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Tempranillo, Transposed

December 7, 2021 Leave a comment

How do you transpose a grape, any grape?

What does this title even mean? You transpose matrices (in algebra), or, at the very least, the notes of music. But Tempranillo???

Let me put my geek’s hat on, and let’s look at the definition of the “transpose” as the infinitely wise internet presents it:

“transfer to a different place or context”

The legendary CVNE had been producing Tempranillo wines in Rioja since 1879. Step by step, new vineyards were planted, and new styles of Rioja were going into production, each one with its own unique style and character – CVNE, the original earthy Rioja; softer and gentler Viña Real, powerful and concentrated Imperial, elegant and modern Contino. These are all Rioja wines, a blend of Tempranillo and a few other varieties, each one with its own personality and its own following.

Achieving success, some of us can just sit quietly and enjoy it. And some of us just want to say “I’m here now, and this is great, but I can’t stop. Let’s go further”. And down south CVNE decided to go, into the Ribera del Duero area.

Rioja is unquestionably famous with its Tempranillo wines, with producer such as CVNE, Muga, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, and Contador. Ribera del Duero, down south from Rioja, got Vega Sicilia, Pingus, Pesquera, Emilio Moro – all amazing Tempranillo renditions as well. Now, the question is – why would a famous Rioja producer expand into a different region? Well, this is somewhat of a “why did the chicken cross the road” type of question – simply to get to the other side. CVNE doesn’t want to stop. CVNE goes beyond Rioja, into Ribera del Duero, the land of 100% Tempranillo wines – and the folks in Rioja know a thing or two about Tempranillo…

This is how the new brand of CVNE wines from Ribera del Duero was born – and it is called Arano. I had a few questions about this new adventure for CVNE, and so I asked those questions of Victor Urrutia, CEO of CVNE, to understand why the Arano name, why Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, and what does the future hold. Victor graciously agreed to answer my questions – here is our conversation:

[TaV]: Why Arano label? What is the relationship between Arano and CVNE?
[Victor Urrutia]: CVNE is the owner and founder of Bela and Arano. The Bela and Arano labels are facsimiles of a label of ours, that is to say from CVNE in Rioja, from 1910. It is a simple and beautiful label from our archives. When we try and invent things we realise that we’re not very good at it, and that in fact, what our forefathers did is far better. CVNE is a family company and has been since it was founded in 1879. The 3 stars on the label represent the 3 children of CVNE’s cofounder, Eusebio Real de Asúa. He had 2 daughters and one son. Their names were Sofia, Ramon, and Aurea Minerva. The eldest, Sofia, was known as Bela. That is the name we have given to this winery, and it is also the first estate wine that we have made in Ribera del Duero. It’s the first star. The second star is for Arano. The only son was called Ramon and his mothers’ maiden name was Arano. We chose this name for the second estate wine to be released from the winery.
Bela is Tempranillo from our vineyard in the village of Villalba, on clay soils. Aged for 9 to 12 months in barrel. The vineyard is around 70 hectares. Arano is Tempranillo from our vineyard in the village of Moradillo de Roa, on limestone and pebbled soils. Aged over 12 months in barrel. The vineyard is around 9 hectares.

[TaV]: Why Ribera del Duero? What was the inspiration for CVNE to expand into Ribera del Duero?
[Victor Urrutia]: We want to bring our take on rioja’s elegance to rugged Ribera del Duero. The latter makes excellent wines and is a historic region. As ambassadors for Spain across the world, we felt it was our obligation to own vineyards and make wine in Ribera del Duero; and to make these known everywhere.

[TaV]: What is the future hold for Arano Ribera del Duero wines? Do you plan to produce Reserva and Gran Reserva?
[Victor Urrutia]: In Ribera del Duero we are making wines that express the vineyards that we own in this appellation. We label some of these as Crianza, for instance, because some consumers find it helpful; but it is not an important consideration for us when we conceive the wine. As we get to work and know our vineyards better, we will consider releasing new wines from this winery. After all, there is another star in the label, that we need to make a wine for. We haven’t yet found this vineyard. Or rather, haven’t found the way to express what must be our grand cru in this region. But we are working on it.

