When you participate in a fine wine tasting, it always helps to have some background information on the wines that you will taste. Otherwise, you will fail to grasp the essence of the producer philosophy. If you don’t do your homework, you risk reporting inaccurately the whole picture and at the end you may simply give the wrong impression to the reader. With this principle in my mind, I recently participated in a tasting of the wines of Artadi.
The invitation was a courtesy of their Canadian importer Trialto and the event took place at the restaurant Tapeo and was held by one of the young coowners of the winery, Carlos Lopez de la Calle.
Bodegas Artadi is, in fact, the name by which the Cosecheros Alaveses cooperative is known, a boutique project born in 1985 in which several viticultural partners got together to prove that a grapegrower wine could have a chance to be a grandiose wine. And they got it, with all the wines in the portfolio of Artadi. In the 1990s, under the direction of Juan Carlos López de Lacalle, the winery saw an unprecedent growth, both nationally and internationally, and extended its horizons to new wine regions with the creation of Bodegas y Viñedos Artazu (Navarra) and Bodegas y Viñedos El Sequé (Alicante).
In December 2015 after a long time of reflection, Artadi decides to abandon the Rioja DOC. This was a decision based on an incompatibility of the winery image and values with the administration of the DOC. According to Mr. Lacalle, the quality standards of Rioja were unsatisfactory , specially with regards to the high production yields of the appellation. Artadi did not want to be part of an association that was and still is endorsing ” supermaket wines”. The decision was well documented in the well written article “Por qué Artadi deja la DO Rioja” by Victor de La Serna in the Spanish Newspaper El Mundo.
With the decision, Artadi officially adopts the French winemaking model of production. In France, the appellations are classified in areas, municipalties and growths. For instance, in Burgundy and Alsace distinctive terroirs are recognized and producers are allowed to mention the specific wine origins on their bottle labels. Under the Rioja system ( Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva), simply the terroir lines are blurred.
In Spain, this detailed knowledge of the land to make qualitative wines have existed for a long time. However, in the pursuit of quantity versus quality by the biggest producers, it was was taken for granted. Nowadays, it is starting to be recognized by the DO authorities by the adoption of a single vineyard Rioja category classification. Although there is some skepticism, about it. For further reading, consult the article: Sólo un parche en la DOC Rioja appeared in El Mundo as well.
What is the legacy of Artadi for Rioja winemaking?. Artadi were pioneers in breaking away from the traditional Crianza category and highlighted the importance of vine age. Its Pagos Viejos, produced since 1990, was the first grounbreaking wine for the winery. Since 1991, Viña El Pisón, arguably Artadi’s most important vineyard, has been bottled separately. Located in Laguardia, El Pisón occupies 2.4 hectares of vines planted by Juan Carlos’ grandfather in 1945 and is the equivalent of a Bordeaux Grand Cru in terms of personality, extraordinary qualities and aging potential. In my experience, few Spanish fine wines have the potential of expressing the energy that emanates from El Pisón.
Since then, three new single vineyard wines were launched in the 2000s. Pago Valdeginés is born from 7 hectares of east-facing vineyards in Laguardia, La Poza de Ballesteros comes from 3.6 hectares of west-facing vineyards in Elvillar de Alava and El Carretil, a southwest-facing plot measuring 5.3 hectares.
Artadi has been much criticized by its high prices and making wines for an elite. However, price is just a matter of perception. For this, I have to say that what is expensive for me might be not be for another client. My role here is not to criticize on a winery pricing policy but rather to inform and make the reader discover.
I applaud the initiative of Artadi to leave the Rioja appellation system. In doing this article, I found out that 85% of Rioja vineyards are grower owned. It is for sure, that Artadi has the grower in mind.
Thanks for reading.
Artadi wines at the tasting:
Artadi Valdegines 2015. SAQ # 13214366. $72.50
( A single vineyard situated in the village of Laguardia at 600m of altitude in deep clay-limestone soils. 100% Tempranillo vinified in wooden open-top vats with cold maceration for 24-48 hours and fermentation during 10-12 twelve days with two daily “pisages” in and a small pumping over. Aging: malolactic fermentation and aging for 12 months in new French oak barrels)
An amazing symphony of wild black fruits, ghana cocoa, licorice liqueur. A really multi layered bouquet expression. On the mouth, very focused with bright and earthy almost ethereal nuances. The oak is present but well integrated. Very polished in the midpalate with cashmere and finely woven tannins. It has a particular very plesant taste that brings to mind seaweed and burnt pipe tobacco. Approachable now but I will forget in a cool and dark cellar for the next 5-7 years because this wine has a lot more to say.
La Poza de Ballesteros 2015. SAQ # 13214374. $129.25
( A single vineyard in Elvillar at 600 meters of altitude, laid on deep clay-limestone soil
100% Tempranillo vinified in wooden open-top vats with cold maceration for 24-48 hours and fermentation during 10-12 twelve days with two daily “pisages” in and a small pumping over. Aging: Malolactic fermentation in barrel. Aging for 14 months in new French oak barrels)
This wine has a strange combination of hedonistic and masochist wine drinking. The nose is so vivid showcasing a powerful kaleidoscop of ripe black fruit nuances. Fascinating, like looking a Goya painting. Beyond fruit, there are so many spices intertwined to each other: cloves, nutmeg and black cumin. All of the jumping out from your glass. On the palate, the wine has an indredible lenght and elegance, but is very structured almost stoic if we can say that of a wine. Definitely, this is a wine for the long haul. Buy 3 bottles and follow its development for the next 20 years
El Carretil 2015. SAQ # 13214382. $253.00
( From a single vineyard in the village of Laguardia at 500 meters of altitude on deep clay-limestone soil. The variety: 100% Tempranillo vinified in wooden open-top vats with cold maceration for 24-48 hours and fermentation during 10-12 twelve days with two daily “pisages” in and a small pumping over.Aging: malolactic fermentation and aging for 12 months in new French oak barrel)
The nose of this wine transport me into oblivion. A core of black fruit with notes of black olive tapenade, wet earth and iron. Potent, rich, energetic and dense, quite tannic at the moment with an electric mineral finish. It has the elegance of the best Margaux wines. If you are looking for deep sensations you must try a bottle of El Carretil. If money is not an issue, buy 6 bottles and explore its development for the next three decades.
Vina El Pison 2015. SAQ # 13210605. $394.75
( From a single vineyard site in the village of Laguardia at 480 meters of altitude on deep clay-limestone soil.The variety: 100% Tempranillo vinified in wooden open-top vats with cold maceration for 24-48 hours and fermentation during 10-12 twelve days with two daily “pisages” in and a small pumping over. Aging: malolactic fermentation and aging for 12 months in new French oak barrels)
The masterpiece of the tasting. Not everyday you can taste and drink a glass of El Pison. The wine nose pulls you in into the glass into something that I describe like an infinite ocean of black fruits. Also, I could feel the rare sensation with this wine that the earth was whispering something to me. Hummus, black earth,roses…. On the palate, so much elegance like a Bordeaux Grand Cru. Still quite linear and austere. El Pison has not finished singing, so get a case ( if money allows) and forget it in your cellar for a long time. Your patience will be rewarded.