Saturday, 28 May 2016

Oloroso 18%, Viña Callejuela

Deep bright amber to mahogany fading to a burnished gold rim, legs.
Attractive and forthcoming nutty aromas with that slightly savoury edge so typical of Sanlúcar, there are hints of sweetness like glacé orange and vanilla yet there is also a salinity and traces of oak along with a bright freshness. No shortage of character here, and all well balanced.
Tangy, as one might expect, lively with a light cleanliness, racy for Oloroso, which is followed by a weightier, nuttier character which hangs on a balance with the sweeter hints of orange marmalade and traces of warm spice. There is a lovely tension here and good length.
From the excellent and comparatively new Sanluqueño bodega run by the Blanco brothers, this wine is between 12 and 15 years old and shows real Sanlúcar character.
9.50 euros

Friday, 27 May 2016

Types of Sherry: Oloroso

The word translates as “fragrant” and a good Oloroso is certainly that. It is made only from Palomino grapes and it has been observed that with slightly harder pressing the incidence of Oloroso is higher. Also musts from hotter inland vineyards are more likely to produce Oloroso. In its youth the wine either develops very little flor or is prevented from so doing by fortification to 17-18 %/vol and allowed to age oxidatively. Its alcohol content will lie between 17 and 22 %/vol depending on its age.

With no flor to consume it there is a naturally high level of glycerine in the wine which makes it smooth and gives the impression of slight sweetness, though it rarely contains even 5 grams per litre of sugars. It is amber to mahogany in colour due to the oxidation, dry, full bodied, smooth and structured with an open texture, and often has aromas of walnut, dried orange peel, cinnamon and leather. Oloroso is the very pinnacle of the oxidised style of wine.

Butts in the sobretablas containing wine likely to be Oloroso are marked with two palos or rayas (//). Later they will be marked φ but precise markings tend to vary from bodega to bodega. If a butt contains exceptionally smooth Oloroso it will be marked with a ɺ or a raya with a foot. This is known as “Pata de Gallina” or hen’s foot and is quite a rare style of Oloroso. Butts containing less refined wine are marked /// (known simply as raya) and used for blending after ageing. In the past they were often aged in the sun outside to speed up the process.

As it ages the strength rises due to transpiration and the wine develops considerable concentration and complexity, and when it is older it can have a certain astringency, mainly from wood tannins and volatile acidity. Luckily Oloroso has an affinity with Pedro Ximénez, and a tiny addition of this can balance it out. Alternatively an addition of 10-15% can produce the attractively sweetened wine formerly known as Amoroso, Oloroso Dulce or Abocado till 2012 when the term Cream officially took over. Sweetened Olorosos are sometimes blended before bottling and sometimes blended before ageing, the latter being the better method, allowing much more time for the wines to integrate.

Until the mid XIX century, before Fino was properly understood, the majority of wine produced, particularly for export, was Oloroso. The grapes would have been sunned briefly in the almijar and foot-trodden, and thanks to its robust constitution the wine, usually a vintage wine, could travel well, being very suitable for the climate of northern countries. It was probably the principal type of wine known as “Sack” so beloved of the Elizabethans.

Despite the arrival of the solera system, some bodegas continued to produce small quantities of vintage or añada wines. These became more specialised over time (see post) with the majority of them being Olorosos as generally any flor would die off soon in a sealed butt. Due to their different ageing conditions they are not exactly the same as solera wines as the butts are never topped up, but they are not disimilar, and quite delicious.

Oloroso also has an affinity with whisky. Until the 1970s Sherry, much of it Oloroso in whatever form, was shipped to the UK in 500 litre “shipping butts”. These were smaller than the usual “bodega butt” of 600 litres capacity, but full to the bung. It was too expensive to ship empty butts back to Spain, so once the Sherry was bottled, they were sold to the distillers who gratefully used them for ageing Scotch Whisky. With its intense and particular aromas and flavours, the Oloroso more than any other type of Sherry, did much to enhance the final character of the whisky, whether it was aged full-term or even just finished in a butt, and this style of whisky became very popular. When Jerez bottling became the norm the supply of butts dried up and distillers were forced to procure new ones and have them seasoned with Oloroso at bodegas in Jerez, a system which works well but which is much more expensive. At least it has brought very welcome business to a depressed Sherry trade.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Fino Playa Regla 15%, Bodegas José Mellado Martín

