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Wines of Bodegas Artadi with Juan Carlos López de La Calle

by Tom Cannavan, 11/02

This tasting was organised by Raeburn Fine Wines, Artadi's Scottish agent. Juan Carlos struck me as a passionate winemaker, who says very little, allowing the wines to speak for themselves. We chatted at length over a lunch which followed this tasting, but he seemed more interested in finding out about my work than euolgising over his wines. I can see why he is so relaxed about this task; the wines are very, very impressive across the range.

  Artadi is one of the most sought-after estates in Rioja, and the wines are fêted throughout the world. All are sold on allocation. Artadi began life as a small co-operative in the mid 1980's, based on vineyard holdings around Logarno. Winemaker Juan Carlos completed a buy-out of the company in the mid-1990s, and had been moving quality ever upward since. These are intelligently made wines. There is nothing "difficult" about them, in terms of having copious fruit and good balance, but they are also exquisitely refined.

There are no "international" varieties planted here, only very traditional Riojan grapes like Tempranillo and Viura. Yields from old vines are kept extremely low, and the winemaking here is both innovative and deeply traditional. A small proportion of the white wine grapes (Viura and Macabeo) are co-fermented with red varieties.The wines are made and aged in wood, with no stainless steel in the winery, before ageing is in small French oak barrels. 100% new oak is employed for the top cuvées.

The wines have a terrific opulence about them, and across the range share a character or deep, serious fruit concentration, but with fine acid and tannin balance. Overall this really was an impressive tasting. The wines are expensive - extremely so in the case of the top wines which have garnered 95+ points from Robert Parker - but these are amongst the best Riojas available today.

The tasting was not blind. Prices in pounds sterling (approx. £10=$15US). Raeburn Fine Wines are offering the 2000 and 2001 wines "en-primeur" - contact them for details or to go on the mailing list.

Tinto Rioja Joven 2001
This has a wonderfully plush, creamy nose with a distinctive violet perfume, ripe raspberry fruit and a touch of pepper and spice. It is smooth and silky on the palate, with rich, bitter dark chocolate and plumskin roughness. Very pure fruit flavours emerge, with crisp tannins and savoury acidity. Very good indeed.

Vinas de Gain Rioja Crianza 2000
Lovely bright, creamy red fruits on the nose. There's a sweet vanillin undertone, and again, an intensity that suggests violets. Mouth-filling and richly-textured, this is rounded, powerful stuff on the palate, yet it has a soft, expansive quality. There is real fruit concentration without over extraction, with plum and black fruits, silky tannins and good length. Excellent.

Vinas de Gain Rioja Crianza 1999 - £11.99
Immediate tertiary development, with notes of earth, truffle and undergrowth. Really quite sauvage too, with a backing of soft, yeilding red fruits. Absolutely gorgeous palate - pure silk, with sweet, sweet cherry fruit on a pillow of vanillin oak, all buttressed by dry, fine tannins and lots of crisp acidity. Great length too. What an nice wine, and excellent.

Vinas de Gain Rioja Crianza 1998
Powerful, tight, sweet-oak infused gamy nose with blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. A lovely palate of compact, dense fruit with lots of chocolate and plummy depth emerging. Seems a touch less complex than the 1999, but a beauty. Very good indeed.

Pagos Viejos Rioja Reserva 2000
This reserva-level wine takes its name from the Pagos Viejos vineyard, the oldest in Juan Carlos' estate. It has beautifully compact and muscular, but svelte, deep fruit on the nose. There is a heady overlay of sweet oak, tinged with tobacco and round, fat, berry fruit and a kirsch-like, almost jammy ripeness. There is a soft, silky density of texture on the palate which is concentrated but rich and rounded, filled with sweet black fruit. This is dry and savoury on the finish, with tannins gripping and suggesting it needs time, but it is superb. Excellent/outstanding.

Pagos Viejos Rioja Reserva 1999 - £25.75
A terrific sense of integration here, with deep, plush, velvety fruit, but that is also compact and tight-grained. There are deep tobacco tinges, with chocolate and vanilla coating cherry fruit. The palate has a stripe of tart cherry acidity that gives freshness to savoury black fruit on the palate. very pure and long, this is excellent.

Pagos Viejos Rioja Reserva 1998
Brimming with creamy, sweet, vanilla-infused blackberry and cassis, with a hint of espresso and a nice animal undertow. On the plate the fruit is beautifully cool, savoury and classy with lip-smacking cherry and blackcurrant flavours. Fine weight, with ripe tannins and a lovely balance. There's a really smoky, charry note leading into a long, long finish. Excellent.

Pagos Viejos Rioja Reserva 1997
Hugely intense on the nose; really very powerful with tight, concentrated fruit. Broadens out a little to reveal sweet blackcurrant, spice and a fine charcoally edge. There is also more of that bitter dark chocolate underpinning. The palate is savoury with lovely sour cherry acidity and a bittersweet plum and chocolate character. Very concentrated and powers through to the finish impressively. Very good indeed/excellent.

Pagos Viejos Rioja Reserva 1996 - £32.50
Pure, silky, very resolved nose with game and briar nuances to svelte black fruit, brushed with a little leafy, bracken quality and woodsmoke. On the palate there is good finesse. Smoky and herbal notes join a good quality of black fruit. This is balanced and very fine, though more subdued than the younger wines. Very good indeed.

Grandes Anadas Rioja 2000 - £51.99
Made only in exceptional years, this has been described by Robert Parker as "majestic, ageworthy Rioja that may well be the single greatest wine made in that appellation". This adds a dramatically meaty, bloody, gamy note on the nose over deep-set raspberry fruit, spice and lightly-toasty vanillin oak. The palate delivers huge richness, with dense, charry, structured fruit. Fine tannins and good acidity bolster pure, cool, incisive fruit. Very long, and although young, terrific. Excellent.

Vinas El Pison Rioja 2000
Very intense, concentrated nose. More prominent sweet cherry aromatics, with a raspberrt, summer-pudding brightness. There is still a layer of sweet oak, and a minerality at the core of this. Superb richness and concentration on the palate: really positive, forward, richly-concentrated fruit that fills the mouth and is long, and pure. Good balance and already seems well-integrated. Very fine. Excellent.

Vinas El Pison Rioja 1999 - £63.99
Fantastic depth here. Immediatedly nuanced and complex, there is toasty oak then distinctively gamy qualities emerge with firm minerality and lovely fruit. There are hints of truffle and damp earth. This has wonderful presence. On the palate it is fat, rich and muscular, with solid black fruit and a plum-skin roughness. Damsons and chocolate give great depth. Charry oak and ripe tannins buttress the whole thing. This is packed with fruit - a real fruit bomb - but all wonderfuly constrained by serious structure. Outstanding.

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