A Great Unknown Winery in Rioja


great unknownJuly 9, 2009

A few years ago we were at Eva Restaurant in Latona which is co-owned by James Hondros, our former wine manager. James poured us each a glass of Saturnia Crianza Rioja which we enjoyed so much that we took a bottle over to my late Dad’s house. After that, whenever I told my Dad I was coming over, he would ask if I could bring along some more bottles of those “saturn” wines.

When we chose our favorite bodegas to visit last month, naturally Rioja’s holy trinity headed the list: R. Lopez Heredia, producer of Vina Tondonia, La Rioja Alta and Bodegas Muga. (Interesting fact: the front doors of thesegreat unknown2 wineries are only meters apart in Haro’s Railroad District where a hundred years ago, they loaded huge barrels of wine on flat cars and sent them off to France which was suffering the scourge phylloxera.)

But one of our most enjoyable visits was with Bodegas Ramon de Ayala Lete y Hijos, who make Vina Santurnia and Deobriga. Just across the Ebro great unknown3river from Haro in the tiny town of Briñas, they have a new, functional winery nestled between houses on a side street. The modern winery replaced the old bodega which has a two story underground wine cave, now used for aging home-made Cava. Laboring in quiet obscurity, there are few visitors and no tasting room. However, 4th generation winemaker Ramon de Alaya was charming and hospitable during our 4 hour visit, as we visited the vineyards, the old bodega, tasted barrel samples and the most recent releases.  The secret to his nuanced wines lies in his south facing vineyards which are nestled high up against the Sierra Cantabria mountains. His oldest vineyards were planted in 1936; the youngest vineyards are 30-40 years old. The vines, planted to a mix of traditional Rioja grapes, are overseen by Ramon’s grandson, a technical agronomist engineer. Minimal intervention is used in the vineyard, whose late ripening grapes achieve great depth and balance.great unknown4


Stay ahead of the wine critics and try one of these little-known wines!

2004 Vina Santurnia Crianza Rioja ($15.99) Made of 100% Tempranillo, the Crianza has inviting fresh aromas, with flavors of bing cherry, boysenberry, toast and licorice. Notes of vanilla frame a persistent, earthy finish. Give it 20 minutes to open up and savor the complexity.

2004 Deobriga Seleccion Familiar, Rioja ($21.99) Spanish Table exclusive! The most modern style Rioja produced by Bodegas Ramon de Ayala Lete y Hijos, we jumped at the chance to carry this an an exclusive. Made from old vine Tempranillo and Graciano, it has complex flavors of blackberry, blueberry, hints of black olive and tobacco. A supple and full bodied Rioja, it is well balanced with notes of vanilla and minerals. An all around superb Rioja!

1999 Vina Santurnia Gran Reserva Rioja ($40.00) Notes of balsamic, plum and black cherry infuse this traditional style, medium bodied Rioja. Elegant, with notes of smoke and cedar that compliment silky tannins. Balanced and extremely well crafted, the Gran Reserva is smooth with a persistent finish. A knock out with any grilled meat.



Los Beyos is a dense, compact, “peasant” style artisan cow’s milk cheese from the Asturias region of Spain. It has a unique flinty texture. The first bite’s slight chalkiness melts into a big, buttery, creamy texture with a well-balanced and tangy finish.

Valèe d’Aspe This pleasantly earthy and grassy raw cow and sheep’s milk farmstead Tomme is crafted by Basque artisans in the shadow of the Pyrenees. Firm, but not flaky, this cheese speaks of mountain terroir with nutty notes, vibrant tanginess, and an olive savoriness.

Young Majorero con Pimentòn Those of you already familiar with this exotic cheese from the Canary Islands will enjoy the younger version coated with Pimentòn from the same region. Majorero is unlike any other! Made from the aromatic rich milk of goats that graze on wild marjoram. Flavors of almonds and a spiciness make this a unique cheese. Pair this with full bodied and spicy red Tajinaste from the Canary Islands. – Jorge


“SPAIN 2009 – AN ABUNDANCE OF RICHES” was last week’s Wine Advocate sensational review of 600+ Spanish wines. With superb vintages in 2004 and 2005, and excellent 2006 and 2007 harvests, over 490 wines received a rating of 90 points or higher. We’ve been advocating little known Spanish wines since 1995 and it’s rewarding to see the wine press finally taking notice in a big way!


