Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Rioja’

A Spanish pair of Tempranillo

Both of the wines in this post are made from Tempranillo yet one is from Ribera del Duero and the other from Rioja.  The 2015 Alfredo Maestro, Almate, Ribera del Duero is new wine for me and I am pleased to write it is well made and quite tasty.  The 2010 Sierra Cantabria, Rioja Reserva is the more serious of the two yet it is beautiful.  It is clear that 2010 is an excellent vintage  capable of developing for the next several years. These two wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.

2015 Alfredo Maestro, Almate, Ribera del Duero – $15
Imported by Llaurador Wines.  This wine is 100% Tempranillo sourced from vines at 700 and 1,000 meters of elevation that was fermented in stainless steel then aged for four months in neutral French oak.  Alcohol 14%.  Flavors of cool, juicy fruit are carried by watering acidity over a fine structure.  Quite tasty with a dry, graphite finish.  *** Now – 2023.

2010 Sierra Cantabria, Rioja Reserva – $24
Imported by The Country Vintner.  This wine is 100% Tempranillo aged 18 months in French and American oak barrels.  Alcohol 14%.  After a few hours of air this beautiful wine fills the mouth with powdery red and black fruit.  There is some cocoa and only a hint of sweetness to the flavors.  There is fresh acidity, but not out of balance for the flavor, spices, and dry baking spices in the gentle finish.  ***(*) Now – 2028.

A tasting of Rioja from the great 1964 Vintage

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment


The 1964 vintage in Rioja, considered the greatest of the 20th century, was not met with any fanfare in America nor in England.  It was not because the top wines, only bottled in the 1970s and released as late as 1980, were unavailable to taste.  Throughout the 1960s Rioja was still viewed as the best wine of Spain but it was the opinion, as expressed by Ronald Avery, that in the hierarchy of wines Rioja was equivalent to “a decent little claret”.  As such Rioja only received attention as an alternative inexpensive wine.

This was not always the case.  Between the World Wars the Bodegas Paternina Rioja Riserva cost as much as Chateau Lafite in America.  When Bordeaux prices soared in America during the early 1970s, attention turned back to Rioja.  Still viewed as the “less sophisticated cousin of Bordeaux” low prices meant the wines of Rioja became imported in increasingly larger quantities.  In 1976, nearly three dozen Rioja producers hired a public relations firm in America.  Success must have been achieved for the next year Frank J. Prial wrote in The New York Times that “Red Rioja Wine Is Excellent”.

There was widespread coverage of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Rioja vintage.  Decanter magazine found it a vintage to drink soon with some wines tired but the best wines are “still fruity and intense”.  I decided to host my own tasting based on my positive experience with several different bottles shared by Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co.,  and my recent CVNE Viña Real and Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva from 1976-1964 tasting.  This past weekend I gathered a group to explore nine different wines from seven different producers.  This is no small feat for there were just over two dozen producers who bottled the 1964 vintage.

We departed from our usual Champagne start to one of very old German wines.  At the CVNE tasting, the Rieslingfeier event and scarcity of old vintages was of topic which prompted one very generous guest to share three 100+ year old wines as well as a bottle from the 1964 vintage.  This unprecedented vertical of the vintages 1964, 1915, 1905, and 1898 are all Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Auslese from Weingut Franz Karl Schmitt.

These four bottles were purchased at the Sotheby’s auction of the Don Stott cellar.  Our generous guest has drunk wine with Don Stott so with knowledge of the cellar and the uniqueness of the opportunity, the wines were acquired.

Weingut Franz Karl Schmitt was founded in 1549 and has been in family possession ever since those days.  It was in 1900 that Franz-Karl Schmitt, grandfather of the current owner, produced the first trockenbeerenauslese in Rheinhessen from the Flaschenhahl vineyard in Hipping.  The four bottles we tasted bear variations in name: Franz Karl Schmitt, Hermann Franz Schmitt, and Hermannshof.  They are all from the same winery bearing new labels and corks.  The later marked with Herrmannshof Neuverkorkt 1998.

The label on the oldest bottle from 1898 does not indicate the grape.  Nierstein is home to Sylvaner and in 1910 only 15% of it was planted with Riesling.  It is possible this is a blend of Riesling and Sylvaner which echoes a comment Michael Broadbent made about the 1921 Niersteiner Hermannshof TBA.  I should also point out this bottle is a Cabinetwein indicating a special wine historically kept in a separate part of the cellar.

