Posts Tagged Artuke

An Irish favourite: Rioja reigns from Spain

First published in the Irish Times 13th February, 2016

In the weeks before Christmas I spent a great deal of time standing in wine shops, inveigling customers into buying a copy of my wine book. One store I visited had two giant piles of rioja reserva on offer at a discounted price. There were other wines on promotion too, but it was the two riojas that flew out with the greatest speed. Both stacks were severely depleted by the time I departed a few hours later. Rioja, and rioja reserva in particular, has long been one of our favourite wine styles and shows no sign of losing popularity.

Most of us would be unaware that rioja has been going through a huge personality change over the last decade, redefining itself several times over. You could now argue that there are three categories of rioja, with some crossover, but generally very different in style. Yet despite this upheaval, rioja has managed to retain its position as Spain’s favourite quality wine.

Until the late 1990s every bottle of rioja was classified according to how long it had been aged in oak barrel and bottle prior to release. Under this system, there is a specified a minimum period of ageing in oak: six months for crianza, a year for reserva, and two years for gran reserva wines, At one stage the required period of ageing was even longer in each category. Some, such as López de Heredia, still age wines for 10 or more years in barrel.

Old barrels were generally used to avoid oak flavours while allowing the wine to soften and develop delicate mushroomy, leathery, earthy flavours. Nowadays, a portion of newer barrels is sometimes included to add vanilla and spice.

Classic examples of the traditional style (López de Heredia, Muga Prado Enea and La Rioja Alta 904 spring to mind) can be superb, complex wines that last forever. The only exception to ageing in oak was up north in Alava, the Basque part of Rioja, where the tradition has been to drink young, unoaked wines often made partly or completely by whole-berry fermentation. These light, acidic fruity wines went perfectly with those tapas the Basques love to eat in bars and restaurants.

Rioja expanded massively in the 1990s and at times the quality of the wine decreased. There was a downward pressure on price in Spain (where most rioja is sold) and elsewhere. It lead to some very cheap and uninspiring reservas and gran reservas. During the prolonged period of economic success in the years preceding the millennium and after, many producers started to produce a new, modern style of rioja: full-bodied wines with high levels of new oak, alcohol, ripeness and extraction. They were also very expensive.

These fruit bombs were rapturously received by much of the media and a sector of the public. They were generally categorised as simply cosecha (meaning vintage or harvest) and ignored the traditional system of classification.

More recently there has been a move among smaller, younger producers towards much lighter, more elegant wines with little or no oak ageing. Again these are simply labeled cosecha. They often come from a single vineyard, some are made by whole- berry fermentation, others simply fermented and matured for very short periods in stainless steel or cement.

While I enjoy rioja reserva, I have always been a fan of the less oaky style as well. Tempranillo has such wonderful clean, delicate fruit it is a pity to mask it with too much oak. Having said that, the best of the traditional style are unique wines.

I received a number of excellent samples from the trade for this tasting. Sadly I couldn’t find space for the wonderful LZ de Lanziego (about €20). I also tasted the fine GA2 Graciano from Curious Wines (€17.49), and the excellent Artuke Pies Negros 2014, a wine that features in my book. See for full details of the tasting.


IMG_0005Artuke 2014, Rioja

Seductive wine; supple easy sweet ripe strawberry and red cherry fruit, with surprising concentration and depth.

Stockists: Listons, Camden St; 64wine, Glasthule; Clontarf Wines

DSCF6385Cantos de Valpiedra 2012,Rioja,
€18.50/£12.50 This was an excellent cultured modern Rioja, with smooth supple cassis and subtle spice. A real crowd pleaser at a very fair price.


Image 26Señorío de Cuzcurrita 2008, Rioja

A lovely mature wine with ripe sweet strawberry and dark fruits laced with a soft, dusty earthiness, a little oak, and a fine minerality.

