[Author note: this series of blog posts is about my recent trip to Spain, with the importer Jorge Ordonez. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to see the country, taste the wine and eat the food. Follow these posts for a wine and culinary trip through Spain. Most wines mentioned are available at DEPs Fine Wine and Spirits]
Our next day in Spain took us to Navarra, in the northern part of the country, more specifically to the Nekeas Valley. The Nekeas Valley is a blissful pocket of the Earth. It is one of those places you feel could only be imagined by a painter. We were here at the right time, when the grain they call cereal appears bright neon green. The valley is surrounded by these rolling fields of green and yellow, with crumbling old castles perched atop rounded hilltops. We pulled into our destination, Vega Sindoa, and picked up the winemaker, Concha Vecino. Concha at first apologized for her poor English, but in reality she was quite good. She was sweet and informative, immediately likeable. My fondness for her only grew when she told us her favorite party trick was freezing her rose in advance into ice cubes, and then when you feel like having a glass of rose outside put in the rose ice cube. Genius.
She took us to a site for El Chapparal vineyard, which is one of the most northern places in Spain for growing grapes. The perfect combination of mountains and the influence of the Ebro River make grape growing possible. Also olive trees! One plot of land planted to grenache with olives right next to it. She promised we would get to taste the oils at lunch. The El Chapparal vineyard was red and clay-like with snails all around!
We headed back to the winery for a tasting and lunch. The winery is a state-of-the-art facility, incorporating the latest technology available in winemaking. All the wines are stainless-steel fermented, except for the barrel-fermented Chardonnay. A few of my favorite wines:
Vega Sindoa Rose 2011
Has natural acidity and is a neon-ruby color. It tastes like a bubblegum jollyrancher!
El Chaparral, 100% garnacha
91 Points Robert Parker, “Explosive aromas of raspberry, mulberry, potpourri and dark chocolate. Deep, palate-staining red and dark berry flavors are energized by a note of cracked pepper and pick up spiciness with aeration. The finish echoes the red berry and floral notes and clings with impressive tenacity. This is complex enough to enjoy now.”
After our formal tasting we moved on to lunch, where my favorite thing was the local chorizo called txistorra. Small little juicy sausages that I lovingly call slim jims. We also had ‘dinosaur’, more commonly known as rib-eye.
Back on the bus for an hour’s drive south to Campo de Borja. Even this 1 hour changes the landscape and temperature dramatically. Our bus pulls to a stop basically in the middle of the road, where we see cars with ‘Alto Moncayo’ and ‘Bodegas Borsao’ decals on them. We are handed Borsao vests and told to pile into the cars, where we are going is too treacherous for the bus to get to, and the vests are to protect us from the wind. A ride up bumpy roads, again surrounded by almond and olive trees, and we get out. Or, more accurately, we are sucked out of the car by the wind. It is fierce and violent and does not stop. I tried to laugh but the wind sucked the sound out. The wind is called the Cierzo, the same wind that is so important to the Nekeas Valley. The wind protects against fungus and mold, and also keeps bugs and critters away. One site we can see is full of 104 year old garnacha.The soil is redish and when you walk through it you sink, almost like it was heavy wet snow. The rolling hills and blue sky create an incredible view.
We head back down the mountain to through the town of Borja to the brand new winery of Alto Moncayo, built just for the Moncayo and the Veraton. A quick barrel sample here, and we take in the view. The three peaks that are on the label of Tres Picos are visible here, with the middle and highest being Alto Moncayo. We drive back through the old town, one of the oldest cities in Spain. Originally an Arabic city, it was made famous by the Borgia family, who eventually moved to Italy and became synonomous with corruption and greed. The people here are all agricultural workers, and the town is lovely and quite.
We head to Bodegas Borsao for a formal tasting, it is a traditional building and our tasting takes place in a pink room lined with old cement tanks, with flat screens fastened to each tank. The lineup is one of my favorite of the whole trip. Jorge talks about the origins of garnacha, and how the French claim its origins as well as the people in Priorat, but it’s not true: