Ordóñez Trip Day 4 Tuesday April 19: Basque Stronghold in La Rioja Alta-Wines and Bodegas of Sierra Cantabria

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I’m starting to get the rhythm of eating, drinking & no sleep. We are becoming seasoned soldiers marching through, vineyards, wineries, lunches, dinners and many bottles of wine. 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. Lather, rinse, repeat.

   It was a good mix: four Jersey wine retailers,  one animated Belo Russian (Borat’s dad?), a hip sommelier, and a few wine buyer’s for various Manhattan and Brooklyn shops and bars, and me. Let me introduce myself. I’m Rich Mora, Long Island Wine entrepreneur and drafted for Jorge Ordonez’s “Death March”. Mr. Ordonez is a top importer of Spanish wines and an expert on Spanish food and wine. If it crawls, swims or flys 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, the terroir, varieties and  what wine each region is best at. This is his trip and though he is tough and pulls no punches we went first class all the way. He also  knows how to keep sixteen intoxicated people going at the  pace to cover a large part of the Iberian Peninsula in ten days. When we roll in the morning we roll. 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.

Barrels of El Puntido, La Nieta, El Bosque et al sleeping in the caves

Everything in Spain is two hours away.  We rolled at 5am, drove an hour and 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, their wne business is called “Bodegas Sierra Cantabria”. We are at the feet of the Sierra Cantabria mountains near the village of Paganos, "a terrorist town" as Jorge says . We are on the north bank of the Ebro river protected from the north winds by the Sierra Cantabria range. We were met at the first vineyard site by winemakers Marcos Egurena and his son Edouardo Eguren. at the El Puntido vineyard a natural 25 hectare broad flat area at the base of the mountains that comprise. The soil is calcareous over solid limestone bedrock, the grapes for this and the other single vineyard projects are picked and destemmed by hand. I'm focusing on El Puntido, because I love the 2005, my other favorite was the  San Vicente wine. Also, the Egurens have an amazing 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. After going through the barrel room we took a freight elevator through a shaft in the bedrock to visit barrels of wine sleeping for over two years.

Eduardo Eguren at El Puntido vineyard

Some big bottles of Señorio de San Vicente


 On to  the small (pop.1,155) but important Rioja village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra where the wine of the same name comes from. Señorio de  San Vicente is produced from a single clone and a  single extraordinary vineyard site.  We tasted through the quite  lengthy portfolio of Sierra Cantbria wine, I'll just give you a few of my tasting notes . This was followed by another massive lunch in the Bodega of San Vicente in a beautiful old room built just for eating and drinking. 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
2001 Organza
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.

Organza 2009
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"
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
made with 200% new oak and very old vines.
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
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.

Ancient hut in vineyards at Bodegas Sierra Cantabria