Monday 28 May 2012

Palo Cortado Obispo Gascon 21.5%, Barbadillo

Almost pure amber, fading through old gold and yellow to a pale green rim.
Beautifully crisp and fresh (despite obvious age), extremely aromatic and refined with a sweetish hazelnut tang and traces of creme brulee, dried fig, toasted and sugared almond, bodega, exotic woods, even resin, all wonderfully integrated into a harmonious complexity that one could sniff forever.
Dry, tangy, textured and quite light (despite strength), lots of toasted hazelnut and almond, some oak, then richer, fatter oloroso touches on finish, but definitely more on the amontillado side. Supremely elegant, long and quite delicious.
This wine just shows how good the tasters are in Jerez. The difference between a Palo Cortado, Oloroso and Amontillado can be extremely subtle. Just when you think this is more of an Amontillado, you spot Oloroso richness, silkiness on the finish, but less of the Oloroso weight. Help!

This wine is from a solera laid down in 1860 in the Casa de la Cilla composed of already very old wines bought by Pedro Rodriguez from Manuel de Argueso along with other wines from the sacristias of other bodegas. For a long time this solera lay untouched in the bodega Nueva, but now it supplies the wine for the Palo Cortado Reliquia - in minute quantities - and also the VORS and Obispo Gascon, but all from different scales of the solera. This wine is sold at somewhere between 20 and 25 years old.
Around £30-32. Uk agent is Fells

The Rumasa Saga: part 1

The Rumasa (RUiz MAteos S.A.) story deserves to be written by a skilled potboiler novelist, as it is filled with scandal, corruption, skullduggery - and even humour. It might even make a good film.

The undoubted leading man, or perhaps antihero, in the tale is Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos Jimenez de Tejada, born in Jerez in 1931 whose father, Zoilo Ruiz Mateos Camacho, had a small almacenista business of the same name originally established in Rota in 1857. Jose Maria was the more ambitious and business-like of Zoilo's sons, and from about 1960 quickly started building up the firm, which had by now moved to Jerez. It's consequent growth was quite phenomenal. So phenomenal, in fact, that nobody could quite believe it.

Most of part 1 of this tale took place under the dictatorship of General Franco, who by supporting the Catholic Church received its support in return, especially from ultra-Catholic Opus Dei. This is a group of mostly lay people who believe that ordinary life is a path to sanctity, and do charitable works, but it has been accused of secretiveness, elitism, and support for the right wing, not to mention cronyism. The Franco regime began a liberalisation of the economy in 1959 using many technocratic ideas of Opus Dei such as credit for business, help with export and redevelopment of deprived areas, but this only led to almost inevitable large scale corruption. Strangely, many members of Opus Dei benefited enormously, and our Jose Maria was only one. Rumasa could only have grown the way it did with state help. One of the Ruiz Mateos family was related to the Director of the Institute of Credit; the older sons of the Governor of the Bank of Spain worked for Rumasa.

In 1964, having badgered them for some years, Ruiz Mateos signed a deal with Harveys of Bristol to supply all the wine they needed for 99 years. He went to extraordinary lengths to prove to the Harveys executives that he could meet their needs. At that time Bristol Cream, and other Harveys brands were huge sellers, and RM could never supply all their needs, so another bodega was bought. The Harveys money along with credit was used to buy a bank to finance more bodegas and so on. In 1960 the company was worth 300,000 pesetas, and by 1969 it was worth 2000 million, and by the time of its demise it consisted of around 700 subsidiaries in Spain alone as well as others abroad, including 18 banks (he famously bought three banks in one day), 18 bodegas, construction firms, insurance companies, estate agencies, hotels, food and drinks companies etc etc. worth 111 billion.

The firm´s vineyard division, Viñedos Españoles, planted some 2,000 hectares in Jerez alone (bringing the total to 22,000 ha) and they controlled 33% of the Sherry industry and 25% of the Brandy industry. Rumasa´s hexagonal busy bee logo was to be seen everywhere. Other firms viewed Rumasa with considerable and justified suspicion; this was no longer the gentlemanly Sherry business of old and quality was being sacrificed for quantity. The big firms had an agreement that they would help each other in case of an attack by Rumasa. Its affairs were labyrinthine, and it was beginning to owe the tax man big time.

