Wednesday, 4 May 2016

4.5.16 Jerez Second Most Visited Wine Route

The Bodegas of the Marco de Jerez attracted no fewer than 449,326 visitors last year according to the 2015 report from ACEVIN, the Spanish Association of Cities of Wine. Last year’s figures for Spain as a whole were positive, showing continued growth with an increase in both visitors (5.59%) and expenditure (15.2%). The average spend in bodega shops was 18.03 euros. These figures include neither hotel accommodation nor expenditure in shops, restaurants and bars which will have increased similarly. The report says that the busiest seasons are spring and autumn, offering scope to improve figures for winter and summer. Given that of the 68 million people visited Spain last year only 2% came for wine tourism, so there certainly is plenty of scope.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Bodegas: Tomás Abad

The Abad family has been linked to Jerez since the days of the Reconquista in the XIII century. The first to arrive was admiral Ramón Bonifaz in 1248 after the area was won back from the Moors, and the family remained there among those invited by King Alfonso X to repopulate the area in 1264. They came from the Barcenamayor area in the mountains south of Santander and were thus, like their compatriots, known as “montañeses”, many of whom came to the Jerez area, and many, like the Abad family, have had long connections with the Sherry business.

3 generations of the Abad family: L-R- Cecilio, Tomas snr. and Tomas jnr.

Members of the wider family continued coming over the centuries, and Cecilio Abad Pérez arrived in 1899 after inheriting the estate of his uncle, Francisco Abad Martín, who had considerable interests in Jerez, principally land and property. Tomás Abad Caballero, born in 1895 in Barcenamayor, was the son of Cecilio and his wife Genoveva Caballero y de Viaña. He had a brother, Francisco, and a sister, Petra, and together they inherited bodegas in Calle Berrocales, 3 and the vineyards Cabeza de la Aceña, Pantanar and El Paraiso from their parents. They also inherited houses including the Casa Piedras Negras and its adjoining bodega in the Calle Francos, 44 and 46. This palatial house had been the property of Antonio Abad Romano de Mendoza, mayor of Jerez in 1838.

Inside the Abad bodega

Here Tomás Abad began his activities in the Sherry business and in 1949 he founded an exporting business under the name Tomás & Francisco Abad Caballero with the registered office at Calle Doctrina, 6 and joined the Sherry Shippers Association. In 1955 he changed the registered office address to Ronda Del Palenque, 1 where he had bodegas and in 1969 he changed the company name to Tomás Abad SA. He died in 1980 and his family ran the business until 1999 when they sold out to Emilio Lustau which was in turn owned by Luis Caballero. The wines were moved to Lustau's bodegas in Calle Arcos and the Abad bodegas were sold to a construction firm which built flats on the site. The Tomás Abad brand name is still used by Lustau in the export markets and as a sous-marque.

Interestingly, in 1877 María del Carmen Abad y Balbás, perhaps an aunt of Tomás, married one José de Soto Ruiz at the church of San Dionisio in Jerez. The Soto family were also originally montañeses and owned vineyards and bodegas. María del Carmen did too and this greatly expanded the firm of José de Soto which passed to their son, José de Soto Abad.

Among the Tomás Abad wines were: Fino Maravilla, Fino Predilecto, Amontillado Santanderino, Oloroso Superior, Palo Cortado Solera 1890 and they also sold brandy, rum and quina.

