The new world wine trade, led by the Australians, has gotten a lot of mileage from the statement ‘We make wine to consumer tastes, while the old world makes wine to suit the winery’. Last week, the fallacy of that statement was driven home to me once again at a tasting featuring the wines of CVNE (pronounced CU-NAY)
CVNE (short for the tongue twisting ‘Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España’) was founded in1879 by two brothers from Bilbao, Raimundo and Eusebio Real de Asúa and is now run by the fifth generation of the founding family. This in itself is an outstanding accomplishment, as most family companies are bankrupted by the third generation (as they say in Spain, the inspired founders build the company, their children maintain the business and the grandchildren ruin it). CVNE is one of a number of wineries founded in the mid- and late 19th century, among which are Marqués de Riscal, Marqués de Murrieta, Federico Paternina, AGE, Bodegas Riojanas, La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Bilbaínas, Bodegas Franco-Españolas, R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, Bodegas Montecillo and Martínez Lacuesta.
To return to my original point, you don’t survive 100 years in business if you don’t give your customers what they want, and what Rioja lovers in Spain want is wine that you can drink with a meal.
Rioja’s most important market has always been northern Spain, notably the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, in addition to La Rioja itself. Here, fish was and is a staple of our daily diet and the light, elegant style of a traditional Rioja is perfect with fish as well as vegetables and lamb, products easily available to us.
The arrival of concentrated, tannic, high-in-alcohol wines, designed to win medals at tastings and to humor wine writers to Rioja’s major market, the United Kingdom produced a reaction in our region that was at first an imitation of the new world style and mostly criticized by journalists. Rioja has gradually evolved into what I call a ‘more powerful elegance’ than Riojas from the 1970s and 1980s but nonetheless recognizeable as Rioja and just as good with either meat or fish.
CVNE is a prime example of this enduring philosophy. Its brands Viña Real, Imperial and Monopole are found on practically every restaurant wine list in Spain. In fact, if the company has a weakness, it has been its overwhelming strength in the Spanish market and lack of presence internationally. The owners of the company have addressed this by hiring two of Rioja’s most dynamic export managers, Óscar Urrutia and José Luis Ripa from Bodegas Martínez Bujanda and El Coto de Rioja respectively.
My favorite wine from the tasting, Imperial reserva 2004, showed a medium garnet color, stewed red and black fruit with well-integrated oak and elegant tannins on the nose, with medium to high acidity and firm fruit in the mouth. With 13,5% alcohol, it is more powerful than an Imperial from the 70s which probably had 12% or 12,5% and somewhat softer tannins, but it goes perfectly with food and would no doubt be recognized as a CVNE wine by the founders of the company.
A perfect example of a business philosophy designed to last one hundred years!