Spain, Old and New, Part III: The Wines of Vina Real

9 09 2019

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Nearly a year on from the start of this review set, through three different seasons of write-ups, I am closing in on the full story of the Cune wine lineup.  We started with the mothership itself, the Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana (C.V.N.E.), the Riojan stalwart whose expressions cross four separate brands.  We then ascended to Imperial, the Cune adjunct focused on Reserva- and Gran Reserva-level wines from the top vineyards of Rioja Alta, the core of what most people know of Rioja as a wine region.  Tonight we move from the centre of the heartlands to Rioja’s outskirts, and from the centre of attention to a group of producers tired of being overlooked.  Cune’s Vina Real label is rooted in grapes sourced from the ever-ignored yet consistently impressive Rioja Alavesa.

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This least-known Riojan subregion lies in the north-central portion of Rioja, bordered by the Ebro River to the south and the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range to the north, which protects the vineyards from the cool coastal winds above.  It is both the smallest and the most elevated of Rioja’s three sub-zones, its hilly and terraced vineyards influenced by the nearby mountains, its 40 x 8 km surface area a relative pittance compared to its much more expansive siblings Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.  Being the smallest and most neglected in the family also tends to make you the scrappiest:  Rioja Alavesa has recently, and ever more vocally, been seeking to carve out its own identity within Spain’s most prominent wine appellation.  There has been some talk of leaving Rioja altogether, which has not been all that well-received by the region’s governing body.  Rioja Alavesa is craving respect and recognition, and that is part of what Vina Real seeks to deliver.

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The winery is named for its vineyards’ proximity to the Camino Real, the “Royal Road”, a renowned traditional highway; its relation to the Camino de Santiago walking trail which crosses all of northern Spain is not immediately clear to me, though that pilgrimage road goes right through Logrono, the closest city to the winery.  Much of my discussion of the Cune-brand wines has alighted on that intersection between traditional and modern approaches that they seem to exemplify, but in none of Cune’s labels is this more clear than Vina Real.  The winery is part of Rioja Alavesa’s historical fabric, being among the first in the area to employ barrel aging for wines (which is now a hallmark of the whole Rioja region) and to make Crianza wines for earlier release.  But its present incarnation is unabashedly modern:  the magnificent new puck-shaped winery building, constructed out of cedar and inaugurated by the king of Spain himself in 2004, was designed as one of the first gravity-flow operations in the country and has bored out the surrounding hilltop to create state-of-the-art underground cellars.  Even this cutting-edge operation does not lose sight of its past, however:  the winery’s circular shape (as seen on Vina Real’s labels) is an homage to a traditional large Riojan fermenting vat, a physical representation of the old-meets-new dichotomy that defines this set of producers.  Do the wines follow suit? Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Blaufrankisch Masterclass with Georg Prieler of Weingut Prieler

1 05 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne and Peter Vetsch

Austria is renowned for the fruit purity and fine minerality of its wines, and Blaufrankisch is the premier black grape of the region. Grown across Central Europe and going by various monikers (the wonderful “Kekfrankos” in Hungary, and the more prosaic “Lemberger” in Germany), Blaufrankisch is an early-budding, late-ripening variety sometimes dubbed the “Pinot Noir of the East”; its elegance and dexterity earns it that nickname, but its hallmark savoury mineral wildness forges an identity all its own.  Some grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Campania’s Aglianico are said to swamp or overshadow terroir with their sheer varietal character, while others are more protean and can serve as a lens through which the story of their soils and site and climate are reflected.  Blaufrankisch falls firmly into the latter camp, although through its various land-driven expressions one can commonly find dark berry aromas and flavours, vibrant acidity, a pronounced spiciness and that “other” wild rocky character that can set this grape apart.  We were extremely excited to do a specialized tasting of this varietal with Georg Prieler, owner and winemaker of Burgenland’s Weingut Prieler, a dynamic, charismatic, insightful winemaker who carries his family’s history with aplomb…and who might just make the best Pinot Blanc in the world.

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Georg Prieler, Weingut Prieler

Yes, Pinot Blanc. We both first came to know this producer by being absolutely floored by how stunning and utterly fascinating Weingut Prieler’s Pinot Blancs can be.  This particular grape rarely wins this sort of accolade and is often considered a paler, strait-laced shadow of Chardonnay, never fully given the opportunity to take a star turn in any region…except, as it turns out, in Burgenland, where Prieler exalts it among whites and where Georg calls it “the Riesling of the Burgundy varieties”.  That got our Riesling-loving attention, and Prieler’s single-vineyard Pinot Blanc which capped off our tasting held it,  transfixed.

