Finding Clarity – Contino & Viña Zorzal

A fresh new approach at Contino and reflections on the differences between Rioja & neighbouring Navarra, plus a plug for graciano!

Day two started at Contino, Jesus Madrazo's former winery and part of the CVNE group, where we meet new head winemaker, Jorge Navascués. Despite his youthful looks, Jorge has 17 years' experience making wine in Cariñena, Calatayud, Navarra and Somontano, and it was refreshing to see him bring his experience of those areas to Rioja. 'I want to go back to the past when it comes to ageing wines' Jorge explains, 'for long-term ageing you need freshness; you need to pick early and use less oak'.

Tasting line up at Contino Tasting line up at Contino

To illustrate this we tasted Contino Blanco 2016 (the vintage before Jorge took over) alongside a tank sample of the 2017 – the difference in style was fascinating. The former was made using 100% new oak and is broader, richer and fatter with lower acidity compared to the rapier-like, floral and impeccably elegant 2017, of which 50% is aged on the lees in stainless steel and the rest in new oak. 'It's a wine made for ageing – it's about freshness and slow, steady development'.

The 2016 was delightful, but there was something so precise and purposeful about the 2017. As we tasted the range it was fascinating to hear Jorge's take on Contino and the changes he has in mind, looking to give the wines more focus and allow people to put their wines away for longer periods of time for long, slow maturation. We certainly can't wait to get our hands on some of them, in time!

Our next visit was to Viña Zorzal in neighbouring Navarra where, as it turns out, Jorge is a consultant and was on his way there as well. Although Rioja is arguably Spain's most prestigious wine region, it could be said that Navarra is producing the county's most exciting red wines.

Driving from Contino to Viña Zorzal, approximately an hour to the north-east, the difference between the two landscapes is remarkable; like chalk and cheese – or should I say, chalk and limestone? The rolling vineyards and hill-top towns of limestone-rich Rioja Alavesa and Alta roll out into vast expanses of flat farm land, where medieval towns and historic bodegas give way to warehouses and garages as if you were travelling through time.

Pilgrims walking through endless green fields under the sun of a beautiful spring morning, Camino de Santiago, Navarra, Spain Navarra is much flatter than Rioja, and after the Pyrenees must come as a relief for pilgrims like these walking the Camino de Santiago!

But it's not just the topography that changes: in Navarra garnacha is king, accounting for approximately 25% of the region's area under vine – this is opposed to Rioja where tempranillo occupies a staggering 75% of total plantings, alongside mazuelo (carignan), garnacha, graciano and viura (the main white grape of Rioja).

Jorge, Pierre and Xabier at Zorzal Jorge, Pierre and Xabier at Zorzal
Zorzal (which means thrush)'s distinctive bird logo features on all their labels Zorzal (which means thrush)'s distinctive bird logo features on all their labels

We were welcomed by Xabier, a regular at Wine Society events, to taste through their new vintages and a few new projects they have on the go at the moment. Viña Zorzal was founded on the principles of rescuing native Navarran grape varieties and producing single-varietal wines based on authenticity and simplicity.

They started with graciano (see below), a grape variety that produces some of my favourite Spanish wines, before moving on to garnacha taken from vineyards on the edge of the Ebro River. As at Contino it was great to see the 'Jorge effect'; wines with extra vitality and plenty of bright acidity, crunchy red fruit in the garnachas, and fabulously aromatic and concentrated graciano, all from the 2015 vintage.

Interested in giving them a try? If garnacha is your thing then check out their full, ripe Viña Zorzal Garnacha, or, if you're looking for something a little more 'serious', go for their Viña Zorzal Malayeto 2015 for a fabulous, terroir-led garnacha.

Graciano – Spain's most underappreciated variety?

One of the greatest things I will take from this trip is a new love and respect for graciano. This dark-skinned, richly perfumed variety fell from favour due to its inconveniently low yields with many producers uprooting their vines in favour for more popular, higher-yielding varieties like tempranillo and garnacha. However, graciano has seen a resurgence since the turn of the century with a few select producers making exceptional 100% examples.

Graciano produces wines with a distinctive blackcurrant, violet, bay leaf and chocolate perfume that complement the sweet vanilla and spice gained from oak ageing, forming typically sultry and seductive wines. Here are my three 'must-have' gracianos from the exceptional 2015 vintage:

Viña Zorzal Graciano 2015 – gateway wines like this should be illegal, especially at this price! Blueberries and violets meet leather and spice in this purple powerhouse from the low-lying plains of Navarra. This screams out for a barbeque and al fresco dining.

Viña Zorzal Cuatro del Cuatro 2015 – A tribute to the founder of Viña Zorzal, Antonio Sanz (born on the 4th April, hence the name), deliciously pure and elegant graciano packed full of blackcurrant and mulberry fruit. The grapes are from a 40-year-old vineyard and picked just as they hit full ripeness giving the wine extra crunch and freshness.

Contino Graciano 2015 – arguably the kings of graciano thanks to their San Gregorio Grande plot planted in 1979, this is characterised by immense concentration coupled with aromas of blackcurrant, cassis, annis, herbs and a hint of leather. The palate is full and rich but with the brightness and freshness that is synonymous with this outstanding vintage. Do not miss out

More from this trip

Trip homepage >

Other recent buyer trips

Provence 2017

Provence 2017

Pursuing pinks: two days in Provence

Forget fedoras and linens, if you're on a buying trip to Provence in January, you'd better pack your woollies!

View full trip
Discovering Washington

Washington, USA 2016

Discovering Washington

Buyer Freddy Bulmer visits one of the USA’s most up-and-coming wine regions to discover its potential and meet the producers shaping the future of the region.

View full trip
Travels In Wine - Piedmont 2015

Piedmont 2015

Perfect Piedmont

Protected by the Alps to the north and west and the Appennines to the south, Italy's north west is one of the wine world's most exciting regions. Paul and Janet try to get to grips with the Langhe, map Barolo, understand Barbaresco and round-up the latest Barolo vintages

View full trip
Browse all >

Members' Comments (1)

"Zorzal Graciano is definitely one of our current favourites. We were introduced to Zorzal at Lunya in Liverpool and are ver please to be able to get their wines via the Wine Society."

Mr Bryan Pready (19-Jun-2018)

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.


4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies: Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.