|Approaching the Cantabria Range, Rioja Alta
||Ancient Hut in Vineyards at Bodegas Sierra Cantabria
Starting to get the rhythm of eating, drinking & no sleep. Secret is to get on the bus, with your stuff or face Jorge’s “physical extraction”. I never got to that point. We are becoming seasoned soldiers marching through, vineyards, wineries, lunches, dinners and many bottles of wine. Actually my internal clock adjusted very well to Spanish Time. That means beer with a Spanish omelette at breakfast, a five course lunch with lots of wines. An hour or two siesta of sorts, usually on the bus to more activities until close to midnight, then a big dinner til 2 or 3am and a few short hours of sleep, then lather, rinse, repeat.
The group was a good mix. Four guys from New Jersey boys sophisticated wine merchants with stores throughout the Garden State, three of them I considered “good ol boys” one animated BeloRusian who reminded me of “Borat”. There was also the very hip sommelier of very hip and happening Bar Basque (in NYC) cracking everyone up stomping through the vines in his Prada shoes, the quiet but quick witted and very savvy wine buyer for CasaMono (also NYC). The list goes on with a lumbering former Buffalo Bills offensive linesman with a store upstate NY and a high tolerance for Joselito ham and wine, and finally the introspective manager of a Brooklyn wine store who turned her Nikon on everything we came across. Jorge also brought along his manager and some of his sales team who made the trip a lot of fun and educational.
Knowledge of Spanish, Spain and Spanish wines varied widely from zilch to totally fluent and familiarity with most of what we were eating and drinking, though the master is Jorge. He seems to know everything about everything Spanish, if it crawls, swims, flys or runs and it is good to eat he knows where to find the best and the best way to serve it. The list of wine regions in Spain that he works in keeps growing. He knows the growers and winemakers personally, all the best restaurants, the terroir, varieties what each region is best at making at what is “shit”. He has great passion for the food and wine of his homeland and always reminds us that “food without wine is bullshit”. He’s very straightforward and pulls no punches and we went first class all the way. However he has done this a lot and knows how to keep sixteen intoxicated people going at the pace he has to maintain to cover a large part of the Iberian Peninsula in ten days. When we roll in the morning we roll and when he clinks his glass you listen up or face getting thrown down a dry well. I’m still not sure what the ultimate point of these trips are. For a while I thought that at the end of the trip he would take our fattened livers to make some human foie gras.
Everything in Spain is two hours away. We extracted at 5am and after an hour drive we had a rosé and red wine breakfast with more Iberico ham and Spanish omelette. The next stop was Rioja Alta and the vineyards and winery of the Eguren family. Now we are at the feet of the Sierra Cantabria mountains near the village of Paganos, “a terrorist town” according to Jorge . Rioja Alta is on the north bank of the Ebro river with the best terroir in Rioja and is protected from the north winds by the Sierra Cantabria. We were met at the first vineyard site by winemakers Marcos Egurena and his son Edouardo Eguren and Miguel-Angel Eguren the G.M., at the El Puntido vineyard. Puntido means landing or step and refers to the natural 25 hectare broad flat area at the base of the mountains that comprise this vineyard site. It was established in the 1950′s, the soil is calcareous over solid limestone bedrock, the grapes for this and the other single vineyard projects are picked by hand and sometimes hand destemmed as well. I’m focusing on El Puntido, because I love the 2005 and we may get a sweet deal on it but I must mention that there are also El Bosque, La Nieta, and San Vicente. also, the Egurens have a new project in Toro which we will see in a few days. The younger Edouardo took over the tour after introductory comments by his father Marco. Edouardo is a good looking kid in his mid twenties and I hear really lives it up when they let him out of the cellars and vineyards and he visits clients in the states. After visiting the vineyards they took us into the bodega between the La Nieta and El Puntido vineyards. After going through the barrel room we took a freight elevator down through a shaft in the bedrock into their underground aging caves. Were some barrels rest for over two years.
After that was a ride to the small (pop.1,155) but important Rioja village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra where the Rioja wine of the same name comes from. Señorio de San Vicente is produced by a single clone from a single vineyard site and is a really unique and outstanding wine. We tasted through all the current and soon to be released wines of Sierra Cantabria which is quite a lengthy portfolio, I’ll just give you a few of my notes on the wines. This was followed by another massive lunch in the Bodega of San Vicente in a beautiful old room apparently built just for eating and drinking. They even have disposable toothbrushes in the bathrooms to get the purple off your teeth, the highlights of the meal were langostino, whole, steamed and roasted baby goat. These were some of the wines tasted:
Sierra Cantabria Organza 2001 and 2009 This is their top white wine. all barrel fermented and aged. It does age beautifully and we got to try the
oldest and newest vintage side by side both are about half Viura and half Malvasia grapes
Amazing old gold color
Nose A wide range of aromas; nutty and tawny flavors with a bit of minerality and “gout de petrol”. Still had bright acidity and good fruit with some mineral and toffee notes in the finish.
Nose Intense new oak with ripe baked apples
Taste Toffee and baked apple with a crisp finish. This wine really gains lots of complexity with proper aging.
Vinedos de Paganos “El Puntido” 2005 retail about $50, look for a further discount on this one soon.
Nose Powerful perfume of black fruits and ripe blackberries with hints of nuts, toast,and some mineral notes
Taste: Powerful, saturated with black fruit flavors and hints of toast, spice and some mineral notes. To me El Puntido is much more masculine and structured than La nieta from older vines in the neighboring vineyard
Sierra Cantbria Amancio 2007 price $110 to $160 estimated
made with 200% new oak and very old vines. It is aged in new oak for half the time and then transferred to another new barrel for the rest of its time.
Nose Powerful, deep black fruits with grilled bread, anise, graphite or lead pencil
Taste very strong but smooth on the palate with a long finish, flavors of dark fruit, black cherry, plum and black berry with toast, spice and mineral qualities
Sierra Cantabria Coleccion Privada 2008 retail $38-$45
50 year old vines, 18 months in oak
Very Good Stuff
Nose shows lots of black fruit, some anise and chai tea with lots of depth and layers of flavor. Showing very well for an obviously young wine, very polished
Sierra Cantabria Codice 2009 $8.79 online at Mora’s 100% Tempranillo, aged six months in tank and six months in small French and American oak
Nose dark cherry and plum, hints of cocoa powder and a mineral quality
Taste concentrated berry flavors, lots of grip good but needs to breath a little, an excellent value!