Delicious and historic, the 1974 Contino, Rioja Reserva

October 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) has produced the legendary Viña Real since the 1920s.  CVNE was founded in 1879 by Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asua and in the 1960s, 4th generation Jose Angel de Madrazo y Real de Asua became General Manager of Viña Real.

Jose Madrazo responsibilities included purchasing additional fruit for the winery.  He largely purchased fruit from Rioja Alavesa where he discovered the Laserna vineyards.  Such is the quality of these vineyards that CVNE winemaker Ezequiel García used the Laserna fruit exclusively for the top-quality Viña Real Reserva Especial.

Recognizing the importance of the vineyards, the CVNE family and others formed the society Viñedos del Contino in 1973.  By purchasing the Laserna vineyards they became the first single-vineyard estate in Rioja of which Jose Madrazo was the first General Manager.

Two years ago I was fortunate to dine with Jesús Madrazo the 5th generation of the founders and son of Jose Madrazo.  Jesús Madrazo began working at CVNE and Contino in 1995, soon becoming technical director or head winemaker in 1999.  For our dinner he brought a bottle of the first vintage produced under his father, the 1974 Vinedos del Contino, Rioja Reserva.

At the time of the 1974 vintage, Viña Real was produced at its own small winery.  It is here that the first vintages of Contino were produced and bottled. Viña Real always appears in Burgundy shaped bottles so too was this Contino when it was bottled in 1979.  Fortunate for me Jesus Madrazo’s father had the foresight to set aside some 4,000 bottles of this vintage for future tastings.

The wine itself is excellent which speaks to the quality of the vineyards and to the knowledge transferred from Viña Real to Contino.  I found it uniquely floral on the nose and in a nod to Viña Real, full-bodied with lively acidity.  This is traditional, old Rioja delivering full flavor with age-defying life.

1974 Vinedos del Contino, Rioja Reserva
Alcohol 12.6%.  This was refreshed at one point with 10-15% of the 1975 vintage.  The nose offers dried flowers, black tea, and with air such fruit as plums.  In the mouth this is a full bodied, ripe flavored, and mouth filling wine.  There is vibrant acidity and still supportive structure which will see this wine through future years.  It is in no sense fragile.  **** Now – 2025.

A Spanish dinner including a pair of 1970 Rioja

October 17, 2017 Leave a comment

For our most recent wine dinner with Sudip we departed from 1970s Californian wines to those of Rioja.  As we were joined by Taz and his family we tasted through a few more bottles than normal.  Per usual, I provided the wines and Sudip cooked.  All of the bottles were sourced from The Rare Wine Co., which meant fun was to be had.

The NV Pol Breteuil, Champagne Brut certainly set the bar.  This is a late 1980s early 1990s release which, given the impeccable bottle condition, is only first revealed by the color of the wine.  At first I thought the wine was on the down-slope from peak maturity but with warmth, air, and an expletive from Sudip I realized I was wrong.  I can post the “delicious” part of his comment which, as a one-word tasting note, I cannot improve upon.

We tasted the red wines from youngest to oldest.  The 2015 Alegre Valganon, Rioja Tinto is a result of the young project of Oscar Alegre and Eva Valgañón.  They employ traditional techniques with their own preference of showing less oak influences.  Their blend of 75% Tempranillo and 25% Garnacha is inspired by that of CVNE Viña Real.  The result is a highly aromatic wine of articulate flavor and fine texture.  It was the favorite red wine for a few people.  Of course a bottle of 2007 CVNE, Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva followed.  This deep flavored wine is already showing a mature edge.  It provides ample flavor and intensity yet is light in the mouth.

With dinner we tucked into a pair of Rioja from the excellent 1970 vintage.  At a recent tasting of CVNE Rioja I was impressed by the quality of the 1970 vintage compared to the legendary 1964.  First up, the 1970 Bodegas Lagunilla, Viña Herminia Rioja comes an estate founded in the 1890s.  The estate remained in the family until 1970 when it was acquired by Croft.  Lagunilla did not own any vineyards, instead they purchased wine which they matured and blended. Viña Herminia is a particular label created in 1949 in honor of the second generation owner’s wife.  This bottle has a deep, traditional nose which is much different than the bright, fresh flavors in the mouth.

We followed the Lagunilla with a bottle of 1970 Campo Viejo, Rioja Gran Reserva.  Campo Viejo was founded only in 1959.  It soon reached a production level of some 35 times that of Lagunilla!  I can only imagine that such a large operation ensured they had access to good quality fruit.  With our bottle, both the aromas and flavors complement each other.  It is immediately obvious that there is a marked increase in complexity and weight with well-defined strawberry flavors.  It is another delicious wine.

NV Pol Breteuil, Champagne Brut
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  A golden-yellow color with bronze highlights.  There is fresh grip to the mature flavors that mix with apple orchard and toast notes.  The flavors have good depth which becomes apparent as the wine opens and improves with air.  The fine vein of strong bubbles matches the taut profile.  With air the finish becomes oily and the aftertaste racy.  Delicious! Would benefit from decanting.   ***(*) Now-2027.

