Home > Daily Glass, Experiences, Rioja > Daily Glass: Study of La Rioja Alta Viña Alberdi

Daily Glass: Study of La Rioja Alta Viña Alberdi

DSC_0159  La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi 2003On a given day, outside of any big holidays or special dinners, I have no idea what bottle I’m going to open in the evening. Sometimes it can be a painful procedure of looking at 20-30 bottles not been able to decide. Today, it was easy – @wineking3 mentioned on twitter that he had not the best experience with 2003 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Reserva, which sparked my interest. You see, La Rioja Alta is one of the very best (and of my  favorite) producers in Rioja, so I wanted to see if I can taste the same or similar wine – and I quite convinced that I should have some 2003 La Rioja Alta wine. Also it appears that Decanter magazine suggests that 2003 Rioja should be drunk now, however suggesting that better producers created powerful wines – which again only increased my interest.

La Rioja Alta was founded in 1890 by the group of five winegrowers in the Haro Station District. In 1941, the winery introduced its Viña Ardanza brand, which became one of the most famous in Rioja. In 1970, Viña Arana and Viña Alberdi were introduced, and since then La Rioja Alta wine had being produced under all three labels – but not in all the years. Each “brand” has it’s own unique source of grapes and grape composition, which is rather expected.

So as I pulled the 2003 La Rioja Alta Viña Alberdi Reserva from the wine fridge, somehow the thought came to my head – let’s use wine thermometer. You see, I have this nifty device called VinTemp, which is an infrared wine thermometer – it can perfectly measure temperature of the wine in the bottle without actually touching the wine. While I know that temperature has a great effect on the taste of wine, I practically never use this thermometer – but today I did, so the simple wine tasting became more of a study of the temperature effect on the wine.

According to the producer’s notes, 2003 was a very difficult year, due to the extreme heat and lack of the rainfall in July and August. As the result, only the grapes form the highest areas were used to produce the wine, which is made out of 100% Tempranillo coming from 3 different areas. The wine was fermented for 12 days, following by 26 days of malolactic fermentation and then aged for 2 years in American oak casks. The resulting wine has 13% ABV. That’s it – I’m done with all the technical and general stuff – let’s go to the tasting notes. Ahh, sorry, last detail – the winery notes recommend drinking the wine at 17°C (63°F).

The bottle is opened and the wine is poured. Initial temperature – 16.2°C (62°F). Color is dark ruby red, a color of mature red wine, but without brown hues. Rim variation – practically absent. The rim is clear and noticeable, which talks about some age, but it is clear. Nose: Mushrooms, earth, cherries, touch of barnyard – clearly an old world wine. Palate: Perfect acidity on the sides of the tongue, tart cherries, tannins. Tannins completely covering the mouth, very similar to Barolo, only with the wine been a bit lighter. And then there are more tannins. And they are going. And going. And going. For about one minute forty seconds ( yes, I looked at the clock). First verdict – perfectly dry wine. Need time to warm up and to open.

Second taste – about 20 minutes later, temperature measures 17.6°C (64°F). Nose – unchanged. Palate – more fruit, less tannins. Green notes, the wine almost tastes bitter. Worrying – is this the case of bad Rioja? Tannins are back, killing and overpowering.

Third taste  – about an hour later, 19.3°C (67°F). Nose – coffee and chocolate showed up. Palate – beautiful. Fresh acidity. Bright fruit, cherries, blackberries. Still lots of tannins, but the fruit now comes first. Very round, smooth and expressive. Lots of pleasure.

Final verdict – Beautiful wine. Needs time!! Drinkability: 8

Let’s sum it up, shall we? In my opinion, this wine needs at least another 10 years to open up. And as you can see, the temperature plays key role here – considering level of tannins, the recommendation of 17°C is very surprising – you do need to drink this wine at a room temperature to let it show up in all its beauty.

Our study is complete. Now, can I have another glass? Cheers!



  1. wineking3
    March 8, 2013 at 1:16 am

    This VinTemp thermometer seems to be very useful. I’ve never seen something like that before. I think I need one of those 🙂

    Your analysis is great. Absolutely amazing how precise you analyze wine. Only thing which I find it strange that Decanter suggests to drink it now when you suggest to keep it for another 10 years.
    I think when I drank the wine the other day, I served it a little bit too warm and I didn’t find many fruit aromas like blackberries and cherries. Maybe my bottle just wasn’t that great. I don’t know how well the wine shop stored the wine (it only spent a few weeks in my cellar)

    • talkavino
      March 8, 2013 at 1:28 am

      Ahh, thank you, you are too kind! I think this wine is perfectly drinkable now, but requires at least an hour of breathing time. The only reason I suggest that it will easily last another 10 years is prior experience with Rioja wines. If the wine is well made, it will last for a very long time – I was lucky enough to try Rioja wine of the different vintages starting from 1947 – and I don’t remember having any bad experiences.
      The Decanter recommendation is given for the 2003 Rioja as a generic class – regular Rioja or Rioja Crianza from 2003 might be at it’s peak right now, but when it comes to the Rioja Reserva, especially from the reputable producer, I don’t think the same rules should apply.

