SIERRA CANTABRIA UNICA 2014: MUY TASTY

The Eguren brothers have their fingers in a lot of pies including Dominio de Eguren in Manchuela, the single vineyard estate Senorio de San Vincente, and Teso la Monja, an estate they started after they sold their previous Toro project, Numanthia. Yeah the boys are busy (they currently operate six wineries), but it all centers around the original property founded five generations earlier in 1870, Sierra Cantabria. They started as growers that for decades sold their grapes to other wineries and they still see themselves as viticulturists first. But they clearly know what to do with the juice.

Sierra Cantabriamakes a number of different wines but this series (which started in 2008 if memory serves) has been perhaps one of the best performers all things considered. Made from vines planted in 1985 in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, the wine itself is made from 98% Tempranillo with a pinch (2%) ‘older vine Grenache’. The wine sees 24 months in 60% French and 40% American oak, 30% of which is new. There’s no pretense at ‘traditional’ styling here even though it qualifies under the law.

This is a big, ripe mouthful of plush, ripe black fruits, spice cake, earthy minerality and hints of smoke. The bottle age is clearly sufficient to take whatever edge off this wine it might have had, and it now presents itself as an open, fruit driven wave of flavor. It’s very well put together but in a more ‘bottoms up’ style that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. In other words lush, easy to like stuff. The critics seemed to like it well enough. Both Vinous’ Josh Raynolds and Wine Spectator hung 92s on this one. Raynolds said, “…Sappy and focused on the palate, offering juicy raspberry, cherry and spicecake flavors that put on weight with air. Shows excellent precision on the clinging finish, which features sweet red fruit liqueur and floral elements and harmonious, silky tannins.”

Wine Spectator’s Thomas Mathews offered, “Vanilla, sandalwood and cedar notes lend a spicy accent to the cherry, tangerine, underbrush and licorice flavors in this round red. Shows good density, with well-integrated tannins and lively acidity imparting focus. Tempranillo and Graciano. Drink now through 2026.”

The highest praise, and a bit of explanation, came from Jeb Dunnuck, “The 2014 Sierra Cantabria Reserva Única is a cellar selection of the best barrels of the Reserve, selected with the idea of making a big, rich wine that can drink well in its youth yet also age. Blackberry, blueberry, violet, peach pit, graphite, and lead pencil notes all flow to a rich, medium to full-bodied, beautifully balanced red that has good acidity, fine tannin, and a great finish. This sexy, decadent, layered beauty shouldn’t be missed! …94 points.”

It is absolutely “big, rich wine that can drink well in its youth” which will definitely make a few new friends for Spain but not at the exclusion of long time fans of Rioja.

SIERRA CANTABRIA RIOJA SELECCION 2014

SIERRA CANTABRIA RIOJA SELECCION 2014

Think of this as what we used to call a wine-of-the-month, though with the new ongoing format time is a lot less linear.  An amazing deal from Spain shouldn’t surprise us. We have been on our soapbox regarding the value of Spanish wines at a wide range of price points for, what, a couple of decades now? But this one certainly did! When the purveyor pulled the bottle out of the bag, the only thing we saw was Sierra Cantabria, one of the most trusted, go-to names for us in Rioja since we began selling their wines in the mid-90s.

The Eguren family have been one of the superstars of the region not only for their range of Sierra Cantabria wines, but also their Senorio de San Vicente project that focuses on an arcane variety of Tempranillo (called Tempranillo Peludo because the leaves have a unique ‘fuzzy’ surface) that typically works on the level of a Classified Growth Bordeaux. These same folks, along with importer Jorge Ordonez, sidled over to Toro and created Numanthia (which they later sold to LVMH) which helped redefine the region. They turned right around and started Teso la Monja essentially with the same concept as Numanthia as premium Toro red.

The Egurens, even though the family has been in Rioja since the 1870s, they are ‘movers and shakers’ in the region in the most modern way. Where do they fall stylistically? They do it all, making traditional Crianzas, Reservas and Gran Resevas, as well as wines reaching for a more modern sheen with the like of Finca Eel Bosco, Reserva Unica, El Puntido and Seleccion Privada outside the traditional ‘rules’. They make more than twenty different wines, including a more ‘mass market’ enterprise under the Dominio de Eguren label.

Given our knowledge of this winery’s broad lineup, we had no idea what to expect of this label that we couldn’t remember seeing before. We tasted it with no particular expectations in mind since these folks worked on many levels. Plenty of dark fruit (strawberry, plum, currant), vanilla highlights from what appeared to be some time in oak, fine purity of fruit, and the classic chocolate/earthy notes that are a part of Rioja terroir. ‘Pretty good stuff’, we thought, ‘a fine tipple in the upper teens.’

As it turned out, this was only the second release of this wine, and the price was under $10! Our shock was legitimate. Sourced from proprietary vineyards located in San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Laguardia, this wine was 100% de-stemmed and saw 6 months in tank and 6 months in a combination of 1-3 year old American and French Bordelaise barrels.

For the price point, it was a revelation! We have been complaining for quite a while that ‘value-priced’ wines have been tasting more and more homogenized and ‘messed with’. Far too many have the prevalent flavor of wood stays or oak chip ‘teabags’ meant to give the wine the ‘impression’ of more expensive winemaking, or leave residual sweetness in the wine to fill in some of the ‘cracks’. The flavors often lean more towards industrial chocolate cake frosting and candied fruit.

This one tastes like wine! Good wine! We can’t think of a more exciting thing to say than that in a wine world that seems to be intent on using wine-making tricks to gussy up marginal, ordinary juice (the ‘lipstick on a pig’ analogy comes to mind). The Egurens are giving you delightful, honest Rioja for the same kind of price.

Not only is this a $10 wine we would happily drink ourselves, it caught the attention of the usually-not-particularly-generous Josh Raynolds of Vinous, who remarked, “…Dark ruby. Ripe dark berries, candied flowers and a suggestion of woodsmoke on the perfumed nose. Pliant and expansive in the mouth, offering bitter cherry, cassis and peppery spice flavors that become sweeter on the back half. Finishes on a juicy dark berry note, showing very good persistence, gentle tannins and lingering spice and floral notes…90 Points.”  A 90 from Josh on a wine in this price range is a rare occurence.

The Egurens know their business, but something tasty, honest, and inexpensive is the hardest thing to do in wine. Bravo. House red, party red, something that delivers in a way few $10 wines can (and, sadly, a whole lot of $15-20 wines as well), this is one to buy by the case…$9.98