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All that said, Pinot Blanc remains both the winery’s and the region’s “second most important” variety, according to Georg, as nothing in Burgenland knocks Blaufrankisch off its throne. Georg himself hails from (and still lives in) the village of Schützen am Gebirge, population ~1500, known for steely Pinot Blanc but also the sublime Goldberg vineyard, where Blaufrankisch might reach its pinnacle.  He closely oversees operations in both vineyard and winery, inheritor of a legacy that runs from his grandfather to father to sister and now, as of 2011, to Georg himself.  The family’s time in the vineyards predates their work in the cellar — the Prielers have been planting and tending grapes in Burgenland for 150 years, which perhaps is what leads Georg to immediately describe himself as “just a farmer who takes planes and drinks wine”.  After his inaugural visit to Calgary, and with the voice of his wines preceding him, it’s clear that this particular travelling farmer has a global reach. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 2

26 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Happy Boxing Day!  Hopefully you are full of holiday cheer and post-holiday deals, have all of the presents you want to return neatly stacked in a corner and are ready to get down to business on the world’s coolest post-Advent calendar, one vial at a time.  Let me be the first to tell you that blogging 100mL of wine is a highly stressful experience — you get 2/3 of a glass to fully formulate an impression and write detailed tasting notes, so every drop matters.  It definitely aids the focus, as near-panic often does.  Hopefully you can be a bit more frivolous with your vial.

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I picked this test tube in my Vinebox blogging selection draft with Ray because I was highly curious to check out a Provençal red, a relative rarity in these parts.  Provence is globally known for being the pink wine hub of the world, and for good reason:  80-90% of the bottles that come out of the Cotes de Provence are roses.  They are a well-oiled pink buzzsaw of a production region, dialled into the patio trade in massive quantities…but they are also, more quietly, home to high-quality reds and whites, and in fact, the top producers in the area often make all three.  One such producer is the historic Chateau de Bregançon, centered around an 18th century castle built on a slope overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  The estate has been owned by the same family for over 200 years, which is now in its 7th generation of stewardship of the grounds, including 52 hectares of vineyards in prime growing areas, on exposed hillsides featuring tons of sun and surprisingly little rain given their oceanfront locales.  If you HAVE to make wine anywhere, why not make it the Mediterranean riviera?

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Quick tangent that may be of interest to only me:  Chateau de Bregançon is one of 18 estates to have been awarded the “Cru Classé” designation in Provence, which it turns out is the only French wine region besides Bordeaux to have a classification/ranking system tied to producers as opposed to vineyards.  The “Cru Classé” was conceptualized in 1947 by some of the longstanding wineries in the area, who commissioned a series of experts to research the winemaking chops and history of the local producers and create a listing of the best of the best.  They did so in 1955, and of the original 14 Bregançon made the cut and was therefore immortalized as elite (because once you’re named Cru Classé, you can’t be un-named).  Sadly, the designation doesn’t appear on the Vinebox vial, but I know it’s there in spirit.

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I had difficulty locating any information at all about this 2015 Bregançon Cotes de Provence, but based on the reds currently listed on their website, it’s a good bet that this one contains healthy proportions of both Syrah and Mourvedre, two of Provence’s principal red varieties (the others being Cinsault, Grenache and the lesser-known Tibouren).  What I can advise with more certainty is that the wine is surprisingly deep and rich in colour, especially after you’re used to yet another pale pink Provençal rose, a hefty ruby-purple that is just shy of opaque.  You can smell it as soon as you crack the bottle, flint and whetstone, blueberry and currant, hot rocks and sauna, flesh blood and ink (the latter set making Syrah seem ever more likely).  Sharply structured, the wine’s most prominent features on the palate are firm scrubby tannins and whiplash acidity, but these are softened and broadened by pure red fruit and violets arranged over this Cru Classé’s iron spine.  A thoroughly impressive Vinebox debut for me – can’t wait to see what the future holds.

