Altanza – Rioja Crianza and Reserva
Bodegas Altanza makes fine examples of Rioja made in the modern style. Massive investment in wine growing is now producing wines that highlight fresh fruit flavours rather than the traditional oak-dominant wines of yore. Neither is necessarily better; it’s great to have a choice.
Altanza is a relatively young company, established in the heart of Rioja Alta at Fuenmajor only in the 1990s. They have 220 hectares of their vineyards that supply 60% of their grapes, with the rest sourced from contract growers. Their vineyards are sustainable, with no chemicals or pesticides and the growers also work to this specification. Their first vintage release was the Reserva in 1998, and since then, a full range of wines has become established.
The Altanza red wines are only made with Tempranillo, Spain’s most famous indigenous grape variety. Those other grape varieties allowed in the red Rioja blend (Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano) are not used here.
Oak ageing is still the hallmark of most Rioja. In past times, the length of such maturation in the wood was the benchmark of quality. Hence the longer, the better. These days, it’s more of a stylistic factor, as delicious wines are made more quickly. Also, the traditional type of oak used in Rioja is US oak, which imparted tell-tale flavours of vanilla and coconut. However, many wineries, including Altanza, now use French oak instead, so the wines are fruitier, subtler and less marked by overt wood flavours.
Winemaker Carlos Ferreiro has a beautiful modern Bodega to vinify the wines at Altanza, featuring stainless steel for fermentation, oak vats for the secondary, malolactic fermentation and an impressive barrel hall for the oak maturation.
From their range, my picks are their Rioja Crianza and Reserva wines. Both are excellent value propositions, yet they also clearly show their differences at their respective price points. Consequently, there’s a real sense of stepping up from Crianza to Reserva, both quality and price. Altanza says that their Reserva best represents the ethos of the estate.
Lealtanza Rioja Crianza DOCa, 2016, 13.5%
Crianza in Rioja DOCa has a specific meaning: a minimum maturation of two years with at least 12 months of that time in oak. Therefore, a Crianza cannot sell before the third birthday. Vinified in stainless steel, this Crianza spent 12 months in French oak, 15% new. After further bottle maturation, it was then ready for sale.
The nose shows a vibrant ruby red, which shows well-restrained oak, just enough to impart some gentle woody notes to predominantly red fruit aromas. The palate has a silken texture. The fruit is classic textbook Tempranillo – fresh and juicy raspberry and black cherry fruit, a savoury undertow, with a medium body and just enough smooth tannins. It feels like a little more alcohol than 13.5%, perhaps that figure is a rounding-down, but it’s not intrusive or unbalanced. In summary, a classic modern Rioja that’s fruity, refreshing and of excellent value. Food-wise, I’d suggest matching it with lighter meats, mushrooms and tapas.
l’Art du Vin, £12.20
Lealtanza Rioja Reserva DOCa, 2011, 14%
Again, Reserva has a specific definition; this time, a minimum maturation of three years, of which a minimum must be 12 months in oak. A Rioja Reserva needs at least four birthdays before the sale. This example takes 18 months in French oak barrels, then three months in 2,200-litre French oak vats before the final bottle maturation.
There’s a more rigorous selection of Tempranillo grapes for the Rioja Reserva, producing a wine that can handle both a more extended maturation and more time in wood. Vinification is again in stainless steel.
The result is a more extensive, “serious” wine offering more complexity, concentration and depth. A dense, deep crimson colour is an excellent expression of Tempranillo; strawberry, raspberry and black cherry flavours have depth and concentration. Underlying hints of a meaty, savoury taste appear before liquorice and spice round things off. Again, there’s a restrained oak influence with cedar, clove and tobacco aromatics. This wine opens up in the glass after a few minutes, and then some attractive smoke notes also appear. Ideally, this wine benefits from decanting for an hour before serving. Food-wise, this elegant example is ideal for that classic Rioja pairing – hearty lamb stew.
Wines with attitude £19.75
Like Altanza Rioja? Try Beronia.