Real Castles in Spain…




I have just returned from a brief visit to a rain-drenched Rioja, tasting and assessing the new releases. The wines in general are elegant, fresh and focused but even in youth seem to  lack  something of the concentration and tannic grip of more illustrious forebears such as 2001 and 2004. Overall, I would say, of the major Bodegas visited La Rioja Alta, Artadi and Allende are very much on form, but that CVNE have lost a little focus. Easy enough to say, perhaps, when their new corporate structure involves part ownership by the Coca Cola dynasty.

The Artardi wines from outside of Rioja maintain their outstanding quality/price ratio, their 2007 Artazuri Granacha Rosé the best so far, its ‘serious’ sibling Santa Cruz truly outstanding. In Rioja itself, Juan Carlos is focusing more and more on specific parcels, which he likes to vinify separately, with assemblage tending to take place as late as possible. One of his new vineyards Ribaltyo  looks like Beaucastel, with its large glacial pudding-stoned carpet; others rely more on Alavesa limestone and others again have more clay in the soil.

A tasting by plot revealed very significant differences. Another El Pison maybe around the corner? A propos, the range was looking excellent in 2007, with Vinas De Gain, Pagos Viejos and El Pison all appropriately brilliant, far outperforming what one may have expected from the year. Elsewhere, at La Rioja Alta it is still the traditional styles which are the most convincing. Both the Alberdi 2002 and the Ardanza 2000 are showing great promise and the 1995 904 La Rioja Alta continues to grow in complexity. We are lucky enough to have secured one of the last parcels of this wine, which is currently being shipped.

The best CVNE wines for me were from Jesus Madrazo’s single vineyard estate, Contino. Overall I generally prefer Imperial to Real, although the latter, its putative Burgundian influence often somewhat unclear, can sometimes work, as with the Vina Real Reserva 2001.

And so, inevitably, to the inimitable Miguel Angel de Gregorio at Finca Allende. Those of hubristic temperament may have questioned the scale of his grandiose building projects, yet the winery has at last been completed and very impressive it is too, its fine 17th century sandstone facade and elegant cupola making it by some distance the finest Bodega in Briones!

His wines are uniformly excellent, even the Coronado from La Mancha, which, with the 2004, has shed several layers of torpor and a degree or two of alcohol. The white 2006 is more aromatic than the 2005 but attractive nonetheless. Aurus is getting better, wearing its 25 month oak ageing with Guigal-like dexterity…………yet the best  of all is undoubtedly Calvario. The 2005 is better even than the 2004; its texture silky, its tannins very fine and its fruit character exemplary. The 2006 will probably be nearly as good when the oak has softened a little.


Simon Field tries his hand at harvesting grapes at the Artadi Vineyards.