La Rioja Alta Part 1: Aster- Ribera del Duero
See also blog from Uncorked about La Rioja Alta
Sam Paveley and I recently had the opportunity to visit our friends atLa Rioja Alta, one of the great estates of the region. Founded in 1890, the empire now stretches across the Ebro into Rioja Alavesa and further afield to Rias Baixas on the Atlantic coast and Ribera del Duero. Following a morning flight to Bilbao and a pit-stop in Burgos for lunch, it was in the Ribera that our visit commenced.
The dry climate of the region encourages the vines to sink deep roots for their water source while the altitude (2500ft above sea level) helps to retain freshness in the grapes in a region which is accustomed to fierce heat. The soils vary between sandy-loam and clay-limestone and the grape variety is of course 100% Tinta del Pais (aka Tempranillo).
There are three wines atAster. The crianza comes principally from the sandy-loam soils and is aged for 20 months in 50% new French oak, 25% new American and 25% old American. The grapes for the reserva are from the richer clay soils and the wine sees more extended aging in barrel with a higher proportion (60%) of new French oak, the balance being aged in old American oak. There is also a single vineyard wine called Finca el Otero. This is in a totally different style, aiming to respond to the criticism that the other wines were too influenced by traditional Rioja. The wine sees malo-lactic fermentation in barrel, including an important proportion of new American oak, with regular batonnage over a three-month period before being transferred to new French oak for a further year. The resultant wine is silky smooth, modern style Ribera with intensity and swagger, fruit-forward, ripe and bold and made for drinking young despite clearly having the capacity for further age in bottle.
|Fermentation Room at Aster|
This winery has really come of age and the quality being produced here is now right up there with any in the region. In fact, this property has continued to advance while many of its more established neighbours have been content to stand still. There is a wildness to the region largely because of its unforgiving climate, remoteness and low population and this unruly, even uncivilized style can emerge in wines from Ribera.
|Landscape of the Ribera|
At Aster however, the wildness has been beautifully tamed, and whilst never losing the uniqueness nor the fiery glare, there is now refinement, depth and complexity to enjoy too. When the sun eventually emerges this summer and you are minded to put a leg of lamb or a juicy steak on the coals, I can think of few better companions.
|With a nice bottle of Aster?|
Blog by Mike Laing