Cune ‘Imperial’ Gran Reserva, Rioja DOCa, Bodegas CVNE, Spain
Philip Day discusses Cune ‘Imperial’ Gran Reserva, Rioja DOCa, Bodegas CVNE, Spain
This review of Cune ‘Imperial’ Gran Reserva, Rioja DOCa, Bodegas CVNE, Spain includes details of the terroir, history and viticulture.
Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company) or CVNE, was founded by two brothers, Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asúa, in 1879 in the town of Haro in the north-west of the province of La Rioja in northern Spain.
The company quickly became known as just CVNE or rather by its more pronounceable corruption Cune (Coo-nay).
The brothers had moved to Haro from Bilbao on the Atlantic coast on the suggestion of Eusebio’s doctor because the drier climate of La Rioja would be more beneficial for the asthmatic’s health.
CVNE, continues to be controlled by the direct descendants of the founding family. The current (fifth) generation of the Real de Asúa family are CEO Victor Urrutia and his sister, María, in charge of marketing.
Since its inception, the company has focused on the production and ageing of wines. Today it now encompasses four bodegas: These are CVNE itself (Chief winemaker: Maria Larrea) based in Haro (Rioja Alta), where its Imperial brand has its own separate premises and winery; Viña Real (Chief winemaker: Eva de Benito) based in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa) and Contino (Chief winemaker: Jesús Madrazo) situated in Laserna (Rioja Alavesa).
The four bodegas have very distinct philosophies and styles and are run as separate entities. CVNE, is by far the biggest of the three and only uses grapes for its Riojas grown or purchased in the Rioja Alta sub-region, packaging them in standard Bordeaux-style bottles. Meanwhile, Viña Real is a Rioja Alavesa brand, bottled in Burgundy-shaped bottles.
There are two different ranges of CVNE Rioja: Viña Real and Imperial. Both are rich, full-bodied Riojas and their Reserva and Grand Reserva bottlings are some of the most long-lived in the region today.
Imperial is one of the renowned reference brands in the entire history of Spanish wine making. It is a true classic in Rioja and was first bottled in the 1920s. Its name originates from a special bottling for the English market which were bottled in small bottles called ‘Pinta Imperial’ or ‘Imperial Pint’ (an Imperial pint is equivalent to approximately half a litre).
CVNE, is one of the historical bodegas located in the traditional Barrio de la Estación neighbourhood in Haro.
It was founded in 1879 by two Basque businessmen, brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asúa, along with Riojano Isidro Corcuera who was very knowledgeable about the area and its vineyards. Together they established the company Corcuera, Real de Asúa y Compañía, the predecessor of Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España on the 24th of March,1879. (The name change took place in 1882.)
The CVNE bodega is composed of some 38 buildings, which include the original 1879 premises, as well as the plant designed and built by the Eiffel architectural studio in 1909. Indeed, much of the bodega which was built around a central courtyard that its constantly, as all old buildings, restored and preserved.
This winery combines tradition, quality and innovation. In 1940 it pioneered the construction of the first concrete fermentation cellar in Spain. In the 1980s it pioneered the first gravity fed vinification plant.
The Real de Asúa cellar, in effect a boutique ‘winery within another winery’ is where the greater wines of the Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, namely, Real de Asúa and Imperial, are made. Here entirely traditional wine-making processes are employed, subject to the strictest quality controls.
Without question, Imperial is the brightest jewel in CVNE’s Haro crown. Chief winemaker, Maria Larrea, who originally trained at the University of Montpellier describes Imperial as ‘the expression of the best grapes from our best vineyards.’ It is so exclusive that it is only ever produced as reserva and gran reserva bottlings. Such is its importance to CVNE, that Imperial has its own dedicated wine-making team and since 2005, its own micro-facility.
Made in a fresh, elegant, complex and structured style, Imperial has a wonderful capacity for ageing.
Spain’s celebrated Rioja wine region is made up of three subregions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Rioja Alta is the westernmost sub-region, centred around the historic town of Haro, where a number of well-known bodegas are located. The majority of its vineyards lie south of the Ebro River, located at relatively high altitudes, which assist in the accumulation of acidity, colour and moderate alcohol levels.
The climate is very similar to that of Rioja Alavesa, although it is noticeably influenced by the Atlantic Ocean.
The soil, although less rich in limestone than in Rioja Alavesa, has a healthy mix of clay, is rich in iron salts and nutrients and other alluvial components deposited in the region by the tributaries of the Ebro River. All of which gives Rioja Alta’s soils a redder colour than its northern neighbour’s sandy white soils.
The Tempranillo grape thrives in these conditions, producing signature ‘Rioja-style’ wines. As a result, wines from its vineyards form the backbone of the majority of Rioja blends. Other important grape varieties grown in the area include Graciano, Garnacha and Mazuelo (aka Cariñena/Carignan).
Rioja Alta is known for producing full-bodied wines displaying an amazing harmony of fruit and oak characters with a medium alcohol content and a high acidity level that form the basis of most classic red Rioja. The wines have a particular affinity for being aged in oak casks and will benefit from periods of extended ageing (including bottle maturation).