Thanks to Jose Luis Jimenez for info and pictures

Monday, 2 May 2016

La Bota de Palo Cortado 51 "Bota GF" 22%, Equipo Navazos

Deep burnished mahogany amber with a hint of green at the rim signifying age, legs. You can see the concentration as the liquid moves slightly more slowly in the glass than younger wines.
Exquisite, perfumed, beautifully rounded and quite intense, toasted almonds in caramel, polished antique furniture, slightly toasted and astringent traces of barrel oak are balanced by a gorgeous glyceric sweetness like walnut in syrup, even mazipan. If age makes perfect, then here is proof.
Full and dry, with quite a tannic grip at first, but the sweeter side kicks in just balancing most of that out, along with the volatile acidity. This is a very powerful wine with intense nutty woody flavours yet immense charm and interminable length. Pour some into a large glass and sip slowly for hours of guaranteed pleasure.
Bottled in February 2014 this classic comes from the old and tiny Gaspar Florido solera GF 30 owned by Pedro Romero since 2007, but since their demise, it is now owned by the Asencio brothers. Equipo Navazos first encountered old Gaspar and this solera in 2006 at a ramshackle old bodega where it was then located, though it is now in the sacristia at Pedro Romero nearby along with solera GF 25. The wine has somewhere between 50 and 80 years average age and was sold by both Gaspar Florido and Pedro Romero as simply Jerez Viejisimo GF 30 without specifying the type of wine as the old boy felt that with such great age you can't really distinguish a Palo Cortado from and Amontillado from an Oloroso. This wine is from the same tiny solera as Numbers 41 "Bota No", 47 "Bota No" and 48 "Bota Punta". It may seem expensive but it actually represents stunning value for money when compared to many others, and this sort of wine is becoming ever scarcer nowadays.
75 Euros per half bottle. Consult UK agents Alliance Wine for retailers, or online at Coalla Gourmet.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Sherris Sack and the Sack Trade

Some Background
Let’s begin with a quick look at the English situation and some history of the wine trade. Evidence of the existence of the vinífera vine dating from prehistoric times has been found in England but not of its cultivation. Wine was therefore being imported into England, probably a couple of centuries before the Romans invaded in AD 43, but they hugely increased its importation, production and consumption. The earliest mention that wine was made in England comes from Bede in AD 731, and it was generally, though not wholly, a monastic occupation.

The Normans ensured their supply of wine from France, as the 38 vineyards listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 could never have been sufficient to supply them, but more were planted, and wine was produced in reasonable quantities till the XIV century when the climate cooled quite dramatically, and it was no longer possible. In 1152 Eleanor of Acquitaine married Henry, Duke of Normandy, who became Henry II, king of England only two years later. Her dowry was Aquitaine and Gascony, and what with Henry’s Normandy, the English crown therefore owned effectively the left hand side of France. Bordeaux and Gascon wines now became the norm in England, at least till the mid XV century when the English were finally driven out of France after the Hundred Years War.

French wine was not the only wine consumed in England however. Portugal had been trading with England for some time already and various treaties had been signed. A substantial English community had grown by the mid XV century in Lisbon, Oporto, Gaia and Viana, trading in cod, wool and wine. A formal alliance between the two countries was forged after an invasion of Portugal by Castile. It was seen off by the Portuguese with the help of 500 English archers. In 1386 England and Portugal signed the Treaty of Windsor, known as the “Treaty of Perpetual Friendship”, which is still in force. By the 1530’s wine from Lisbon and the Douro (now Port) was already being shipped, but it was a cruder wine than we know today. Nevertheless, the first of many Port houses (Kopke) was established in 1638 and sales grew, providing competition to Sack.

From the 1350’s wines had been imported from the eastern Mediterranean, mainly by Venetian traders, from Italy (Vernage, a corruption of Vernaccia), Sardinia, Tyre, Cyprus and Crete, whose Malmsey (a corruption of Monomvasia, the port of exit) was prized for its sweetness and body. This trade was subsequently lost to the Ottoman Empire after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, causing northern traders to concentrate more on the western Mediterranean. Many other sweet wines were then shipped from there, from places like Sicily and Málaga but the further west the vineyards, the more convenient.

The Development of Sack
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), from a family of vintners, refers in his Canterbury Tales to the wine of Lepe which he rhymes with Chepe, presumably now Cheapside in London. Lepe (actually pronounced like the Spanish name “Pepe”) is situated in the province of Huelva, not far from the southern border with Portugal and not terribly far from Jerez, and from here considerable quantities of wine were exported to England. It was obviously strong; Chaucer says: “This wyn of Spaigne crepeth subtilly…ther ryseth such fumositee…” (what a wonderful word!) This would be a forerunner of Sack in times long before the demarcation of vineyards.

