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Rioja is many things. Probably the best-known wine region in Spain, it has a storied viticultural history, with the modern era of wine-making dating back to the 1850s. For most of that time, Tempranillo has been at the center of this story, and grand bodegas in the towns of Haro and Logroño have produced wines in a specific style that showed the influences of oak and oxygen. These wines, age-worthy and unique, came to define the region. However, in the past 40 years, smaller producers have appeared in larger numbers and different styles of wine, focused on single sites, different methods in the cellar or even different grape varieties have developed in the region.
Bodega Akutain was founded in 1975, when Juan Peñagaricano Akutain (who had worked with two large, traditionalist bodegas: CVNE and La Rioja Alta) planted the La Manzanera vineyard in Rioja Alta near Haro, and founded a bodega in a former horse stable next to the vines. Over the next 15 years, he planted 3 more vineyards in the close vicinity, all within the Rioja Alta subzone, and at relatively high altitudes (485-650m above sea level). Unlike some of the smaller, newer producers in Rioja, Juan Peñagaricano sought to make very traditional wines, in line with the styles of the large bodegas like La Rioja Alta, CVNE, and Lopez de Heredia, but at a much smaller scale that emphasizes the connection between vineyard and bottle. Juan Peñagaricano's son, Jon Peñagaricano Akutain, now leads the winery, overseeing all aspects of farming, winemaking, and aging. Beginning with the Gembres vineyard (the highest in altitude, which supplies the fruit for the Reserva and Gran Reserva wines), he is transitioning the whole estate to organics, while continuing the very traditional style of winemaking in the cellar.
In a certain sense, Bodega Akutain is a geat example of both tendencies in Rioja: it is a small, family estate that farms and vinifies only its own fruit, from vineyards entirely within a single high-altitude slice of Rioja Alta that simultaneously emphasizes the traditional winemaking methods inherited from the Grand Bodegas of old.
In Rioja, aging is important. Aging (and the processes in the cellar that accompany aging) in oak and in bottle lend traditionally-made wines their characteristic texture, longevity, and aromatics. Throughout their time in oak, these wines are regularly decanted from the barrel, exposing them to oxygen, then returned, either to the same barrel or another. The length of this process depends on the bottling: Reserva wines are aged at least 17 months, Gran Reserva wines for roughly 40 months. After bottling, these wines are aged further for at least a year. The cumulative aging softens the tannins, integrates the wines and grants them a certain fortitude and longevity. As the Gran Reserva demonstrates, these are wines for the long haul.
While the red wines are the core of Bodega Akutain's production, today I'd like to highlight the release of the estate's first Gran Reserva Rosado. This cask-aged, traditionally-crafted rosé from the outstanding 2015 vintage is very special and very limited: only 1,000 bottles were made. If you're fond of the Lopez de Heredia Rosado (which has become so very difficult to find), or want to try a wine in a very similar style, this is an outstanding opportunity.
All wines are pre-arrival and will be in-store on Monday, April 12th.
I've come to conclude that there's room for all types in the world of Rioja wine, from bright and fresh wines made with stainless steel and carbonic maceration to full-bodied, single vineyard expressions of Tempranillo and Garnacha made in French Oak, with everything imaginable in-between. That is not to say that I don't have my preferences: I have to admit to loving classic, old-fashioned Rioja wines, blended from multipleparcels and made in (mostly) old American oak. These are wines built to last a long time, and the great producers of these wines are typically storied houses dating to the beginning of the modern period of winemaking in Rioja, with familiar names like Lopez de Heredia, Riojanas, La Rioja Alta or Marques de Murrieta. I'm pleased to be able to say that Jon Peñagarikano Akutain, the second-generation owner of Bodegas Akutain, is making wines that are very much in the same vein and of the same quality as these great estates. Everything at the esate is traditional: hand-harvesting from six hectares of estate vineyards, fermentation with natural yeasts and without temperature control, and aging (with racking) in used American oak barrels. The 2014 Reserva is almost entirely Tempranillo from higher altitude plots in Rioja Alta, aged for two years and ten months in neutral (mainly American) oak barrels. The nose shows classic Rioja character: cherry, dried tobacco, and earth with just a hint of that herbal, dill-like note that signals the use of American oak barrels. The palate is deep and full-bodied, youthful but balanced, with structuring tannins and nice acidity. This offers tons of pleasure right now, but the 2014 Reserva could certainly be held for the next 10 to 15 years. Ben Fletcher
Juan Peñagaricano Akutain worked at CVNE and La Rioja Alta before planting his own vineyard in Rioja Alta in 1975. Ever since, he and his son, Jon Peñagaricano, have sought to produce classicly styled Rioja wines at a smaller scale, sourcing grapes from their own plots, which they work without chemicals and harvest by hand. Since 2015 they have produced this wine, a Cosecha (unaged) Rioja, fermenting Tempranillo and a little bit of Garnacha in fiberglass and resting the wine in the same container before bottling without fining or filtering. The 2018 shows the terroir of Rioja Alta without any distractions: it is a wine of pure fruit and earth. Notes of ripe cherry abound on the nose, interspersed with notes of green tobacco and earth. The palate follows, with similar pretty cherry quality and a long and broad clay-y minerality. This is a cosecha Rioja, without oak or long aging, and as a result it is much lighter than the wines that many think of as Rioja: it is perfectly suited to drinking with a slight chill into the summer. Ben Fletcher
Cask-aged, traditional Gran Reserva Rosado wines from Rioja are a rarity these days, so it is especially exciting to be able to offer this first release in the style from Bodega Akutain. From the exceptional 2015 vintage, the Gran Reserva Rosado is from the best fruit of the Gembres vineyard, which supplies the fruit for the Akutain Reserva and Gran Reserva red wines. Other than the lighter extraction, this is made in a nearly identical fashion to the Gran Reserva red wine: fermentation with native yeasts in neutral tank, more than three years aging in used oak barrels (70-80% American, the remainder French), regular racking, and bottling without fining or filtering, and then a second long rest for two years in bottle. The result is a very special wine, showing fresh fruit, vibrant acidity, oxidative notes, and development in bottle. The nose is very complex: candied red berries, dried cherry, almond, orange peel, clove, and green tobacco intermingle. The palate is exceptionally long and texturally remarkable, with a lovely mouthfilling quality that I never seem to find in rose. Red fruits (strawberry, dried cherry) are cushioned by notes of dried apricot, mushroom, clove, almond, and a surprisingly persistent salty, earthy minerality. So appealing right now, this gains complexity with air and will certainly evolve in the cellar. 1000 bottles made. Ben Fletcher
I love old classic Rioja. There is a stately quality to the wines and particularly to the Gran Reservas. By the time they reach us, they have spent so much time in wood and racked so many times from barrel to barrel that they have been inoculated against any damage that oxygen might cause. Consequently, they can live seemingly forever, becoming endlessly mellower, more harmonious and complex. If you like the sound of this, then please consider buying (then re-buying) the Akutain 2004 Gran Reserva. This is a tremendous example of really traditional Rioja. At the outset it's full of baked strawberry and cherry fruit, accented by the dill and vanilla character of old American oak barrels. But as one sits with it in the glass, it takes on grander dimension, with meaty notes reminiscent of drippings from a roasting pan and more earthy truffly notes as well. The acidity and structure are spectacular, as one would expect from a great vintage such as '04. The general energy of the wine is a marvel and will make a great cellar addition. 6000 bottles made. Sam Ehrlich