Pale golden straw, very slight haze. legs
Saline with distinct seaside aromas, hints of Palomino fruit, straw, minerality and not a great deal of flor, young and fresh if not over complex.
Reasonably tangy and saline with a touch of flor bitterness, good and dry with a crisp minerally freshness this would be great with the local seafood.
Looks as if it was bottled en rama with only light filtration, but this is not mentioned. At a guess, the vines were grown on sandier soils which, while perfect for the famous local Moscatel, give slightly courser Finos. Being produced in Chipiona, which is in the production zone but not the ageing zone, this wine while controlled by the Consejo does not carry the official DO seal, but  rather a production zone seal. Playa Regla is a beautiful nearby beach overlooked by the tall lighthouse and the Nuestra Señora de Regla monastery.
3.50 euros, can't argue with that.

26.5.16 Chiclana Feria: Chiclana Wine

Chiclana’s annual Feria de San Antonio will take place 8-12 June at the Las Albinas del Torno fairground. There will be one unusual feature which is that the Town Council will give grants to those casetas observing certain local regulations and serving only wine produced in Chiclana, which is in the Sherry production zone. A formula has been established whereby 3 euros per litre, 2 euros per bottle and 1 euro per half bottle will be paid, but subject to a maximum payment according to the size of the caseta. Naturally proof will be required. The council says that “We are aware that we have excellent wines, and this initiative is the best way of defending and promoting our local identity.”

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Sherry: All Palomino, even the Alcohol

This is a translation of a thought-provoking article published 18/5/16 by Paz Ivison in El Mundo Vino.

“Back to the Future”: a paradox of great significance. Apart from being a film produced by Steven Spielberg in the 1980s, it is an interesting reflexion of the state of sherry today. If we could go back in time and look toward the future, surely things would be better, but it would not necessarily be easy, let alone profitable. Because nobody with any common sense or financial interest – like me - could begin to understand the complexity of a simple question: Why was the excess production of years ago, when there were far more vineyards than now, not distilled?

The uprooting of excess vines was subsidised, and considering the price the growers were receiving for their grapes, they chose to grub them up. I always remember my good friend, academic and bodeguero, Luís Pérez. Years ago now, I heard him on local television, and he said “If they took away the Giralda Tower from the people of Sevilla there would be a revolution, but they took away the vineyards from the Jerezanos and nobody did a thing.”

Talking about Luís Pérez, his bodega (Bodegas Luís Pérez) has a new project which is to distil brandy from only the best grapes from their Viña El Corregidor in the Pago Carrascal opposite the Pago Macharnudo. Here the vines are the old clone 84 of Palomino, planted before the invasion of the California clone which is more productive. In a previous report I spoke of Fino La Barajuela which is now a reality and furthermore accepted by the Consejo Regulador. Willy Pérez, Luís’ son and oenologist for the family bodega, worked hard to produce a Fino and Oloroso Sherry without fortification, made only from grapes ripe enough to give an alcohol level of at least 15.5ᴼ naturally, and after much grape sorting he achieved this.

The rejected grapes were not wasted however. They were simply sunned to achieve more ripeness, pressed in a vertical press and the first pressing was fermented in butts seasoned with La Barajuela. The wine was then sent to Tomelloso for distillation into Holandas of 65ᴼ. The first Holandas were distilled from the 2014 harvest, and after their return to Jerez they are now ageing in a couple of butts in a separate bodega, since they do not yet have the right documentation to be permitted to age it in their own bodega. The 2015 will be distilled shortly. Ageing is static, as opposed to the normal solera system, and anyway they have not decided yet how much ageing will be necessary or desirable, nor what exactly the end product will be, so long as it is 100% Jerez.

In the XIX century local grapes were distilled to make what you might call brandy, though the name Brandy de Jerez as such had not appeared yet. The first brandies distilled and aged in Jerez were sold in England by my great uncle, Francisco Ivison O’Neale, considered a great chemist in those times, and a bodeguero too– there were many bodegas then. He was restless, well -travelled and wise, with great knowledge of distillation thanks to his visits to Cognac.

