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L'histoire des frères Artuke et leurs vins

Artuke est un petit domaine familial fondé en 1991 par Miguel Blanco, rejoint il y a une dizaine d’années par ses deux fils Arturo et Kike (dont la contraction des deux prénoms a donné 'Artuke'). Ils exploitent ensemble 22 ha, répartis entre 32 parcelles, dont quelques crus d’exception. Ils ont aussi joué un rôle de pionniers dans le mouvement Rioja'n Roll, qui a vu le jour il y a quelques années dans la région. Il s’agit de jeunes œnologues qui travaillent selon la même philosophie, dans le but de produire des vins de terroir de la manière la plus naturelle possible, sans trucage, dans le respect de leur région, de leur environnement et de leurs cépages, au premier rang desquels le Tempranillo, mais aussi d’autres variétés anciennes qui sont souvent plantées en foule dans les vignobles. La famille est originaire de Baños de Ebro, en Rioja Alavesa, mais elle possède aussi quelques belles parcelles de vieilles vignes à Samaniego et San Vicente de la Sonsierra, ainsi qu’à Abalos, en Rioja Alta. Pour nous, ce domaine illustre parfaitement la «nouvelle Rioja».

 

Tempranillo

Qui dit Rioja dit Tempranillo, bien sûr, et ce cépage reste le plus important dans, les vignes d’Artuke. Mais comme leurs vignes sont très anciennes, il n’est pas rare d’y rencontrer, çà et là, d’autres variétés complantées. Les deux frères ne les séparent pas à la vinification, car ils croient au contraire dans les vertus de cet assemblage naturel, à la vigne. Dans le «blend», on trouve donc jusqu’à 20% de cépages autres que le Tempranillo, et notamment Graciano, une variété que l’on remarque de plus en plus en Rioja, mais aussi du Grenache et du Cagazal, une version locale du Palomino, que l’on connaît bien à Jerez. Il semble que cette dernière variété ait été plantée en Rioja dans les années 1920, pour remplacer les manquants. Très productif, il présente cependant l’intérêt d’apporter de la fraîcheur aux assemblages

 


Bourguignon

Toutes les parcelles sont travaillées en bio, et la plupart en biodynamie. Les vins d’Artuke sont souvent décrits comme «les plus Bourguignons de la Rioja», du fait de leur style élégant et racé. Ici, on ne fait pas de «Power-Tempranillo».

Tous les raisins sont récoltés à la main dans des petits paniers et apportés à la cave. Ils passent alors tous sur la table de tri ; ils sont égrappés puis transférés par gravité dans des cuves inox, où ils fermentent avec des levures indigènes. La fermentation malolactique, elle, se fait dans des grands foudres. Les vins sont ensuite élevés entre 13 et 16 mois, selon le type de vin, en foudres de 500 à 3500 litres. Les deux «Grands Crus», eux, sont logés en foudres de 600 litres.

Scores R.Parker, The wine Advocate

Pies Negros 2018: 93/100

Commandez Pies Negros 2018

The 2018 Pies Negros was produced with grapes from the Sierra Cantabria in the village of Ábalos, so another village wine, even if it won't get the official qualification, as they don't have a winery in Ábalos! It's a blend of Tempranillo with 15% Graciano fermented with destemmed but uncrushed grapes with indigenous yeasts, and it matured in 500-liter oak barrels for 12 months, except for 10% of the volume that was kept in concrete for that time. This didn't stop growing in the glass, and the aromas are subtle and elegant. Since they started working with larger oak containers, they had to learn to work under more reductive conditions; they now seem to have mastered it, at least in some of the wines, like this one. The wines are subtler and less immediate than the wines aged in barrique, and this long-cycle vintage has a tendency toward this profile of wines. The palate is very balanced and fresh, with a core of red fruit, with bright flavors and very good precision. 70,000 bottles produced. It was bottled in two lots; the one I tasted was from December 2019.