Stockists: Wines on the Green

Posted in: Irish Times

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A WEEKEND’S DRINKING – four wines worth seeking out


Domaine Begude Terroir 11300Domaine de Begude Chardonnay Terroir 11300, 2014
Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%

Available for €17.99 from O’Briens

Made from organic grapes by James Begude in the cool climate of Limoux high above Carcassonne, this was one of my favourite white wines of last year. It appeared in Wilson on Wine 2016. 75% of the juice is fermented in stainless steel, the remainder in large 600 litre casks. The result is a beautifully balanced wine with plenty of zesty citrus, plump peaches and apple fruits, and hints of toasted nuts. We drank our bottle on its own as an aperitif, and with some roast chicken. Please don’t be put off by the word Chardonnay; this is a brilliant wine. I can also recommend most of the other wines of Domaine de Begude, which include a Gewurztraminer, a Pinot Noir, and Le Bel Ange,, his entry-level Chablis lookalike. 11300 is a postcode by the way.

Riesling Junge Reben 2013, August Kesseler, Rheingau, 12%

Available for €24.95 from Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown

I love Riesling but generally don’t drink too much of it over the winter months, unless it is fairly rich and full-bodied. However, I wanted something light to sip before dinner, so I cracked open this bottle and was very pleased that I had. Vivid and refreshing with delectable pure Riesling fruit. Herr Kesseler is one of the finest producers of Pinot Noir in Germany, but is no slouch with Riesling either. I think Whelehan’s are currently out of stock of the Pinot Noir, but I would certainly recommend it when it makes their return. In the meantime, you can enjoy this wine, and the excellent Rieslings Lorch (€28.95) for a few euros more.

Pie NegrosArtuke Pies Negros 2014, Rioja
14%, €18.90
64wine, Glasthule; Clontarf Wines; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Ennis Butchers, South Circular Road; Wicklow Wine Company.

The previous vintage of this appeared in my book and the 2014 is a worthy follow-on. At first it seemed a little alcoholic, but after half an hour it all came together beautifully. Arturo and Kike (hence the name) Blanco are responsible for this lovely wine. The grapes are trodden by bare feet. The wine is very different to your normal Rioja, with no obvious oak at all, and intense dark fruits and minerals with some tannins on the finish. I suspect it will improve for a year or two, or served in a decanter with food now. Great wine and streets ahead of most Reserva Rioja at the price.

Grégory Pérez Mengoba 2013, Méncia del Espanillo, Bierzo
13.5% €33.50

Available from Sheridan’s Cheese Shops

Having graduated in enology and viticulture in Bordeaux, Grégory Pérez worked in several of the top chateaux before decamping to Bierzo, up in the north-west corner of Spain. This is one of the regions where Méncia is grown. This variety makes some of the most exciting wines in Spain today; they remind me a little of Northern Rhône Syrah with their delicacy and enchanting savoury dark cherry fruits. I tasted the Pérez wines at the SPIT tasting in November and thought both red and white wines were stunning. I haven’t changed my mind. This may be expensive but it is a brilliant wine, nuanced and sophisticated, with wonderful smooth dark cherry fruits, a subtle oakiness, and a lovely finish. I see it has a small proportion of Alicante Bouschet and a white grape variety, Godello, included. Only 3,000 bottles made.

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Artuke 2014, Rioja

Artuke 2014, Rioja

IMG_0005Artuke 2014, Rioja

Delicious wine; ripe strawberries on the nose; supple easy sweet ripe strawberry and red cherry fruit on the palate with surprising concentration and depth. Lovely easy-drinking wine and very much my style. Sadly the retail price of this wine increased to over the €15 mark at the last minute.

I love unoaked Rioja, mainly I suspect, because I like Tempranillo. Too often it is swamped with oak, and you cannot actually taste the grape. Artuke are a producer worth looking out for; based up in the Basque part of Rioja, Rioja Alavesa, Arturo and Kiki (hence the name) are sons of Miguel Blanco who set up the winery. They make a number of single vineyard wines, and Pies Negro, which featured in Wilson on Wine last year.

Available from: Liston’s, Camden St.; 64wine, Glasthule; Clontarf Wines.

Posted in: Daily Drop

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