The wines of Rioja have long held a special place in wine lovers’ hearts.  Aside from a period in the late 1970s in the immediate post-Franco era, the wines have been of a consistently high standard. Leading producer’s wines, such as those from Compania Vinicola del Norte Espana (C.V.N.E.) or Cune as it’s sometimes known as, are fit to rank with the finest in the world.  What has been particularly remarkable has been that for nigh-on 150 years, Rioja’s best producers have offered brilliance and value.

At MWH, we pride ourselves on being the home of affordable fine wine, and there are few producers who can more readily lay claim to this accolade than C.V.N.E.  Their entry-level Crianza and Blanco offer excellent value for money, but it’s when you ascend their range and start looking to the likes of their Imperial, Contino, and Vina Real wines that you encounter the best they have to offer. 

C.V.N.E. Imperial And Contino

C.V.N.E. boasts two of the most revered names in Rioja; Imperial and Contino.  Imperial, which takes its name from the imperial pint-sized bottles it produced for the British market, has balanced tradition with modernity and been consistently outstanding since its founding in 1920. 

Contino, on the other hand, could hardly be more different.  It was established in 1973 as Rioja’s first concept ‘château’ winery and is based on a former manor house.  Its 62 hectares of premium Rioja Alta vineyards are used to craft wines that represent the evolution of Rioja’s traditions.

Named after the soldiers who guarded the royal family continuously – ‘de contino’ - its name is apt given the regal nature of this estate’s extraordinary wines.  At its best, Contino is a perfect example of nature and nurture.  The site is superb and the attention to detail in the winery ensures that across the range, Contino’s wines are among Rioja’s most compelling.

In this latest blog from MWH Wine, the home of affordable fine, we celebrate C.V.N.E.’s finest wines by focusing on some rare gems we have managed to acquire.  We’ve gained a small allocation of mature Imperial and Contino wines - including some magnums of the legendary Contino 17 Barricas 2013 – so you can enjoy these stunning creations for yourself.  You can browse and buy our C.V.N.E. Rioja as part of our Spanish collection by clicking here.

CVNE Contino wines from MWH Wines

Imperial: Rioja’s Modern Classic

Imperial Rioja isn’t just an iconic wine, it’s an independent winery that enjoys the freedom to follow its own path.  Founded in Rioja’s capital Haro in 1920, it is only made in the finest years with fruit drawn from Imperial’s own Rioja Alta vines from sites in Villalba, Briones, and Torremontalvo.

The vines are over forty years old and are therefore naturally low yielding.  Having been grown at elevations of between 450m and 550m, they enjoy the benefits of a continental climate that gives a long growing season which imparts the required complexity. 

When the grapes reach maturity, they are hand-picked, and all three varieties – Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Graciano – are kept for 24 hours in cold storage prior to pressing.  This prevents oxidation, helps set the colour, and preserves their aroma.  After a second selection the grapes are pressed and then fermented in large oak vats that range from 80 to 160 hectolitres in capacity.

Once the malolactic fermentation is done, the wines are assessed and aged in a mix of American and French oak barrels depending on the wine’s requirements.  The Imperial Reserva Rioja rests in cask for two years before being bottled and then spends a further year in bottle before release.  

The rare Imperial Gran Reserva is only made in truly exceptional years.  Unlike some other Rioja estates, Imperial base their decision on whether to produce their wines based solely on the quality of the vintage rather than commercial necessities.  When the Imperial Gran Reserva is made, it is given the kind of treatment you would be expect of such an illustrious wine.  It receives a minimum of two years in small, new French and American barrels, followed by a further three years in Imperial’s ancient cellars.

CNVE Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja from MWH Wines

Imperial Rioja: Style And Substance

Defining the style of a wine can be a difficult business given it will always be subject to vintage conditions.  Thanks to it only being made in exceptional years employing a process that varies only slightly from year to year, Imperial is easier to pin down.  A typical Imperial Reserva will be deeply coloured, with a bouquet of red and black berries, spiced vanilla, and coffee.  The palate is medium-bodied, saturated with tangy bramble and raspberry fruit with hints of orange.  This is backed by an undertow of vanilla and silky but firm tannins.  

The Imperial Gran Reserva is generally slightly lighter in colour – some of it having leached during the extended cask ageing – and have a spicier, more evolved nose.  The blend of bramble, currant, and cranberry fruit are swathed in vanilla and there’s a notable savouriness to it.  While the Reserva and the Grand Reserva are capable of long ageing, we have always found the Gran Reserva to show its best 3-5 years after release.

