Trainee buyer Freddy Bulmer joins buyer Pierre Mansour on a special blending mission at Contino and CVNE in Rioja.
A beautiful view of the Contino Vineyard
Tasting pre-releases at La Rioja Alta
One of the joys of this day and age (and there are a few, despite what the papers say) is the convenience of short haul flights; France, Germany, Italy and Spain are never more than a few hours away.
It is thanks to this proximity to our European neighbours, that we at The Wine Society are able to stay in-touch with many of our closest producers (geographically and sentimentally close of course!) allowing us to nurture great relationships with them.
So when our Spanish-wine buyer, Pierre Mansour, was invited by C.V.N.E. to do some blending with them, we decided to jump on a plane and visit the winery, seeing what C.V.N.E. and The Wine Society could come up with between us.
I was, of course, only too happy to go along for the ride!
Killing two birds with one stone is always a bonus, so on our very short visit to Rioja -of only one night and one day- Pierre arranged for us to see Jesús Madrazo at the Contino winery as well. The reason? To blend something extra-special for our members, due for release in 2024.
We left the office in Stevenage at lunchtime on a Wednesday to head to Heathrow and arrived at our hotel in Haro, Spain, at around 8:30pm - just enough time for a quick bit of tapas before hitting the hay ahead of a very busy tomorrow.
The first stop of the day was to the winery of Viña Real, owned by C.V.N.E. The simple plan for the morning was to have a go at blending a crianza-level wine in order to see if we could come up with something interesting and unique to The Wine Society. Joined by C.V.N.E.'s top three winemakers we tasted through a number of samples, discussing our thoughts on each and deciding which would make the best base for a new wine, before starting to blend. It is a difficult and interesting process, where even 1% or 2% more of a particular sample can alter a blend completely and not always in the way that you would expect.
The heart of Contino's vineyards
By midday we felt that we had achieved what we could, asking C.V.N.E. to send the three best tasting blends over to TWS HQ in order to reassess on home soil before deciding whether to proceed. After saying goodbye to the folks at Viña Real and leaving the winery, which resembles a Bond villain's lair perched atop a hill, it was on to the more traditional setting of Contino.
Jesús Madrazo, winemaker at Contino Vineyards
Contino's Jesús Madrazo is a remarkable man, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Rioja and an ability to blend like few others. Pierre and I were both incredibly impressed by his preparation when we arrived at his winery. Situated amongst stunning vineyards, the winery is literally a stone's throw from the famous 700 year-old olive tree after which their Viña del Olivo wine is named. Ready and waiting was a small line-up of wines, pre-selected from cask by Jesús to be blended, creating what we hoped would be a very special wine.
The unique thing here was that each of the pre-selected wines was absolutely delicious in their own right. When you have such fantastic ingredients, you know that the cake is going to be superb! One of the wines in particular was so good that Pierre took the opportunity to buy a quantity of it now, while it is still in cask, so that when it is bottled our members can experience this delicious accidental discovery.
The whole blending experience was perhaps the easiest that I have ever had, thanks to the expertise and hard work of Jesús; the blend which he had created was absolutely divine and exactly what we needed. Further experimentation with a second blend only served to emphasise just how special the original blend really was.
After some discussion about the rigorous selection and the superb quality of all of the wines, Pierre was settled on Jesús' blend and it was a job well done.
After a quick stop-off to explore the exceptionally cobwebby cellars of the C.V.N.E. winery and a major wrong turn on the motorway, we arrived at the airport for our flight back to London.
The 'culture' in the CVNE cellars
Meeting the producers face-to-face and experiencing the blending process for ourselves highlighted just how important it is to be able to proactively communicate the tastes and wants of our members directly to the people who are responsible for making the wines.
If you ask me, I'd say that our short Spanish adventure was a day well spent!
Where to go next?
> Back to Cariñena, Cariñena, Cariñena - Wine So Good They Named It Thrice!
> Trips to other countries