A blog and review on all things Sherry. It is about tasting, enjoyment and learning more about the World’s Finest Wine. "Sherry is a thoroughbred" as Javier Hidalgo rightly puts it. Included are the amazing local Brandies and the remarkably good table wines also produced in the province of Cádiz.
The family of León Aldama y Respaldiza
1781-1863 originally came from Álava, south of Bilbao. In 1823 León took over the
bodegas of Aguilar y Cia, established in 1740 in Calle de la Plata in Sanlúcar
and containing some very old wines. He initially lived in a house in the Plazuela
San Francisco, now belonging to the Sisters of the Cross, and later bought the garden
and house in Calle de la Plata from his parents in 1857. There was an impressive
He was disappointed at how cheaply wine was
sold and initiated a “pact of resistance” with fellow bodegueros Pedro Manjón
and Fernando Mergelina by which they would agree a fair price and commit not to
sell for less. They also committed to buying all Sanlúcar wine which was below
their agreed price. This admirable idea had the inevitable consequences,
Tha San Jose bodega with vineyard
On his death in 1863 León, a bachelor, left his
estate to two of his nephews, Pedro Aldama Gaviña and José Gabriel Aldama Camba
(1850-1901), who became the first Conde de Aldama by concession of Pope León
XIII aged 38. He had vineyards in the albariza soils of Pago Mahina and bodegas in
the Banda de la Playa and Calles San Juan and San Antonio, where he built up great
soleras such as Amontillado Dorotea, Moscatel IX Perlas and PX Corona. But he never
sold the wine. In fact he ordered the bungholes of the butts to be sealed with
plaster so that no-one, even the capataz, could know the value of these
precious liquids or add anything inferior. This lasted for fifty years (1888-1927) giving
the wines great maturity and immense value as almacenista wines. Even since then the wines have only been topped up to compensate for evaporation losses.
Phylloxera arrived towards the end of the XIX
century destroying long established vineyards and putting many bodegas out of
business. Those vineyards which were re-planted used Phylloxera-resistant
American rootstocks, and the wine produced refreshed old soleras of
pre-Phylloxera wine, but Aldama didn’t like it, considering it dirty on the nose.
He stopped growing and making wine and only bought in pre-phylloxera butts
annually to refresh his soleras. Like his uncle, José Gabriel remained a
bachelor and spent his time building up soleras and making money.
On his death he left his estate to his nephew
Antonio Aldama Mendivil, Marqués de Ayala, born in 1867, who had trained in
theology and for the priesthood, but was advised not to continue. Antonio
arrived in Sanlúcar in 1899 and married Dolores Prueño Velarde with whom he had
seven children, of whom two died young and the others joined the church.
Antonio took over the running of the bodegas, building up working capital to 4
million pesetas and the value of just one bodega , bought from Ana Linares Paz
(Viuda de Vila) to one and a half million.
Interior of the bodega San Jose
The firm supplied wine on an almacenista basis to
JM Rivero, Moreno de Mora, Vergara, MacKenzie, Barbadillo and Pedro Romero,
which demonstrates their quality. Just two sales of wine to González Byass
raised six hundred thousand, while retail sales brought in seventy thousand
duros (five pesetas) a year. Stocks now stood at about ten million litres and
there were other soleras: Miura, Amontillado Ayala, Amontillado León, San
Gabriel and Emperador. He had very lucrative interests in mining, banking and
naval shipbuilding, as well as being much involved in religious affairs.
The bodega's list
Antonio had, however been too distracted by religious
affairs, having spent a fortune on philanthropy and paid too little attention
to the bodegas, and went bust in 1921 with debtors refusing to pay. The family
sought refuge in religion, and Antonio died with the Jesuits at the college of
San Ignacio de Loyola at Azpeitia, in 1930. The bodegas in Calle Banda Playa had been sold off in 1927 to Manuel Argueso Hortal, a firm which no longer exists, and the family
house was bought by José Antonio Florido. The bodegas and wine were bought by Valdespino, but after the Grupo Estevez takeover they were sold to a property developer who sold the wine to Francisco Yuste, while flats now occupy the site of the bodegas. When they were dismantled, Yuste bought all the useful architectural components which he used to restore his bodega Los Angeles, where the Aldama wines are now stored. These are an Amontillado and a Palo Cortado and they form a top end range of wines labelled Conde de Aldama, probably the oldest wines in Sanlucar, being XVIII century soleras. Barbadillo own the Amontillado Hindenburg solera, also bought from Conde de Aldama some 200 years ago, which provides the Amontillado Reliquia.