Monday, 13 April 2015

Types of Sherry: Vintage or Añada Wines

Vintage Sherry is exciting because of its rarity and variety, and unfortunately its price. Most bodegas do not produce any, and even the six who do generally only do so in better years and in small quantities. It will probably only ever be a niche wine but one which is very worthy of trying.

Until the early XIX century all Sherry was exported as a comparatively young vintage wine but inevitably there were variations in quality and style from year to year which led to complaints from foreign importers about lack of consistency. The solera system was therefore devised (probably in Sanlúcar) to ensure consistency by continually blending vintages. It thus offers a form of complexity not there before as the wines flow through a system which itself is constantly ageing. It is a system which takes many years to establish, however.

Due to the necessity of refreshing the flor in Finos and Manzanillas they, along with the Amontillados into which they develop, cannot become Añada wines as they would no longer be from only one vintage. (There is one exception: Williams & Humbert’s Fino en rama 2006). Yet occasionally Añada wines do still develop into Amontillados and Palos Cortados  - or at least something very similar - despite the lack of refreshment at the Fino stage.

The large majority of Añada wines are Olorosos however. These wines develop a different form of complexity to solera wines with a slightly “tighter” feel.  Contact with oxygen is mainly filtered through the pores and staves of the sealed butt, but as the wine ages the headspace grows ever bigger through transpiration meaning that the butt might contain as much air as Sherry after say 30 or more years, and a good 20% alcohol. These wines are thus quite concentrated, and of course they vary according to the quality of the vintage, and from butt to butt. Añadas will never be as old as the oldest solera wines since after perhaps 40 years there will be little useful wine left in the butt. Indeed it is estimated that the wine would evaporate completely in 70 years.

Butts intended to be Añadas may well have flor growing on the wine’s surface, but this will die off (albeit reluctantly) through lack of oxygen when the Consejo Regulador stoppers and seals them (with wax and ribbon), which they do to ensure no wine from other years can be blended in. From this point nothing is done to the wine at all and it is left to develop statically into whatever style it likes. If a wine falls short of the desired qualities it can be absorbed by a suitable solera, but care must be exercised as it will not closely resemble the solera wine. In the case of there being several butts of (for example Oloroso) of a given vintage, they will all taste slightly different, but they can – under Consejo supervision - be blended together, or simply released separately. This means that you can sell, say, five different 1982 añadas or one in greater quantity.

Levels of fortification vary depending on the desired result, but usually wines are only fortified to 15 -15.5% yet alcoholic levels of up to 22% are reached in the finished wine since transpiration losses of 2% to 5% per annum are not replaced as they would be in a solera system. As the years roll by, the level of wine in the butt gets ever lower and every so often the wines may need to be racked into smaller vessels. Alternatively – and under Consejo supervision – a butt may be topped up with a similar wine from the same vintage, or simply bottled. 

Never having been refreshed, these wines become increasingly concentrated and need to be drunk before they become excessively so, and accordingly they are now bottled very occasionally and usually at about 30 years of age to the delight of well-heeled connoisseurs. One point to note is that as some wines mature more quickly than others, vintages are not necessarily released in sequential order.  One other point is that these wines are built to last and can be laid down for many years’ further ageing and polishing in bottle.

Añada is unlikely ever to return as a full scale listed product, but will almost certainly become more widely produced as an upmarket (and profitable) line. Available bottles worldwide of each wine only number in the hundreds, so they are hard to come by. A special precinta (official seal) is under consideration by the Consejo for these vintage wines. These wines would easily qualify for VOS or VORS status as their precise age is known and they would only need to pass the tasting test, but nobody seems to bother with this.

Listed below are the bodegas which produce Añadas, and as much information as I have gleaned so far on them:

González Byass

The bodega has over 3,000 butts of vintage Sherry going back to 1834. When Vizetelly visited in 1875 there was a butt of 1809. In 1853 Manuel María González began setting aside a butt of the excellent wine produced from the vineyard of Sr. Romero Valdespino, whose entire production he bought.

Nowadays GB selects about 200 butts per year (from the 200,000 they produce) of fine quality must for the purpose of producing Añadas. The best of these will become Añadas, and the rest will find a home in the solera of one of the better wines or be used to create special one-off releases. The Añadas are released when master blender and oenologist Antonio Flores sees fit and are usually about 30 years old.



 The vintage wines were first released in 1994, the 150th anniversary of Tio Pepe first being exported to Britain. The vintages released since then have been:

1963 – Oloroso
1964 – Oloroso
1966 – Oloroso                 
1967 – Oloroso
1968 - Oloroso
1969 – Oloroso
1970 – Oloroso
1975 – Palo Cortado
1978 – Palo Cortado
1979 – Palo Cortado and Oloroso
1982 – Palo Cortado and Oloroso
1989 – Oloroso
1994 – Palo Cortado

GB also made a wonderful millennium blend of Oloroso Añadas, one from the best vintage of each decade of the XX century which consisted of the vintages: 1902, 1917 1923, 1935, 1946, 1957, 1962, 1977, 1983 and 1992. Only 2,000 (oddly enough!) numbered and signed bottles were released. They also produced a very small one-off release of the “Oloroso Añada 1913” in celebration of the centenary of the Cambridge English Language Assessment Department established in 1913, but it was in fact a blend of 11 vintages, one from every decade between 1913 and 2013. Occasionally GB  bottle a vintage wine of the birth year of someone famous, such as the 1921 for Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, 1938 to celebrate the marriage of King Juan Carlos I and Dona Sofia of Greece.



