The number one wine on the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2013 is a red Spanish wine from Rioja: CVNE / Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 – 95 points. This is the first time in the history of the Top 100 that a wine from Spain has been the top wine of the year. (See the previous post about the 2013 Top 100 list, or click here to be taken there.)
We noted in our previous article that Rioja as a wine producing region did remarkably well on the Top 100 list for 2013. Five of the nine Spanish wines on the list were from Rioja.
To learn more about Rioja, please visit the links on the right to see a Map of Spanish Wine Regions or D.O.’s and the section on Spanish Wine Regions – D.O. Denominación de Origen.
Firstly, Rioja is the grand, old, red wine king of Spain. It produces suave wines of distinction, worthy of long aging. Rioja grew in the 1800’s as phylloxera (a vine pest) was ravaging the vineyards of Bordeaux to the North. The French looked abroad for grapes to satisfy demand and came to Rioja, leaving their winemaking techniques behind.
The red wines from Rioja are often blends or monovarietal cuvées. The noble Spanish grape Tempranillo is the base for most wines in Rioja, with Mazuelo (Cariñena), Garnacha, and Graciano being other principal red grapes here. Some white Rioja wine of distinction is made, most likely from native Viura.
“Cune” or CVNE is a traditional old winery in Rioja, established in 1879. The name is actually an accronym of Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (Vinicultural Company of the North of Spain). In Latin the letter u was written v, so the modern nickname “Cune” derives from the accronym.
There are two other wineries, making wines from separate vineyards, under the Cune umbrella: Viña Real and Contino. Visit Cune’s website here: www.cvne.com If the link takes you to the Spanish language version, look for the British flag in the upper right-hand corner to be taken to the English version.
Onto the wine. Grand Rioja wine is quite unique. There is a lot of new oak, traditional American oak, not French, which imparts a lot of wood and spice notes. Traditional Rioja wine would be more like a Pinot Noir in intensity; and indeed even darker more modern version tend to evolve more in that direction with prolonged aging. More modern Rioja wines are darker, smooth, with oak, tending to be a bit more like Bordeaux wines. Sometimes it is said that Rioja, especially with some age, is like something between a Bordeaux and an old Burgundy.
Nowhere in the Old World is the debate over Traditonal style versus Modern style more debated than in Rioja.
A Gran Reserva such as the Imperial 2004 can only be made (or rather called a “Gran Reserva” wine) in the best vintages, which is regulated by the Rioja Regulating Council (Consejo Regulador). The fruit for a Gran Reserva tends to be the best fruit from the vineyards. Aging must be at least five years before being released. A minimum of two of those years must be in oak barrels. Some are enjoyable upon release, while others need years to soften and become less tannic and structured. Rioja wines have an amazing ability to age.
The Cune Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 is made from 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, and 5% Mazuelo. It is aged in barrels of both American and French oak and released after the appropriate time in the bottle. Click here for a technical sheet on the wine from Cune’s website.
Wine Spectator has posted a free link to the page for the Cune Imperial here. Their short tasting notes are as follows:
Tasting Note: Firm and a bit austere, this red shows depth and drive, with chewy tannins supporting plum, tobacco, licorice and mineral flavors. The structure is solid but the wine remains fresh. Maturing now, this has a long life ahead. Drink now through 2024. –Thomas Matthews
It will surely be hard easily to find bottles of this wine to purchase now. However, the good news is that there are plenty of 2004 Rioja Gran Reservas (and older ones) in the market. We encourage you to seek them out and see what a Rioja Gran Reserva can be. Happy Hunting.