The wines were served one at a time out of purposefully procured small wine glasses.  This gave us the collective opportunity to taste the wines within minutes of the bottle being opened and individually decide if we wanted to keep the wine around any longer.

All of the wines are in much better shape than I expected.  The 1898 Franz Karl Schmitt, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Auslese Cabinetwein, Rheinhessen  with honied aromas and medium body, quickly recalibrated my expectations.  There is pure pleasure here.  Delicacy came in the form of the 1905 Hermann Franz Schmitt, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen which did soon fade to reveal piercing acidity in the finish.  The 1915 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen is unequivocally great from the nose to the pure marmalade flavors, minerals, and unctuous, glycerin filled body.  At 102 years of age, the higher residual sugar and acidity will ensure many more years of pleasure.  In fact, the dregs of the bottle drank well at the end of the evening.

With respect to the three oldest bottles, vintage variation aside, there is a sense of continuity in flavor from herbs and apricots.  In returning to the wines I was left with the feeling that the 1898 and 1905 were made using similar methods whereas the 1915 was made by a different hand.  However, vintages do matter which accounts for the unctuous 1915 and round, racy 1964 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Kehr Und Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen.  These wines deserve a closer historical look so I will write a follow up post in the near future.

We cleansed our palates with the textured NV Grands Comptoirs Champenois, Champagne Brut Comte de Vic.  This is a late 1980s to early 1990s release with fully mature flavors, yeast, and never-ending texture.  I found it best on the second night, once again highlighting that a non-vintage Champagne may deserve careful aging.

Fate finally caught up with me for four of our 1964 Rioja bottles were affected by TCA leaving five to be enjoyed.  All of these wines were double-decanted before being served in flights of three.  The most surprising wine is the 1964 Campo Viejo, Rioja which is the basic wine made just one year after the founding of the winery.  In fact Campo Viejo switched facilities in 1965.  This wine still reveals ripe fruit mixed with spices made possible by the comparatively short time spent in oak.

My favorites include the 1964 Riojanas, Monte Real, Rioja Gran Reserva, the 1964 Gomez Cruzado, Honorable, Rioja Gran Reserva , and the 1964 Bodegas Montecillo, Vina Monty, Rioja.  Incredibly, the Monte Real appears to still be developing due to youthful focus.  The Gomez Cruzado never lost all of its bottle stink but in the mouth it is crisp with wood notes and certainly a wine to try again.  I found the Montecillo, the only all Tempranillo wine we tasted, the roundest.

These particular wines show the success achieved with Tempranillo based blends based on old, dry-farmed, bush vines raised with the traditional method of long oak aging.  This method of winemaking developed in the 19th century based on Bordeaux techniques and adopted to what was best for Rioja.   They are not fragile when exposed to air and all have a good spine of acidity which allows them live on.  The tasting also reminds us that there are no guarantees with old bottles.

Please find my tasting notes below.  You will notice a larger than usual number of dinner wine notes at the end.  The Madeira collector Bob Stern, whom I first met several years ago, was in town and able to join.  He has taken his passion one step further and is now importing Madeira from H. M. Borges. Thus he could present an array of samples for us to taste.

I could not have organized this tasting without Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., offering me his precious bottles of Rioja.  I must also thank our generous guest who, in sharing his German wines, ensured a once in a lifetime experience to taste three German wines older than one century.


A German Start

1898 Franz Karl Schmitt, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Auslese Cabinetwein, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars.  Tagged The Don Stott Cellar.  Recorked in 1998. New labels.  A very clear, tawny amber color.  The nose is touched by boytrtis with honied aromas, fresh herbs, and tea.  The flavors are drier than expected, of medium body, and of sharp yet focused acidity.  The body speaks of remarkable condition as tangy, lemon citrus flavors come out in the middle, all of it persisting through the long finish.  ***(*) Now.

1905 Hermann Franz Schmitt, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars.  Tagged The Don Stott Cellar.   Recorked in 1998. New labels.  A very clear, lighter tawny amber with a touch more yellow.  There is a botrytis touch as well but this is the most delicate wine of the quartet of old Germans.  It too is dry with fresh and bright acidity, herbs, and a savory, short finish.  It dries out quicker revealing piercing acidity in the end. ** Now.

