(Jay Miller - Wine Advocate - Feb-09)
About this WINE
Juan Carlos López de Lacalle, owner and winemaker of Artadi, is recognised as one of the greatest names in the business in Spain. The winery was once a co-operative of 13 growers who owned well-sited vineyards around the town of Laguardia in the Alavesa wine region of Rioja. Juan Carlos saw the potential of these wonderful vineyards and purchased the Bodega, immediately amending the philosophy and style of winemaking. The winemaking is modern with an emphasis upon fruit driven wines, characterised by the terroir of individual vineyard sites – a far cry from the philosophy of traditional Rioja producers. French oak is used, not American, allowing the principle variety, Tempranillo, eloquent natural expression.
From the 2 hectare El Pison vineyard, the vines of which were planted in 1945, all the way through to his properties in Alicante and Navarra, he is both a punctilious and gifted craftsman. Mastery of Monastrell and Garnacha has now been added to his acknowledged and alchemical gifts with Tempranillo; attention to detail is evidenced at all stages of the process, from the pruning in the vineyard to the six additional sorting trays in the winery, then a fermentation in especially designed vats to ensure an optimum extraction of fruit and tannin. The results are completely outstanding.
Vinas De Gain comes from vines of over 25 years of age and it is a suberb quality wine, 100% Tempranillo from fruit grown at high altitude vineyards in Rioja Alavesa. It is the least expensive offering in Artadi's range, yet it displays impressive purity with layers of flavours reminiscent of Burgundian complexity. Artadi produces exemplary unoaked and oaked Riojas, including superb Reservas and single-vineyard wines such as the Viña El Pison. A deluxe cuvée Gran Reserva, Grandes Añadas, was produced for the first time in 1994.
His Navarran Bodega is located in the village of Santa Cruz, using 100% Grenache from 100-year-old vines. As Navarra continues to emerge from the shadows of its illustrious neighbour Rioja, the wines of Artadi are helping us to understand its quality and identity.
Rioja is known primarily for its reds although it also makes white wines from the Viura and Malvasia grapes and rosés mainly from Garnacha. Most wineries (bodegas) have their own distinct red wine formula, but are normally a combination of Tempranillo, Garnacha and sometimes Graciano. Other red varieties recently approved into the Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) regulations are the little-known Maturana Tinta, Maturana Parda, and Monastel (not to be confused with Monastrell). The most important of these by far is the king of native Spanish varieties, Tempranillo, which imbues the wines with complex and concentrated fruit flavours.
The Garnacha, meanwhile, bestows its wines with warm, ripe fruit and adds an alcohol punch. Graciano is an améliorateur grape (one that is added, often in small proportions, to add a little something to the final blend) and is found mainly in Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, albeit in small quantities (two to five percent), adding freshness and aroma, and enhancing the wines' ageing potential.
Crianza wines are aged for one year in oak followed by maturation for one year in bottle before being released for sale. Reservas must undergo a minimum of three years’ ageing before release, at least one of which should be in oak casks. Finally, Gran Reservas, which are only produced in the finest vintages, must spend at least five years maturing, of which at least two must be in oak.
Geographically, Rioja is divided in to three districts: Alavesa, Alta and Baja. Rioja Alavesa lies in the northwest of the La Rioja region in the Basque province of Álava. Along with Rioja Alta, it is the heartland of the Tempranillo grape. Rioja Alta, to the north-west and south of the Ebro River in the province of La Rioja, stretches as far as the city of Logroño. Elegance and poise is the hallmark of wines made here with Rioja Alta Tempranillo. Mazuelo (Carignan) is occasionally added to wines from this area to provide tannins and colour. Rioja Baja, located to the south-east, is the hottest of the three districts and specialises in Garnacha.
Rioja has witnessed a broad stylistic evolution over the years. The classic Riojas pioneered by Murrieta and Riscal in the 19thcentury were distinguished by long oak-barrel-ageing whereas the modern style, represented by Marqués de Cáceres since 1970, showcases the fruit and freshness of Tempranillo, keeping oak ageing to the legal minimum. The post-modern school that emerged in the late 1990s from producers like Palacios Remondo and Finca Allende concentrate on making wines from old vines or specific vineyard plots to accentuate the terroir, and using larger proportions of minority varietals such as Graciano.
The alta expression wines, pioneered by Finca Allende (among others) and later taken up by almost every other producer in Rioja, represent the newest flagship category in Rioja. Alongside the traditional Gran Reservas, alta expression wines are limited production and come from low-yielding vines, often from a single vineyard, and are hand-picked. Excellent examples of this style are Artadi's Pagos Viejos and El Pison.
However, modernisation has not held back the continuation of successful traditional styles as well. Happily long-established houses such La Rioja Alta, CVNE and Marques de Vargas continue to make graceful, old style wines better than ever before.
White Rioja is typically produced by the Viura grape which must comprise at least 51 percent of the blend; the rest can be made up by other, recently-authorised varieties, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdejo, as well as the native Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, and Turruntés (not to be mistaken for Torrontés).
A high quality red wine grape that is grown all over Spain except in the hot South - it is known as Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Cencibel in La Mancha and Valdepenas and Ull de Llebre in Catalonia. Its spiritual home is in Rioja and Navarra where it constitutes around 70% of most red blends.
Tempranillo-based wines tend to have a spicy, herbal, tobacco-like character accompanied by ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits. It produces fresh, vibrantly fruit driven "jovenes" meant for drinking young. However Tempranillo really comes into its own when oak aged, as with the top Riojas where its flavours seem to harmonise perfectly with both French and American oak, producing rich, powerful and concentrated wines which can be extraordinarily long-lived.
In Ribera del Duero it generally sees less oak - the exception being Vega Sicilia where it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and then aged for an astonishing 7 years in oak and is unquestionably one of the world`s greatest wines.