2012 Contino Rioja Reserva Spain

2012 Contino Rioja Reserva Spain

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A past Wine Access story about 2012 Contino Rioja Reserva Spain

Contino is Rioja’s Original “First Growth”

Modeled after the classified-growth chateaux of Bordeaux, Contino is Rioja’s original “First Growth,” pioneering single-vineyard wines in the region. Since 1973, it has consistently produced one of the finest Rioja Reservas coming out of Spain today.

Jancis Robinson has lauded Contino as one of a handful of estates that constitute “the aristocracy” of the region. In 2012, a dry, warm vintage made for a class of big, swaggering, deeply concentrated reds. The low-yield Contino Reserva weighed in near the top of the class with 94 points from James Suckling, who praised the “full body, round and soft tannins and a long and decadent finish.” Given the buzz over the 2012 Riojas, sizeable allocations have been scarce so we were thrilled to come away with 45 cases from one of our all-time favorite producers. $48 on release. 27% off at Wine Access at $34.99 a bottle. A steal from one of Rioja’s stars.

Back in 2012, we’d just finished up en primeur tastings in Bordeaux before making a beeline for La Rioja, speeding along Via San Sebastián. It was fitting that we still had the harmonious, ripe reds of that Claret vintage on our lips as we headed towards Contino, one of our favorite sources of Rioja Reserva. It is widely regarded as the first château-style estate of Rioja, producing critically acclaimed wines that are classical in structure yet sumptuously modern, with all fruit sourced from their own vineyard.

As we arrived at the 16th-century manor house that still serves as Contino’s winery and cellar, we were greeted by Jesús Madrazo, the soft-spoken but brilliant winemaker who has presided over the winery since his father passed it down to him in 1999. He poured us welcoming glasses of his Rioja Blanco, and before long talk turned to the 2012 vintage and how it compared with previous top seasons. In the cellar, Madrazo poured us dark ruby-colored samples going back to 1984. The freshness of the wines—especially the Gracianos—was astounding.

“Like 2011, 2012 was a warm, dry year producing pristine fruit,” he told us. “In spite of the dryness, we had no trouble with alcohol and the acidity remained incredibly vibrant. What really distinguishes it is the transparency of the varietal character, with its precise plum and raspberry notes.”

Contino owns more than 150 acres of some of the best terroir in Rioja, located on a bend of the Ebro River. The oldest vines date back to the 1930s; those employed for the Riserva range between 25 and 60 years of age. The soils are alluvial, a mix of pebbles, clay, and sand, similar to what you find in Napa. In the distance, the Cerro de la Mesa stands tall, shielding the vines from damaging winds and providing the site with a unique microclimate.

As in past vintages—even when demand is through the roof—Jesús made sure to set aside an allocation for us. Knowing our clients’ predilection for top-notch Rioja, Jesús went one better: He agreed to knock 27% off the release price, making this one the best—and rarest—under-$35 deals of the vintage.

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