The original family estate in Cascante was founded in 1850 by Don Miguel Guelbenzu and received international awards for its wines before the end of the 19th century. Vineyards, reconstituted beginning in 1980 and totaling 42 hectares (105 acres), are dry-farmed in small parcels near the foot of snowcapped, 7,600-foot Mt. Moncayo, source of the Queiles River.
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Founded under the D.O. Navarra, in 1999 Guelbenzu resigned from the D.O. to officially establish Vino de la Tierra Ribera del Queiles, historic winegrowing region defined by the Queiles River Valley and the northern slopes of Mt. Moncayo. Ribera del Queiles straddles the border between two Spanish regional autonomies, Navarra and Aragón, and as such is unique among Spanish wine appellations.
In 1851, the Guelbenzu family of Cascante presented wine, olive oil and wheat at the First Universal Exposition in London's Prince Albert. Don Miguel Guelbenzu had graduated in chemistry from the Sorbonne in Paris, and he returned home with the latest techniques in contemporary winemaking. Quality was the aim from the inception, and Gold Medals were awarded the family's wines at the Exposition Universelle Bordeaux 1882, Navarra Exposition 1882 and Barcelona in 1888. Having abandoned estate wine production by the middle part of the 20th century, renovation of the vineyards and winery was initiated in 1980 by Don Miguel's great-grandchildren, eight siblings pooling their resources at that time. 1989 was the first vintage from the relaunched family vineyard estate.
Ninety-eight acres of vines were planted in 1980 to 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 30% Tempranillo, dispersed in numerous small plots encircling Cascante in the Queiles River Valley. The 7,600-foot Sierra del Moncayo rises just 20 miles to the south, its late-melting snows providing adequate moisture in the subsoil to withstand summer droughts. The vineyards lie between 1200 and 1800 feet, ripening the grapes in stages for an unhurried and perfectly timed harvest. Three levels of oak-aged red wine are produced: Guelbenzu Azul, Guelbenzu Evo and Guelbenzu Lautus.
In 2000, the Guelbenzu family discovered and acquired the entirety of a unique quaternary gravel deposit called La Lombana, a short ways up the Queiles River Valley in the village of Vierlas. Rapid vineyard and bodega development resulted in first wines produced from the 2001 harvest, the eventual blend being a complex mix of red varieties, including Tempranillo, Garnacha, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Graciano and Petit Verdot.
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Guelbenzu Azul (2007) - "This producer consistently produces Very Good wines and this red blend is another example. It is slightly opaque and dark ruby colored. It opens with a red currant and menthol bouquet with notes of mild oak detected as well. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, soft, and easy going. The flavor profile is a mild black currant and black licorice blend with some nicely integrated mild oak mixed in. The finish is dry and its mild tannins are rather sticky and linger. I would pair this wine with a thick cut of prime rib. Enjoy – Ken"
Ken Hoggins, Ken's Wine Guide, May 5, 2011
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