The Merrimack Valley is loaded with talent. I am amazed by the variety of skills and the level of expertise possessed by the people I meet — people who are responsible for worldwide computer infrastructure, authorities on cyber security, missile defense experts, musical artists and, of course, wine connoisseurs. I shouldn’t be surprised that one of our readers is the wine director for the largest importer of Spanish wine into the U.S. market.
Lowell resident Craig Gandolf has been with Jorge Ordóñez Selections for 20 years. Earlier he worked in the restaurant industry and as a professional sommelier. Following a tour of Spanish vineyards, he changed careers. He is currently the director of Jorge Ordóñez Selections, a brand of the wine broker Fine Estates from Spain.
Craig contacted mvm, saying he has enjoyed reading Wine Notes (flattery will get you everywhere) and invited me to a day of Spanish wine tasting and education. Spanish wines have been on my radar, so this was an offer I could not refuse.
Spain is the third largest producer of wine worldwide, behind France and Italy (the U.S. is fourth), yet it has a limited reputation for quality wines. In the 1980s, Spanish wines were synonymous with cheap bulk wine. Spanish winemakers were focused on growing the most grapes so they could produce the largest quantity of wine. That would change thanks to the work of Ordóñez and others. Sam Messina, co-owner of Wine ConneXtion in North Andover, notes, “Jorge Ordóñez is a genius in the wine industry. He convinced winemakers in Spain to reduce their yields through better growth management in the vineyards and to modernize their winemaking process.”
In addition, Ordóñez insisted on the refrigerated storage and shipping of his selected wines at every step from the winery to the warehouses. Quality wine contains the smallest amount of sulfites necessary to keep it from spoiling, and it’s fragile as a result. Temperature and time-tracking devices identify problem areas quickly. Last year, 600 cases were ruined because the wine got “cooked” during shipping. The temperature and tracking records enabled the problem to be corrected. Keep this in mind when you are thinking of storing your wine in the kitchen or next to your fireplace.
It was exciting to be treated to a private wine tasting in the Dedham corporate office of this country’s largest Spanish wine importer. I taste wine on a regular basis and thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. This tasting was on an altogether different level. The table was set for three: Craig, Victor Ordóñez, Jorge’s son and a recent Cornell graduate with a degree in viticulture and enology, and myself. Each setting had two large Riedel Bordeaux glasses filled with distilled water to remove any impurities and off-tastes left over on the glasses from washing, bottles of spring water, a red Solo cup and lots of napkins. Our task was to taste more than 45 wines in about four hours. A waiter brought Craig several bottles at a time, and he was the first to taste the wine. Victor would taste next and then pass the bottle to me. We each poured generously into the large wine glasses, swirled the wines to release the bouquet, took full sips to taste, then spit into the Solo cups. When it comes to wine, that is all a red Solo cup is good for. I asked, “What will you do with all this leftover wine?” “We just dump it,” Craig replied. What a waste.
I had tasted 50 or 60 wines in a day before, but at those tastings only found a few that were acceptable. Of the 45-plus wines we opened that day, one cava had an off-odor but tasted fine. The other wines were excellent, and a handful were truly outstanding and at excellent price points for the quality.
During the tasting, we reviewed images and video explanations of the regions, vineyards and grape varieties. We took a break for lunch after going through the whites, then approached the “big reds” for another couple of hours. Toward the end, I was overwhelmed with all the flavors and began to feel a little tired. Tired, but happy. You just can’t spit everything.
When famed critic Robert Parker of the highly influential Wine Advocate newsletter joins them, Craig opens three bottles of wine, tastes each one and chooses which bottle “the master” will taste. Parker has scored some of their selections a perfect 100 points.
I hate to talk about wonderful wines I’ve tasted that you can’t find in the area. Fortunately, you will find a good selection of Jorge Ordóñez wines at the Wine ConneXtion and at New England Wine & Spirits in Newburyport. Andover Classic Wines had one selection available when I visited, and it is one of my favorites.
Don’t be afraid explore the Spanish wine section the next time you visit your local vintner. Turn the bottles around and look for the Jorge Ordóñez Selections logo on the back. You will not be disappointed. Salute!
A few favorites available locally:
Volver Single Vineyard
100 percent tempranillo grapes
Spanish wine region of La Mancha
Wine ConneXtion, $14.99
100 percent garnacha de Aragón grapes
Spanish wine region of Calatayud
New England Wine & Spirits, $17.99