90 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 17

17 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I can often tell how much I like a wine by how many notes I take.  Even when it doesn’t hit me at first how much I am taken by a bottle, I’ll suddenly look down and a whole notebook page is filled up of musings and guesswork and random sensory impressions, the various threads through which I eventually try to sort out the essence of the wine and how it speaks to me.  On blog days where the bottle doesn’t have much to say, or doesn’t quite spur the imagination, the pen moves very slowly.  Tonight I have three pages of notes in about 30 minutes, and I had to stop myself from writing more so that I could post this early enough for people to actually read it.  This was the first bottle in Advent history that had me autonomically exclaim “WOW.”, reflex-like, as soon as I opened the bottle.  I had never had a Ken Wright Pinot Noir before, but I was very well aware the level of quality it represented.  For my first bottle to be his 2015 Shea Vineyard, from the now-famous plot that he almost single-handedly put on the map, can’t be more perfect.  Welcome to the last week of the calendar, which almost surely can’t get better than this.

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Ken Wright was first exposed to wine as a waiter and student in Kentucky, and the regular staff tastings at his part-time job soon led to a complete change of vocation and an enrolment in the prestigious UC Davis viticulture program in California.  He spent close to a decade in the state honing his craft, but a single visit to Oregon in 1976 convinced him that his destiny lay there, where he felt North America’s pinnacle expressions of Pinot Noir could be made.  He loaded up his family and all his earthly belongings and founded his first Oregon winery in 1986 (Panther Creek Cellars, which still exists today, though Wright has since sold it), then his eponymous winery in 1994, which focuses entirely on single-vineyard expressions, mostly of Pinot Noir, from 13 different vineyard sites.  Shea Vineyard, the home of tonight’s bottle, is in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the northern part of the Willamette Valley, a sub-AVA that Ken helped define and create (along with five others) back in 2004.  Ken also established his winery’s tasting room in the heart of the small town of Carlton, echoing his belief in the power of site for his grapes by connecting his business directly to their land of origin.  His was the first winery to take root in Carlton, and it has now been joined by a large tasting room in the town’s old train station. Read the rest of this entry »





Spain, Old and New: The Wines of Cune

20 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Welcome to Cune. Er, CUNE. Er, CVNE.

My love affair with the wines of Spain’s premier wine region of Rioja goes back almost to the time when I first started taking the contents of bottles seriously.  The area, located in north-central Spain and without question the spiritual homeland of the Tempranillo grape, is somewhat unique among the classic regions of the world for producing two very distinct types of wines, depending on the producer in question.  The traditional take on Rioja is more old-school than almost anywhere else, where both reds and whites spend near-shocking lengths of time maturing in flavour-heavy American oak barrels and even more time in bottle before release, leading to a mellowed-out, oxidative, nutty expression of regional identity.  The modern Riojas reduce barrel time (or even eliminate it for whites), focus more on riper, purer fruit and aim for immediate impact as opposed to patient complexity.  I admit to being a total sucker for the former style, largely because it’s unlike anything else produced in the entire world, a whole era unto itself, frozen in time.  That said, it is easy to see how browned, decade-aged, air-exposed wines don’t attract a universal following in this age of pristine winemaking and carefully controlled everything.  Sometimes it can be hard to reconcile the two different sides of this same regional coin.

Cune does the best job of simultaneously representing both the traditional and the modern epochs of Rioja of any winery I’ve ever come across.  Their wines harken back to the old soul of the area and feature many of its wizened delicate characteristics, while still retaining some of the vibrancy and primacy displayed by the region’s vanguard.  They are themselves part of both the history and the new blood of Rioja, founded in 1879 and now run by the fifth generation of the founding brothers.  Cune’s cellars were designed by a famed French architect by the name of Eiffel…perhaps you are familiar with other taller Parisian works of his.  The name “Cune” is more accurately “CUNE” (an acronym), which itself is more accurately “CVNE”:  Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana, or “the Northern Spanish Wine Company”…calling it Cune (Coo-nay) for short (and giving yourself a nickname) is borderline questionable, but they make it work.

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The Cune universe is actually comprised of 3 different brands, each of which has its own winery and winemaker.  The Cune brand is based in the Rioja Alta subregion and also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years; the Vina Real label is based in nearby Rioja Alavesa, as is the Contino bodega, which makes wines only from its own estate vineyards.  Tonight’s Cune introduction is focused on a trio of bottlings from the original label’s portfolio, each of which gives a hint of the heights that this marvellous producer can reach. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Finca La Linda Malbec Tiers

26 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

In some ways, trendy grapes have it tough.  Malbec has a proud and lengthy heritage as one of the six permitted grapes in red Bordeaux (yes, I’m still counting Carmenere, and shall ever continue to do so) and as the dauntingly famous Black Wine of Cahors, and it is almost single-handedly responsible for giving an entire country a vinous identity that has led to the rediscovery and cultivation of astonishingly high-altitude decades-old vineyards and a re-imagination of what grapes are capable of achieving in Argentina.  It is both an Old World stalwart and a New World trailblazer, pulling off both with equal aplomb and giving itself new life in the process.  But with raging-wildfire levels of success comes an inevitable fight against consumer boredom, particularly amongst the more avant-garde and adventurous in the wine world, which creates a sort of quiet undercurrent of peer pressure to steer clear of what is currently painfully a la mode.

