Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Brandy Mérito Solera 36%, Marqués del Mérito

Amber to mahogany with bright copper glints.
Classic Brandy de Jerez nose of Oloroso and vanilla with some subtle oak notes and there are gentle hints of pastry, toasted bread, almond and dried fruit. It is attractive and homogeneous without any aggressive spirity notes.
Dried fruit is to the fore with an attractive almond and walnut nuttiness and vanilla following through and mingling with hints of Oloroso. There is a faint suggestion of sweetness but the finish is clean and dry. This is very good quality brandy, well rounded with real character and a long finish.
This is very good for a "simple" Solera brandy and its price is good as well. It comes from a Marqués del Mérito solera established in 1915, long before Rumasa merged the bodega with Diez Hermanos. It is a blend of column and pot still spirits distilled from both Palomino and Airen grapes and aged in solera for well over one year in butts previously seasoned with Oloroso. Neither the column still spirit nor the Oloroso overwhelm it and the result is tasty, smooth and balanced.
9.50 per litre, Mantequeria Jerezana

Monday, 13 August 2018

Vino Tinto Arx 2016 14%, Bodega Tesalia

very deep black-red with a cherry coloured rim and a faint trace of maturity starting to sneak in.
Big and ripe yet still fairly tight dominated by hefty Syrah notes of leathery black fruit, a suspicion of smoke and spice and a hint of pepper. Then there are toasty, lead pencil notes of French oak leaving the Petit Verdot and Tintilla to play a minor role but provide some freshness and elegance with some blueberry notes. It is still young and once all these aromas start to integrate it should be amazing.
Full bodied and well structured with notable spice and pepper notes then that leathery plummy ripe fruit appears with a smoky almost barbecue character, and the Andalusian heat really comes through. This is a very fine but rather masculine wine with plenty of tannin but at least it is good and ripe. It needs a couple of years to soften off a bit and a few more to reveal the finesse it surely has.
Made from a blend of Tintilla (35%), Syrah (50%) and Petit Verdot (15%) all hand harvested at night, this excellent wine comes from near Arcos de la Frontera. The plots where the vines are grown are all clay soils over chalk oriented north east and while they catch the hot Levante wind they are protected from the worst of its heat by the slopes of the vineyard, thus getting good ripening conditions. The grape bunches are carefully selected before a 4 day cold soak and the different grape varieties are fermented separately for two to three weeks. The wines are then blended to achieve the optimum character and aged in mostly French oak for a year. Production was 18,000 bottles. Arx is the estate's second wine after Tesalia. The wine's name and indeed the place it comes from derive from the Latin Arx (castle/fortress). This is the first commercial release of this wine which is produced at an estate belonging to the Golding family which has 11 hectares under vine.
17.85 Licores Corredera

Sunday, 12 August 2018

12.8.17 "Seasick" Palo Cortado Returns to Cádiz

Built in Cádiz in 1927, the Juan Sebastián Elcano, is a beautiful four-masted vessel used as a training ship by the Spanish Navy. In its 90 years it has sailed some 1.7 million nautical miles and docked in 71 countries. It returned on Saturday to its home port after a training exercise lasting nearly six months during which time it called in at Funchal, Las Palmas, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Valparaiso, El Callao and Charleston, acting as a sort of floating embassy.  Meanwhile an old bronze cannon dated 1801 was found in excellent condition in the water of the docks during routine works days before the ship returned, luckily it was not loaded.

The welcoming comittee (foto:DiariodeJerez)

Below the ship’s decks were two butts of González Byass Palo Cortado XC from the 1990 vintage selected by Antonio Flores for an experimental revival of the old tradition of sending wine on a sea journey to improve it. He described the wine as having “reached its peak, one step from glory” so it will be very interesting to see how it has turned out. It will be bottled in time for next year’s 500th anniversary celebrations of the first circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan set out from Sanlúcar in 1519 with five ships, but only one made it home, captained by one Juan Sebastián Elcano. The wine will be called Palo Cortado XC De Ida y Vuelta (there and back); it is unlikely to be cheap however.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Fino Castillo de Guzmán 15%, Coop Albarizas

