Fall is a big time of the year in the world of wine. It’s when the first wine of the vintage — Beaujolais Nouveau — arrives on American shores, and it’s when Wine Spectator magazine unveils its “Top 100 Wines” and its “Wine of the Year.”
For 2013, “Wine of the Year” honors were bestowed upon the 2004 Cune Imperial Gran Reserva — a Tempranillo-based blend that includes Graciano (10%) and Mazuelo (5%) in the cuvee.
“Cune was one of the first bodegas to bottle and export its wines, and one of its earliest labels, which gained renown in the 1920s, was called Imperial,” noted Wine Spectator in its “Top 100” issue. “It was intended for the English market, and bottled as an ‘Imperial pint,’ about 500-ml.”
What made the 2004 vintage worthy of “Wine of the Year” recognition?
“For its ability to balance past and future in such delicious harmony,” the magazine explained. “The wine itself has maintained a consistent character. Imperial is rarely aggressive or musclebound, but it doesn’t lack structure or grip… There is ripe fruit, but it is framed by spice and mineral notes. The wine never seems too young or too old.”
The wine is produced at Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE), and brought into America by Michael Skurnik Wines. As Skurnik points out, CVNE is one of the most renowned and historic bodegas in all of Spain.
Founded in 1879 by the Real de Asúa brothers, Eusebio and Raimundo, the company has been an integral part of the Rioja region’s ascendance in the world of fine wine. With its combination of traditional roots and innovative vision, CVNE has been one of Rioja’s most reliable sources for high-quality wine. The company is still run by descendants of the Real de Asúa brothers, now represented by the fifth generation and current CEO Victor Urrutia Ybarra.
Since its founding, CVNE’s goal has been to increase the scope of production while maintaining the level of quality on which its reputation was built. Forty years after the original bodega was created, CVNE expanded into the Alavesa region.
Today, CVNE is comprised of three separate bodegas: Cune, Viña Real, and Contino. Each estate produces a distinct style of wine from distinct terroir, and each of the flagship bottlings occupies a well-deserved place in the pantheon of great Spanish wine.
Now, thanks to the Wine Spectator honor, Cune — the winery where the company began in 1879 — is in the wine world’s spotlight.
Cune still sits on its original site, Barrio de la Estación, in Haro, Rioja Alta, right next to the train station. It produces white, rosé, Crianza and Reserva wines, sourced almost entirely from Alta fruit.
And as the world now knows, Cune also produces a sub-label called Imperial, which releases Reserva and Gran Reserva bottings in exceptional years — like 2004.
The bodega in Barrio de la Estación boasts an impressive collection of 19th century structures that surround a central patio. Chief among the architectural wonders is the Nave Eiffel, designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. This room, begun in 1890 and completed in 1909, is a textbook example of the marriage of aesthetics and functionality. The roof is supported by metal trusses that criss-cross the room at regular intervals, thus eliminating the need for columns and making for more efficient use of space.
The beauty of the winery notwithstanding, the real wonders of Cune are found below ground. To walk through the dank, dimly lit cellars is to trace the history of the bodega, vintage by vintage, era by era. Through civil war, regime change and the march of technology, Cune has remained a constant in the cultural iconography of Spain.
And now, it has produced Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year.”