1915 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars.   Tagged The Don Stott Cellar.  Recorked in 1998. New labels.  The darkest being tawny in color.  This still smells great.  In the mouth it is unctuous and mineral infused with plenty of forward body.  Flavors of apricot and peach mix with orange marmalade.  This is a good wine with round, glycerin body.  **** Now – 2027.

1964 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Kehr Und Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars.   Tagged The Don Stott Cellar.  Recorked in 1998. New labels.  Of yellow straw the color is the lightest and the nose the most subtle.  One is not prepared for the much sweeter and rounded flavors in this unctuous wine.  There is still ripe fruit, fine tea notes, and a racy character. **** Now – 2027.


Palate Cleansing Champagne

NV Grands Comptoirs Champenois, Champagne Brut Comte de Vic
Imported by The RareWine Co.  Alcohol 12%.  A very clear amber color.  It is best on the second day. There are very fine, strong bubbles which quickly form a mousse that adds ripe texture to the start.  Flavors of ripe white then yellow fruit mix with yeast and mature notes.  With air ripe spices come out in the watering finish. ***(*) Now but will last.


1964 Rioja

1964 Bilbainas, Clarete Fino, Rioja Gran Reserva
Founded in 1901 by Santiago Ugarte, the son of a wine negociant, during the Rioja phylloxera epidemic.  The main winery was built at Barrio de la Estacion in Haro.  This wine is a blend of 65% Tempranillo and 35% Garnacha that spent 9-10 years in American oak barrels.  TCA.  Not Rated.

1964 Bilbainas, Vendimia Especial, Rioja Reserva 
One of the top wines this wine is a blend of70% Tempranillo and 30% Garnacha sourced from the Zaco vineyard.  It spent 18 months in large wooden vats then 6-8 (or 9-10) years in American oak barrels.  This is a bright wine with tart red fruit and a grippy nature.  The wine is still youthful but the leather notes speak of age.  *** Now but will last.

1964 Bilbainas, Vina Pomal, Rioja Reserva Especial 
This label has existed for over 100 years and always featured fruit from the Vina Pomal vineyard between the Ebro and Tiron rivers.  Apparently Winston Church drank it regularly.  It is a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, and 5% Mazuelo, Graciano, and Viura.  It spent 1 year in tank followed by 6-7 years in American oak barriques.  TCA.  Not Rated.

1964 Campo Viejo, Rioja 
Founded in 1963, Camp Viejo moved from Rioja Baja to an industrial part of Logrono in 1965.  The Crianza is typically a blend of mostly 80% Tempranillo followed by 20% Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano.  It spent 18 months in large vats followed by 30 months in American oak barriques.  A fine nose makes way to a fruity start that is still ripe and flavored by spices in the finish.  The relatively short aging in wood results in this wine having the most fruit out of all tasted.  Perhaps not the most complex flavors the wine is, nevertheless, a fine drink with finely textured, ripe flavors.  *** Now – 2022.

1964 Franco-Espanolas, Excelsos, Rioja Gran Reserva 
Bodegas Franco-Espanolas history begins in 1890 when Frederick Anglade Saurat came to Logrono from Bordeaux.  Once his vineyards were in full production he founded the Bodegas, with Spanish capital, in 1901.  The Excelsos is the top gran reserve released only in the best vintages.  This rare wine is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, and 10% Mazuelo that spent 18 months in large wooden vats and 6-7 years in American oak barrels.  It was released in 1980.  TCA.  Not Rated.

1964 Gomez Cruzado, Honorable, Rioja Gran Reserva 
Founded in 1886.  This is a blend of 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, and 10% Mazuelo and Graciano.  This is fermented and raised in large wooden vats for 24 months followed by aging for 5 years in old American oak barrels.  It was bottled in 1972.  Quite stinky at first then a transition to an attractive funk.  However it is clean in the mouth where there are very lively flavors, crisp fruit, and wood shavings.  A delight in the mouth.  If I am picky, the finish is a little short.  ***(*) Now – 2025.

1964 Bodegas Montecillo, Vina Monty, Rioja 
Founded in 1870, Bodegas Montecillo is one of the oldest firms in Rioja. The Vina Monty is the top wine.  Produced solely from Tempranillo it spent 6 to 12 months in large wooden vats then 48 months in American oak barrels.  The 1964 vintage was produced at the old winery pre-dating the Osborne acquisition of 1973.  A good nose of fruit and mixed herbs.  There is round, red fruit, bright acidity, and a fine wood note. ***(*) Now – 2022.

