Chalk Talk: Checking Out the Wine List at Oceanaire Seafood Room and Notes From a Tasting of CVNE Wines

2010 Cune Monopole, Rioja, Spain

Anyone familiar with CVNE knows the name stands for Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España. Those who don’t are confused as to how to pronounce the famous Rioja which has belonged to direct descendants of Real de Asua family since 1879.

This week, North American Sales Director and family member by marriage, Sam Ferraro, was The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Dallas to talk about the wine. The name has been altered to read Cune on the page. The winery, in the spirit of rather being rich than dead, embraced it (you can do that if your product overtakes the historical memories). Ferraro has increased US sales by over 700% in his first year on the job: From 2,000 cases in 2010 to 15,000 cases in 2011 (still relative peanuts in the largest wine market in the world) but he sees this as only his first step. Ferraro told us the story of how he entered the wine market. It’s a classic.

He refused to come on board for years, preferring to run his own wine consulting business and scoring major successes across the wine spectrum (he admits to promoting some awful slimming drinks). It was only when his wife, New Jersey dentist by day and CVNE family aristocracy by birth, put the proverbial boot in, that he joined CVNE to turn its faltering US sales around. As he might say: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

During the tasting, Cune wines were served with tapas prepared by Oceanaire’s kitchen. I was an invited guest at the tasting. CVNE is inseparable from the Rioja region in north central Spain, but check out the two wines that they served at this tasting. Not your father’s Rioja, as they say.

First, a 2010 white from the overlooked Viura grape, named Monopole. Ignore the pretentions of such a name in this post-Lehmann Bros. world and just judge it for what it is: A white wine with a mineral flavor profile and more pronounced mouth feel than Kate Moss in a suit of body armor. Not a quaffing wine, drink this with shellfish or fillets of fleshy white fish (e.g. grouper, sole or your favorite bycatch).

A 2009 Cune Rosado (rosé in French) made predominantly from the definitive grape of Rioja, Tempranillo, is lighter than red table wine but has much of its flavor profile – hence its popularity in warm climates such as around the Mediterranean. That should make it popular in Dallas, too. This crispness, fruity finish and medium body of this Rosado hits the spot on hot days.

For home consumption both of these wines can be found at Spec’s (for less than $20), which also stocks the more expensive red wines that gave Cune its reputation. They are also served by the glass at Oceanaire if you want to sample them first. While there, check out the rest of the wine list. It has a credible 40 wines by the glass and over 140 bottle selections. The most interesting section is headed “Other Whites.” That disingenuous title is where you find grapes like Arneis, Picpoul, Torrontes, Viognier, and Roussanne. If you prefer Chardonnay with your lobster there are over 25 to choose from, mainly form California. However, if you are celebrating, ask for the “Captain’s List” of large bottles and dessert wines. Presumably this is also where you can find white Burgundies, which the main list is almost bereft of (presumably on grounds of cost). Two areas for improvement: first, the markups are over three times retail. Second no Texas Viognier, even though Lost Oak (née Lone Oak) won a double gold at the San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition just three months ago for their 2010 Viognier ($17.95). Hopefully Oceanaire owner Landry’s will give the Dallas sommelier Chris Morgan more latitude to buy local in future.

Look for Cune to have a bigger presence in Dallas wine stores in the future, and check out their offerings.