2015 Alegre Valganon, Rioja Tinto
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  This wine is a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha fermented with indigenous yeast on stems then was aged 12-18 months in various French oak barrels. Highly aromatic with bright red fruit.  In the mouth is a grapey hint of red fruit then black fruit.  There is a grapey depth to the flavor, pepper hint, and an ethereal aftertaste.  *** Now – 2022.

2007 CVNE, Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  The deep wood scents are engaging.  In the mouth are maturing flavors.  This acidity-driven wine has deep flavor and good grip yet is lighter in the mouth than expected. ***(*) Now – 2025.

1970 Bodegas Lagunilla, Viña Herminia Rioja
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  The subtle nose reveals deep, sweaty aromas.  In the mouth is a brighter than expected start that is acidity driven.  The wine has an ethereally fresh texture and good grip.  Lovely acidity.  It improves with air and even the edges soften a touch.  *** Now but will last.

1970 Campo Viejo, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  There is good depth on the nose and in the mouth the familiar taste of an old Rioja.  This wine is great during the first two hours.  There are sweet, sweaty flavors which bear weight and a touch of texture.  The flavors develop into strawberry with tart red and black components.  It is moved along by watering acidity into the textured finish.  **** Now but will last.

CVNE advertisements from the 1920s

October 12, 2017 Leave a comment

CVNE advertisement from La Semena Grafica from 1923. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.

This weekend I will be hosting a tasting of wines from the historic CVNE estate in Rioja.  We will visit paired flights of Imperial Gran Reserva and Viña Real Reserva Especial/Gran Reserva from the 1976, 1973, 1970, 1966, and 1964 vintages.  Both the Imperial and Viña Real brands originated in the early 1920s.  During the fall of 1921 the publication El Progreso Agricula y Pecuario visited the “old and well-established” winery.[1]  They found that the new, modern elements of the winery, unseen to many before, were “successfully” applied to “elaborate” the wines.  I have included two advertisements that ran quite frequently.  As you can see they are very modest.

CVNE advertisement from La Nacion, June 10, 1926. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.


[1] El Progreso Agricula y Pecuario. No 1219. October 22, 1921. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.

Budget Bordeaux from 2012

October 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Every curious to expand my selection of affordable daily drinkers I ventured into the 2012 Bordeaux section at MacArthur Beverages. This is regarded as a Merlot vintage and the four wines we tasted contain at least 70% of it.  Jenn and I preferred one of the least expensive wines 2012 Petit Paveil, Bordeaux. It is a tasty wine to be enjoyed now. Next up is the 2012 Chateau Belle Colline, Cotes de Bordeaux Blaye which require much air to shed a greenhouse aspect. It becomes a solid, almost juicy, dark-fruited wine. The 2012 Chateau Grimont, Cotes de Bordeaux is too firm to be enjoyed and I did not like the 2012 Chateau Roquet, Bordeaux.

2012 Chateau Belle Colline, Cotes de Bordeaux Blaye – $17
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Malbec.  Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is of greenhouse and plums. In the mouth are a fine, powdery texture of dark fruit and greenhouse flavors. The wine dramatically improves on the second night with greenhouse aspect largely gone. Instead this is a solid wine, almost juicy in flavor with dark fruit flavors, a moderate structure, and general ability to satisfy. For the short-term. ** Now – 2020.

2012 Chateau Grimont, Cotes de Bordeaux Cadillac – $17
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Alcohol 13%. The nose remained mute. The moderate structure is echoed in the dry, firm flavors, watering acidity and dry finish which is particularly noticeable on the tongue. Some tart red and black fruit comes out but this remains a modest, firm wine. *(*) Now – 2022.

2012 Petit Paveil, Bordeaux – $13
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet.  Alcohol 13%. The nose is attractive with dark fruit. The dark fruit continues in the mouth with just a hint of greenhouse. There is some depth to the fruit that carried into the dry, black mineral finish. It is here that the dry, supporting structure is noticeable, though, there is a touch of softness too. Solid! ** Now – 2020.

2012 Chateau Roquet, Bordeaux – $13
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Alcohol 13.5%. I did not like this wine so after two nights I never bothered to take a note. Poor.

A pair of Italian reds, one of which is very good

October 10, 2017 Leave a comment

From an excellent vintage the 2010 Colpetrone, Montefalco Sagrantino is a rare bargain that provides immediate drinking pleasure yet is capable of development for several years to come.  With the expected structure come robust flavors of generous dark fruit which morphs into a mineral vein that will have you revisit your glass time after time.  I recommend you pick up a few bottles for this weekend.  While the 2014 Castiglion del Bosco, Rosso di Montalcino clearly needs age, I do not foresee it improving.  Avoid.  These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.