1964 Frederico  Paternina, Rioja Gran Reserva
Founded in 1898, Frederico Paternina owns no vineyards. This is a blend of 70% Tempranillo with 30% Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano.   This Gran Reserva spent up to six years in American oak barrels and other volumes.  TCA.  Not Rated.

1964 Riojanas, Monte Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Founded in 1890.  A blend of mostly 70% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo, 5% Garnacha, 2% Graciano, and 3% Viura and Malvasia.  It spent 12 to 18 months in large wooden tanks then aged for 4.5 to 6 years in American oak casks and other sizes.  Part of the fruit underwent carbonic maceration.  A touch musty at first but cleans up to reveal aromas of broth.  The bright flavors of cranberry are fresh and grippy.  The wine is driven by acidity.  This is the most youthful wine of them all, still focused and on the upslope of development. ***(*) Now – 2025.


Dinner Wines

1970 LAN, Lanciano Rioja
Founded in 1970. This wine is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, and 10% Mazuelo that spent 18 months in tank and 2 years in American oak casks.  Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Quite comforting with a combination of wood box notes, mature yet freshly delivered red fruit, and garrigue.  The flavors become meaty with air.  There is moderate weight and though the tannins are largely resolved a bit of structure comes out in the finish.  ***(*) Now but will last.

1978 Torres, Gran Coronas, Penedes Reserva
Imported by Chateau & Estates.  This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was fermented in stainless steel then aged for 18 months in American oak casks.  It was bottled in 1980. Alcohol 12.5%.  There is a tart, assertive start that is infused with some funk.  The wine soon becomes weightier with prominent acidity, green pepper notes, and tons of grip.  Quite fun to drink.  *** Now but will last.

2007 Bonneau, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Bordeaux Wine Locators.  Alcohol 15%. This lively red wine is bright in flavor and poised for many years of development.  I particularly like the fine mixture of Christmas spices which add complexity to the red fruit. A real treat, I wish I had tasted it some more. **** Now – 2027.

NV Rare Wine Co, Henriques & Henriques Imperial Reserve Malmsey
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  This Madeira is a blend of old stocks of Malmsey from Henriques & Henriques. Mannie created the blend with John Cossart shortly before he passed away. It was released in honor of John Cossart in 2008.  Alcohol 20%.  There are pungent aromas of orange marmalade.  In the mouth is a rounded, dense start followed by powerful pungent flavors and racy residual sugar.  Supporting this is acidity to match.  The wine is incensed with Christmas spices. I imagine this will slowly develop for a few more decades.  ****.

1990 H. M. Borges, Sercial
Imported by Next Chapter Wines & Spirits.  Alcohol 20%.  An amber-tawny color.  Slightly pungent on the nose it is off to a round start that immediately unleashes piercing acidity.  There is lovely body weight which adds tension to this acidity driven wine.  Complexity comes from baking spices.  ****.

NV H. M. Borges, 15 year old Verdelho
Imported by Next Chapter Wines & Spirits.  Alcohol 19%.  There is a low-lying, deep nose.  In the mouth are taut orange citrus flavor and round body with piercing, laser sharp acidity.  Sweet and tense.  Good future potential.  ***.

2005 H. M. Borges, Tina Negra Colheita
Alcohol 20%.  Bottled in 2017. A very good, deep nose.  A racy, weighty start brings ripe flavors and sweetness in this round, tense wine.  A cherry middle makes way to a sweeter finish.  Good stuff. ***(*).

1998 H.M. Borges, Malmsey Colheita
This wine was aged in casks for over 8 years.  Bottled in 2006/7. Alcohol 19%.  A touch of satisfying pungency on the nose.  In this mouth this is a powerful wine with fruit, nuts, and piercing acidity. ***.

1995 H. M. Borges, Bual Colheita
This wine was aged in oak casks for at least 5 years.  Alcohol 19%.  A pungent, piercing nose.  In the mouth are spicy flavors delivered as a tense core.  Notes of evergreen and Christmas spices add complexity before the textured finish. ***(*).

Legendary Rioja: CVNE Viña Real and Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva from 1976-1964

October 23, 2017 1 comment

Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE), founded in 1879, is one of the oldest Rioja producers. For nearly one century CVNE has produced the top brands of Viña Real and Imperial. Over this period the wines developed the reputation as consistent  both in high-quality and long-life with the particular decades of the 1940s through the 1970s considered the classic age. This month a small group of us explored the tail end of this age by tasting five vintages of both Viña Real and Imperial Gran Reservas from 1976 back to 1964.

