July 22, 2011 Artadi
Artadi Viñas de Gain
The stage is Battle Harbour, on the coast of Labrador. Centuries ago much of the codfish dried on these platforms made its way to markets in Spain. Likely a few fish were exchanged for Rioja.
The bottle is from Alavesa, in the northern reaches of Rioja, just south of the Basque country. More specifically, from the lower slopes of the Cantabrian Mountains, near the village of Laguardia. The grape is the iconic Spanish varietal tempranillo, harvested from Artadi’s 70 hectares in the region. The high altitude vines used in the making of Viñas de Gain are at least 25 years of age, grown in poor mountain soils made up of chalk, gravel and clay. The climate is both Atlantic and Continental in nature, rounding out the maturation of the grapes in diverse ways.
The owner and winemaker is Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacaille (assisted now by his son, Carlos), very well known throughout Spain for his way with tempranillo, and increasingly with other varietals. He is said to be ‘the man who has changed the face of Rioja wines.’ His reputation is based on his innovative approach, while respecting the traditions of the past and the unique character of tempranillo. He has cut back considerably on vineyard yields, made more use of French oak (in the case of the Viñas de Gain, 12-14 months in 40% new French oak), and bottled his wines earlier than has often been the case in the region. He works organically, and that in itself is a step away for the majority of wine producers in Spain.
Artadi started out as a cooperative but in the early 1990s came under the sole ownership of Juan Carlos. He expanded operations into Alicante and Navarra, and took on new varietals, monastrell (mourvèdre) and grenache. The worldwide interest in his wine steadily increased. (100 Parker points for the 2004 vintage of his top Rioja, ‘El Pison’, helped.)
Artadi Viñas de Gain 2006
Viñas de Gain, at considerably less in price than the El Pison, is a stalwart of his modern Rioja style — smooth, self-assured, yet earthy and with mineral verve. The colour in the glass is dark crimson. To the nose it offers smoky black fruit, nicely contained. It opens into the mouth with flavourful black cherry elegance. Well-balanced, with rounded tannins. I like the sumptuous polish. Not the Rioja of old, but very attractive, very drinkable. $$