Altanza – Rioja Crianza and Reserva
Bodegas Altanza makes fine examples of Rioja made in the modern style. Huge investment in winegrowing is now producing wines that highlight fresh fruit flavours rather than the traditional oak-dominant wines of yore. Neither style is necessarily better, but as a wine drinker, it’s great to have the choice.
Altanza is a relatively young company, established in the heart of Rioja Alta at Fuenmajor only in the 1990s. Now they have 220 hectares of their own vineyards that supply 60% of their grapes, with the rest sourced from contract growers. Their vineyards are sustainable, with no use of 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, Graciano and Cabernet Sauvignon) 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 and the longer the better. These days, it’s more of a stylistic factor, as there are delicious wines made with less ageing. 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 and good value, yet they also clearly show the differences between them at their respective price points. Consequently, there’s a real sense of stepping up from Crianza to Reserva, both in 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; this being a minimum maturation of two years with at least 12 months of that time in oak. A Crianza cannot sell before the third birthday. Vinified in stainless steel, this Crianza then spent 12 months in French oak, 15% of it new. After further bottle maturation, it was then ready for sale.
A vibrant ruby red colour, the nose 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. 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 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 gets 18 months in French oak barrels, then 3 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, so producing a wine that can handle both a longer maturation and more time in wood. Vinification is again in stainless steel.
The result is a bigger, more “serious” wine offering more complexity, concentration and depth. A dense deep crimson colour, this is a great 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. Restrained oak influence – some 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