When compared with wines originating in Rioja Alavesa, wines of this sub-region generally tend to be finer, lighter in body and lower in acid.
CVNE historically used different bottle shapes to distinguish which part of Rioja the wines come from. Those in Burgundy-shaped bottles have their origin in Rioja Alavesa while those in Bordeaux-style bottles hail from Rioja Alta.
CVNE – Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España
Total: 545 hectares (1346.75 acres) Imperial: 28 hectares (69 acres)
Imperial Reserva & Gran Reserva : 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo
Cvne ‘Imperial’ Gran Reserva, Rioja DOCa
Cvne ‘Imperial’ Reserva, Rioja DOCa
Real de Asúa, Reserva, Rioja DOCa
Plus several others – see website
Predominantly iron-rich clays and limestone in the Rioja Alta
Group: over 9 million bottles every year.
Imperial: around 200,000 bottles in all, of which 50,000 are Gran Reserva and 150,000 Reserva
Cune and Monopole: up to 5m bottles;
|Top Vintages Produced by CVNE|
1944, 1947, 1952, 1955, 1958, 1976, 1981,1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013,2014,2015
The grapes that go on to make Imperial’s Tempranillo-dominated blend (the remainder comprises 10% Graciano and a minute amount of Mazuelo) always originate from CVNE’s own 28 hectares of vineyards in Villalba (Rioja Alta), and selected vineyards in the nearby communes of Briones and Montalvo, where the average age of the vines is kept over 20 years to maintain quality.
The vines are bush pruned, to maintain low yields and hand harvested. Only the healthiest and ripest bunches grapes are selected and are conveyed to the winery from the vineyards in 20kg stackable containers to prevent any damage during transportation.
On arrival at the Real de Asúa winery, the grapes are stored at a cool temperature of 10°C for 24 hours, which aids the development of aromatic flavours in the wine and makes for a brighter, colour-rich product. The grapes are then hand selected on a selection table and any grapes deemed substandard are removed. Following de-stalking, the grapes are crushed in an extruder and loaded into mobile stainless steel vats which are carried by fork-lift trucks and the grapes are gravity fed into a wooden vats made of French oak of different capacities, where they undergo a cold temperature alcoholic fermentation. This allows the production of each plot of vines to be collected individually and enables the characteristics of the terroir to be maintained during fermentation.
Once fermentation is completed, the wine is transferred into concrete tanks. Having undergone a lengthy maceration period to achieve optimum colour and structure, the wine now goes through a malolactic fermentation, to refine the wine and to leave it with the necessary acidity to complete its period of maturation in American and French oak. Once the optimum moment is achieved under the direction of the œnologist the wine is transferred by racking into oak barrels to begin its ageing. After the desired period of time, the wine is filtered and bottled and subsequently bottle aged in the cellars prior to its release to the market.
Historically, Imperial was initially fermented in oak vats. From the 1940s to the 1990s, it was then vinified in small concrete tanks. Between 1990 and 2004, it switched over to stainless steel. In 2004, it was decided that fermentation should revert to the use of new oak vats, to replicate the finish obtained from original vats of the 1920s.
The Imperial bodega is a truly independent winery inside the original CVNE winery. This ensures a fully traditional wine-making process subject to the strictest quality controls.
There are only two Imperial bottlings:
Imperial is only produced those years which are considered excellent for CVNE.
Imperial Reserva : Its grapes always originate from the best Rioja Alta region vineyards, namely the 28 hectares of CVNE’s oldest and highest vineyards around Haro and Villalba. After fermentation in large oak vats, the wine is aged 24 months in new and second passage barrels (60% French, 40% American), followed by a minimum further 18 months in bottle.
Imperial Gran Reserva : Its grapes come from the same vineyards but from oldest bush-trained vines. Fermentation as for Imperial Reserva. Typically, Imperial Gran Reserva is aged in cask (60% French, 40% American) for 36 months with a further 36-48 months of bottle ageing, before being released to the market.
Cune ‘Imperial’ Gran Reserva, Rioja DOCa in the news
In December 2013, CVNE achieved a memorable first. In the well respected American publication: ‘Wine Spectator’, its 2004 Imperial Gran Reserva was selected as the number one wine in the publication’s annual Top 100. “It was an honour for us to be the first Spanish winery to be chosen as number one,” said Urrutia at the time. “And commercially it’s been a huge boost for the brand.”
CVNE remains a family-owned and family-run enterprise with the latest generation committed more than ever to making great wine in meaningful quantities.
You can do far worse than treat yourself to a fulfilling taste of Spanish tradition in a bottle and you will be rewarded with an excellent, flavoursome mature Rioja that ages gracefully.
Barrio de la Estación s/n
26200 Haro, La Rioja, Spain
Telephone: (+34) 941 304 800
Fax: (+34) 941 304 815
Bodega Visits: Info & Booking: http://www.visitascvne.com/en/
- Lichine, Alexis (1967).Alexis Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits. London: Cassell & Company Ltd.
- Johnson H & Robinson J (2013) The World Atlas of Wine 7th Edition, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., London.
- Johnson H, (2017) Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, 2016, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., London
- MacNeil, Karen (2015) The Wine Bible, Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York.