CVNE is a unique estate in that there are only five winemakers over the course of its long history. For the vintages we tasted our focus begins with the third head winemaker Ezequiel Garcia (1930 – 2017).  He was born in Anguciana, a small town near Haro, and worked at CVNE from 1958 through 1973.

The 1920 harvest arrives at CVNE. Image provided by CVNE.

Imperial was first produced in the 1920s. It is always bottled in a Bordeaux shaped bottle and is named after the Imperial pint bottles it was once sold in. This wine is traditionally a majority of Tempranillo with a bit of Graciano, Mazuelo, and Viura largely from the Rioja Alta. The Viña Real brand name was registered in 1940 but it existed previously under different variations. The name stems from the Camino Real or Royal Road next to which many of the vineyards lie. It is bottled in the iconic Burgundy shaped bottle containing Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo largely sourced from the Rioja Alavesa.

Ezequiel Garcia produced Imperial at the CVNE winery in Haro and Viña Real at the Viña Real winery in Elciego. For each brand there were different levels of quality. From top to bottom quality, Imperial was historically sold as Gran Reserva and Reserva with the Viña Real as Reserva Especial, Reserva, and 4 año. With the new wine regulations of the 1970s Viña Real wines were renamed Gran Reserva, Reserva, and Crianza. The Imperial names did not change.

The Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva bottlings are meant to be the best quality wine possible, produced only in the best vintages using the best fruit. Such was the quality of the wines produced by Ezequiel Garcia during the 1960s and 1970s that the author and journalist Xavier Domingo nicknamed him “El Brujo” or the wizard.  It is these wines that I poured at the tasting.

A wine is only as good as the fruit that it is produced from so credit must be given to Jose Angel de Madrazo y Real de Asua, 4th generation of the founding brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asua. Jose Madrazo joined the CVNE Board of Directors in the mid-1960s soon becoming General Manager of Viña Real. CVNE sources fruit from vineyards they own but also from others under long-term contracts. One of Jose Madrazo’s responsibilities was to maintain these contracts and to seek out other grapes for all the quality levels at Viña Real. It is he who discovered the vineyards at Laserna. Such was the quality of the Laserna fruit that Ezequiel Garcia used it exclusively for the Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva. These vines at Laserna would eventually form the single-vineyard estate of Vinedos del Contino.

The Viña Real and Imperial wines were always meant to be different. They were made at different wineries with different blends sourced from different plots with different climates. During the 1940s through the 1970s, Viña Real always featured at least one-third Garnacha Tina with a typical blend of 40% Garnacha, 40% Tempranillo, and 20% other varieties including Mazuelo. Imperial never included Garnacha Tinta and featured more Mazuela and even some Graciano.

Cement tanks at El Carmen winery inaugurated in 1940. Image provided by CVNE.

Viña Real was made at a small winery in Elciego built in the 1920s. Imperial was made at the El Carmen winery in Haro.  Inaugurated in 1940, it was the first winery with concrete tanks in Rioja. Epoxy-lined concrete tanks were also installed at Viña Real. The Viña Real winery was small so the wines were vinified there then underwent barrel aging at CVNE in Haro. In 1957, the year before Ezequiel Garcia began work at CVNE, the 1941 Imperial was still in barrel. Under Garcia, the duration the Gran Reserva spent in American oak was slowly reduced to at least six years by the 1970s.

1976 Imperial Gran Reserva aging in barrel. Image provided by CVNE.

In 1973, Ezequiel Garcia left CVNE for Bodegas Olarra. He vinified the wine from the 1973 harvest but the final blend was made by the fourth CVNE winemaker Basilio Izquierdo Torres. Torres, who studied in Bordeaux, worked at CVNE from 1974 through 2004. Thus the vintages we tasted may be classified as: 1976 (Torres), 1973(Garcia/Torres), 1970 (Garcia), 1966 (Garcia), and 1964 (Garcia).

It was also in 1973, that CVNE and others, purchased the Laserna vineyards and formed Vinedos del Contino. The first Contino harvest occurred in 1974 so all of the Contino fruit from the 1973 vintage was still destined for the Viña Real Gran Reserva. It took a while for the Contino facilities to be built up so a large proportion of the excellent Contino fruit continued to be used in the Viña Real Gran Reserva. Today, Viña Real continues to use fruit from the Laserna region including plots that literally border the Contino estate.

