2001 was a great year in Rioja.  At least two notable Bodegas, La Rioja Alta and Maqués de Murrieta, decided to release Reserva and Gran Reserva Especial bottlings.  In this particular case I am not sure whether the difference between Reserva and Gran Reserva is even worth noting, as the Marqués de Murrieta 2001 Gran Reserva Especial Castillo Ygay came on the market (well) in advance of the 2001 La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial.  None the less, these two “Especial” Rioja’s are both worth taking a look at.  Both would seemingly be a big deal as the “Especial” moniker is bestowed oh so rarely.  For Viña Ardanza it has only happened three times with 1964, 1973, and now the 2001.  I had tried this wine in the fall of 2010 at La Rioja Alta, prior to its release in the U.S.  It was tasted along side several of the wines from La Rioja Alta, and it showed well then, but perhaps not singing above the other wines we tried that day, despite its “Especial” status.  That said, I have tried it once since its recent arrival here in the U.S. and it very well may deserve its title.  As for the Marqués de Murrieta 2001 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial, this is also a truly special wine which they do not release every year.  I fear that Marqués de Murrieta has mostly succumbed to the lure of modernization when it comes to wine making techniques, but I have heard that this remains a “traditional” bottling.  Both proved excellent examples of classic Rioja and both were a pleasure to drink and would certainly please most palates and would pair well with a fairly broad range of cuisine.  My edge goes to the Viña Ardanza as it represents a great value at around $30.

La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza – 2001 Reserva Especial ~ $32.99

Menthol, cherry spice, and rhubarb mix on the nose.  The color is a deep garnet, and there are both moderate tannins and acidity.  The wine comes together more and more the longer it is open to the air.  There are lingering notes of medjool dates, olives, and some earthy notes.  This Viña Ardanza Especial should keep easily for a good quarter century or more, but is approachable now given a bit of air.  Purchased at Chambers Street Wines.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Marqués de Murrieta, Castillo Ygay – 2001 Gran Reserva Especial ~ $49.99

Classic flavors are at play here with candied cherries mixing with menthol, dark chocolate and truffles.  The color is also dark garnet and the acidity and tannins are solid, yet the wine remains very fresh and balanced.  More refined than the Viña Ardanza, perhaps at the slight expense of character, but La Rioja Alta wines tend to have a very marked signature.  None the less a great classic Rioja with unlimited aging potential.  Purchased at PJ Wines.  RECOMMENDED