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Great labels, but why is one bottle a third taller than the other??

I feel this way quite a bit, pulled away from the customer staple of the day in part because of my own desire to see what else is out there, but in part because of some innate resistance that I see amongst other wine geeks, some refusal to go along with what is everywhere.  So it was with Australian Shiraz; so it is with Argentinian Malbec; so it will be with whatever comes next.  I don’t really have a hard stance on this, but I have recently tried to make sure that my efforts at open-mindedness in wine extend equally to those grapes and styles that are suddenly ubiquitous as to those that remain esoteric.  I have also tried hard to remember that I once relied very heavily on the Shiraz-laden fads of the day as a gateway that set wine’s hooks into me for the first time, and I enjoyed the living hell out of them.  Fifteen years later, I have a WSET Advanced certification and have been publishing reviews on a wine blog for seven years.  Trends can lead somewhere.  So let’s start somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Tom Gore Vineyards, A Tale of Two Sauvignons

14 07 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]IMG_1713

Cabernet Sauvignon remains the most widely grown quality wine grape in the world, so it is perhaps appropriate that in at least one regard, “Cab” started me off on the path to becoming a serious scholar of wine.  I had previously acquired a taste for certain Canadian Gewurtztraminers, spellbound by how a grape could smell and taste so exotic, although hard-won experience has taught me that many such wines recall one of those chemically augmented gym nuts who can flip a giant tire from a mining truck once or twice, only to catastrophically gas out immediately thereafter: initially powerful but ultimately quite flabby.  Rather wary of this focus, I then snagged a few wine books from a local book sale, thinking that this subject’s unique combination of history, geography, botany, technology, and gustatory delight would give my brain something new and compelling over which to obsess. I noticed right away that in these sundry tomes, blackcurrant or cassis was an aroma descriptor frequently associated with Cab. As someone who adores this particular flavour, I did further research. Not just cassis, but cedar, “cigar box” (I’ve always been intrigued by this one), blackberry, even vanilla and cola and chocolate cake. Wine smells like these things?! I was officially hooked, all this before even seriously tasting a Cab.

Once the actual drinking started in earnest, I rapidly encountered one of Cab’s parents: Sauvignon Blanc. My dad ordered a New Zealand example one nice evening in a Calgary steakhouse, as an aperitif, telling my mother:  “It’s one of those really grapefruity ones you like.” Grapefruit, you say? A cursory look at a tasting wheel for Sauvignon Blanc ultimately reveals a whole litany of “green” aromas, with these ultimately outnumbering the also prominent citrus and sometimes tropical fruits. There are classics like grass, gooseberry, and green bell pepper, along with rather more esoteric takes such as matcha, lemon grass, apple blossom, or even “cat pee”. Maybe we should stick with grapefruit or “tomato leaf”. Go crush and sniff a tomato leaf… You’ll probably get at least an inkling of pipi du chat, if nothing else in the form of a vague association with “funky” or “rank”. Some claim that this character, driven by organic compounds called thiols, is in fact a fault due to vineyard overproduction. Maybe so, although I experience cheap Sauvignon Blanc as something more akin to dilute lemonade in which a few broken fluorescent bulb filaments have been macerated, largely devoid of character across the board. A quick spray of thiols would often do this stuff a favour.

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From http://socialvignerons.com/2015/12/10/infographics-guide-to-sauvignon-blanc-wine-grape-variety/.  This thing is comprehensive and rather fascinating…and there it is, cat pee, complete with schematic depiction.

So in addition to capturing aromas that I find pleasant (maybe at this point forget I mentioned cat pee), Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are both associated with formative memories in my quest to experience as much of the wine world as possible. Fitting then that I drew this assignment to review these two varietal bottlings, which interestingly enough hail from the first California wine label named after a grape grower.

Read the rest of this entry »








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