Bottling of the 1970 Imperial Gran Reserva. Image provided by CVNE.

Across all five of the vintages we tasted, the Viña Real Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva all demonstrate deep aromas, full-bodied flavor, and extra complexity from earth and animale notes. The Imperial are brighter, more structured with noticeable acidity and more control over the flavors.  All of the bottles have aged very well with a general increase in liveliness as the wines became older.

The pair from 1976 showed good, complex flavor yet came across as fully mature.  The pair from 1973 exhibit less complexity yet are fresh and lively in the mouth.  I personally would rather drink the 1976s for the flavor but many preferred the 1973s for their condition.  Both wines from the 1970 vintage demonstrated a significant increase in complexity and energy.  The 1970 Viña Real is deep, earthy, mouth filling, and ethereal with a level of energy that made me pause.  The 1970 Imperial leans towards a core of fruit propelled by acidity, leaving a texture in the mouth.  The 1966 pair are lighter in flavor.  The 1966 Viña Real offers up more flavor than the 1966 Imperial but both wines should be drunk up.

It is a remarkably testament to the greatness of the 1964 vintage and the capable hand of Ezequiel Garcia, that the wines from 1964 are the most energetic and long-lived of all we tasted.  That is no small feat considering the 1964 Imperial was served from two half-bottles!  The aromas are to dream of, the flavors are a bit closely played but the mouthfeel is oily and luxurious.  My favorite wine of the night is the 1964 Viña Real.  It is mouth filling with complexity yet never weighs down the palate.  The interplay of flavor, texture, and acidity are remarkable.

We are fortunate in that not one of our bottles was bad allowing the personality of Viña Real and Imperial to shine through all of the vintages tasted.  If you have yet to taste mature CVNE you must set your sights on the 1964 Viña Real Reserva Especial.  If that is too expensive, the 1970 Viña Real Gran Reserva is a relative bargain.  These two wines in particular should be tried by all lovers of mature red wine.

CVNE is still run by family members including Maria Urrita Ybarra, Director of Marketing, who answered many of my questions and provided the historic images used in this post. I must also thank Jesús Madrazo, son of Jose Madrazo, 5th generation of the founding brothers, and former Technical Director of Contino, who kindly replied to all of my emails as well.  Finally, I thank my friend Mannie Berk, founder of The Rare Wine Co., whose careful acquisition of these bottles enabled this tasting to take place.


Arrival Champagne

1984 Le Mesnil, Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A youthful yellow color with just a hint of gold. The wine greets with a good set of strong, yet finely textured bubbles. This is a surprisingly youthful with with yellow fruit, and a core of berries throughout. With extended air sweet spices come out. ***(*) Now – 2037.


The CVNE Wines

 

1976 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. The deep nose offers up dark, sweaty aromas. In the mouth the deep note is echoed in the soft entry. There is a bit of a sweet vein of fruit with some supporting structure in the end. This bottle is fully mature with good depth. With air the fine red fruit flavor takes on an old wood note. *** Now – 2020.

1976 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a coffee-like hint on the modest nose. In the mouth is a soft, seductive start then a bright note buoyed by the watering acidity. The flavors are more linear with dry black fruit, and a subtle wood note.  *** Now – 2022.

1973 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A fine, clean nose reveals familiar deep aromas, and sweet red scents. With air it takes on floral aromas. In the mouth are cherry fruits framed by a fine structure. It offers good grip and presence with a rounded body. The cherry note continues in the finish and into the ethereal aftertaste. *** Now – 2022.

1973 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a noticeably dark core to the color. The nose is less aromatic with hints of funk and pungency which eventually clean up. However, there is a brighter start with slightly sour flavors. The flavors are lighter weight, carried by watering acidity, and some grip in the finish. *** Now – 2022.

1970 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There are finely woven flavors of deep, sweet strawberry fruit. Complexity is gained through a subtle amount of earth and animale flavors. This is a beautiful wine, full of flavor, yet ethereally light through the long aftertaste. The energy of the wine makes you take notice as the wine will continue to drink well for a long time. ****(*) Now – 2027.

1970 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. Another lovely wine. The bright start takes on a gentle, sweet core of red and black fruits propelled by watering acidity. There are complex spices, animale flavors, and wood notes. This finely textured wine still has youthful grip.  **** Now – 2027.