He bottled them in 1880 under the brand name La Marque Spéciale and sent them to his agent in England without going into much detail. Although he was the first to export and the first to bottle, other much bigger bodegas were already ageing brandies, but Tio Paco Ivison, as everybody knew him, was also the first to dare take the risk – and deserve the merit - of bottling and exporting.

Holandas 100% from Jerez
Most people have heard of the prestigious Brandy de Jerez Lepanto from González Byass, which is distilled in spectacular old Charente-style copper pot stills in Jerez. While they are now using Jerez grapes, it will take a while for the older spirit in the criaderas and solera, distilled in Tomelloso from Airén grapes, to work its way through. Until that happens it cannot call itself 100% Jerez, but it will happen over the coming years.

Another firm which has begun to make brandy from their own Jerez-grown grapes distilled in Tomelloso is Grupo Estévez. The brandy could possibly reach the market by the end of this year, but I don’t know under which brand it will be (the firm owns several: Valdespino, Real Tesoro, Tio Mateo, La Guita..). Whatever happens, it will be released as a Solera Reserva.

It was Grupo Estévez who had the idea – now reality as of the 2015 harvest – of fortifying Sherry with spirit distilled from theirown Jerez grapes. It aroused quite a lot of controversy at the time since fortification alcohol has a strength of 96ᴼ and there are very few aromas left to distinguish Palomino from Airén. While this will make very little difference to the quality of the final Sherry but if all the raw materials come from the Marco de Jerez it will increase traceability enormously. Wine and alcohol from the same origin sounds good. It is a truth that is hard to argue with. It will, however, increase the price since alcohol distilled from Palomino costs more than that of the higher-yielding Airén, but Estévez are set on this idea.

The commitment of Estévez to the vineyards, of which they are the biggest owner with almost 800 hectares, is praiseworthy. We could say they have gone from silica to albariza, since it was the profits from a silica mine and the obsession of the founder José Estévez which recuperated many pagos of albariza and preserved the perfect condition of others, such as the Macharnudo, one of the best pagos in the Marco de Jerez.

Going back to the Vineyard
Juan Carlos Estévez is one of the heirs of the “Silica King” and is in charge of the vineyards of the bodega group which was founded in the 1980s with the purchase of the small bodega Félix Ruiz. He did not want to study and went straight to work with his father in the silica and sand business near Arcos de la Frontera. Wandering through the vineyards with him he tells me the first vineyard his father bought was 50 hectares from Félix Ruiz in 1985; the second, Lomo del Álamo in the pago Lomopardo; the third came with the purchase of the wines, brands and vineyards of Valdespino – 40 hectares in the mythical Macharnudo. Then five years ago they bought 400 hectares, originally Domecq, from Beam Global.

Even with approaching 800 hectares now, they do not have nearly enough as they sell huge quantities to big stores such as Mercadona (which has over 1,500 branches) for whom they are the main suppliers. In fact the 800 hectares covers only 15% of their needs and they are always on the lookout for more. Like any successful business, they are loved and loathed but their commitment to the vineyards is impressive. They are even restoring the ruins of some beautiful old casas de viña.

Juan Carlos is a great enthusiast for the vineyards, the countryside and the local vegetation to the extent that they also plant wild olive trees and cork oaks among many other trees and plants between the slopes of some of the vineyards. Although they are short of vineyard they still allow themselves the luxury of fortifying their wines with alcohol from their own grapes, all classified for DO Sherry, as confirmed to me by group technical director, Eduardo Ojeda who goes on to say that this way all the main brands such as La Guita, La Guita en rama, Inocente, Tio Mateo, Deliciosa, Deliciosa en rama, Fino Real Tesoro, La Bailaora, even Tio Diego are becoming more and more authentic being 100% Palomino from the Marco de Jerez. To achieve this we sent wine from our 2015 harvest to Tomelloso for distillation under the supervision of our technical department.

To raise the wine’s alcohol content by one degree 5 or 6 litres of alcohol per butt containing 500 litres are needed. Estévez has created new soleras, one in Sanlúcar and the other in Jerez, both based on the 2015 harvest fortified with Palomino spirit. This experiment is being conducted by the firm’s research and development department.