The Artuke family doesn't stop. They don't stop looking for ways to improve their vineyards and wines, and they have also recently purchased a further 3.2 hectares in the villages of Samaniego and Villabuena de Rioja. They now work a total of 28.9 hectares in Baños de Ebro, Ábalos, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Samaniego and Villabuena, all head-pruned traditional varieties, mostly Tempranillo but also some 15% Graciano and 3% Viura. The average age of their vines is around 30 to 40 years, and their total production is 150,000 bottles. I tasted mostly 2018s, a "generous crop if it wasn't for mildew from a somehow challenging year that was cooler, and the ripening cycle of the grapes was longer. We started harvesting the 2nd of October and finished the 29th, so we had time to pick at a relaxed pace with cool temperatures and almost no rain." Two wines stand out in 2018, Paso Las Mañas and La Condenada, especially this last one. Their eponymous red is already from 2019, "a fruit-driven vintage with good ripeness and a harvest that started the 23rd of September." I talked to Arturo de Miguel 20 minutes after they entered the last grapes from the 2020 harvest in their winery, and he was really happy with the quality and health of the grapes. They lost maybe 25% of the crop to mildew in June, as they work organically in the vineyards, but the grapes they picked were great and they kept the acidity. They will make a white for the first time, as they bought three hectares of vines that have quite a lot of Viura.

Finca de los Locos 2018: 93+/100

Commandez Finca de los Locos 2018

The 2018 Finca de Los Locos comes from a single vineyard in the village of Baños de Ebro, a terrace planted in 1981 at 120 meters above the river with sandy and gravel soils with a high content of limestone. The varietal breakdown came to 78% Tempranillo, 20% Graciano and 2% Viura that fermented destemmed but uncrushed with indigenous yeasts and matured for one year in 500- and 600-liter oak barrels and a 3,500-liter oak foudre. As with the other wines, it improved tremendously with one hour in the glass. This is a little riper and more immediate than others of the single vineyards, and I would group this with El Escolladero rather than the others. These two have a common profile (all four wines are fermented in the same way), more powerful and a little more fruit-driven because of the soils (gravel here) and more exposition to the sun and the higher percentage of clay at El Escolladero. The long and complete cycle made the grapes ripen thoroughly, and the wine feels quite round, with polished tannins and ripe flavors and with structure over the chalky backbone. 10,000 bottles produced. It was bottled in January 2020.

Paso las Mañas 2017: 94/100

Commandez Paso las Mañas 2017

A new single-vineyard red, the 2017 Paso Las Mañas is from a plot in the village of Samaniego on the slopes of the Sierra Cantabria at 700 meters in altitude. It's planted in a wild and quite isolated way, going up the slope. The Tempranillo vines were planted in 1990 but mostly in 2013 on limestone and fragmented mother rock soils. It fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in a 3,500-liter oak foudre for 12 months. It has a different profile and is the wildest of the wines here; it has a slightly reductive hint and is a bit herbal, with a touch that somewhat makes me think of a Syrah from the Northern Rhône in its meaty personality. There are notes of thyme and rosemary. The tannins are very fine, and it has tasty flavors and a dry, supple finish. This is the one wine that is different here. And I like it a lot. 4,000 bottles were filled in January 2019. They used to make Cerro de Mulas from this plot before.

I tasted the bottled 2017s from Artuke at a walkabout tasting a few weeks before I visited them in Rioja, and I was very impressed by the freshness and purity; they seemed to transcend the character and general quality of the vintage. I've seen brothers Arturo and Kike grow and improve tremendously in the last five years. They are now one of the most exciting vignerons of the region. There might be one new single-vineyard bottling in the future, but for now, they are going to focus on the portfolio as they have it now. 2017 was marked by the frost of the night of April 28th, but the higher-altitude vineyards escaped more or less untouched. The entry-level Artuke (which I tasted last time) was the one wine that suffered the most. Other than that, the year was quite warm, but in the last week of August, there were 55 liters of rain, which stopped and slowed things down. They saw it coming—low yields and a warm, dry vintage—so they started harvesting the on September 12th and finished on the 29th; in in 2018, the harvest window was in October, between the 2nd and the 29th. That early picking must have been the main factor responsible for the unusual freshness of the wines from Artuke in 2017. If 2016 was their finest vintage, I liked 2017 even better.