2006 Clos Erasmus, Priorat – 97 points ($190.00) 3 bottles available “As usual Clos Erasmus is one of Spain’s finest wines. The 2006 Clos Erasmus offers an ethereal bouquet of balsam and sandalwood, incense, liquid mineral, black cherry, and black raspberry. Dense, rich, and voluptuous on the palate, it has plenty of well-concealed ripe tannin, tons of fruit, and potential complexity.”

2006 Flor de Pingus, Ribera del Duero – 94 points ($79.00) “The 2006 Flor de Pingus spent 14 months in new French oak. Deep purple in color, it gives up a superb bouquet of toasty oak, spice box, mineral, incense, black cherry, and blackberry. Youthful, full-bodied, intense, and powerful on the palate, it retains an elegant personality despite its size. Splendidly balanced, it will evolve for 4-6 years and deliver prime drinking from 2013 to 2026. It is a superb value in great wine considering that the price of Pingus Junior is one-tenth that of Pingus.”

2006 Alto Moncayo, Campo de Borja – 94 points ($42.00) 8 bottles available “The purple-colored 2006 Alto Moncayo was aged in new French and American oak for 17 months before bottling without filtration. It offers up a sexy concoction of toasty new oak, lavender, spice box, cassis, and black raspberry. Round, rich, and voluptuous on the palate, it delivers plenty of up-front pleasure but hides enough ripe tannin to evolve for a few years. It can be enjoyed now and over the next decade.”

2005 Castro Ventosa El Castro de Valtuille, Bierzo – 92 points ($34.00) “The 2005 El Castro de Valtuille offers some toasty oak notes, plum, violets, and black cherry in its expressive perfume. This leads to a medium-bodied, sweet, intensely flavored wine with flavors of spice box, cherry, and cranberry. Long and pure, it will provide pleasure over the next 4-6 years.”

2005 Muga Reserva Unfiltered, Rioja – 90 points ($25.99) Winemaker Jorge Muga feels that the harvests of 2001 and 2005 produced the best Reserva in their history. “The purple-colored 2005 Muga Reserva, a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, and the balance Mazuelo and Graciano. It was aged for six months in wood vats followed by two years in new French and American oak. It delivers an alluring nose of cedar, tobacco, earth notes, mineral, and black cherry. This is followed by an elegant wine with good depth and enough ripe tannin to evolve for several years. Nicely balanced and long in the finish, it will be at its best from 2012 to 2020 if not longer.”



Guava paste, 400 g and 600 g sizes

Napoleon grilled artichokes in oil (7.5 oz) We tossed these with pasta and halibut for a quick and delicious dinner this week.

Dona Maria Nopalitos (15 oz) Cactus leaves are used in salads, soups and tacos all across Mexico

Dona Maria Black Mole sauce (8.25 oz) Concentrated. Add liquid, heat and serve.

Annato Seed Achiote: 1 oz, 3 oz, 10 sizes

Mas Portell flavored olive oils: Lemon and Clementine are back!



July 10, 11, and 12, 2009

Flamenco Arts Northwest presents a three day workshop with Maria “Chacha” Bermudez, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. The legendary dancer and teacher from Jerez will teach two 90 minute levels each day of the workshop, accompanied by Marcos and Rubina on guitar and cante.

Workshop will be held at American Dance Institute, 8007 Greenwood Ave. North. Preregistration is strongly advised as this event always fills up quickly! Times and prices are posted at http://www.FANW.org (see calendar or workshops), or call Rubina at (206) 932-4067 for more information.

Enjoy our great summer, and come see us at the shop!




Sharon Baden & Steve Winston, Owners

The Spanish Table


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Filed under Cheese, Events, Food, Red Wine, Spain

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