Contino Rioja: 17 Barricas

Wine is probably something I take a little for granted.

Whether it’s a cheap bottle at £5 from the supermarket, or something more expensive in a restaurant or for ‘special’, I always expect it to be good. And I probably think less about the work that goes into it than I should. After all, the grapes are tended to, grown and harvested, crushed and processed, and in the case of some of my favourites, aged, before being bottled, rested and finally making it into my glass.

So the tasting held at El Gato Negro (no I do not have a tapas problem, they were just hosting it and happened to serve amazing tapas, honest) by Contino, celebrating their 17 Barricas 2013 Rioja, had me reassessing how I think about wine.They produce some incredible wines but in 2013 suffered some of the most damaging weather – a freak hailstorm with golf ball sized hailstones – that absolutely decimated their crop. All the work, care and attention gone in a matter of minutes. 

Doing what they could to rescue what was left, around 10% of the crop, they finally produced a wine that filled only 17 barricas (barrels), and was released into the world late last year. 

Of course before we tasted a little of their smallest batch of wine, we were treated to the others they produce, starting with their white Rioja. 



Winemaker Jesus Madrazo – who was on hand to talk us through his wines – uses a blend of Viura/Macabeo (85%), Garnacha (10%) and Malvasia (5%) grapes to make the Contino Blanco. The wine is aged in new French oak barrels for 6+7 months, meaning it has the soft rounded notes that oak can give wine, but without the intense vanilla, or rich notes that can dominate the wine.

The result is a wine that on the nose has notes of golden syrup and orange flower. On the palate there’s lots of stoned fruit – peaches and rich citrus with a gorgeous floral finish and a good acidity. 



Unusually, Contino also produce a rose – and we sampled their Rosado 2015. I struggle a little with roses – their colour speaks to me of sweetness and strawberries, and often on the palate can feel thin, and sweet. Contino Rosado 2015 blew away all my expectations. A blend of Graciano (32%), Garnacha (62%) and Viura (2%), it is a beautifully balanced wine that has been aged for 8 months in oak, so you get deeply satisfying hit of strawberries and vanilla on the nose. On the palate too, you get the vanilla, but with lots of red fruit, and a higher acidity than the nose would have you believe. Created primarily for food, I would (and did) enjoy this on it’s own and would consider popping a couple of bottles away for a little while, to see how the acidity softens over time.



Into the reds, and first up was the Contino Reserva 2010 – and the colour difference couldn’t be more pronounced. The Reserva features a blend of Temperanillo (85%), Graciano (10%) and Garnacha (5%), which is aged in cask for 2 years, and rested in the bottle for a further two years. The result is a rich, powdery nose, with that rich fermented note that’s often referred to as ‘farmyard’. There’s Ribena in there too, a black cherry, with a note of violet and tobacco right at the bottom. It’s a wine I could spend hours with my nose in.

The palate is surprisingly soft given the notes on the nose. It feels a little tight still, so I’d leave the bottle open a while to see how it opens up in the air. But the oak notes are there, along with black cherry, blueberries, tobacco and a powderiness on the finish that reminds me of plums. 

And of all the wines, it’s the only one available on a restaurant menu in Manchester – at The Northern Quarter Restaurant.



Our penultimate wine, before we finally sampled the 17 Barricas was the Contino Graciano 2012. Made with 100% Graciano grapes, it’s then aged for 13 months in barrels, and as with the Reserva, 24 months in bottles. On the nose, it’s redcurrant jam, and there’s an earthiness that’s almost beetrooty. There’s an acidity too, that comes through on the nose, that transfers to the palate. Redcurrants again – a little thinner in mouthfeel than it’s predecessor, the Reserva, but not in a bad way. There’s a minty, almost menthol note, and blackcurrant leaf rather than the berry, or jam. Deliciously complex.



Finally, it was time. And though we had but a tiny sample – and understandably so – I was curious to see what had been produced. The Contino 17 Barricas features Tempranillo (80%), Graciano (13%) and Granacha Tinta (7%). On the nose there’s a definite nutty note and lots of florals. On the palate it’s an interesting one. It sits right at the back of the palate, with lots of menthol and herbal notes and a softer acidity than is present on the nose. On the finish, the menthol and herbal notes linger. Overall, it would benefit from a little ageing, but is still an interesting wine that I’d be happy to sample again. And again.



For now, I’ll be paying TNQ a little visit to sample some more of that Contino Reserva – or I might visit Waitrose, who happen to have it by the bottle, and a Blanco too. 

Hmm. I feel a little shopping coming on.


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With thanks to Contino for the invitation, and the bloody lovely El Gato for hosting. 


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