A number of years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a one-on-one tasting with Maria Larrea, the CVNE winemaker. A wonderfully gracious woman, she took me through her entire portfolio of extraordinary wines.
My favorite CVNE wine has been the Contino since the 1996 vintage, the very first Gran Reserva. I even featured it on my long-gone Philly.com show Philly Uncorked. I gushed and slobbered over the wine like a half-crazed basset hound.
It wasn’t until after I returned from Spain that I realized my massive faux pas. Of all the wines at CVNE, that was the only wine she didn’t make. It was the project of winemaker Jesús Madrazo, who happens to be the son of CVNE’s owner.
Contino is completely separate from CVNE. Its Chateau-style winery and vineyard are located near the medieval town of Laguardia. It is tucked into the rolling vineyards of Rioja Alavesa. CVNE is a sprawling viticultural campus located on the outskirts of the bustling city of Haro.
PRO TIP: CVNE is an acronym for Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, but everyone just pronounces the winery Coo-nay. It started as a cooperative in the 19th century but is now privately owned.
The experience begins with a captivating aroma of cola, rust, and blackberry. The attack offers lean but substantial tannins that lead into notes of blackberry cobbler, burning tobacco, and ocean air. The acidity keeps a tense balance between fruit and mineral from start to finish.
The tannins increase like gravity dragging the taste buds into some dark and pleasurable place. The finish moves toward mint, sage, and cast iron. This is a classic wine that everyone should experience—old vine tempranillo, with a splash of Graciano.