Figures and Words
The DOs of Jerez and Manzanilla sold jointly in 2015 35.5 million litres of wine, equivalent to 71,000 butts. The production of the 2015 harvest was 93,900 butts of DO qualified wine and 29,375 butts of unqualified wine. It could be said that if Estévez’ idea had been applied to the entire qualified harvest of 2015, nearly all the alcohol needed could have been distilled from the unqualified wine.

According to Grupo Estévez president, José Ramón Estévez, “This idea has a plus. It improves Sherry’s prestige and its image in the eye of the consumer, but in the longer term it will benefit the profitability of the whole production system of Sherry, starting in the vineyard, and it will put an end to the nonsense of disqualifying Jerez grapes while “importing” alcohol from somewhere else.

It is logical to imagine that there should have been a distillery in Jerez, above all when there was so much overproduction. Now paradoxically there is a shortage of grapes: the seasoning of whisky barrels and the distillation of Palomino for holandas and fortification alcohol leaves nothing left. José Ramón is quite clear: “We are happy to help, but it is really up to the cooperatives to organise a distillery, an initiative which would create wealth, satisfy the demand which I hope will grow for Jerez-made alcohol, and even lead to the planting of more vineyard specifically for distillation.”

Will more vineyard be planted? Will we go back to the future? The recent policy of grubbing-up of vines is difficult to understand from any parameter, even less when the economics concern individual interests. As always, money talks.

25.5.16 Distillery Proposal Gains Support

The Grupo Estévez proposal to construct a distillery in the Marco de Jerez is attracting support. The association of independent growers (Asevi-Asaja) has added its weight to the idea - which is not new - and the Junta’s agriculture department has even carried out experiments in the vineyard to determine its viability. The attraction is that it would generate more wealth in the area, which would stay in the area, and benefit all concerned in Sherry production.

The European Union has funded investment in Cádiz (ITI) and some bodegas and many growers would like to see some of it spent on a distillery. Such a project would not only reduce overproduction but would also require the planting of more vineyard to supply the distillery with raw material.

Currently the Marco de Jerez has 6,500 hectares of vineyard in production after the grubbing-up of more than a third of the vineyards in recent years to balance supply and demand. Most of the grubbing-up was financed by EU money in a programme to reduce overproduction of wine in Europe. Much vineyard was also abandoned as growers couldn’t make a profit. It is felt that the distillery would ensure that everything which goes into a bottle Sherry should come from Jerez and that it would provide jobs in an area particularly badly hit by unemployment.

Grupo Estévez is happy to help and feel that the cooperatives would be in the best position to operate the distillery. José Ramón Estévez, president of the group, feels that beyond just producing fortification alcohol, the distillery could go on to produce brandy as well, and that would mean more vineyard and thus more jobs. Estévez are already fortifying with spirit produced from Jerez grapes (though currently distilled in Tomelloso) and would very much like to see a local distillery produce the spirit for 100% Jerez Sherry which would bring with it the possibility of the higher DO level of Denominación de Origen Calificada.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

24.5.16 González Byass Launch Vermouth; Feria de la Manzanilla

Vermouth La Copa is produced according to a formula from 1896 which had been preserved for more than a century in the company archives. Even the label is a reproduction of the original, though adjusted to match the new bottle presentation.  In the past many bodegas produced vermouth till it went out of fashion, but thanks to a resurgence of interest they are re-launching it.

La Copa is produced from a blend of fine Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez of at least eight years of age with carefully selected botanicals including wormwood, savory, clove, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, angelica and quinine. The name La Copa is historical as it was the branding iron of the horse breeding ranch of the Marqués de Torresoto, son of GB founder Manuel María González. The new (?) vermouth has a very complex spiced aroma and on the palate it is smooth and elegant with a slightly bitter finish while its Jerez origins can be detected. Price is around 10 euros and it is 15.5ᴼ.

The 2016 Feria de la Manzanilla starts tomorrow. The mayor of Sanlúcar, Víctor Mora, will switch on the more than 400,000 lights at 23.00, and they will be switched off again at the end of the Feria at midnight on Sunday 29th. The avenidas Bajo de Guia and Las Piletas will also be brightly lit. There will be music aplenty, a parade of horses and all sorts of horse drawn carriages and a bullfight, not to mention feasting, dancing and the consumption of vast amounts of Manzanilla.

The portada (entrance gateway) foto:Raul J Bustillos/andalucia informacion