Friday June 5
We arrived at Viñedos De Páganos to be greeted by our host Carlos Caraballo, Sales Manager for the Sierra Cantabria wine group. Carlos eschewed the same passion, style and welcoming manner that Alberto had on our visit to the two other Eguren properties yesterday.
Bodegas Viñedos De Páganos is situated under the shadow of the Sierra Cantabria mountain range protecting it from the northerly Atlantic winds and from the south by the Sierra Damanda range. This is an organically farmed property that like many respected Rioja properties don't formally subscribe to the authorities for certification as the costs are unnecessarily high. It's about values of vineyard management translated into the finished wine and not titles bestowed in certificates that makes a great wine, inferred Carlos.
Just 3 wines are grown at this Bodegas… El Puntido, Gran Reserva El Puntido and the wine of the house La Nieta (same relationship as Amancio is to Sierra Cantabria). The vineyards for El Puntido are 28ha in area and are all dry grown (zero irrigation) planted on poor sandy soils of 9-inches lying over many metres of limestone rock. Many of these vines are circa 40-years old and produce tiny yields, of which the majority goes into the making of El Puntido - 100% Tempranillo grapes aged in oak for 18-months with an additional 2-years bottle age prior to release. Much in the manner of a Crianza (young Rioja red) although cannot be called a Crianza because of it doesn't strictly conform to the Rioja regulations, which in this regard is a positive for the wine in that is superior to a normal Crianza style.
Sierra Cantabria Gran Reserva is aged for 28-months in oak and is released as a 5-year old wine so it has greater complexity and harmony when released. The No.1 wine of the property is ‘La Nieta', also 100% Tempranillo aged only 16-months in French oak. The La Nieta vineyard is like a ‘Clos', an enclosed vineyard. It is sighted behind the winery on its own terrace, was planted in 1975 and is only 1.8 hectares in size.
Carlos took us through the winery and chatted about the winemaking practices, which were all that you'd expect from Hand-picking of fruit to hand-sorting (double hand sort for the La Nieta) to lengthy but gentle maceration periods to malolactic ferment followed by aging for determined periods, each wine in 100% new French oak. We took he lift to the cellars (1km of barrel and bottle aging cellars approximately 8-9 metre stud height) ambling through and exiting the other side then walking 20-metres to stand in the famous La Nieta vineyard.
Post our tour we enjoyed a very relaxed tasting at a table (set atop of barrels) located under the roofline of the main winery and facing directly to the impressive Sierra Cantabria mountain range. Fine glassware, cheeses and Iberico ham, it was a picture book setting and magical tasting environment. The three wines for tasting were as follows…
El Puntido 2011 – it was a vibrant expression of a young Rioja red and the aromas of dark cherry, red berry, rose, liquorice and baking spices were gorgeous. The palate had a creamy textural centre surrounded by juicy acidity and finely grained tannin all adding to its charm, but the freshness of the extended finish was absolute confirmation of its quality and potential age ability.
El Puntido Gran Reserva 2006 – such a treat to taste 9-year old Rioja. It showcases just why they are such superb wines and why you should be patient with your ageing of them. It had brooding aromas but as it sat longer in the bottle the regional liquorice and herb characters emerged. This was a red with superb texture, velvety tannins, deliciously layered and integrated oak and fruit, perfect acid balance and terroir driven minerality giving it an endearing edginess. It just got better in the glass and tasted not unlike a full-bodied red Burgundy with its mix of power, elegance and smooth palate.
La Nieta 2012 – this was the precocious child, full of vibrant expression, individuality and colour. Although from the same property it spoke of a different terroir in terms of its enticing and dense aromas that were fruitful, spicy and savoury with gorgeous floral (rose) notes. Red fruits and subtle black plum aspirated the palate with fine cedary oak, spices, herbs and savoury notes adding to its undoubted beguile. It is the wine of the property and makes the statement it is intended to, only 4,000 bottles produced (around 2-3% of its Bordeaux 1st Growth equivalents).
It was a pleasure to be able to thank Carlos on behalf of the group. The Eguren family and its properties are like Spanish wine royalty but when you are welcomed to their house and table you are made to feel like one of their family.
Carlos then directed our drivers to the nearby village of La Guardia to the Restaurante Hospederia De los Parajes for our group lunch. La Guardia is a walled town (much like an Italian Tuscan town) perched on the top of a hill offering 360 degree views over the Rioja wine landscape, from the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria mountain range to as far as the eye could see. The Rioja appellation is circa 22,000 hectares (from memory the entire NZ wine region consists of circa 30,000 hectares) and is a continuum of gently rolling hills, a patchwork quilt of vineyards with differing aspects, soil types, elevations and clos like environments. It is a wine region of huge charm, history and character producing wines that have unique and desirable terroir influences.
The setting and ambience of the restaurant was excellent and the food was authentic, deliciously flavoured and simple. I selected a Cava for refreshment (as Diego the sommelier says… “Bubbles open the way to your stomach”), a gorgeous Riojan Viura inspired white and a smooth house bottled Crianza… the wines and all were perfect for the occasion. The menu was as follows…
Mille feuille with foie gras and caramelised cheese
Salad of baked pears Gorgonzola cheese and dried fruits with a reserve balsamic vinegar dressing
Crispy artichokes with prawns and cured ham
Baby lamb chops with chips and roasted smoked red peppers
Continue on to day 10 here.