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Guelbenzu is a wine making company with a very go ahead philosophy. A family run bodega based in the town of Cascante in Navarra, Spain, the Guelbenzus first showed their wines at the London Universal Exhibition in 1851. They went on to win acclaim, taking a prestigious wine award in Bordeaux in 1882. But the present fame and high regard they have today in the wine world can be credited to the eight Guelbenzu family members and their two winemakers, Gorka Arellano in Spain and Rodrigo Aviles in Chile.

The company runs three wineries, their first being the original Bodega at Cascante which was founded in 1851. In addition the family has acquired two other wineries; one at Lombana in the Vierlas region of Aragon which opened in 2001 and one at Peralillo in the Colchagua Valley of Chile which opened in 2002.

To trace the history of how these wineries came in being one must firstly look at the Guelbenzu Company philosophy. This is a company which looks ahead to the future and does not compromise its ideals:

It is this philosophy that has taken the Guelbenzus on their journey from tradition to innovation that led them to leave the Denomination of Origin of Navarra in 2001 and to label their wines Ribera del Queiles after the river that runs through their land at Vierlas. It is also what took them to Chile in their quest for innovation and experimentation.

I visited the new Guelbenzu winery at Vierlas in 2003 and was impressed by their ultra modern winery there. From what looked exactly like an airport control tower we had a perfect view over the 139 plots of vineyards that the family had bought over the years and amalgamated into one. The grapes that are planted here are Tempranillo, Graciano, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet and Garnacha. The winery itself has air conditioned ageing areas and state of the art stainless steel tanks. Here the Vierlas red wine is produced. It is a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo, Merlot, Garnacha, Cabernet and Graciano. The wine is aged for two months in four year old French Allier barrels and is a complex and rich wine with flavours of blackcurrants and strawberry held together by excellent structure.

The original winery at Cascante is very different. Based in the wonderful pink family home opposite the bull ring in the centre of the town, their 42 hectares of vineyards are planted in 20 different plots near the town. These are planted with Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot as well as a couple of hectares of very old Garnacha. This is a classic traditional bodega in whose wonderfully atmospheric old tasting room we tasted through the company's flagship wines. The Azul is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot. The wine spends nine months in two, three and four year old French Allier oak and shows blackberry and redcurrant fruit. The Evo, a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Tempranillo is aged for twelve months in new and one year old Allier oak. This has an excellent aromatic nose followed by vibrant, lifted fruit and very good acidity. The top of the range wine, Lautus, is only produced in exceptional years and is made from the oldest fruit in the vineyards. This is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha and has spent twelve months in new Allier Oak. A superb wine, this cuvee is only released after considerable bottle age and is soft, mature and amazingly aromatic.

Gorka Arellano has succeeded Joseba Altuna as winemaker in both the Spanish wineries. Aged 30, he worked with Altuna after gaining his oenology degree before becoming head winemaker in 2002. Every year Gorka works in Guelbenzu's Chilian winery, helping winemaker Rodrigo Aviles during the months between February and April. Rodrigo became head winemaker at Guelbenzu Chile in 2003.

Guelbenzu's Chilian winery is based at Peralillo in the Colchagua Valley 20 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean. Here the combination of cold air from the Humboldt current, coastal morning fogs and cool air from the Andes make for a special microclimate in which to produce the Jardin red and white wines. The white is composed of 100% Chardonnay and is a clean, crisp style with good lifted aromatics. The red is a mix of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Carmenere and spends around three months in new American oak. Again the wine is full of fresh lifted fruit with excellent acidity. There is also a top cuvee called Hoppe which is composed of carefully selected equal amounts of Cabernet and Carmenere. The wine is aged for nine months in American oak and shows wonderful complexity and length.

Teun Meijer from Guelbenzu will be presenting tastings to both our private and trade customers on Tuesday 20th September when he will be showing us some very special old vintages of Azul, Evo and Lautus - it should be quite a tasting!

Theo Sloot