A medieval sack cup (foto: pinterest)

Meanwhile, the Jerez area had freed itself of the Moors in 1264 and the first record there of export to England was in 1485, though it is certain that exports in at least a small way were already fairly common. By the end of the XV century English merchants had established a community in Sanlúcar, the main port of departure to the new Spanish colonies in South America, and were exporting wines to England. At this time a wine known as “Rumney” was popular in England, originally from Romania (then part of Greece) but latterly produced in Jerez, it was not consumed locally but only for export, for which it was fortified. It was to be made, by law, from the Torrontés, Fergusano and Verde Agudillo grape varieties.  In the 1490’s Columbus included in his ships’ provisions plenty of Jerez wine, and Magellan also took it on his voyage to circumnavigate the globe in 1519. In fact he spent more on wine than on weapons. Ironically, he was killed in battle before he could return, though the voyage was completed by Juan Sebastian Elcano.

During the XVI and XVII centuries, the Jerez area saw the arrival of many foreign traders, mainly Portuguese, Italian and English. Spanish and foreign traders had equal rights. In 1517 the Duke of Medina Sidonia, Don Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán, in whose feudal domain Sanlúcar was situated, granted extended privileges to the English merchants, many of whom, being Protestants, were having problems with the Inquisition. He granted them land upon which they built St George’s church; he made justice more accessible; allowed them to carry arms, and increased customs efficiency – anything to boost trade. The English community got on with trade and making money and rarely interacted, but as time went by they saw the need to, as religious strife between Spain and England worsened (due to rumours of Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon), and in 1530, Henry granted their petition for a constitution and the Company of Andalucía was created, nicknamed the Brotherhood of St George. Henry went on to further annoy the Catholics, and so too did his daughter Queen Elizabeth I (known as “Isabel the Heretic” in Spain), especially when she put to death Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic. So while Sack was widely drunk in England, it was dangerous for its merchants: a few were tortured and many imprisoned by the Inquisition and some returned to England. It was safer to export wine using foreign ships. Yet despite all these problems, trade managed to flourish, and in 1548, two thirds of the Jerez production of 60,000 barrels was exported - and mainly to England.

A XVII century Delft sack jug

By the 1580’s, however, trade suffered further as a result of more tangible hostilities between France, England and Spain. Wine, then as now, suffered from political whims and the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585-1604, while intermittent – and never actually declared – did much harm to commercial traffic - but much good to the privateers. These seafarers (many called them pirates), Hawkins, Drake and Raleigh, to name only three, were quite happy to raid Spanish colonies in South America, Spanish shipping or Spain itself, and sell their booty in England. Drake’s name survives in the Spanish expression to persuade children to behave: “Mira, que viene el Draque” (Watch out, Drake’s coming).

Already popular, what really made Sack take off in England was Sir Francis Drake’s raid (one of many) on the Spanish fleet in the port of Cadiz on April 19th 1587. He captured nearly 3,000 pipes of Sherris Sack intended as supplies to the Armada, an armed fleet being readied for an invasion of England, and presented some at court. Suddenly it had royal approval, and it was seen as patriotic to drink it. Sack reached the height of its popularity in the XVI and XVII centuries, thanks in part to Shakespeare, who often described its merits through the characters in his plays. Shakespeare himself is thought to have drunk mulled Sack. His contemporary playwrights and authors Ben Johnson, Edmund Spenser and Christopher Marlowe also wrote glowingly on Sack, and it is probable that excess consumption of it led to the fight in a tavern in which Marlowe was killed.

In 1588, partially as a result of the English raids, but mainly in his war against Protestantism, Felipe II sent the massive Spanish Armada (130 ships) commanded by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, to invade England, and people in the Jerez area worked night and day to supply its provisions. Fate was against the fleet, however, while life for any remaining Englishmen in Spain became even more difficult, especially after another English raid on Cadiz in 1595. They were effectively trying to make a living in enemy (at least in religious terms) territory. When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, and was succeeded by the son of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI (of Scotland)and I (of England), albeit a Protestant, things became a little easier. The quality of Sack had been eroded, yet in fact, by the end of the Tudor period (1485-1603), England was importing more wine from Spain than from France. In 1604 King James VI and I issued an order limiting the amount of Sack consumed at court to twelve gallons a day (nearly 55 litres) “and no more”.

