The Rioja region of Spain has almost always been known to produce wines that overachieve in terms of quality and value. This, in a nutshell, describes what CVNE, an acronym for Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana, is all about. Founded in 1879 by brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asua, CVNE has remained one of the few wineries that continues to remain family owned till the present. Current owners Victor and Maria Urrutia are the fifth-generation descendants of Eusebio and Raimundo, and have continued the tradition of producing wines that reflect the high standards their ancestors would demand and expect.
Like other wineries in the Rioja region, CVNE’s Reservas and Gran Reservas are quite excellent. Made with a majority of tempranillo plus a smaller percentage of garnacha, mazuelo, and graciano grapes, these wines exhibit incredible balance with hints of cherry and red berries, and have an intense fruity acidity. They are mostly drinkable at a young age and pair well with poultry, meats, and fish. CVNE produces close to six million bottles (200,000 bottles of which are Reservas) a year, using grapes from vintages deemed acceptable. Mixing in substandard varietals just to fulfill yearly quotas has never been, and will never be, an option.
The jewel in the crown of the CVNE winery is undoubtedly the imperial. Only the best hand-harvested fruit is used for both the Reserva and the Gran Reserva and both wines are made from tempranillo, graciano, and mazuelo grapes. The wines are aged in casks for three years and aged further in bottles for another four years before release. Generally, the wines have a dark ruby color with hints of blackberries, licorice, and balsamic notes. Tannins are supple, and most vintages have a lingering finish.
The 2004 vintage of the imperial Gran Reserva had the distinction of being chosen as wine of the year by Wine Spectator in 2013, the first time a Spanish wine was chosen by the venerable American magazine. The 2004 imperial Gran Reserva was in competition with 20,000 other wines and bested them all. Another vintage, the 1994 imperial Gran Reserva, was chosen as the wine that would be served at the 2004 royal wedding of Spain’s heir apparent prince Felipe. The 1994 vintage was chosen blind by the imperial household staff from among 200 Spanish wines.
“The key is to never be super-successful,” says Victor Urrutia. This may not make sense to most, but in his mind, retaining a fine balance of success keeps CVNE well grounded and gives the winery an aura of an enterprise that values a superior product over profitability. The Spanish government has recognized CVNE’s importance to the country by allowing the winery the honor to print the Spanish flag on the label of each bottle. This makes the winery virtual ambassadors of Spain to the world, a distinction that CVNE should be very proud of.
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This story was originally published in the December 2017 - January 2018 issue of Town&Country.