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Rioja and Figaro: Prize Winners of the Past and Future
by John Axelrod ©2014

This October brings the annual Echo Prize in Germany, recognising outstanding achievements in the field of classical music recordings.

Of the many awards, I take note, as a conductor, of a particular opera recording,: Musica Aeterna’s CD of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

This recording is an international affair. While the conductor, Teodor Currentzis is Greek, and the orchestra may be from Slovakia, and Mozart, of course, from Salzburg, the locale of this unforgettable story, sung in Italian as written by Da Ponte, but originally based on the 1784 play La folle journée ou le Marriage de Figaro by French writer Beaumarchais, is set, like most good operas, in Seville. It goes to show: no matter the origin of the interpreters, librettist or the composer, we all end up going to Spain for fun. So it was in 1786. And not much has changed in 2014. Spain may be hemorrhaging money, but the sun is perfect, the tapas delicious, and the wine, like Real Madrid or FC Barcelona, is hard to beat.

Wine Spectator Magazine, that bible of Oenology, joins the Spanish prize circle and announces Cune Imperial Rioja 2004 as the 2013 Wine of the Year. (2014 is not yet decided). What perfect timing for an October harvest. While beer may be on the lips of most Oktoberfest addicts, this Rioja should be the one on our tastebuds. It is, according to Wine Spectator, the perfect harmonious balance between the past and the future.

I think one can say the same about Mozart’s the Marriage of Figaro. While most operas suffer from contemporary settings, and Rossini’s (or Paisello’s) Barbiere di Sevilla is no exception, Mozart’s gem is timeless and can be presented as both traditional or updated. The musical ideas remain forever fresh, the bittersweet, humorous story about infidelity is never out of style, and just about everyone loves a funny soap opera. No more than in 1786 as is today.

In fact, the review of the premiere in the Wiener Realzeitung described it simply as a “masterpiece of art.” Even Brahms called it a miracle (and you know I love Brahms). One could also say the Crune Rioja is a masterpiece and miracle of wine. If you have the luck to taste this incredibly balanced wine, full of fruit, but tempered by notes of spice and mineral, you will bear witness to something similar to Mozart’s opera: It is never seems too young or too old.

For 50€ a bottle, this is an affordable wine that will never go out of style. The Cune Rioja Imperial has all the aspects of tradition to be respected. Cune, short for Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana, was an early producer of Rioja, established in 1879 (less than 100 years after Mozart’s Figaro), and the “Imperial” became a favorite of the English as early as the 1920s. Despite the traditional label and the old world pedigree, this is a new style Rioja. They have increased the percentage of the Tempranillo grape and, unlike the early years when it was fermented in American oak, it is now French oak barrelled and possesses a more structured style like the current Bordeaux of today.

With the Echo Prize, we honour the musicians of today and tomorrow for performing mostly the music of yesterday. The past and future are connected in our art. We respect tradition, but offer a fresh perspective to what we already know. Mozart did the same. The first of his Da Ponte trilogy operas revolutionized opera while at the same time paid enough respect to the classical style that even Papa Haydn tried to produce a performance of Figaro that was unfortunately canceled due to the death of his Esterhazy patron. The Cune Rioja 2004 is the same: Paying respect to its traditional past while looking forward to a more promising future. With the Echo Prize on the menu, that is a musical philosophy in which we can all believe.

John Axelrod
©Copyright 2014