The most important English ports of entry for the Sack trade were Bristol, Plymouth and London. For reasons of efficiency and economy, many of the ships were also involved with the Newfoundland cod business, as it meshed well with the equally seasonal cargoes of wine, raisins and olive oil. They would offload salt cod in England, Portugal, Spain or the Atlantic islands in the spring and summer, and then return with cargoes of wine, raisins or olive oil, produce of autumn and winter. England was not the only country involved in this trade. In the early days of the Newfoundland fishing, Spain, Portugal, France and Holland were also involved, but with Philip II of Spain’s annexation of Portugal in 1580, both countries succumbed to poor government from Madrid. The English and the French thus came to dominate the fishing, while the English and the Dutch came to dominate the Sack trade. In 1620, one of the Sack ships, the Mayflower, was diverted to take a cargo of Puritans from England to America. They were later known as the Pilgrim Fathers.

There was more trouble in 1655, when the English disembarked in the Spanish colony of Jamaica and took it over. In return, the Spanish took the ships, goods and possessions of any Englishmen found in Spanish ports. The English then raised taxes on Spanish wine, so infuriating the Málaga producers, it is said, that in 1668 they allowed the grapes to wither on the vine so that there was no Málaga wine for the English, and no sack was landed in Bristol that autumn. But things calmed down again, and in 1683 Pepys visited Jerez, where he found a flourishing Sherry business, especially in Sanlúcar, though the Church of St George was a ruinous state. It should be remembered that for reasons of shipping convenience, the Sherris Sack trade was based mainly in the coastal towns of the province of Cádiz: Sanlúcar and Puerto de Santa María. The importance of Jerez itself came a little later.

What was Sack?  
Etymologists and historians are not agreed on the origins of the word. It might originate from the English verb “to sack” or “plunder” but it most likely comes from the Spanish “sacar” = to withdraw (for sale/export) and appears at about the end of the XV century, often in the form of “Sherris Sack” (as opposed to Canary Sack etc.) but being usurped by the word “Sherry” at the start of the XVII century. Much of the wine came from Spain. It by no means came only from Jerez though; it was shipped from Alicante, Málaga, Huelva, the Balearic Islands, the Canaries, and quite probably Sitges and Valencia as well, not to mention Madeira and Lisbon. Its principal advantage over say, Bordeauxwas that it was made from riper grapes, often extra-ripe grapes, giving it a higher alcoholic strength and less acidity, and it travelled better.

Sack was thus really a generic term and often included such wines as Bastard (a corruption of the red grape variety Bastardo and sometimes the name used to describe sweet wines made by the addition of alcohol), Tent (a corruption of Tinto or the red grape variety Tintilla from Rota), Malmsey (see above) from Madeira and also grown in the Canary Islands (which provided Canary Sack and Bastard), and Muscat or Muscatel (Moscatel), mostly from Málaga; Palm Sack came from Palma de Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands. By the end of the XVI century it was occasionally fortified, probably to around 16% vol, with or without arrope (boiled-down must) guaranteeing safe arrival in overseas markets. Another method of preservation was to ship the wine before the completion of fermentation, but the resultant wine would have been dry, or drier, unfortified and probably much less appetising. It is fair to say, however, that whatever the quality or condition of the Sack, the innkeepers and wine merchants were not above ”improving” it.

Sherris Sack was usually white, usually quite young, sometimes sweet but usually dry and occasionally fortified. The fortification could be done in either of two ways:  after fermentation rendering a stronger dry-fermented wine, or the sweet juice itself was fortified, so it was unable to ferment, creating a “mistela” or fortified grape juice (like modern Málaga, Moscatel de Chipiona or PX). It probably tasted fairly oxidised from its weeks at sea and would have had a deep golden to amber colour. It probably resembled a young Oloroso of today. So it can’t have been too bad!

Pepys mentions drinking Sack by the pint in 1660. It was certainly very expensive (especially by the pint!) at around twelve times the price of ale; in 1533 it cost ten pence a gallon but by 1598 it cost fifty-six pence (or 4 shillings and eight pence), due more to scarcity than taxation. Certain medicinal properties were known: wine had a disinfectant effect on wounds, and of course the water was usually polluted, so it was safer to drink alcoholic beverages. In the 1640’s an Oxford doctor went among the victims of the plague, trying to cure them, and his only means of personal safety was copious quantities of Sack. Hopefully he gave the (his?!) victims Sack also!

This most popular wine was not always drunk on its own. Often it was mixed with mulling spices, and Pepys refers to Sack-Posset, a mix of Sack, sugar, spices, milk and beaten egg which was supposed to be healthy, and was popular in Colonial North America where it was often served at weddings. Shakespeare’s character Sir John Falstaff (who made a magnificent and unforgettable speech in praise of Sack in Henry the Fourth (IV, iii – must read!) mixed in sugar (so it can’t all have been sweet) and called it “Sir John Sack and sugar”.

Here is not the place to recount the endless praises heaped on Sack by XV-XVII century writers, but it is worth noting the positive effect they had - and still have on its success. The wine that is now called Sherry has been famous for centuries, not only for their praise, but also for that of many later writers, for its sheer quality. The XVIII century saw major development of the wine into what we know and love today, but it was no longer called Sack (except for Williams & Humbert's Dry Sack, which is more a brand than a true reflection of old sack). Now, Sherry is a more complex wine with many more styles than before, but with a long, noble and fascinating history, a wine that is slowly regaining its rightful place as one of the world’s finest.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Amontillado Callejuela 18%, Viña Callejuela

Bright amber with coppery highlights and legs.
Clean complex and fairly tight with all sorts of nuances wrapped up in an attractive package. There are distinct Sanlúcar notes of rope and salinity with remote hints of Manzanilla pasada autolysis and then lots of toasted almonds and hazelnuts and the slightest traces of caramel and raisin as the nose opens out, but always constrained by the distinct Sanlúcar character.
Nuttier and a shade sweeter than the nose but the Sanlúcar style is by no means lost. It is almost perfectly balanced between a glyceric very slightly mineral nuttiness and a gentle tangy acidity which ensures liveliness, gentle grip and terrific length. It should age very well in bottle.
Produced from the Blanco brothers' own vineyards at the Viña Callejuela in Sanlúcar, this wine is nursed from Manzanilla through to Amontillado over the course of over 12 years and the result is a classic nutty Amontillado of great character, quality and excellent value.
9.50 euros from Cuatrogatos

Friday, 29 April 2016

29.4.16 Sherry Beer from Jerez

Two Young Jerezanos became tired of unemployment and awaiting the miracle of a job offer, so they decided to create their own employment.  Miguel Moncayo, a physical training teacher, and Ana Isabel Triano, an environmentalist, got to work creating their own artisan beer brewed from 100% natural ingredients. After much testing the result was launched in 2014: Xela, a blonde beer with a unique ingredient: Sherry.

They began producing 200 litres a month, then 200 litres a week and now they have outgrown the rented premises at the Parque Tecnológico Agroindustrial and are actively looking for larger premises. From the outset they wanted to include Sherry in the recipe to add a spark of distinction to the beer and Xela is the only beer to do so, though one or two are aged in Sherry butts. The type of Sherry in question is a closely guarded secret, but the Consejo Regulador has now certified them as an authorised alimentary industry and that the wine they use is genuine Sherry.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Fino en rama Santa Petronila 15.5%, Viña Santa Petronila

Fairly deeply coloured brassy gold to pale amber, very light legs.
Reasonably full with hints of gently bitter flor, minor salinity, a touch of minerality and dried green herbs with background hints of butter and almond. There is a little age here yet very little oxidation, and there's a gentle tang and freshness giving a definite personality.
Again quite full and assertive, serious and with considerable depth, a bit more flor and a touch of cabezuela showing through. Traces of oxidation and that buttery note are balanced by a gentle acidity, flor and that minerality, there is a hint of esparto as well. It is a clean, complex wine with considerable character, individuality and quality.
Viña Santa Petronila is one of the smallest if not the smallest bodegas in the Marco de Jerez. It consists of a very pretty and very old (early XVIII century) casa de viña surrounded by its 17 hectare vineyard stocked with old vines planted in pure albariza in the Pago Macharnudo. It must be the only bodega with a swimming pool! The reason is that the finca provides  rural accomodation to tourists and also organises various activities. I think the finca was named after the wife of the bodeguero Ricardo Carlos Ivison who owned it in the XIX century. Anyway, being so small the bodega has no bottling facilities and the wine is contract bottled by Esporsil, this bottle being number 652 of a very small saca of 792 - well it's a tiny bodega - filled in December 2015. This stuff is excellent.
14 euros per 50cl bottle from Er Guerrita