I had a glass of wine Wednesday evening with Craig Gandalf, the National Sales Director of Jorge
Ordonez´s amazing line of Spanish wines. He has generously sent me here to Spain to taste and learn about these wines from the families who make them. (That, by the way, is the caveat that I´m on a junket paid for by the supplier. It is a great trip so far, but I work for my wine customers and for John´s Grocery so I´m pretty sure I can talk about the wines I´ll be tasting with proper objectivity.) Little did I know that Gandalf was ushering me into the beginnings of yet another sea change in the wine business.
In the early and mid 1970's I used to buy wine in the basement of Sam's in Chicago. I found 10 year old second and
first growth Bordeaux there for $16-35 a bottle. In the 1990's, some of you will remember, we had a locked case with good, old (20-30 years) Bordeaux at John´s. ´78 Cos dÉstournel was $45. Alas, the Shadow of Wall Streeet bonuses arose in the east and the good people of middle earth could no longer buy Bordeaux, much as like what happened in the Elder Age to the Wines of Burgundy.
We arrived Friday morning, August 31st and immediately drove north to Rioja. The wheat covered hills north of Madrid quickly give way to dry mountains. Patches of vines appear in ground unsuitable for other cultivation. But closer to Rioja grapes become ubiquitous, covering every likely acre. For a century, Rioja has ruled here as a good and kindly King. Delicious and more complex that most would guess but always reasonable and available to his people (even if occassionally beset by scandal.) Now though, Great Towers and Engines of Industry have arisen in the land. Riscal´s gaudy Geary makes no attempt to fit naturally into the cere, ancient landscape and each neighboring winery seems intent upon outdoing the other in the trappings of status. At two tastings on Friday we sampled exquisite wines made in both the traditional and international styles. Sadly, many of these wines are priced like those of Lafite and Latour. Beautiful pure wines, great expressions of single vineyard sites that only the wealthiest in the world will ever drink. Few of us will ever spend $200-$300 for one bottle of wine. Fewer of us still will spend the money on several, taste one and wait decades to enjoy the remaining bottles when they are ready. We returned late to the hotel and I walked throu the silent, narrow streets within the city walls of Laguardia and lemented that once again the best had past beyond the ken of mere mortals and was destined only for the likes of evil trolls like Donald Trump. As good as the wines were I couldn´t bear to write a post about things no one could have.
Fortunately, the sun also rises. (you knew I couldn´t pass that one up) Today we visited two wineries owned by the Eguren family of $7.99 Protocolo fame, including Sierra Cantabria, very near to the village of Laguardia. Our host, Owner/Wine maker Marcos Eguren, along with both his father and his son led us through a tasting of their wonderful, delicious wines. At each one we were pleased to find they were comparable to the exquisite offerings of the previous day and shocked to find the prices ranging from $12-$50 dollars for all but one of their wines. Fruit of the Gods that mortals can afford. Perhaps the trolls won´t win after all. Some photos and tasting notes when I return from our evening tasting, late tonight. Stay thirsty, my friends.