[TaV]: Any future plans for CVNE to expand further south, maybe into the Toro region?
[Victor Urrutia] There are some great producers in Toro, like the García family behind Mauro. But in general, we find the wines of Toro to be very dense and powerful, and I’m not sure we know how to make wines in that style. Our future lies in continuing to make wines of elegance and age-worthiness.
We need to continue looking for vineyards that will allow us to make those kinds of wines. They’re probably in higher elevations and northern exposures. There’s much to continue doing in Rioja, Ribera and of course, Galicia, where our Virgen del Galir winery has started to make wines of great depth from the vineyards that we bought as well those we’ve planted there. We bottle Godello, Mencia as well as Merenzao, varieties that we hardly knew about some years ago and the wines are phenomenal. We even have Palomino (locals call it Jerez, or sherry) that, arguably, expresses the terroir better than anything, given its neutral profile as a grape variety. Is it perfect? No, but it’s honest. And also quite interesting. Like everything that we try to do.

Now let’s talk about CVNE’s latest and greatest – 2018 Arano Crianza. As Victor mentioned, the grapes for this wine are coming from 4 different plots in the Moradillo de Roa vineyard, located at an altitude of about 3,000 feet above sea level. I had an opportunity to taste this wine, and it was unquestionably Ribera del Duero in style, much leaner and tighter than a typical Rioja wine. Here are my notes:

2018 Arano Crianza Ribera del Duero DO (14.5% ABV, $30, 15 months in French oak barrels, Vegan)
Dark garnet
Aromas of roasted meat and earth jump out of the glass at least a foot away from it. Espresso and herbs come at you at high intensity.
The palate is somewhat unexpectedly mellow, with dark fruit and herbs, good acidity, long and supple finish.
Better concentration on the second and third day, the wine feels tighter with more energy.
Drinkability: 8-. Enjoyable now, built for the long haul

The journey is getting more and more exciting by the minute. This is not algebra, but we are definitely looking at the case of the successful transposition of a grape – go find the results of this Tempranillo transposition, and we can compare notes. Cheers!

Magnificent Rioja: CVNE Deep Dive

November 8, 2021 8 comments

It is no secret that I have a special relationship with Rioja – I happily admitted it many times. When asked about my favorite wine, I always say that I don’t have one. And every time I give this answer, deep inside there is a bit of the uneasy feeling, the one you get when you know you are not lying, but somewhat flirting with the truth, as Rioja is probably “the one”.

What would make the Rioja so special for me? For one, it was a pivotal experience at the PJ Wine Rioja seminar, where I tasted through an incredible lineup, including a 45 years old Rioja, and it was still absolutely beautiful (later on I tasted 65 years old Rioja which was, again, superb). Also, when it comes to Rioja, I can easily give you a bunch of producer names, whose wines I would wholeheartedly recommend to a friend and also would be excited to drink at any time myself – come to California, I might have to pause for a moment while looking for the favorites to recommend – I hope it tells you something.

Speaking about favorite Riojas, I want to talk to you today about CVNE, also known as Cune due to a typesetting mistake. In 1879, the Real de Asúa brothers arrived in Haro for the reason not related to wine. Nevertheless, that’s how the story of Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (C.V.N.E.), one of the most prominent Rioja producers, has begun. During its 140 years, CVNE remained a hallmark of quality and creativity. In 1915, CVNE introduced the very first White Rioja wine, Monopole. In 1973, CVNE founded Vinedos del Contino, the very first single-vineyard Rioja. Now in its 5th generation, CVNE continues to be a family winery and continues its advancement, now venturing even outside of Rioja, into Ribera del Duero and Valdeorras.

CVNE Rioja wines are produced at 5 wineries. First, there is the original Cune, which is simply a misspelled word for the CVNE, founded in 1879. In 1920, CVNE started production of Viña Real and Imperial Riojas. Viña Real was envisioned to be a more modern rendition of Rioja (in the 1920s), and Imperial was specifically produced for English markets. Imperial went on to become one of the most coveted Rioja wines, even becoming the wine #1 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines list in 2013.

In 1973, Viñedos del Contino was created to become the first single-vineyard Rioja wine. In 1994, CVNE started its latest Rioja project, Real de Asúa, to honor the founders of the winery and create the most modern rendition of Rioja, using grapes from high altitude Villalba vineyards in Rioja Alta area.

Each one of these Riojas has its own, unique style. But can we taste the differences? I had a perfect opportunity to try answering this question. I got samples of 3 of the CVNE Rioja Reserva wines – Cune, Viña Real, and Imperial, all from 2015,. I also happened to have a few bottles of 2015 Contino Reserva and altogether this set out a perfect stage to try 4 different Rioja wines from the same vintage and technically, the same producer.

Before we get to wines, let’s say a few words about the vintage. Production of Rioja wines is strictly regulated by its governing body, Rioja Consejo Regulador, to ensure quality, and subsequently, the reputation of the Rioja wines around the world. All the vintages in Rioja have their official vintage ratings – Excellent, Very Good, Good, Medium, Normal. 2015 was officially designated as Very Good (not Excellent, such as 2001, 2004, or 2010, but still Very Good), which should still set a good level of expectations. 2015 vintage had a couple of unique characteristics, though. 2015 had the earliest harvest in the history of Rioja, starting early in September. It was also a very short harvest – typically, the harvest in Rioja takes about 2 months, with the feast of Virgen del Pilar usually taking place on October 12th, to celebrate the peak of the picking season. In 2015, the harvest was completed in 4 weeks so by October 12th all the picking was pretty much complete. How does any of this manifest in wines? I’m honestly not sure, that would require actually a vertical tasting – which I would be happy to conduct if I would have an opportunity.

So how were the wines? In a word – amazing. All four wines were absolutely gorgeous, delicious right now, and will continue to be delicious for the many years ahead. Here are my notes:

2015 Viña Real Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $37, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo)
Dark Garnet
Dark fruit, tobacco, espresso, expressive
Red and black fruit, cedar box, herbs, forest underbrush, firm, good structure
8/8+, lip smacking goodness. Delicious. If you are looking for a massive, earth-shattering wine, such as Walla Walla or California Cab, this is not the wine for you. But if you are looking for the wine which seduces and sings to you, give this wine a try.

2015 CVNE Cune Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $29, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo)
Dark garnet, almost black
Dark, brooding, minerality, cedar box, funk
Dark fruit, plums, explicit tannins, firm structure, fresh, good acidity.
8/8+, excellent, comforting, powerful, impossible to stop drinking.

2015 Contino Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $46, 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo and Garnacha)
Dark garnet, almost black
Plums, cigar box, sweet tobacco
Complex, multilayered, earthy, dark fruit, clean acidity, lots of energy
8/8+, This is very early for this wine, but it is very enjoyable now, and it will be amazing with age

2015 Imperial Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $50, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, Mazuelo, and Garnacha)
Dark Garnet
Earthy, spicy, red and black fruit, medium-plus intensity
Dark fruit, cigar box, firm, perfectly structured, delicious.
8+/9-, outstanding, lots of pleasure.

Believe it or not, but Imperial Rioja was my accidental pairing with BBQ chicken pizza, and the wine worked perfectly with it.

So now the secret is out. I’m lying when I’m claiming that I don’t have a favorite wine, and Rioja is the one. Well, I’m quite happy with my choice of affection – but do you have enough courage to name your favorite wine? Oh yes, with the coming holidays, any one of these Riojas would make a perfect present – to a friend, or to yourself. Go ahead, find it – everyone deserves a tasty Rioja. Cheers!

 

Rioja Versus Rioja – Will One Tempranillo More?

November 10, 2017 15 comments

The time has come for a battle, where the brother will go against the brother and the blood will spill … – oops, let’s cull the drama before it sets in – it is the wine we are talking about, and if anything will be spilled, it will be the wine – but I promise to be very careful, as red wine is not easy to get off the clothes.

Today, in honor of the International Tempranillo Day, we will put glass to glass some of the best of the best in Rioja’s World. These wines are truly the siblings (brothers or not), as both wines are produced by Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company), also known as CVNE, and also sometimes referred to as Cune, due to an interesting style of writing used on the labels.

CVNE Rioja wines

Wines were produced in Spain forever. However, the story of Rioja as we know it, started in the late 19th century, after phylloxera epidemic wiped out most of the vines in Bordeaux, but England’s thirst for Claret Bordeaux was so famous for, was at its pick. Producers in Rioja wanted to become a new source of Claret, and some of the most ambitious producers even set up their new operations right by the train station in Haro, to ensure the best transport for their wines (you can read more here).

CVNE was created by two brothers in 1879, and the ownership stays in the family even today. In 1920, Viña Real line of wines was started to produce Rioja in new, modern style. CVNE owns about 1360 acres of vineyards, located in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. Both appellations have similar soils and Atlantic coastal climate exposure, however, Rioja Alta vineyards are located at the higher altitudes than Rioja Alavesa, which shows in the resulting fruit.

