Rioja – Keeping it Real

Photo 10-05-2015 17 33 53Rioja is on a roll at the moment, in 2014 over 36 million liters of the stuff were exported into Britain, we now account for up to a third of all Rioja exports and Spain could overtake France as the nation’s favorite wine producer within the next few years. But with the quantity is also great quality, in 2013 Decanter Magazine made Faustino 1 Gran Reserva 2001 its wine of the year scoring it 97/100 points, not bad for a wine that is widely available and comes in at under £20.

FaustinoAcross the pond, Wine Spectator’s wine of the year for 2013 was also a Rioja, the Cune Imperial Gran Reserva 2004, this was the first time a Spanish wine has been given that honor. Last year both white and red Rioja made it onto Decanter’s Top 50 wines for 2014 and the region is in fine form. This all sounds like the perfect excuse to pull some Spanish corks and look at a couple of the region’s best bodegas. In this post we’ll take a look at one of Rioja’s most important producers, CVNE and in particular their Viña Real wines. A recent tasting proved how beautifully these wines can age, managing to retain their soft red fruit well into their dotage.


Real History

Viña Real was launched in 1920 by the incredibly sexy sounding C.V.N.E or Compañía Vinícola de del Norte de España (Wine Company of Northern Spain)which, due to a spelling mistake many years ago has become known as Cune (‘coo-nay’) with many of their bottling’s bearing that name. I suppose it rolls off the tongue a little easier than ‘cee-vee-en-ee’ or ‘coov-nee’ so happy days.

CuneOther top bottles in their 12 strong stable include Imperial, whose 2004 Gran Reserva was Wine Spectator’s wine of the year in 2013 and the more recent Real De Asúa which is 100% Tempranillo and made in much smaller quantities than the Imperial in a more international style, both have Bordeaux style bottles with high shoulders. Contino is another of their wineries but considered more of a separate entity with Cune based in Haro, Contino in Laserna and Viña Real in Laguardia.

Vina Real MapInitially called Castillo San Mateo, the name changed to Viña Real or Royal Vineyard at some point in the 20’s but was not properly registered until the 40’s so its unclear what the first vintage was. It takes its name from the Camino Real or ‘Royal Way’ in Elciego, an initial vineyard source of fruit for the wine. The greatest vintage is 1954, the Reserva Especial is rated by many as one of the top 10 Rioja wines ever made. Other top vintages include 34’55’58’64’82’94’95’01’04 & 05’. If possible steer clear of 53’65’71 & ’72.


Vina Real’s new winery (or maybe not….)

Cune have always tried to maintain a classic style while experimenting with the latest wine making technology, as a company they are leading innovators not only in Spain but globally. In 2004 a state of the art winery was built, designed by Bordeaux-based architect Philippe Mazieres it looks a bit like Jabba the Hutts palace in Star Wars, Return of the Jedi or as though someone has berried a rather large barrel.

Real cellatGrapes are handpicked with half coming from their own vineyards located close to the winery, they have automatic hoppers that gently process the bunches before going through another hand selection. They do the first fermentation in temperature controlled steel vats then malolactic fermentation in a 50/50 split mix of French & American Oak.

Real Wines
There are six wines in the Real stable;

  • • Barrel fermented white, 100% Viura
    • Roasado, usually 85% Viura and 15% Tempranillo
    • Crianza Plata (‘Silver’), usually 90% Tempranillo and 10% Garnacha, Graciano & Mazuela aged 13-14 months in French & American oak.
    • Reserva Oro (‘Gold’)same blend/winemaking as the Crianza but aged up 24 months then cellared for at least a year before sale.
    • Gran Reserva is usually 95% Tempranillo 5% Graciano coming from their best plots in Alavesa and aged in a mixture of French & American oak for at least 2 years, followed by at least another three in bottle.
    • Pagos de Viña Real 100% Tempranillo from old vines around the winery, fermentation and aging in 100% new French oak (2001 first vintage)

All the wines go into Burgundy style bottles and the grapes for the Reserva and Gran Reserva wines now come almost exclusively from the Alavesa sub region though in the past up to a third came from Alta.

'Back in line 66'

‘Back in line 66’

Real Old

The below wines were a special consignment that was offered by the Wine Society, the wines had been purchased from a restaurant in Spain and had been properly cellar’d over the years so even the older wines in half bottles really were in pretty decent shape.

Photo 08-05-2015 12 56 04Reserva Especial 1959 £39 (£35 half bottle)
Vintage Rating:Very Good
A complex nose encompassing hoi-sin sauce, a light balsamic note, burnt molasses, mushroom, decaying bark, burnt orange peel, old cigar box, reminds me in a way of Madeira.
In the mouth there is still some acidity with the ghost of some light, delicate barely there red berry fruit, rather subtle length that you could easily overlook.

