Spain, Old and New, Part II: The Wines of Imperial

14 02 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This is a belated sequel to my introductory post from last November about the marvellous wines and history of Cune, the Riojan benchmark producer melding the traditional and the modern into perfect balance.  Since that post predated Wine Advent and then Vinebox, it’s about 40 posts back on the PnP timeline, and even though it’s only 3 months old it feels like 30.  Perhaps it has aged enough then to allow to slip in a slight correction.  I mentioned way back in 2018 that the Cune brand was made up of 3 different physical wineries and brands, each with their own winemaker:  Cune itself, Vina Real and Contino.  I also mentioned that the Cune brand “also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years”.  This is ALMOST entirely true:  the wines of Imperial have been made since 1920, only in great vintages, using Cune’s oldest vineyards in Rioja Alta and selected nearby old-vine sites.  Imperial is also still made by Cune’s winemaker, although the label only releases a Reserva and a Gran Reserva red wine, leaving the Crianzas and the whites to the others.  However, further research reveals that, as of 2005, Imperial has its own separate winemaking premises on the Cune property, as outlined in this highly confusing official graphic; it is now a winery-within-a-winery, its own bricks-and-mortar space.  The 3 Cune wineries are actually 4.

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Imperial is a focused and quality-driven enterprise, producing around 200,000 bottles in the vintages good enough to merit its creation, in contrast to Cune’s 5 million.  As of 2004, all fermentations now take place in new oak barrels, as a back-to-the-future nod to history — the Imperials of the pre-1940s were all produced in this fashion, and after decades of dalliances with first concrete, then steel, Cune made the very Riojan determination that sometimes the old ways really are best and went back to its roots.  The winery name comes from a unique historical bottling release for the UK market, the “Imperial pint” size (which is roughly 500mL, a highly underrated and remarkably useful size for a bottle of wine that we should see more of nowadays).  The Imperial brand made more recent history when its 2004 Gran Reserva, an utterly spectacular wine that it pains me to say I have no more of, was named the Wine Spectator Wine Of The Year in 2013, the first such global pinnacle designation for a Spanish wine.  If you ever have the chance to acquaint yourself with the Imperial lineup, do not hesitate.  The current releases continue to showcase the magnificent pedigree of the estate. Read the rest of this entry »





2013 Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon

13 10 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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Chile: home of Carmenere and inexpensive quality.

If you were starting up a wine venture today and were looking to maintain high quality but stretch your viticultural buck as far as possible, you would almost certainly go to Chile.  While braver souls are now starting to venture to the more extreme climatic and geographical parts of the country in search of cutting-edge lands and the flavour potency and complexity that can come with them, those who stick to Chile’s warm central valley find themselves in something close to a grape-grower’s paradise:  warm, mild, consistent growing seasons, refreshing cooling breezes at night off the surrounding mountains and a relative lack of vineyard pests.  Since the Southern Hemispheric nation is fairly segregated from the rest of the world’s vineyard (with its closest main viticultural neighbour, Argentina, walled off by the Andes), it has managed to keep itself free from the devastating vineyard louse phylloxera, which has ravaged vines almost everywhere else and has required the bulk of the world’s wineries to graft their vines onto resistant North American rootstocks to allow their crops to survive.

What does all that mean from a commercial perspective?  It means that you can have a vineyard with a lot of beneficial, normally highly costly or dangerous features — organic viticulture, no pesticides or herbicides, own-rooted vines — without the associated price tag or risk of crop loss.  That allows you to make bottles like this one, a single-vineyard wine from 25 year-old vines planted on their own rootstocks, farmed organically and then hand-harvested, and then sell it to export markets at a shade over $15 a bottle.  That combination of price and input quality is basically impossible in the majority of the wine world. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere

19 11 2014

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

The story of Carmenere is one of my favourite stories in all of wine.  It starts, as many wine stories do, in France, where centuries ago Carmenere was one of the six varietals used to make red Bordeaux, along with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  As French explorers set out to claim and colonize new territories outside of Europe, they often brought plantings of their national vines with them, introducing these grapes to foreign soils.  It turns out they were lucky they did, because when the phylloxera louse decimated the vineyards of Europe in the mid-19th century, it wiped out Carmenere in Bordeaux completely — today, there are only five red Bordeaux varietals.  Everyone thought that Carmenere had been tragically lost forever…and then it randomly showed up in Chile over a hundred years later.

On November 24th, 1994, the French ampelographer (actual meaning: one who identifies and classifies grapevines) Jean Michel Boursiquot was paying a visit to the Carmen vineyards in Chile when he noticed that the Merlot growing there wasn’t actually Merlot at all, but Carmenere.  The lost grape of Bordeaux had been growing in the Southern Hemisphere for more than century, but due to its vines’ and grapes’ uncanny resemblance to those of its Bordeaux cousin Merlot, everyone assumed it was the latter, particularly given the general understanding that Carmenere no longer existed.  This led to some extensive (and confusing) cross-planting of vineyards that proved extremely difficult to unwind.  Boursiquot’s epic discovery was a boon to world viticulture, and it gave Chile what it needed most at the end of the 20th century:  a wine identity, forged in what is now proudly recognized as the country’s national grape.  It was also a big help to the resulting wines:  Carmenere ripens weeks later than Merlot, and if picked early (due to mistaken identity) it can exhibit strong, and generally unpleasant, green pepper flavours. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Canepa Finisimo Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon

21 11 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Call me strange, but I would like to see more wines with orange labels. Snazzy.

I don’t think a bottle from Chile has graced this site since late February, so I’m overdue to show South America some love.  This particular bottle’s major claim to fame is that one of its prior vintages was named the 5th best wine in the 1979 Wine Olympics held in France.  Winding up in 5th usually isn’t that memorable (I tried to do a Google search for “famous fifth place finishes” to see if I could come up with an exception to that rule, but the pickings were slim), but in this case it was a national breakthrough of sorts:  the top four wines in the Finisimo’s category were French, making this Cab the top New World wine of the bunch and helping cement Chile’s status as a serious producer of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Back in the late ’70s the words “quality Chilean wine” were almost certainly thought of as an oxymoron; fast forward 30-odd years and the country is now a veritable wine power with a strong reputation for producing solid, flavourful bottles at bargain prices.  Canepa’s website suggests that Finisimo’s near-podium Olympic finish positioned it as Chile’s first premium wine, but these days it is more of a mid-range bottling (Canepa’s Magnificvm is its current top Cab, allowing Finisimo to settle in at an everyday-enjoyment price range). Read the rest of this entry »








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