The global oil crisis of 1973 brought a dramatic reduction in sales and affected the Sherry industry decisively creating a situation of oversupply of some 46%. At that time 400,000 butts were being produced and sales were running at 270,000. This caused a price war which Rumasa was determined to win at any cost and Sherry was sold below cost forcing other firms to try and compete with many going bust and being bought up by Rumasa. When the government offered subsidies to promote exports, Rumasa exported vast quantities of wine, much of it of doubtful quality and whether it was actually sold or not, and stored it in warehouses in the UK. The Augustus Barnett wine retail chain, owned by Rumasa, had huge stocks of Sherry at knockdown prices. Things did not augur well for either Rumasa or the industry itself.

One nail in Rumasa's coffin came in the form of the takeover of Harveys by Showerings in 1965 and the purchase of the old bodega MacKenzie as a base in Jerez. Harveys were already suspicious of Rumasa and the exclusive supply contract was cancelled. Meanwhile International Distillers and Vintners (IDV) built a whole new bodega complex called Rancho Croft, using the name of their long-established Port subsidiary. Gilbeys (the oldest part of IDV already had soleras in Jerez at Gonzalez Byass). It was at Rancho Croft that the first pale cream sherries were produced and they soon provided stiff opposition to Harveys.

In 1983 the Socialist government of a newly democratic Spain decided to get the tax it was due, and expropriated the component companies of Rumasa, going through their books with a fine toothcomb and finding, needless to say, endless tax fiddles and a web of complicated interactions. Jose Maria fled to the UK and was later arrested in Frankfurt. For the next decade or so there was endless litigation - at one court case he appeared dressed as Superman - and he counterclaimed against the Spanish Government, seeking compensation. He was eventually, and controversially, absolved by the Supreme Court, but was refused the compensation he had bitterly contested for Williams & Humbert, which went to the Dutch firm Ahold. This was complicated by the fact that the Ruiz Mateos family owned the Dry Sack brand name while Rumasa owned the rest.

This was, apparently, the end of Rumasa. The component companies had been sold off by the Government back to the private sector, and life in Jerez returned to something like normal, though in fact much had changed. Many of the subsidiary bodegas had by now lost their individual identities, having been swallowed up by bigger concerns within the group, and many famous names disappeared. Names like:

AR Ruiz Hermanos.
Union de Exportadores de Jerez
Palomino & Vergara
Marques de Misa
Diestro Hermanos
Diaz Morales
Vergara & Gordon
Bodegas Internacionales

Those which survived more or less intact were:

Williams & Humbert

Saturday 26 May 2012

Bodegas: Antonio Barbadillo

Now run by the 6th generation of the family which originated in Covarrubias (Burgos), Barbadillo was established in 1821 by Don Benigno (1783-1837) and Don Manuel Barbadillo, cousins who had returned to Spain after 20 years in Mexico. They bought a bodega built in 1781, now known as Bodega del Toro, from one Joaquin Allier and the entrepreneurial Benigno set about exporting wines to Britain and the Americas as well as selling wine to other local bodegas. In 1827, the same year that the word "Manzanilla" first appeared on wines, Barbadillo launched the first bottled brand "Divina Pastora". Innovation did not end there, or after Benigno's death, as his children, and theirs, continued to build up the firm: brandy and vinegar followed.

The beautiful bodega La Arboledilla

With its offices in the beautiful La Cilla palace in Sanlucar, the firm now holds 500 hectares of vineyard in 2 parcels in Jerez Superior: Gibalbin and Santa Lucia. In the former is the ultra-modern vinification plant, and the 17 bodegas, which cover 75,000 square metres and contain some 400,000 butts, are in Sanlucar surrounding the medieval castle of Santiago and looking down over the Bajo de Guia beach. Barbadillo is thus the largest producer of Manzanilla, and one of the largest Sherry producers. The company owns the Sanlucar bodega of Infantes de Orleans Borbon and briefly, Williams & Humbert and Otaolaurruchi.

More recent diversification has seen the purchase of bodegas in other regions: Somontano and Ribera del Duero, along with the Iberico business Sierra de Sevilla (now sold). Another innovation was the first white table wine from the Sherry zone: Castillo de San Diego, now the best selling white wine in Spain, and its sweeter companion Maestranza, followed by a red table wine Gibalbin. Business can't be too bad - Barbadillo reckon to sell about 500,000 half bottles of their signature Manzanilla Solear during the week long Feria de Sevilla (the annual Seville fair). Then they were the first to introduce Manzanilla "en Rama" - only 1,000 litres straight from 10 selected butts, bottled without excessive filtration and fining and much tastier than the usual Manzanilla. Interestingly, it is released seasonally, and each season's release tastes slightly different according to the thickness of the flor.