1966 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. In a way there is sweeter fruit in this wine. Though it is lighter in flavor and body there is complexity from low-lying minerals and wood notes. It offers more fruit than the Imperial. It is in a good state of life given the lesser vintage. *** Now.

1966 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. I found this tart with watery flavor, less weight, and dry structure. ** Now.

1964 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There are deep aromas of leather and earth. In the mouth the red fruit has youthful grip with a gorgeously fine interplay of fruit, earth, and animale notes. The wine becomes drier towards the finish. This is a beautifully focused wine with both fruit, acidity, and structure to continue its glacial evolution for years to come. If you enjoy that sweet concentration resulting from traditional winemaking and old age then look no further.  ****(*) Now – 2032.

1964 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. What a beautiful nose! Again this shows more focus and structure but the the vintages give the flavors extra strength and weight. Black fruited in general added mouthfeel comes out of nowhere from a luxurious oily bit. I wonder if it will open up even more? **** Now – 2027.


Dinner Wines

NV Krug, Grande Cuvée 164 eme Edition, Champagne Brut
Imported by Moet Hennessy USA.  Alcohol 12.5%. This already smells complex with a young aroma of apple. In the mouth this is a youthful wine with assertive bubbles then a very fine mousse. The yellow fruit and gentle baking spices are of good complexity and long duration. **** Now – 2037.

1996 Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, Rioja Reserva
Imported by Tempranillo Inc.  There is a pungent nose of berries and banana foster. It is a fresh and gentle wine in the mouth back by good weight. Despite the young age, it is drinking very well showing both mature flavors and a core of covert fruit. **** Now – 2022.

1985 Torres, Grand Sangre de Torro, Penedes
This wine is a blend of 70% Garnacha and 30% Carinena.  There is a bright red fruit in the complex start. It morphs from earthy, sweet fruit in the start to dry black fruit in the finish. A ripe Garnacha character comes out with air. This is not a wine for the ages rather a solid, mature wine to drink now. *** Now – 2020.

1973 Paternina, Conde de los Andes, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A brilliant color! The tart red fruit on the nose smells of some age due to a roasted earth note. In the mouth are lighter flavors of cranberry and red fruits which are match by the acidity driven profile. This is a clean with, slightly short in the finish, yet the aftertaste still leaves texture on the gums. *** Now but will last.

1970 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vina Pomal, Rioja Crianza
A Chambers Street Wines selection imported by T. Elenteny. Tired on the nose and in the mouth. The rounded start brings rather advanced flavors and a short finish. *(*) Drink Up.

NV Emilio Lustau, Sherry Very Rare Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia
Imported by Europvin USA.  This is enjoyable pungent on the nose with polished wood, fresh orange citrus notes, and some deep aromas.  Noticeably less complex in the mouth with a dry, linear, saline flavors of nuts and yellow citrus wrapped up by a warm finish.  *** Now – 2027+.


NV Barbeito, Terrantez Reserve Madeira
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a sweet nose of brown sugar backed by the slightest pungency. In the mouth there is still, fine sweet fruit of good weight. The sweetness is expertly balanced by the acidity. It picks up a lovely foxiness in the finish. **** Now – whenever.

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.

Barolo from 1974 and Rioja from 1964

Much of my time spent with Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., involves work on projects related to the history of Madeira.  After one long day sorting through historic documents we discussed our findings over two bottles of wine.

Terre del Barolo is a cooperative winery that was founded in 1958.  Located in the heart of Barolo at Castiglion Faletto, there were nearly 400 members by the first harvest of 1959, a number virtually unchanged today.

The 1974 Terre del Barolo, Barolo Castiglione Faletto as a solid wine from a solid vintage.  It smells and tastes like a mature Barolo.  What it lacks in excitement it makes up for in low price, perhaps more of a wine to buy if you are dipping your toe into mature Barolo and are on a budget.

Founded in 1874, Bodegas Monticello is amongst the pioneering Rioja wineries based on Bordeaux winemaking techniques.  For nearly 100 years the winery remained in the Navajas family until, with the end of the family line, it was sold to the Osborne company in 1973.  Thus our bottle of 1964 Bodegas Montecillo, Vina Monty Rioja bears the old-school label with the family name.  Iy was produced in the older winery before Osbone modernized everything in 1975.

The 1964 vintage in Rioja is highly acclaimed, which is reflected in this well-stored wine.  Though there is the delicacy of old Rioja, it also has the concentration of sweet flavors.  It is attractive and deserves another taste!