Couched comfortably in the luxury of the stunning new Ocean Prime restaurant, I recently sat down with famed Spanish wine importer and merchant Jorge Ordonez. He's a very influential man in the wine world and here's why: He single-handedly reintroduced Spanish wines to the U.S.In the 1980's, Spanish vino tasted little better than low quality plonk, and wineries and winery co-ops had little motivation to better their wares. Beginning in 1987, Ordonez helped change all that. With his tenacity and palpable confidence, he rediscovered varietals like garnacha, muscatel and verdejo in formerly backwater but now fashionable wine regions like Jumilla, Campo de Borja and Calatayud.
In what I might call a really tough job, Ordonez travels the Spanish countryside in search of talented, family-owned bodegas (wineries) with deep passion for wine. Many of these vintners own fantastically rich old vines yielding grapes of such quality, he sometimes can't fathom why no one has already discovered them. He believes heavily in the importance of these graggly, aged vines and their ability to produce incredibly concentrated wines. He says," Why would anyone ever buy a younger vineyard? There's no character." Indeed.
Ordonez now imports 130 wines from 40 different wineries and I had the opportunity to taste 18 of them at the Ocean Prime experience (yes, I was spitting). Forthright (even deliciously crass at times), his deep knowledge of the minutia of Spanish wines kinda blew me away. I was, indeed, charmed. Highlights included:
Bodegas Bontani 2008 Moscatel ($20): Floral, full bodied, luscious white oozing honeysuckle and apricots
Juan Gil 2006 Jumilla Monstrell ($16): Ordonez dubs this the "Silver Oak of Spain." Elegance defined: tight vanilla oak tannins, black cherry, raspberry tobacco spices, earthy rosemary, and sweet chocolate once it sits in the glass awhile
Bodegas Volver Paso a Paso Tinto ($12): 100% tempranillo. Juicy blackberry, leathery tannins, black pepper, caramel mocachino, and nice, firm acidity
Emilio Moro 2007 Resalso Bodegas ($18): 100% tempranillo. Earthy and meaty with mild acidity, bright blueberry, black cherry, white pepper and a vanilla finish.
All of these are available in the Tampa Bay area at fine wine shops and wine bars like Bern's Fine Wines, Wine Shop at Foxcroft, Wine Exchange, Jenn's Wines, Wine Warehouse, Park Square Cellar, Bin 27 and B-21.