Mid strawy yellowy gold with golden highlights.
Fresh with hints of sea breeze herbs and yeastiness then develops that lovely bitter flor character along with salty, briny mineral notes and traces of esparto, even cabezuela. It could almost be a Manzanilla Pasada and is definitely more serious than the price would suggest.
Quite full, very dry with comparatively low acidity which is made up for by that flor. There are slightly buttery almost rancio notes which along with that esparto note give depth and texture and while the flavour is fairly intense the wine still retains its freshness and has very good length.
This new brand of Fino, launched in November 2017, comes from the Cooperativa Vitivinícola Albarizas, established in 1977 in Trebujena. To celebrate their 40th anniversary they bottled some wines for the first time: Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Mosto and a white called Bijuré. Since the coop is located in the production zone it cannot therefore carry the word "Sherry" on its label. It is made from 100% Palomino grapes from the 200 coop members' 300 hectares of vineyard, most of which is sold to Williams & Humbert and Grupo Estévez. The brand name refers to Alonso Pérez de Guzmán "El Bueno" who founded the Medina de Sidonia dynasty in the XIII century. As is sometimes the case with cooperative labels, the design is a little doubtful, but the contents make up for it spectacularly, and at an absurdly reasonable price. It was bottled en rama with a driven cork.
3.50 per 50 cl, Licores Corredera

Friday, 10 August 2018

The Role of the Arrumbador

Among its various meanings the verb “arrumbar” means to stack or put away. The arrumbador therefore, is one who does the physical labour in a bodega; stacking butts, removing and replacing those needing repair or cleaning, racking, fortifying, blending, running the solera scales, fining and extracting samples. In the old days when Sherry was exported in butt, they also used to move the butts from the bodega and load them onto the train or lorry.

Arrumbadores doing various tasks in the 1850s

These heroic men, known as “trasegadores” in Sanlúcar, and without whom Sherry production would have been near impossible, tended to work in cuadrillas (squads) usually consisting of a leader, two experienced men and an apprentice, and the cuadrilla was responsible to the capataz, who was quite likely to have once been an arrumbador himself.

Building an andana in the 1920s

Not only do arrumbadores need physical strength and stamina – they need to be able to move butts weighing nearly 700 kilos - but they also need great skill and a pretty sound understanding of how the wine is made. The arrumbadores developed ways of stacking butts or extracting one (possibly leaking) from a solera system and putting it back again, using simple tools like ramps, poles and ropes, but with great skill and precision. They used to wear a sort of corset around the waist to protect them from hernias but covered them with smarter looking cummerbunds.

That butt weighs the same as a Mini car, 1960s. The two wooden beams are palos de cargar

It was very hard physical work and there were many dangers like pulling muscles, rope burns, oak splinters and falling butts. The men were supposed to wear gloves but rarely did, for better feel and grip. Most arrumbadores started their working life in other parts of the bodega; perhaps on the bottling lines or washing out butts, and gradually worked their way up, once they had mastered each job. A typical scene might be the capataz tasting wine with a pair of arrumbadores; one climbing up the butts and throwing a venencia of wine to the other on the ground who would catch it expertly and pour the wine into the capataz’ glass.

Racking 1940s. Tools (L-R) Canoa, Jarras and bomba de trasiego

There were once thousands of arrumbadores but sadly this once important office has almost become a thing of the past now, what with all the health and safety regulations and corresponding technical innovations since the 1970s such as forklifts and pumps, and the seemingly never ending decline in sales and therefore the industry itself.  In 1992 Jerez City Council and González Byass erected a statue in homage to the arrumbadores by local sculptor Francisco Pinto in the Avenida de Europa in Jerez.

racking using a canuto, Williams & Humbert

Over the centuries the “Arrumbaóres” as they are known locally, have evolved their own tools and terminology, some of which appears below:

Words connected with stacking butts:
Andamio = a form of moveable scaffolding used to reach the higher butts
Andana = a row of stacked butts
Bajete = Support for the bottom row of butts. Mostly wooden beams, but in Sanlúcar traditionally made of limestone (often containing fossilised oyster shells) often with a cork liner
Bocacha = oak wedge used to position butts
Chirlata = flat piece of oak, thinner than a llano used to help level butts
Deslío = Racking off lees
Escalera de trasiego = short wooden ladder
Llano = flat wooden square made from oak, eucalyptus or pine, acts as the base for a bocacha
Palos de cargar =  a pair of stout wooden beams used as a ramp for locating butts at a higher level
Puente = literally “bridge” an operation where the arrumbadores can move neighbouring butts enough to free and remove/replace a particular one.
Tranquilla = Stout wooden pole @ 1 m in length used as a lever for fine adjustment of butt position

