The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 12 of 124

12 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 { shop talk } EVEN AS SPANISH WINE PRODUCER LA RIOJA ALTA TURNS 125 years old this year, owner Guillermo de Aranzabal and his winemaker, Julio Sáenz, are not resting on laurels. They are charging at the future with an American Birthday Tour and a new, modern take on their Rioja classic. Spago Beverly Hills, another classic, turned out to be the perfect setting for La Rioja Alta's SoCal birthday celebration, hosted in col - laboration with Mike Miller of importer Golden State Wine Co. It was a lunchtime buyout of the restaurant that attracted nothing but the top sommeliers, wine buyers and wine writers of the region. Chef Wolfgang Puck himself even made an appearance. During the multi-course sit-down lunch, Aranzabal and Sáenz presented classically made, back vintages of La Rioja Alta, which were beautifully aged and sublime. They also introduced their now more modern line-up of new wines, which are fleshier and darker, but equally delicious. The new offerings are noticeably more modern than the tradi - tional style for which La Rioja Alta is known. To explain the change, Aranzabal insists his new wines are not "fashionable." "A distributor or importer should follow fashion, since it has to sell whatever people want to buy. However, a winery can't do that. Our average aging takes eight years. We cannot make wines which are 'fashionable' today if we are not sure they will be consumed in eight years' time." Then he adds, "Years ago there were several fashions in Rioja: Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% alcohol wines, very tannic wines, white wines. Had we invested in those wines then, we wouldn't know what to do with them today!" When he is asked how Rioja is trending into the future, Aranzabal predicts, "We think people want darker wines than 30 years ago, so we only have red varieties today. People want cleaner wines, so we moved from 15-year-old barrels to four- year-old barrels. And people want aged wines with a velvety finish, so we are maintaining our aging times." When asked what it takes for a winery to last 125 years, Aranzabal said, "It takes a lot of patience. And you need to have very clear ideas about what you want to do, in our case: quality wines at whatever the cost. We all—employees, shareholders and board—totally agree with this goal, so it has been relatively easy." Happy birthday to you, La Rioja Alta. And many more. AFTER 125 YEARS, LA RIOJA ALTA WILL NOT LIVE IN THE PAST by Albert Letizia and Rachel Macalisang The Menu and Pairings The wines were paired, old and new, with a 5-course lunch prepared by Spago Executive Chef Lee Hefter, Chef de Cuisine Tetsu Yahagi and Pastry Chef Della Gossett. Yellow Tomato Gazpacho with Beignet of Dungeness Crab paired with the 1989 Viña Araña and 2006 Viña Araña Alaskan Halibut with Braised Baby Octopus paired with 1985 Viña Ardanza and 2007 Viña Ardanza Summer Truffle Risotto with Garrotxa Cheese paired with the 1982 Gran Reserva 904 and 2005 Gran Reserva 904 Rack of Lamb with Sweet Corn "Crema de Catalan" and Chanterelle Mushrooms paired with 1981 Gran Reserva 890 and 2001 Gran Reserva 890 The New Classic PHOTO COURTESY OF LA RIOJA ALTA La Rioja Alta winemaker Julio Sáenz.

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