Saturday, 20 December 2014

Amontillado Reliquia 19%, Antonio Barbadillo

Quite pale amber fading through yellow to a touch of green at the rim, looks old, legs.
Starts fairly light but builds, hazelnut, wafers, oak, trace dried fruits, nutshells, traces of its Sanlucar origins such as nuances of salt, bitter almond and sheer pungency. Even after all these years you can still smell the last saline vestiges of Manzanilla, now far more complex.
Tangy, dry and concentrated, there is some astringency here, but it stops just short of excess and there has been no sweetening, a certain lightness in weight is compensated by sheer depth and complexity and grip. Again the nuts, some bitterness and astringency now balanced by glycerol alone, so well integrated over time it is hard to pick out individual notes. It is clearly a very old wine, still with its traces of Sanlucar bitterness, and I would have thought it would have been more like 20-22%. It is a wine to sip rather than drink: quite apart from the price, it is pretty concentrated and has almost interminable length. At such an age these are not easy wines, they require understanding and respect, but repay it handsomely.
This is one of the very limited Reliquia range of four wines (Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and PX) which are bottled in hand-blown decanters. They are among the oldest wines in the Marco de Jerez, this one with an age of over 100 years, some say more, and complexity to match.

When Don Benigno Barbadillo died in 1837, his wife Dolores married Pedro Rodriguez, who ran the firm till the latter part of the XIX century under the name Pedro Rodriguez e Hijos, until Antonio Barbadillo Ambrossy inherited the firm, which is now run by the 7th generation.

This wine has its origins in the Pedro Rodriguez e Hijos days. A very old Amontillado solera called Soberana which aged in the bodega del Toro was fed by another called Hindenburg. This latter came from the bodegas of the Conde de Aldama. The Conde had been buying up as many old wines as he could to sell for a great profit, but ended up with difficulty finding a market for them despite their quality. Antonio Barbadillo Ambrossy exchanged 10 butts of Manzanilla for every one of the Amontillado, so it must have been outstanding even then.

Price paid when tasted nearly four years ago: 260.00 Euros (per bottle), but now around £625 !! according to Wine Searcher. It is almost unobtainable (try John Fells, Farr Vintners in UK) but oh so worth the effort.

The Story of a Stolen Still

In 2010 a historic old still was stolen from the old Valdespino bodega in the Calle Ponce, a bodega which also once housed their Palo Cortado soleras, and which, after the firm’s acquisition and removal to a new - purpose-built bodega by Grupo Estevez - lay virtually empty and was by then Council property. The plan was to create a city museum in which the still would have been a central exhibit, but that never happened. It has since been demolished to make way for a language school.

According to experts the still was of considerable historic value, yet it simply disappeared. It might be suggested - and not totally inaccurately - that site security could have been much better. There was evidence of illegal habitation of the premises, and no evidence of security. Yet it would have required a lorry or a crane to lift this heavy piece of equipment which was three storeys high. It must have been dismantled and taken in individual pieces.

The still could be described as merely a hotchpotch of five metres of copper, a very large pot which made Jerez brandy, but it was more than that: it was beautiful with a sort of organic quality to its design very much of its time – the early XX century. It has probably long since been scrapped for its considerable copper value and is most unlikely to be seen again. Luckily there are photographs….

The still in situ in Calle Ponce (foto:Diario Jerez)
Distilling in Jerez goes back to the days of the Moors who introduced the art to Europe. While the Koran forbade the consumption of alcohol, they used it for medicines and perfumes – and sometimes in alchemy. Commercial use of alcohol goes back to the XVI century, and the first branded distillates – or “brandies” were introduced in the late XVIII and XIX centuries.  The stills used in the early days were simple pot stills, known as “alquitaras” or “alambiques”, not very much different in principle to those used nowadays for malt whisky production. The Valdespino still was a column still, however, a later and more efficient development.

(Information from Diario de Jerez and Sacristia del Caminante)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Moscatel Lerchundi 17%, Luis Caballero

Deep amber colour with hints of burnt sienna to yellow at the rim, very viscous.
Rich fat ripe fruity Moscatel, slightly floral, musky, figs, confectionery, raisins, a certain seriousness imparted by age but not woody, more exuberant.
Luscious and fruity, some light pulpy texture, clean and fresh if very viscous, raisins and figs, full and long and despite the sweetness there is a freshening balancing acidity typical of Moscatel. Good.
Made from Moscatel grapes grown in the Caballero vineyard Las Cruces in Chipiona. The grapes are sun-dried for over a week and the wine is made as a mistela (where alcohol is added to the juice and fermentation is not carried out). It is then aged fairly briefly in the solera system. The wine is named after a Franciscan monk, Padre Lerchundi, who was well respected for what he did for the people of Chipiona and was made a "Hijo Predilecto" (honoured son) of the town in 1892.
This sells for 6-7 euros in Spain, but unfortunately not in the UK.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Mantecados de Estepa: The Traditional Spanish Christmas Treats

In Andalucia, in the province of Sevilla, there is a town called Estepa which is famous for the production of the most delicious, but sadly seasonal, little sweet cakes called Mantecados.