Words connected with running the scales (saca y rocío):
Aspilla = a gauging stick for measuring the contents of a butt
A toca dedo = when a butt is filled to the top
Boca de bojo = upper bung hole on the butt’s widest diameter
Bomba de trasiego = long curved tube used to siphon wine from a higher butt during the saca
Canoa = a triangular stainless steel funnel with legs fitting between butts used in the rocío process in conjunction with a rociador and a jarra (QV)
Canuto = curved pipe which fits in the lower bung hole (falsete), used for racking higher butts
Falsete = Bung hole on the lower front of the butt
Jarra = a stainless steel jug of @12 ½ litres used in the saca y rocío process where done by hand.
Rociador: a stainless steel tube in the shape of a bull’s horn with a flange on the upper (wider) end while the narrower end is perforated. It is used for rocío along with a canoa. When inserted into the butt the new wine enters gently below the flor to minimise its disturbance.
Saca y Rocío = Running the scales. Wine is taken from the solera (saca) and then it is topped up from the following crideras (rocío). The last criadera is topped up with wine from sobretablas.

General terms:
Bota del gasto = separate butt especially for guests, or the workers’ refreshment. This butt was only occasionally abused…

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

8.8.18 Table Wine Harvest Begins

Last night the pickers and harvesting machines were out collecting the first white table wine grapes of 2018 and the quality is good. Cortijo de Jara has been picking Gewürztraminer and Barbadillo have been picking the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc they use in their Blanco de Blancos and the sparkling Beta Brut. The Palomino harvest looks like being a couple of weeks away still, but it can’t really be described as late, since last year was the earliest on record. What is needed for the table wine grapes is freshness and acidity when they reach optimum ripeness, and in the case of the Gewürztraminer they are getting readings of 12.5° Beaumé while Chardonnay is 11.5°.

Picking Gewurztraminer at Cortijo de Jara (foto:MAGonzalez/diariodejerez)

The important decision as to when to pick has been more difficult this year as ripening has been uneven due to the atypical spring and summer weather causing excess humidity and thus delay in ripening. The recent heatwave has been a great boost in ripening the grapes and stopping cryptogamic problems without much evaporation loss due to a low incidence of the Levante. But from today temperatures have gone down and the nights might bring dewfall slowing ripening down again but possibly adding weight to the grapes. All that can be done is to wait and see and hope, and take constant sugar readings.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Vino Blanco Bijuré 2017 12%, Coop Albarizas

Clean bright gold with golden highlights.
Attractive up front with gentle orchard fruit notes like apple, pear and apricot and a hint of blossom, and then it gets more serious with mineral and faintly saline notes, possibly even a trace of flor, which instantly give away its origin. You can faintly smell the albariza, the Guadalquivir, the salt marshes and the not so distant sea. And it smells so natural.
Both the fruit and the minerally salinity are there straight off, and the wine has a certain presence, it is not some cheap co-op wine at all. It has a perfectly judged acidity, a lovely almost sherbet fruit and a dry chalky texture, and is extremely refreshing and moreish. Very much a wine of its place, and one of character which will even improve a few years in bottle.
A white wine from Cádiz which isn't Palomino? That's right! And it is very good value for money too. And above all, it is interesting. This new wine comes from the Cooperativa Vitivinicola Albarizas at Trebujena, not so far from Sanlúcar, and not so different, overlooking the Guadalquivir estuary. The label states that it is made from the Vidueño grape, which is not actually a grape variety but rather a fairly ad hoc mix of grapes which happen to be in the vineyard. In fact these are very old vines of various varieties which have almost disappeared from the area since Palomino took over. This gives the wine its unusual but delicious flavour, and  it is very good to know that some are trying to revive them. The wine is fermented in butts seasoned with Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso, and after natural decantation it is blended together and bottled with no more ageing than a while on the lees.
7.00 euros, Licores Corredera