2010 Colpetrone, Montefalco Sagrantino- $21
Imported by Vias Imports. This wine is 100% Sagrantino which was aged for 12 months in French oak barriques. The fruit is sourced from 35 hectares of vineyards on soils of limey soil with clay deposits at 350 meters.  Alcohol 14.5%. There is a deep fruited nose. In the mouth are red fruit flavors then generally dark fruit with a prominent mineral vein. The wine is robust in a way. The move from fruit to minerality engages the palate. This would not be Sagrantino without the strong structure of very fine grained tannins. However, the weight of the fruit generally covers it. ***(*) Now – 2027.

2014 Castiglion del Bosco, Rosso di Montalcino – $19
Imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines. Alcohol 14%. The wine finally opens up on the second night revealing black fruit and licorice aromas. In the mouth the wine is upfront flavors of bright plums. There is a tangy middle and short finish. It is a clean wine in need of some age as it is not moving at this point. *(*) 2019-2027.

Ogier’s must try 2014 Le Temps est Venu, CdR

The 2014 Stephane Ogier, Les Temps est Venu, Cotes du Rhone is a wine  you must try.  When coupled with the 2015 Domaine des Pasquiers, Cote du Rhone Villages Plan de Dieu you can taste how rocking the Plan de Dieu region is!  Right now the wine offers up tense red fruit flavors with good depth behind them.  We kept revisiting the bottle until there was nothing left.  I recommend you grab several bottles from MacArthur Beverages.

2014 Stephane Ogier, Les Temps est Venu, Cotes du Rhone – $16
Imported by Robert Kacher.  This wine is a blend of mostly Grenache with Syrah, Mourvedre, and a dollop of Cinsault.  The fruit is largely sourced from Plan de Dieu, fermented in concrete vats where it is also aged for 7 months.  Alcohol 13.8%.  The nose is still tight but the wine is flavorful in the mouth.  There are deep red fruit flavors that have a dry edge and cranberry-like brightness.  The wine is tart on the tongue building depth and weight with a certain tannic structure and acidity that will let it age.  It is quite drinkable now thanks to the grapey tension from the start.  *** Now – 2022.

The exciting Gamay “Les Massardieres” from Guillaume Gilles

If you are enchanted by the traditional wines of the Northern Rhone then there is a strong chance you have tasted the efforts of Guillaume Gilles.  He is the protege of Robert Michel, a 9th generation winemaker, who upon retirement, leased a prime vineyard to Gilles and let him use his cave for producing wine.  Gilles also worked with Jean-Louis Chave.  It is Gilles’ traditionally made wines from Cornas and Cotes du Rhone that show his adept hand with Syrah.

Guillaume Gilles also excels with Gamay.  I know for just last week I tasted an exciting bottle of 2015 Guillaume Gilles, Les Massardieres.  There is very little information published and as far as I can tell this wine is only available at MacArthur Beverages.  Phil Bernstein decided to import the wine after visiting Gilles earlier this year.  With an introduction from Phil, Gilles related the story of this wine.

The Gamay for Les Massardieres is sourced from a vineyard 16km away from Cornas near Arlenosc on the Plateau Ardéchois.   Located at an altitude of 500 to 600 meters this area is higher than Cornas and the Rhone Valley.  It is here that Guillaume Gilles has vacationed with his family since he was a young boy of 3.  For Gilles the land is “more wild and typical” than the Rhone Valley.  It was natural then that Gilles accepted the offer to tend the vineyard when a friend recently presented the opportunity.

In turns out that Gilles spent time in Beaujolais as a youth where he developed his love of Gamay.  He became attracted to the idea of producing a good, simple wine different from Cornas.  With his first vintage of 2011 he found that the vineyard produced a deeper, more characterful wine than he expected.

The vineyard is tiny, just 3000 m² or three-quarters of an acre. It was planted some 40 years ago on soils of young granite.  The granite is less altered so there is only a thin layer of sand making it more acidic.  Though vines have been grown here for some three centuries there is no appellation or IGP.  Gilles is only aware of Gamay being grown since the Second World War.  He finds it an ideal region for Gamay.  The higher altitude and continental climate make for a season that is a bit too short for Syrah to ripen.

Les Massardieres is made using carbonic maceration but Guillaume Gilles could not resist pigeage, like he employs in his Cornas, before the end of fermentation.  I find the wine is a unique perspective on Gamay.  It is long in flavor, from the lively, almost prickly start to the chewy finish.  There is fine texture to the wine but it is the fat infused fruit that makes for an outstanding mouthfeel.  The 2015 vintage furnished very ripe berries which Gilles believes gives the wine this texture.  The ripeness is not overdone.  He feels, and I must agree, that the terroir still comes through.

I strongly encourage you to try a bottle or two of Les Massardieres.  It is one of the most exciting young wines I have recently tried.

2015 Guillaume Gilles, Les Massardieres – $25
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  This wine is 100% Gamay.  Alcohol 13%.  The nose bears floral aromas.  In the mouth the wine is perfumed from the start through the long aftertaste.  It is lively on the tongue tip, almost prickly, and soon delivers fat infused fruit which lends to a sense of luxury and body.  There is a texture throughout adding tactile sensation to the purple and black fruit.  A dry cut ends with a grapey and chewy finish. **** Now – 2022.