Buy Imperial Rioja Wines From MWH

For our opening Imperial offer, we have a assembled a collection of mature wines from outstanding vintages.  You can browse our Imperial Rioja offers here, particular highlights include:

2011 Imperial Gran Reserva - the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja has classified the 2011 vintage as ‘Excellent and The Wine Enthusiast scored this 97/100.  Increasingly hard to find and at the height of its considerable powers, this is an outstanding Imperial.  Concentrated, and yet refined and lively, this offers a blend of tangy berry fruit, herbs and spices, with tertiary notes of leather and dried rose petals coming through on the finish.  A wine to enjoy for now and over the next decade or so.

1988 Imperial Gran Reserva -the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja has classified the 1988 vintage as ‘Good’ and Cellar Tracker scored this 90/100.  The 1988 Imperial Gran Reserva is a testament to the ageing potential of Rioja.  Now fully mature, it has taken on a ruby red hue, with a high-toned nose of red berries, undergrowth, tobacco, and spearmint.  In the mouth it’s soft and gentle, but has a remarkable persistence of flavours of berries, dried citrus, red cherries, and herbs.

1976 Imperial Gran Reserva – this rare Rioja shows this wine’s graceful side.  Pale, soft, and elegant, the power of youth has faded to reveal the complexity of maturity.  Nuanced, and finely balanced, smoky layers of soft red fruits, liquorice, herbs are given focus by a mellow, yet refreshing acidity.  This is a fine solo sipper, a wine’s that as much for the mind as the mouth.

Contino: A Tradition of Innovation

While Contino doesn’t share Imperial’s lengthy history, it does share it’s obsession with perfection.  This 62-hectare Alavesa estate was founded in 1973 and is broken up into individual plots to allow for its individual terroirs to shine adding to the wine’s overall taste of place. 

The vineyards are located in the southern part of the Alavesa and enjoy both Mediterranean and Atlantic climactic influences.  The philosophy behind Contino has been expressed as that of a ‘renewed classic’ and that plays directly into the winemaking.  The grapes – a mixture of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano - are hand-harvested and given a rigorous selection before pressing.  Long macerations, fermentation in concrete vats rather than wood, and shorter barrel ageing are commonly used to help bring a fresh perspective to this classic wine.

While the Reserva and Gran Reserva are given the regulatory ageing periods in cask and bottle, the Contino style is markedly different from both Imperial and the rest of the C.V.N.E. range.  These are wines with a fresher feel and a more modern profile.  That isn’t to say they are less concentrated, complex, or are incapable of ageing well, rather these are precise, stylish wines that we tend to find more food friendly. 

Contino Rioja From MWH Wines

The Contino estate produces a range of wines including a Reserva, Gran Reserva, a fresh-tasting white, the Contino Blanco, a stunningly good Rosado that’s capable of ageing, and, our favourite, the Contino Olivo.   All their wines marry modernity with tradition to produce wines that are unique and of stunning quality.

For our opening Contino offer, we have a assembled a collection of mature wines from outstanding vintages.  You can browse our Contino Rioja offers here, particular highlights include:

Contino Gran Reserva 2014 – the Consejo Regulador Denominación Origen Calificada Rioja has classified the 2014 vintage as ‘Good’ and The Wine Advocate scored the Contino Gran Reserva 93/100.  Challenges over balance abounded in the 2014, but Contino proved more than capable of overcoming these.  This is a deeply coloured wine with a fine, yet powerful, structure that bodes well for a long life.  Supercharged with black and red berry fruit, it remains graceful and precise.

Contino Viña del Olivo 2016 - the Consejo Regulador Denominación Origen Calificada Rioja has classified the 2016 vintage as ‘Good’ and The Wine Advocate scored the Contino Olivo 95/100.  The Viña del Olivo comes from a small parcel of the 700-year-old vineyard in a spot which is one of the few calcareous clay spots in the estate.  Full-bodied and fantastically intense, there’s a racy, vibrant acidity that keeps this stunning wine balanced and focused.  Great now, it will drink brilliantly to 2030+.

Contino 'Contino' 17 Barricas 2013 - The Consejo Regulador Denominación Origen Calificada Rioja has classified the 2013 vintage as ‘Good’.  Hail stones the sized of golf balls affected Contino and all they managed to make was 17 barricas (225 litre barrels) of the 2013.  The resulting wine is concentrated, dark, spicy, and profoundly rich.  A rare wine, this a must-taste for any lover of serious Rioja.

Contino Viña del Olivo 2015 - The Consejo Regulador Denominación Origen Calificada Rioja has classified the 2015 vintage as ‘Very Good’ and The Wine Advocate scored this 93/100.  2015 was a hugely successful vintage for Olivo, delivering a wine of concentration, power, and finesse.  In magnum it is only just opening up and will reward cellaring for another two decades. 

MWH Imperial And Contino Rioja Offer 

CVNE wine offer from MWH Wines

We hope you have found this overview of C.V.N.E.'s Imperial and Contino wines of interest.  We have limited quantities of mature Contino and Imperial Riojas for sale, and you can browse our collection here.