Estepa has a tradition of over a thousand years of artisanship in the making of these, and over the centuries the recipes have become more standardised –or rather perfected -  but it was not till the late XIX century that a proper industry producing the mantecados that we know and love today was established.

(foto: Consejo Regulador)
Micaela Ruiz Tellez was the one who first refined the simple recipe and began selling her mantecados outside Estepa with the help of her lorry-driver husband, and was thus the first to commercialise the local delicacy. As time went by more producers set up in business, and in 1927 the town’s mayor, Salvador Moreno Duran, met with the producers and got them to sign agreements on quality control. Now there is an official Regulatory Council (Consejo Regulador) and a protected designation of origin (IGP) which controls and promotes the 20 producers, some of whom are cooperatives. It is the first of its kind.

Mantecados are made from a basic dough of wheat flour, a little pork lard or olive oil and icing sugar, to which any of the following can be added: almond, hazelnut, cinnamon, occasionally coconut, chocolate and some natural aromas such as lemon, vanilla and clove, and often decorated with sesame seeds or icing sugar. Once ready, the dough is shaped and then baked in an oven. The whole process takes a couple of hours, and the mantecados emerge at around 2 inches in diameter, weigh 35 grams and, being very delicate, (they are known as "polvorones", "polvo" meaning powder) are wrapped individually in paper.

Other baked delights are made here as well, though not covered by the IGP, such as hojaldres (puff pastry), milhojas (millefeuille), barquillos (filled wafer tubes) and rosquillas (ring-shaped pastry). Boxed assortments are widely available, and beautifully presented.

(foto: Consejo Regulador)
Christmas is celebrated in Spain on the 6th of January, and in the run up to it many small food shops occasionally offer customers a mantecado and a glass of brandy or anis (aniseed flavoured spirit) while they wait to be served. Another match made in Heaven would be an Amontillado or Oloroso Sherry. It would be a rare Spanish family which did not have a box of these delights in the house. It is said that food tastes better when it is made with love, and that is beyond doubt here.

When the season starts, the town is transformed: 2,000 jobs are created, of which women make up 85%. Their jobs have been passed down through the generations. Work is scarce in Spain, and this is only temporary work, but it helps keep many families going till the next season. The unemployment rate among women here is 52%. Without the mantecado industry there would only be the olives. Nearly every family in Estepa has some involvement with mantecados, and during the season you can catch their lovely, appetising aromas as you walk down the street.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Oloroso VORS 1/14 22%, Bodegas Maestro Sierra

Deep amber fading to yellow with a hint of green at the rim, looks really old, legs.
Full, pungent and nutty. There is a great complexity here with  slightly bitter hints of walnut but also lots of toasted almond and hazelnut and a touch of old wood with slight varnishy traces. Then there are hints of raisin giving a suspicion of roundness, but not enough to make the wine any less dry. I think it just might have been teaspooned, which is all to the good as these very old wines can be a little astringent otherwise.
Big and powerful with a noticeable tang of acidity which keeps it fresh, and a trace of sweetness confirming that it may have been teaspooned. Acidity, trace sweetness and also a hint of walnutty woody bitterness give an almost bitter-sweet effect compounded by good grip and terrific length. A superb old oloroso with real character and vivacity.
This Fantastic wine comes from a small solera of just 14 butts, through which it has taken over 50 years (according to the bodega website) or 60 years (according to Peter Liem) or 70 years (according to what I was told by bodega staff at Vinoble) to arrive. Suffice to say it is very old - and they have another (the Extra Viejo 1/7) which is even older. Sold in very limited quantities of some 400 hand filled and labelled bottles a year, this is hard to get hold of, but well worth the effort.
Somewhere around £150 per bottle - there may be halves - from UK agents Indigo Wine

(Foto Migue Zayas/Maestro Sierra)

Friday, 12 December 2014

11.12.14 Gonzalez Byass join Grandes Pagos de Espana

González Byass’ Finca Moncloa vineyards have joined Grandes Pagos de España. GPE is an association, established in 2000, of wine producers across Spain whose motive is to produce, defend and promote wine from a specific terrain which reflects the unmistakable character of the soil, subsoil and climate. This is what the French call “Terroir”. A wine should taste of the place it was created.

GB are only the second producer from Cádiz to join this association, the first being Valdespino with their Inocente vineyard in the Pago Macharnudo. Finca Moncloa, situated near Arcos de la Frontera, was established to recuperate lost traditions, and where they have planted much Tintilla de Rota, a variety which was all but lost, and make a wonderful wine with it.

Finca Moncloa (foto: correodelvino)

Alfredo García González Gordon, fifth generation of the GB family, is the driving force behind Moncloa. As an agricultural engineer he has travelled extensively in other wine regions, and according to him, the farther south he went, the more he liked the wines, so the concept of table wine from Cádiz was born.

The vineyards are in an enviable position, sheltered from the awful hot dry Levante wind by the Sierra Valleja. They benefit from a reasonably high altitude and plenty hours of sunshine during the vegetative cycle, not to mention spectacular views from the highest parts of the vineyard. There are no other vineyards in the area and little habitation. Despite the cultivation being quite difficult, with steep slopes and shallow soils as well as differences between parcels, every year has produced fine quality.