Williams & Humbert

A butt of Fino from the firm’s “Viña del Álamo” vineyard in the Pago Añína was laid down by Guy Dingwall Williams (affectionately known as “Don Guido”) in 1920 to celebrate the birth of a member of the Humbert family. Another birth in 1922 saw another butt laid down and in 1924 it was decided that it would be very interesting to lay a couple down from the same vineyard every year, fortified to only 15%, and that tradition remains. Only one year is missing, 1992, because of a pickers' strike. On rare occasions (1957 and 1987), the wines have been tasted and classified, sometimes being re-classified at the subsequent tasting. It is fascinating to watch evolution in progress – at least it is for those lucky people who have the opportunity! These genuine vintage wines are used by the Consejo Regulador to help certify the age of other vintage wines.

The bodega does produce a vintage Fino en Rama (2006) which is an extremely difficult thing to do as the flor has a job to breathe, but somehow they have nursed it for 7 years to achieve what might be called a "Fino Pasado". It is quite unique and quite delicious. Unlike González Byass, W&H only used to lay down one butt, latterly two, so their Añadas  were very much scarcer and rarely - if ever - bottled. Happily, in 1999 the auction house Christies came across these wines and persuaded the bodega to bottle some for sale, and they now fetch enormous prices especially for the older ones: £300 - £600 per bottle. This caused a change in policy at W&H and they now lay down 50 butts annually, meaning that they will now be (reasonably) obtainable for the average connoisseur once deemed mature. UK agents Ehrmanns don’t ship these wines so they are easier to find at the bodega.

Since the launch of the 2006 Fino, W&H have marketed several more vintage wines of a younger age: Fino 2009 and 2012 , Amontillado 2003 and three Olorosos from 2003, 2009 and 2012, all launched in 2016. These are truly fascinating.


 Bodegas Tradición

Tradición has a much shorter trajectory than GB and W&H being established in 1998. The soleras were based on wines from Agustin Blázquez which was owned by Domecq. They own no vineyard from which to select the must so all their wines are bought in. Among those they bought at the start were a few Añadas from the old Rancho Croft. Let us hope they are buying or laying down more wines like these. It will probably be quite some time before we see the ’91 and ’98 on the market. The following are what I know they had, but the older ones are in short supply:

1970 - Oloroso 7 butts, Palo Cortado
1975 - 10 butts Palo Cortado, 9 butts Oloroso, 9 butts Amontillado
1982 – Oloroso
1987
1991 – 11 butts Oloroso, 9 butts Palo Cortado
1998

Showing the Consejo seal over the bung

Bodegas Emilio Lustau

Lustau has a different take on the vintage wines. They make a rich Oloroso by fortifying the wine during fermentation so that there is residual unfermented sugar – rather than the usual addition of PX – leaving it medium-sweet. The wine is then released at the comparatively younger age of somewhere over 15 years old. The first release was in 1989, then the 1990 and the current release is the 1997.



Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

1986 Oloroso 18% Grapes come from Hidalgo’s own vineyards in Balbaína and Miraflores. Only free-run juice is used and there is no flor as the wine is fortified immediately after vinification and sealed by the Consejo. It is aged over 20 years and sells for a little over £80 per 50cl bottle. This is the only release so far.


Sandeman

I hear Sandeman produced a foot-trodden vintage 1989 Oloroso, but have no more information.

Viña La Callejuela


A small bodega at Sanlúcar which produced such good wine in 2012 that the consultant winemaker, Ramiro Ibanez, kept 11 butts aside to sell as a Vintage Manzanilla with one butt being released in spring every year. It will be very interesting to compare one year's release against another - if it can be got hold of - it is obviously a very limited edition. It is unlike the usual vintage Sherries in that it is sold young as a Manzanilla, but with every passing it will become older and more concentrated, more Amontillado. The second butt was released in Spring 2016.







Valdespino

Pepe Estevez bought this venerable old bodega in 1999 and set about moving all the soleras from scattered bodegas to the one he had constructed specially, an immense task. He ordered wines to be selected for the production of a vintage 2001, and these were fermented in stainless steel and filled, after a time under flor and being fortified to 17%, into 23 butts previously seasoned with old Valdespino Oloroso. It was soon realised that 23 butts per year would, over time, amount to a huge amount of wine for which there would not be space, so Pepe ordered less wine to be filled into large toneles of 90 and 160 arrobas capacity (a normal bodega butt contains 36). The following vintages were barrel fermented, and 2002 spent 2 years under flor while subsequent vintages spent just one and were fortified to 18%. In May 2016 they bottled one butt of 2000 and some 2001.



Ximenez Spinola

Pedro Ximenez Añada is a vintage wine produced originally for the bodega by Ramiro Ibanez and made by an unusual method. The grapes were left much longer on the vine, picked at a high sugar level, macerated and fermented in butts on the skins and aged 4 months in butts with lees stirring. It is released annually.

Bodega San Ginés

This is the private bodega of the Consejo Regulador, and among other treasures here are vintage wines made from the grapes trodden at the Fiesta de la Vendimia which began in 1948. The grapes are provided by various bodegas and the wines are sometimes made in different ways, such as late harvesting. The 1948 was made from grapes from Sandeman's vineyards El Corregidor and El Cerro and contained 15 g/l sugar. Unfortunately these wines are never put onto the market.


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