Sunday, 12 February 2017

An Interview with José Peñín

This is a modest translation of an interview by Cristina Cruz with the founder of the Guia Peñín, Spain’s leading wine guide, published in on Friday.

We find him, caña (Sanlúcar venencia made from cane) in hand, enjoying a glass of Manzanilla at Bodegas Argüeso. A journalist by profession, he is making notes in his mobile about the differences between the Sanlúcar venencia and that of Jerez.

How would you define the situation of the wines of the Marco de Jerez?
It is one thing to talk about the Marco de Jerez and another to talk about the wines of Jerez and Sanlúcar; Manzanilla versus the wines of the big bodegas. There are situations and circumstances which have been further defining themselves over the passage of time. Sanlúcar – Manzanilla – is enjoying a boom, better sales because perhaps it is closer to the taverns, to the new consumer, that occasional consumer who is becoming interested in wines from small producers. What is happening with Manzanilla? It is produced by small family bodegas but if we go to Jerez they are big corporations, big bodegas and epic brands. I have proposed that they create a separate, independent Denominación de Origen because the wine and the business model are different. The climate is different and so is the crianza and even the yeasts. I don’t know if this would help the trade, perhaps it could be a subsector, and I believe the regulations would allow that.

What about quality and prices?
The quality of the average Sherry is far superior to wines from the rest of Spain, but one negative aspect is the ridiculously low price. This is because the Sherry trade has not done enough to defend a quality product and it has not done enough to resist buyers, mostly foreigners, dictating the price. When I go to the Marco de Jerez the impression I get is that bodegas are stagnating. If you go to Rioja you will see investment in tasting rooms and areas for wine tourism, but here such small profits don’t allow investment or even repairs.

Should the strategy of the bodegas in Sanlúcar be to modernise too?
I think it is still very difficult. The added value which the bodegas of Sanlúcar have achieved is very small. They have become dependent on the big firms which have bought at the price they wanted to pay, leaving no margin to invest in image. It is regrettable that, of the flagship wine producing areas of Spain, the poorest and the one with the most unfortunate bodega scene, is Jerez and in particular Sanlúcar. This stems not from neglect but from working in another way. Jerez and Sanlúcar owe their survival to emotion, to a love of something. Producers here ask less of their business than elsewhere. There is a certain magic, emotion, sensitivity which gives bodegueros here the capacity to do other work, but without abandoning the bodega. That wouldn’t happen elsewhere.

Are the low prices only due to interference from foreign markets?
It has certainly been the case. While Manzanilla has triumphed on the home market it has not done so abroad. This is because the bodegas have not been able to organise good marketing abroad while here, word of mouth has been effective, such that Manzanilla is no longer only consumed in Andalucía but throughout Spain.

Do home consumers put more value on the artisan product from these small bodegas?
To many of these occasional consumers, those with the money, it doesn’t bother them too much to spend just a little more if the product is good as they know it is an occasional purchase. The consumer is feeling more confident. They don’t mind paying 3 euros more because it is something different, albeit at a higher price.

Alongside prices, Sanlúcar is immersed in another polemic, BIB. What is your opinion?
I am against the traditional aesthetic. I have always defended the practical against the traditional. The BIB is much more hygienic. I am writing an article on the subject and I have a BIB at home which has been open for a month and a half. I have been checking and the wine is still the same so it would seem to be about image. If the powers that be at the Consejo Regulador and the big bodegas dislike the BIB it can’t be about hygiene so it must be about image. But what is image? I believe that if a screwcap or a synthetic cork can be used, why not the BIB which keeps wine even better? The Consejo arguments are weak and are all about image. What image? Let’s give it a try, let’s make the boxes better, prettier. People just want to stand still, keep the status quo.

What are your preferences among Sherries?
I have tasted excellent wines at tastings over the last 30 years when there were bigger differences between them, but now those differences are much smaller. As for types, I like a Palo Cortado – a real one – an Oloroso which has a balance between oxidation and the flavours accrued from time spent in wood, I like an Amontillado if the biological and oxidative ageing have been well done and it is not too old. I love biological ageing.

In the Sherry tastings you have recently done which wine stood out?
I loved La Kika, San León, Elías González, which I didn’t know, and I very much like the Manzanillas pasadas, wines at the limit of biological ageing which are mouthfilling and linger for ages on the palate. It is all about more ageing, more flor and more rotation. I’m not interested in a wine without biological character, the bitterness, the salty, iodine sensation.

What do you think about the table wines?
I’m very interested in the relationship between the people and their vineyards, their wine and their work. Now I’m familiar with Palomino table wines, wines of a given year sold young as opposed to a wine for dynamic ageing in the solera system. What with the minerality of the vineyards I think another grape variety would give better results for table wines. For me Palomino is for crianza.

Which wines achieve the highest points?
The highest are usually from Equipo Navazos. And that idea might be the future for the wines of Sanlúcar: a realistic price based on top quality. Although that would suppose a drop in sales volumes, higher income would balance it out. Some bodegas are already selling at a higher price and it works.

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