Only a single vineyard whose characteristics differentiate it from those nearby can be considered as a Pago. These differences could be in the soil structure, a specific orientation, microclimate or in the grape varieties cultivated. As a result the fruit should be of exceptional quality and the wine stored or aged apart from any others.

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Great Challenge facing the Historic Vineyards

From an interesting article in today’s Diario de Jerez by A. Espejo.

A great deal of work needs to be done to develop the countryside as a tourism resource, and this is the principal aim of the provincial vineyard plan. The coordinator of the plan stresses that the first thing to be done is to stop the destruction of the patrimony and to deal with its state of abandon.

From the porch of the vineyard house of La Esperanza in the Pago Balbaína a sonnet on a beautiful tiled panel greets the passer-by. It is a vestige of the times of splendour which were experienced by the countryside and the wine trade in the mid XIX century when the house was built. It was later refurbished in 1935 by José de Soto Abad.

The caserio at La Esperanza in a rather dilapidated state (foto
Unfortunately the La Esperanza vineyard is also a clear example of the decadence and the state of abandon of the patrimony throughout the Jerez area. Its privileged position, separated from Jerez by a sea of vines is now a small island of vines, albeit still in production, is now spattered with wind turbines. What once resembled an earthly paradise has lost most of its charm.

Sonnet to the glory of Esperanza (foto
Among the distinct Pagos of Jerez, bald patches of uncultivated soil occupy a great part of the land which was once a sea of productive vines until the ravages of grubbing-up to reduce production during the crisis. But there are still a few spots which retain the flavour of those glorious times, places which make one think that there is room to extend the Ruta del Vino de Jerez - thus far only including bodegas - to the vineyards. Currently Rafael Martín, the coordinator of the provincial vineyard plan, is paying visits many of these spots, some in better shape than others, some owned by growers, others by bodegas.

Wind farms are everywhere (foto
This is the first phase of the plan, which centres on understanding the terrain and getting to know proprietors and their concerns and ideas, is hoped to be complete by the end of this year. Starting in January, the man from the Junta will begin the second phase which will involve meetings with local councils to try and assess the necessary public measures to invigorate vineyard tourism.

It is a mammoth task. The historic vineyards add up to some 7,000 hectares but another thousand exist which are either Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz (VT Cádiz) or not connected to any Denominación de Origen.  Martín says that not only is there no vineyard tourism, but that it is a long way from being a reality. “It is not impossible, but we have to start from zero.”

You don’t have to go far in the countryside to see the deterioration of the landscape and the patrimony.  In the Pago Balbaína, approached by a gully from the road to Rota, the wind turbines completely spoil the aesthetic of any vineyards which still exist, while there are hardly any traces of the roadside vegetation and even the roads are in a poor state.

Much farther north the Pago Carrascal offers a very different picture, perhaps somewhat closer to the model for vineyard tourism. Here the vegetation still exists and the landscape is dotted with jacarandas along the roadsides making a bicycle route a possibility with various country roads which are passable if not in a great state of repair.

The regeneration of the countryside will take time and will need the cooperation of the various administrations as well as the wine trade.  Martín says that what is needed is awareness of the damage being done, putting a stop to the wind and solar energy farms which are not irreversible. What it will take is local authority ordinances and the Junta’s Plan de Ordenación Territorial (POT) de la Bahía de Cádiz to take things forward with the minimum obstruction.

The wind turbines are, of course, a source of income to small growers, who would need some other source of income to augment their meagre income from grapes. The big vineyard owning bodegas are the obvious ones to grab the reins and start attracting tourists to the vineyards, opening the growers’ eyes as to how it is done.
The wine tourist is demanding, quite different to the locals who might hire a vineyard house for a celebration but are not prepared to shell out 10 to 15 euros for a tutored tasting at the vineyard, or less still prepared to spend more on a whole day’s visit with lunch.

Unlike the traditional vineyards which are scattered and with distant bodegas, the VT Cádiz vineyards often have a bodega on site, making them ideal vineyard tourism venues where they can actively promote their wines, which are still not widely known.  They could be a good model for the Sherry vineyards, but the challenge for the Junta is to make it work. There is, needless to say, much competition with other wine regions both in Spain and abroad, as well as the inevitable shortage of investment.

Entrance to Vina El Caballo (foto
The El Caballo vineyard, also in the Pago Balbaina could be a good example of an outside investor who has confidence in the future of tourism and winemaking in the Jerez countryside. The vineyard, which has a vineyard house in a good state of repair was bought from Osborne by Vicente Taberner, a businessman from Valencia and owner of the Huerta de Albalá near Arcos de la Frontera, one of the first wineries in the VT Cádiz. So far he has not divulged his plans for El Caballo.

Some of the leading Sherry bodegas have perfectly serviceable facilities for vineyard tourism; Gonzalez Byass in Carrascal, for example, and Barbadillo in Gibalbín where the Santa Lucía vineyard impressed Martín. But these are isolated cases, and there is a massive amount of work to do.