Contino is an estate-based winery, which is unusual in Rioja. It’s based on a 62 hectare vineyard that is at the beginning of Rioja Alavesa, not far from Logroño. The vineyard is in a 100 hectare meander of the River Ebro, facing south, at 400 m altitude.
We visited with winemaker Jesús Madrazo, whose father founded the winery back in 1974. After some drinks outside, we had dinner accompanied by a range of wines, going back to a magnum of the 1984 Reserva. I’d not tried these wines for a while, and I was really impressed.
The Contino vineyard is based on alluvial soils, and 70% is pebbly, 5% is sandy and 25% is calcareous clay. The oldest plots in the vineyard are planted with white grapes, with Malvasia planted in the 1930s, Viura in the 1940s and 1950s, and Garnacha Blanca planted in the 1980s.
These are superb Riojas. They’re definitely Rioja, but they have a purity and fruit focus that is sometimes lost in the more traditional wines.
Contino Blanco 2014 Rioja, Spain
A blend of 85% Viura, 10% Garnacha Blanca and 5% Malvasia. 24 hours skin contact, then fermented with Torula followed by QA23. Then when sugar levels have fallen to 10 g/litre, it goes to 90% new oak 500 litre barrels plus one 600 litre concrete egg, plus 10% acacia barrels. Lively, fresh and bright with white peach, pear and spice. Has some density in the mouth with a bit of pithiness. Stylish and attractive. 91/100
Contino Blanco 2015 Rioja, Spain
This has just been bottled. Powerful, vivid and lively with lovely weight. Subtle pear and peach fruit with some spiciness and nice texture, as well as a floral edge. Nice density. 92/100
Contino Rosé 2015 Rioja, Spain
This is a wine that Jesus has been making since 2002, but only in tiny quantities for guests at the estate. This year he’s made a larger quantity (three 500 litre seasoned barrels) for two UK customers (The Wine Society and Hedonism). It’s made from saignee Garnacha and direct pressed Graciano, together with a bit of Viura that was used to top up the barrels. It’s a distinctive, deeply coloured rosé that’s a vivid red pink. Lovely raspberry and cherry fruit with a bit of spice and a little tannic grip. This is a really nice wine with a sweet fruit core and a nice spicy edge. 90/100
Contino Garnacha 2014 Rioja, Spain
Just bottled a week ago. No new oak here, just the second use 500 litre barrels from the white. In 2008, 1000 litres were made, and now it’s maxing out at 4000 bottles a year. pH is 3.11 with 6.8 g/l TA, which is very high. Fresh with direct raspberry fruit, as well as red cherries and plums. Detailed with lovely focused red fruits and nice tannins. Juicy with vivid acidity. 91/100
Contino Reserva 2010 Rioja, Spain
This is the main focus at Contino and constitutes 80% of production. For 20 years after the winery was founded in 1974 it was the only wine produced. It’s a really elegant yet full flavoured expression of Rioja, showing sleek black cherries and plums, as well as spice and herbs, and a bit of tobacco leaf. The flavours are quite autumnal, and this is delicious. 94/100
Contino Gran Reserva 2009 Rioja, Spain
We tried this from bottle and magnum. I preferred the bottle (the magnum will probably be better in time), and this is the one I took the note from. Concentrated, sweetly fruited and bold with smooth autumnal fruits. Spice, black cherries, warm herbs, tobacco. Lovely fine-grained tannic structure with superb balance and potential for further development. 95/100
Contino Gran Reserva 2007 Rioja, Spain (magnum)
Sweetly fruited with aromatic, slightly lifted tar, spice and herb notes complementing the warm black cherry fruit. This wine shows lovely depth and fruit intensity, with warm spiciness on the finish. Serious stuff. 95/100
Contino Graciano 2011 Rioja, Spain
‘This is the soul of Contino,’ says Jesús Madrazo. It’s a grape that varies a bit. In 2009 it was harvested before Tempranillo on the 15 September, whereas the previous vintage saw it being harvested at the end of October. Vivid and rich with high acidity, lovely blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, and bright raspberry and cherry notes. So vivid. 94/100
Contino Viña del Olivo 2010 Rioja, Spain
This is from a special calcareous plot in the vineyard, and 10 000 bottles are made annually. Smooth and mellow with sweet black cherry and plum fruit. Concentrated and dense with sweet fruit and some firm tannins. Has great potential for development. 94/100
Contino Viña del Olivo 2005 Rioja, Spain (magnum)
Sweet, warm, savoury and spicy, with some tarry, herby complexity, and herbal black cherry and blackberry fruit. There are some tarry spicy notes adding a savoury edge to the detailed, complex fruit flavours. Grown up and structured, this is a lovely wine. 94/100
Contino Rioja Reserva 1984 Rioja, Spain (magnum)
This may not be the most famous of Rioja vintages, but it’s a lovely wine of real poise. Wonderfully aromatic with a leafy, herby edge to the perfumed cherry fruit. The palate is fine with green tea notes complementing the silky cherry and raspberry fruit. Such elegance here: developed and now mature, but still fresh and floral. 96/100
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