Photo 08-05-2015 12 57 24Reserva Especial 1964 (£39 half bottle)
Vintage Rating:Excellent
The quality of the vintage really comes through with a sweetness and floral smoky note, top quality ground coffee, a sweet, meaty note, this really does belie its age and evolves beautifully in the glass
In the mouth there is still a dusting of tannin and dry red berry fruit is more present though there is little complexity or length.

Photo 08-05-2015 12 58 19Reserva Especial 1966 (£65)
Vintage Rating:Standard
On the nose this has a dominance of PX style fruit, sweet sticky liquorice and touches of iodine.
In the mouth this is rather dried out and the tannins just drop straight off the front palate there is some fruit with a dry, blackcurrant edge, touch bitter and dilute, drinkable and interesting (bit of an odd ball this)but going nowhere.

Photo 08-05-2015 12 59 12Gran Reserva 1970 (£79)
Vintage Rating:Very Good
A rather interesting perfume with background notes of blackberry but some lovely intricacy, wood spice, truffle, really rather beautiful stuff!
In the mouth this has a delicate, silky front palate with some tannic grip unfurling throughout the length, good acidity, quite taught with a bitter spice and berry finish.

Photo 08-05-2015 13 00 41Gran Reserva 1976 (£79)
Vintage Rating:Good
Starting to see more sweeter fruited notes and even faint touches of vanilla, complex red berry fruits, damson, fantastic purity.
In the mouth this really is a complete wine with balance across the palate, great acidity and balance with healthy re berry fruit that has only a touch of bitterness to it. This was a great wine but I found the structure more appealing on the 70′.

Photo 08-05-2015 13 03 29Reserva 1981 (£45)
Vintage Rating:Very Good
On the nose there is good complexity but in a Brett style so saddle leather, dried violets, but also some sweet, fleshy red and black fruit, high toned, gorgeous but may not appeal to all.
In the mouth there is a fullness of balanced fruit, soft, very approachable tannin, a nice line of acidity running through and notes of cola spice and blackcurrant fruit.

Photo 08-05-2015 13 01 58Reserva 1982 (£45)
Vintage Rating:Excellent
The 82′ has more lift and freshness, lacking the Brett notes of the 81′ the fruit is more expressive here and has a wonderful sweetness to it and is very compact with dark fruit, coffee, intense but elegant.
In the mouth there is more grip than the 81′ but balance, full tannins with a touch of sweetness, a complete wine with a classy length. Seems that it may have more gas in the tank than the 81′

Photo 08-05-2015 13 04 29Gran Reserva 1991 (£40)
Vintage Rating:Very good
A very different character coming through here with much more compact, intense but still beautifully perfumed and laden with rich coffee notes.
Silky in the mouth but lacking in intensity, more of a subtlety to the fruit, low key, maybe less ipact than the nose would suggest.

Photo 08-05-2015 13 05 20Reserva 1995 (£35)
Vintage Rating:Excellent
This really is a very refined wine with intricate spice that is nicely woven in with the fruit, which is ripe and full.
In the mouth the tannins are soft and flesh out towards the end of the palate and has a lively acidity that really carries through the broody, dark fruit.

Gran Reserva 2005 (£22.26)
Vintage Rating: Excellent
A nose that is full of voluptuous, deep, dark, damson fruit, sweet black olive notes intermingle with freshly baked blueberry pie. In the mouth this has full on black fruits, full but soft tannin. A new style Rioja with plenty of polish, bags of fruit and enough grip and acidity to give it a long life.

Photo 10-05-2015 17 14 01Pagos de Vina Real 2002 (£45)
This 100% Tempranillo Pagos (similar to clos in France or single vineyard) smells of blueberry pie, damson, dark chocolate, melted liquorice then on to more meaty, peppery notes. The palate is silky smooth and is well balanced, big smooth elegant dark fruit. This wine is a pleasure to drink and shows the Tempranillo grape in a polished, international style.


This really was a great tasting with nearly all the wines showing very well and managing to retain plenty of interest after all these years. Generally I found that aged Rioja often manages to retain fruit better than many Bordeaux reds of a similar age. In short, if you like your wines with decent bottle age, Rioja is where it’s at! How modern bottling’s hold up with similar age, only time will tell but I’d certainly be excited to try a bottle of Pago in 20 years time. Prices noted are what was charged by The Wine Society, some bottles are available, Fine + Rare have the 81‘ & 68′. Hedonism have some 1949.

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