    • March 8, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      A friend of mine got one of these infrared thermometers in Home Depot, I think. You can use them in tall rooms to get a feel for different temperatures. Not sure what is cheaper, but I would assume that a “wine gadget” is more expensive than a “tool”. 🙂

      • talkavino
        March 9, 2013 at 8:40 am

        I didn’t even think of those infrared thermometers at Home Depot – probably the same technology. The wine gadget is about $30, not that expensive, I think.

  2. March 8, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Very interesting tasting notes by temperature, whcih hardley comes accross my mind when drinking wine. İ thought cold temp softened tannin, duh, confused now İ should check on that. Thanks for enlightening me at 7am 🙂

    • talkavino
      March 8, 2013 at 9:15 am

      My pleasure! : ) The subject of temperature is one of the geekiest around wine – particularly, because it is almost impossible to control. When wine is very cold, it will show less amount of imperfections, but it will also not show much (or any) fruit. This is why a lot of bigger bodied whites show much better as they warm up.
      If the red wine is very slightly tannic or not at all, as Beaujolais Noeuveau, it helps to serve is cold, because it makes it taste smoother. However, when you chill a seriously tannic wine (and Rioja Reserva is definitely one of those), it will make the wine to taste very bitter – because the fruit is hiding and you only get the bitterness of the gripping tannins.
      I read once an article about “harmony points” for the wines, where it was arguing that for different kinds of wine there are very exact harmony points where given wine tastes the bets, whether it is 14.1% or 15.9%. I think the same is true for temperature of the wine in your glass… I guess another blog post might be in order : )

  3. March 8, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Great post, Anatoli. You did a great job of capturing how the wine changed with the temperatures. There are just so many things that come together for a wine to taste just right, it is hard to dismiss a wine just because of one bottle one tried.

    • talkavino
      March 9, 2013 at 8:44 am

      Thanks, Oliver. Way too many things can affect the taste of wine, both objective and subjective… I even wrote about it in the past : ) https://talk-a-vino.com/2010/11/13/taste-of-wine-engineering-approach/

      • March 9, 2013 at 10:16 am

        Hahaha, engineering approach. I love that title. Checking it out now.

        • talkavino
          March 9, 2013 at 11:19 am

          well, engineers like to analyze and sort things out – this is what I was trying to do : )

        • March 9, 2013 at 11:29 am

          Oh, I was just laughing because ever since I moved to the US everyone always tells me about German engineering…and I am as far away from being an engineer as one can imagine. 🙂

  4. March 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Nice post Anatoli. I own a wine thermometer, too but mine is not that fancy. I should think about buying something more modern 😉
    Great analysis. I like that you focused on temperatures because that is something rather uncommon.

    • talkavino
      March 9, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Thanks, Julian. Many people dismiss the subject of the temperature as something way too geeky… And in reality, it is somewhat difficult to control. But – I think in many cases depending on the temperature you will either enjoy the wine…. or not

  5. March 9, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Great piece. I’ve always wanted to do a more technical experiment such as what you did.

    • talkavino
      March 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

      Thank you! Bringing in the thermometer was a very spontaneous decision, but it was fun!


  6. March 11, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Enjoyed the time line analyses. It’s amazing how wine can vary from opening to finishing off the bottle.
    Thank you.

    • talkavino
      March 11, 2013 at 10:08 am

      thank you! Yes, the wine is definitely changing in the glass, and sometimes even not for the better…

  7. March 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Great post, Anatoli – a lot of substance and great points as usual.
    I also have one of those IR thermometers and it is quite handy.
    Regarding serving temperatures, the ISA recommendation for medium-bodied red wines with medium tannins is between 16 and 18C, whilst for full-bodied red wines with considerable aging the recommended range is 18-20C. It seems to me that the Rioja you had would fall into the latter of such categories and therefore that your about 20C temperature when the wine peaked is spot on.
    Take care

    • talkavino
      March 11, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Thank you, Stefano! The 17C recommendation on the web site was a bit strange – wines with substantial oak presence, such as Rioja Reserva, do need to warm up a little to fully open up

  1. November 15, 2014 at 9:39 am

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