Remarkable Rioja – 6 decades of CUNE Viña Real
Did you notice that Rioja kinda went out of fashion for a while? I didn’t realise it at the time, but things have been quiet on the front of the most famous Spanish region for a few years now. I used to get lots of bottles of Rioja for Christmas – it’s a wine that lots of people recognise and I suppose the gold cage makes it look gift-worthy. Over the past few Christmases/birthdays etc. I’ve received many a bottle of wine… but none of them have been from Rioja. Did we fall out of love for a while? Did we get side-tracked with massive Napa Cabernet, carried away with Argentinian Malbec and Carmenere from Chile? In reality there is just so much good wine to enjoy these days; our repertoires are getting bigger while the number of bottles we consume remains the same.
If we did forget about Rioja then 2013 has certainly put an end to the slump. Wine from Rioja was placed at the top The Wine Spectator’s list of the best wines of the year (CUNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2004) and also topped the charts with Decanter (Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001). And if that didn’t give me a kick up the backside to remind me of the joys of Rioja then this week’s stupendous tasting certainly did…
11 vintages of CUNE Viña Real, spanning 6 decades!
The Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) was founded in 1879 by the Real de Asua family and is regarded as one of Spain’s best and most consistent wine producers. The wines were supposed to have been branded CVNE, but an early misspelling decided this wine’s name would be CUNE forever more! The company is known for its Viña Real and Imperial brands – our tasting focussed on Viña Real, whose first wine was launched back in 1920.
The tasting took place at the West London Wine School and was led by Quentin, who has spent lots of time in Spain and has what appears to be an encyclopaedic knowledge of the country (take a look at his fabulous blog here). Jimmy, who usually runs the fine wine tastings took his place at the back of the room, got drunk and heckled all the way though. OK, so I may be exaggerating a bit… but he certainly enjoyed his night off! Joking, aside this truly was one of the highest quality and most interesting tasting events I have had the privilege to attend.
Here are my notes on a truly remarkable tasting…
CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 2005 (Majestic £21.49)
Quentin wanted to start with a more recent vintage to demonstrate where Viña Real is right now to help tell the story. The 2005 has a nose of red cherries, strawberries and vanilla – it’s very polished and very modern. There is plenty of structure but the tannins are nicely nestling in the background, certainly not overpowering, even in the wine’s relative youth. The texture is silky smooth and there’s a lot of dark fruit but with the delightful acidity of fresh strawberries. This wine has a great, silky balance and is drinking beautifully already… but there are plenty of years ahead of it. 93 points
CUNE Viña Real Especial 1959 (The Wine Society £35.00 350ml – n/a)
The oldest wine I’ve drunk to date and unfortunately, just over the hill. There’s a slightly mouldy tinge on the nose but then some sweet, dried fruit squeezes through; I smell caramel, dried mushroom and just a touch of dried orange peel. On the palate the wine is raisiny but still has a degree freshness running through it – notes of orange and caramel… and then it’s gone. As I said, past it’s best, but still a pleasure to drink. 90 points
CUNE Viña Real Especial 1964 (The Wine Society £39.00 350ml – n/a)
What a wine! There is a hint of orange to the colour but you would never guess it was almost 50 years old! The nose is smoky and meaty but oh so inviting, still with some delicate dried red fruit providing refreshing lift. The balance of texture and acidity is remarkable – there is so much vibrancy, still a hint of red fruit along with dried cranberry and the spice of a Middle Eastern kitchen. The texture is elegant, silky and the balance is extraordinary. A marvel of wine that still has a few years ahead of it. Remarkable. 95 points
CUNE Viña Real Especial 1966 (The Wine Society £65.00 – n/a)
1966 was rated a mediocre vintage and this was the only mediocre wine of the evening. The appearance was more Pedro Ximinez than Rioja and the aromas weren’t far off either. Liquorice, coffee, meaty (Bovril?) and a bit of figgy fruit. Some oxidized notes on the palate and a flavour more akin to tawny port – if fact, a piece of mature cheddar certainly helped it along nicely! Well past it’s best but very interesting to try an aged wine from a poor vintage. 86 points
CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 1970 (The Wine Society £79.00 – n/a)
1970 was a good vintage and this is a very charming wine. The initial nose is fungus and truffle, followed by dried cranberry and just a touch of red, sour cherry. On the palate there is sprightly acidity, strawberries and dried red fruit, with a very earthy, truffle-like finish. A great attack, a delightful finish but something missing in the middle… So close! 91 points
CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 1976 (The Wine Society £79.00)
From nearly to precisely! 1976 was a great vintage in Rioja and this is a truly great wine. The aromas of the Middle-eastern spice cupboard, red currants, cranberries, expensive worn leather and savoury, slightly roasted meat… mesmerising. The texture is silky-smooth and the acidity is precise and fresh. The red berry fruit is bright and youthful, with a touch of aged, dried berries adding complexity. On top of the fruit we find earthy leather and the savoury edge of dried mushroom –pure class that goes on and on. The tannins are silky but still offer a wonderful grip and texture – this wine is all about balance, supreme structure and sublime elegance. An absolutely brilliant wine and my wine of the night (also got the majority of votes from the group). 96 points
CUNE Viña Real Reserva 1981 (The Wine Society £45.00 – n/a)
There’s a hit of farmyard-brett on the nose initially but then you get the dark berry fruit and smoky meatiness. On the palate there is some nice concentrated blackberry fruit upfront along with some more bright acidity, a touch of animal and forest floor and just a hint of coffee – very powerful compared to the older vintages. Great weight and structure – a pretty full-on wine but just falls off a bit quickly at the end. 92 points
CUNE Viña Real Reserva 1982 (The Wine Society £45.00 – n/a)
Even more power and concentration than the ’81… but this one has staying power. Dark cherry and chocolate on the nose, with a smoky, roasted coffee note adding depth and complexity. On the palate there is some real grip – it feels so young! The acid balances beautifully with the tannin and there is big concentrated black fruit, almost cassis-like. This is the first wine we’ve had with real stuffing but it is delightfully balanced and still very, very elegant. So good. 94 points
CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 1991 (The Wine Society £40.00 – n/a)
We’re getting a bit modern here with concentrated and powerful dark fruit on the nose, supported by smoke and violets. On the palate there’s plenty of dark fruit but just a hint of strawberry showing through, along with a touch of sweet spice and some smoke. This is a lively wine that’s nudging the “big” bracket but still with a wonderful elegance – just slightly missing in the middle. 91 points
CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 1995 (The Wine Society £35.00 – n/a)
If the ’91 was concentrated, the ’95 is massive! Super concentrated blackberry and also a hint of the orange I was finding in the older vintages. The other clear aroma here is the expensive new oak – not obtrusive, but very evident. Compared to what’s gone before this is a modern fruit-bomb. Lashings of concentrated black fruit but there is a delightful finesse and it is truly sumptuous. I don’t want to like it because it’s almost over-made… but it is a fantastic wine that explodes on the palate, has outstanding balance and just keeps on going. Bloody hell! 94 points (and best value wine of the flight)
CUNE Pagos de Real 2002 (Coe Vintners £40.22)
The first vintage of this “icon” wine (horrible phrase!!) was produced in 2001, when work began on Viña Real’s new winery. Hand-picked Tempranillo from Viña Real’s oldest vineyards with further selection at the vineyard blah, blah, blah. But do you know what? It is spectacular! Very tight and un-giving on the nose initially… I’m afraid of sniffing it up my nostrils at one stage! But the super-concentrated cassis-fruit finally arrives and the oak is mellow and sweet in support. On the palate the black fruit is huge – the texture is rich, velvety and sumptuous, the tannin is beautifully integrated and provides the structure that keeps the flavour going for a very long time. The acidity is marvellous and the oak is super-mellow, with gentle smoke and delicious vanilla notes holding the whole thing together in beautiful harmony. It may not scream Rioja (in fact it only hints at it), but it certainly screams class. A fabulous wine for the lover of modern super-concentrated wines… and even those like me who yearn for elegance! 94 points