Paso Las Mañas 2018: 95/100

Commandez Paso Las Mañas 2018

The second vintage of a vineyard at 700 meters in altitude in the village of Samaniego is the 2018 Paso Las Mañas, pure Tempranillo planted in 1990 and 2013. It fermented destemmed and with indigenous yeasts and matured in two 3,500-liter oak foudres for 12 months. This was a little closed at first and showed shy and subtle. It has an elegant and aromatic profile, in this case, possibly from the higher altitude of the vineyard. This is elegant and a little lighter than Finca de los Locos, but it still has firm tannins and a serious backbone. This feels fresher than the 2017, more delicate, more Burgundian, whereas the 2017 was more Rhône-ish. This is really very good, and it's remarkable for a young vineyard that already delivers low yields. I think that is sign of a very good place. So, when these vines get older, the wine should get even better. 6,000 bottles were filled in January 2020.

El Escolladero 2017: 95/100

Commandez El Escolladero 2017

The 2017 El Escolladero is a blend of Tempranillo with 15% Graciano from a vineyard in the village of Ábalos that was planted in 1950 on clay and limestone soils at 660 meters in altitude. It fermented with uncrushed grapes and indigenous yeasts and matured in 600-liter oak barrels for 12 months. This was one of the last plots to be harvested in a very early vintage, around the 20th of September, which is extremely early anyway. Graciano was healthy, and it was a good year for the grape, so perhaps it contributed more to the blend since it yielded better. This is quite different from the wines from the early years when they used new oak. Now, all barrels are first used with the entry-level wines and are later used for the single-vineyard ones. There is no oak whatsoever here, and it has a great combination of power and elegance. The palate is medium-bodied, and the tannins are very fine. Power and elegance. This has to be the finest vintage for this wine and one of the best Artuke has produced. 1,160 bottles were filled in January 2019. This vineyard used to make a wine called K4 in the past.

El Escolladero 2018: 95/100

Commandez El Escolladero 2018

The 2018 El Escolladero is a single-vineyard bottling from a plot in the village of Ábalos. It's a blend of 85% Tempranillo and 15% Graciano from vines planted in 1950 on classical clay and limestone soils at 600 meters in altitude. The uncrushed grapes fermented in concrete vats with indigenous yeasts, and the wine had an élevage of one year in 600-liter oak barrels. This is a little riper, earthier, perhaps a little more rustic than the La Condenada or Paso las Mañanas. This is a lot more open, expressive and aromatically advanced and a little rounder and softer. From the 2018s, the Locos and Escolladero are more Mediterranean, and the Mañas and Condenada feel more Atlantic (cooler climate). The tannins are silky and polished, fine-grained and round within that chalky texture. 1,200 bottles were filled in January 2020.

La Condenada 2018: 97/100

Commandez La Condenada 2018

Their most special wine could be the 2018 La Condenada. It's from a single vineyard in the village of Baños de Ebro at 530 meters in altitude on sandy and sandstone soils. The 80% Tempranillo and 20% other varieties (Graciano, Garnacha and the white Palomino Fino) of uncrushed grapes fermented with indigenous yeasts, and the wine matured in 600-liter oak barrels for 12 months. This is always more floral and aromatic, possibly because of the finer, sandy soils. It's super elegant, subtle, aromatic and really attractive. It opens up very slowly in the glass, unfurling new aromatic layers with great poise and harmony. It's juicy and very precise, clean, defined like a laser cut, with symmetry and harmony. This has to be the finest vintage they have produced, and I think it's the best wine they have ever done. Well done! 800 bottles were filled in January 2020.

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