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Spanish Winemakers

Articles are property of Brenda Francis and are not to be reproduced in any way without written consent from Brenda Francis. Jesus and Alvaro I met Jesús Sáez of Sierra Cantabria and Alvaro Pérez Navazo of Abadia Retuerta at a winemaker's dinner at Table 6 in May of 2004. They were on a promotional tour from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Ribera del Duero is located in the rugged Castile-Leon area of Spain. Because of its altitude, its grapes become very mature, producing complex wines. The area cradles the Duero River as it runs into Portugal. The primary grape is Tinta del Pais, a form of tempranillo. Rioja is the most renown and beloved wine region of the Iberian Peninsula. Rioja has always been the place of culture, dignitaries, and great wine. The prominent grape is also a local strain of tempranillo. The dinner was packed full of fresh seafood and crisp, bright white wine, like Marques de Gelida, Basa, Las Brisas, and Naia. It was an evening of black truffle grilled rabbit and cinnamon seared squab in a wash of spicy, sultry reds like Torre Muga, Emilio Moro Malleolus, Abadia Retuerta 'Cuvee El Palomar,' San Vincente Rioja, and Sierra Cantabria Rioja Reserva. Woven with details and flavors, it was an evening of the best of the best, winemakers from Jorge Ordonez's Spanish portfolio and Chef Aaron Whitcomb's award winning fare. I asked Jesús simply, 'Why do you make wine?' He replied in a passionate torrent "I believe my wines have a unique style and that they are authentic. I look beyond my province of Rioja to my pueblo, the best of a particular place, a place that has been prized by the Kings of Spain for centuries. Wines have been made in my province since the time of the Romans and in my village for over 500 years. This is a region of 1000 little separate soil types, with each one having its own micro-climate." Alvaro nods with a wily, grin of affirmation. He continues "I am in the bodega everyday, so that I can ensure that my winemakers are making the wine the San Vicente," which is the name of his village. I ask Jesús what makes his strain of tempranillo the best? Both men let loose with a roar of laughter. This time Alvaro replies, "We are blessed because we have such a tremendous grape." Jesús shakes his head in agreement as Alvaro continues, "tempranillo is so versatile. It is an excellent variety." It was at that moment that I realized tempranillo, like sangiovese grown in Italy, was one of those grapes that adapts to the environment. Some varieties protest their environment by producing off flavors or mutating into a low-grade grape. Other varieties, like sangiovese and tempranillo, adapt and excel. As we drank these winemaker's offerings, Jesús and Alvaro spoke in short sentences acknowledging each other's work. Their work is impressive and, as with all labels with the Jorge Ordonez moniker, the level of quality always outweighs the price. Codice Tempranillo $8 Borja $7 Borsao $7 Muga Rioja $20 Abadia Retuerta Blue Label $15 Naia $13 Nora $14