Before we will enter the battle, we need to establish some ground rules, to make sure that our fighters are in the same “weight category”. The rules are not difficult: there are 4 main varieties which can be used in Rioja – Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan). Together, these 4 varieties should represent at least 85% of the blend or 95% of grapes are destemmed; there are few other grapes allowed to be used in the leftover percentage.  Crianza wines should be aged for at least 2 years ( 6 months in the cask); Reserva – 3 years (12 months in the cask); Gran Reserva – 5 years (18 months in the cask).

Okay, now that we set the rules, let the fight begin.

Battle Crianza:

2014 Cune Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $13, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: Garnet
N: earthy smell, freshly crushed blackberries, acidity, cedar box,
P: medium body, pronounced minerality, restrained fruit, clear acidity, tart cherries, soft, round, hint of tobacco, asking for food
V: 8-, restrained and tart, definitely improved after a few hours of breathing

2013 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $15, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: Garnet
N: surprisingly different, dark fruit, touch of tobacco, touch of sweetness
P: medium+ body, firm structure, cherries and tart of cherries pit, even brighter acidity than a previous wine, more present mouthfeel
V: 8-, a touch fruitier and more round than previous wine. Different but equally good.

Conclusion: Tie. You can definitely taste the difference – Cune Crianza is more restrained and tight, and Viña Real is more round and fruity from the get-go. Slight difference in age and vintage might play a role. The wines would ask for a different food, but otherwise, they are equally good wines.

Battle Reserva:

The Reservas match fair and square – same vintage, same age in barrel, very similar grape composition

2013 Cune Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $28, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet
N: medium+ intensity, leather, touch of sweet plum, cedar box, very inviting
P: medium weight, tart, acidic, a bit of sour cherries, explicit tannins. Needs time.
V: started opening after one hour in the open bottle. More fruit showed up, perfect structure, very pleasant. Excellent overall. 8+/9-

2013 Viña Real Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $32, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet
N: medium- intensity, touch of the forest floor, mushrooms, tobacco, eucalyptus
P: cherries, cigar box, medium+ presence on the palate, crisp acidity, very pronounced French oak tannins, needs a lot of time
V: more approachable than the previous one, but still should improve with time – get a case and forget it. Also a great improvement after an hour. Wow. Superb. 8+/9-

Conclusion: Advantage Viña Real. The wines are clearly stylistically different. Appellation might play a role, and the winemaking technique, of course. I slightly preferred Viña Real, as it was a bit more round versus more austere Cune.

Battle Gran Reserva:

Here we have different vintages (both considered excellent, but I think 2010 has a slight edge up over 2011), different appellations and different grape compositions.

2011 Cune Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet, practically black, with Ruby rim
N: dark fruit, roasted meat notes, sage, eucalyptus
P: forthcoming tannins, tar, cherry, tart, with lip-smacking acidity, really long finish.
V: 8+, within 20 minutes of opening, not ready even remotely. After about 3 hours in the open bottle, the wine became opened up enough to become delicious.

2010 Viña Real Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet, just a shade lighter than the previous wine
N: more open than previous wine – blackberries, graphite, pencil shavings, cedar box, iodine
P: incomparably more drinkable, fresh cherries, open, bright, perfect structure, eucalyptus, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8/8+, you feel the need for time, but the wine is a lot more approachable

Conclusion: Advantage Cune. First, nobody should drink 2010 Gran Reserva now. It is simply a waste. Buy it at a great price, and put it aside for another 15-20 years, especially from the outstanding vintage such as 2010. Just to explain the result here, I slightly preferred the firm structure of Cune versus fruity appeal of Viña Real.

As you can see, we didn’t find a winner of our Tempranillo battle – all 6 wines Tempranillo perfectly, as one would expect from such a great producer as CVNE.

I wish wine would be the only real battle we ever have to fight – wouldn’t that be great? Enjoy your glass of Tempranillo, no matter where it came from and celebrate the noble grape of Spain! Cheers!

There is a Train Station in Haro

July 30, 2013 6 comments

DSC_0184 Vina Real 1978 in the glassI remember talking to someone about great Rioja seminar I attended, and I remember being asked “why did you go to that Rioja seminar, don’t you already know everything you need about Rioja?”. I only raised my eyebrow. Yes, I make no secret that Rioja is one of my all time favorite wines (I’m sure you noticed if you read this blog for a while) – but there is always so much to learn around wine, you can never pass the educational opportunity. Especially when this is the seminar at PJ Wine store, where wine education always includes a glass (or two, or more) of great wine, just to make sure your newly acquired knowledge would be well anchored. As a side note, this seminar took place a while back (in March of 2013), but the experience was so good, it is still worth sharing.

Andrew Mulligan of Michael Skurnik Wines, who was running the seminar, was a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Rioja. Before we will talk about the wines in the seminar, here are some of the interesting facts about Rioja wines which we learned:

  • There are four grape varieties allowed to be used in a production of red Rioja wines – Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo and Graciano. Tempranillo is usually the main grape, which is responsible for main flavor profile and ageability of the Rioja. Garnacha adds body and power, Mazuelo – spicy flavors, Graciano – structure. There are no limitations for the exact wine composition, so all types of blends are possible
  • Rioja wines are typically made out of grapes harvested from the different vineyards in the region. There are also single-vineyard Rioja wines, which are called Pago. Rioja Contino is an example of single vineyard Rioja.
  • Production of all wines in Rioja is controlled by Consejo Regulador (Control Board), an organization founded in 1926. Consejo Regulador also sets vintage ratings for different years. You can find all vintage ratings (starting from 1926!) here.
  • 2010 and 2011 vintages have “excellente” rating – Crianzas should be good already!
  • Bodegas Muga, CVNE, Lopez de Heredia and La Rioja Alta wineries (some of the very best Rioja producers) are all located at four corners the train station in Haro – the location was chosen for the purposes of easy shipping of wines to UK.
  • La Rioja Alta 890 line commemorates the 1890 when the winery was created. 904 commemorates 1904 when Ardanza winery was acquired and became a part of La Rioja Alta. The winery decided to call their wines this way (using 890 instead of 1890 and 904 instead of 1904) so consumers would not confuse commemoration dates with the dates of production.
  • CVNE was founded by 1879 by two brothers, and it produces Rioja in two distinct styles under two different labels – CVNE and Vina Real. All the fruit for Vina Real comes from Rioja Alavesa region, and all the fruit in CVNE wines comes from Rioja Alta.
  • CVNE Imperial label was started specifically for the UK market, and it was called like that because it was created during the UK’s “Imperial Century”.
DSC_0174 Rioja line-up

Rioja seminar tasting line-up

Now, let me present to you the wines with my notes. All the wines are included in the order we tasted them.

CVNE Imperial Reserva 2005 – gorgeous nose, dark fruit, perfect acidity, cherries, perfectly balanced, but very masculine. Touch of eucalyptus. Very long finish. Drinkability: 8

La Rioja Alta Vina Arana Gran Reserva 2004 – Beautiful. A lot more delicate than the previous wine, more earthy, sage notes, very beautiful. Perfect acidity. Drinkability: 8

CVNE Cune Reserva 2004 – beautiful, very delicate, (all 4 grapes are used , Tempranilo 85%, 5% the rest), a bit too delicate for me. Drinkability: 7+

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2004 – Beautiful nose, similar to #1, but smooth palate, very nice, round. Drinkability: 8

La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Gran Reserva 2001 – Stunning. A lot of fruit, sweet on the finish. Perfect with food. Absolutely bright and young, you can never tell it is 12 years old. Residual sweetness of Grenache is coming through (20% of Grenache). Drinkability: 8+

CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2001 – Wow. Perfect fruit, less sweetness on the finish compare to the previous wine. Might be my best of tasting. Perfect power despite the age. Drinkability: 9-

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 1998 – Very interesting. A lot more herbs, more subtle, beautiful profile. Drinkability: 8+

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 1995 – Very different. Lots of herbs, subtle, beautiful. Drinkability: 8+

CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva 1978 – Tobacco, leather, mature wine. Very nice. Still has enough fruit. Drinkability: 8

Yes, I know, my tasting notes are rather short and mostly describe the wines through emotions. However, I think you can see the progression in the flavor profile from the bright fruit to the more earthy, spicy, delicate notes. The common trait among these 9 wines? Elegance. Elegance and balance, to be precise. These are the wines you crave, as you know they will bring you lots of pleasure every time you will open them.

Andrew told us a story from his personal experience with the old Rioja wine. He ordered bottle of 1917 Rioja for the customer, and the customer … refused to take it later on. So the bottle was shared at the table in the restaurant, without much expectations, among the group of young wine professionals. On the very first sip, the table got quiet. And it stayed quiet for the next 5 minutes, as everybody just wanted to reflect on that special moment. I wish you great wine experiences, my friends. Cheers!

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