vine Grenache and Carignan (the Ardanza is mostly Tempranillo, with just 20% Garnacha), and it is aged for 24 months, partly in barrel (though mostly olderFrench oak) and partly in vat. Furthermore, the fruit profile is more of the black variety (predominantly ripe brambles and blackcurrant) although there's a hint of red cherry and redcurrant in there for good measure. It is also a lot younger, at just 4 years of age, and although it isn't particularly dark in colour, is a relative tooth-stainer. But it lacks for nothing in terms of complexity, elegance, excitement and sheer drinkability - not to mention the ability to age, for it surely has a good few years left in the tank. But it is just so good to drink now, in the way that many young Languedoc wines can be when young. The fruit flavours are ripe and full, with a touch of eau de vie adding both lift and richness to a wine which is simply bursting with life. There's a touch of savouriness, too, though this is a wine which I would describe as essentially feminine, rather than big and masculine. Concentrated elegance is a phrase that springs to mind, with oh-so ripe tannins, allied to juicy, mouth-watering acidity - a beautifully integrated, seamless wine, with no rough edges. Even though I actually sell this wine, I must say that I wasn't expecting it to reach the heights of the Ardanza (at least not at such a young age) but it does, it really does - it really is wonderful! And at £18.89 (roughly the same price as the Ardanza) it is a bit of a bargain. Oh, and it also happens to be both biodynamic and a "natural" wine, with only 10mg/l of sulphur added at the bottling stage. A quite stunning and delightful wine for a quiet Sunday evening.