The Barbadillo range consists of:
Reliquia - Extremely old wines of 100-150 years of age sold in decanters: Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso - very small quantities and very hard to obtain.
VORS - Palo Cortado, Oloroso, Amontillado
Manzanillas - Solear, Solear en Rama, Muy Fina, Pastora Manzanilla Pasada en rama
Standard Range - Eva Cream; San Rafael Oloroso Abocado; Cuco Oloroso seco; Amontillado Principe; Moscatel Laura; PX La Cilla; Palo Cortado Obispo Gascon, all really fine wines.
Table Wines: there is the new (and first) sparkling wines from Cadiz: Beta Brut and Beta Sur, and many table wines: Mirabras, Poniente, Levante, Vi, Blanco de Blancos, Gibalbin, Quadis, Nude, not to mention the wines from Somontano and Ribera del Duero.
Brandies: BB and Barbadillo Solera Gran Reserva
Yes, best to book by phone/e-mail The firm has a very interesting Manzanilla Museum
Address: C/ Luis de Eguilaz, 11, 11540 Sanlucar de Barrameda, Cadiz
Tel: (0034) 956 38 55 00

Manzanilla Solear 15%, Bodegas Antonio Barbadillo

Bright, light clean strawy gold with golden highlights.
Attractive and quite complex; some definite flor salinity with fresh seaside aromas, but with a little more weight than some, hints of green almond, and the slightest trace of autolysed yeast. Quite serious, with just a hint of longer ageing than some Manzanillas, but not yet "pasada".
Quite full, dry, well-rounded with almond, something floral such as camomile, hints of palomino fruit, and that yeasty flor tang which leaves the palate clean but hungry. Very long and full of flavour.
One of the classic Manzanillas, and the firm's biggest earner. It deserves all the medals it has won over the years. It has spent some 6 years flowing through 9 criaderas and a solera which consists of a total of 12,500 butts, and shows all the character one would expect from that. In the past it was sold as a Manzanilla Pasada, but due (I should imagine) to commercial pressures, it is now sold a little younger and stabilised before bottling. All the firm´s Manzanillas originate in this solera and some are subject to more or less ageing and ageing in different bodegas with different conditions.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

News from Jerez 22.5.12

Grupo Osborne has announced its results for 2011 which appear quite encouraging given the crisis in Spain. (If only George Osborne was so efficient!) Turnover was 207 million Euros which represents a drop of 16.5% due to the sale of the Solan de Cabras water and juice business, without which it would have grown by 6%. Moneys received were used to halve bank debt, and the Osborne family who still control the company bought back 15% of the shares from Solan de Cabras. Sherry and brandy account for 71% of turnover, of which 19% was export. Spirit sales in Spain showed a surprising rise of 12%. All in all great results for the times.

If only their Sherries were available in the UK!

Monday 21 May 2012

Bodegas: Gonzalez Byass

This great bodega, the largest in Jerez, was established by Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel in 1835. His father, Don Jose Antonio Gonzalez y Rodrigo was a knight of the royal guard of Carlos III, but despite being popular with the King, he had a reputation with the ladies and was “banished” to Sanlucar with the position of Administrator of the Royal Salt Marshes, a post in which he excelled. He married Maria del Rosario Angel and they had two daughters and five sons.

Manuel Maria, born in Sanlucar in 1812, was a sickly child, and rather than be sent to university in Seville, he was sent to Cadiz for his health, working as a merchant and in a bank. In 1835, a year after his father’s death and aged only 23 he went into the Sherry business. To do this, he borrowed money from one Francisco Gutierrez Aguera to buy a vineyard and was helped by his uncle, Jose de la Peña who owned a small bodega in Sanlucar.

Photograph of Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel
The beginnings were small, exporting only 10 butts in 1835 but growing to 67 in 1836 and 819 in 1837. Things were moving fast and Manuel took on a partner, Juan Bautista Dubosc, a fine salesman from Cataluña who spoke languages, and the firm was renamed Gonzalez Dubosc.  Manuel concentrated on Sherry production and Juan on selling it. Meanwhile Manuel married Victorina de Soto y Lavaggi from the aristocratic Soto de Briviesca family. Dubosc died in 1859, but by this time Manuel was also working with Robert Blake Byass, his agent in England.

By 1853 the firm was acquiring more vineyard and began construction of a huge bodega, La Constancia, and the first butts placed there were those ancient wines acquired from the Duke of Medinaceli which would form the solera for Amontillado del Duque. By the time the bodega was finished, exports to England alone stood at 3,000 butts.

A montage from 1878 showing the scale of the bodegas and access to the railway.

Robert Blake Byass had been a very successful agent in England, and in 1863 he was taken into partnership, the firm being renamed Gonzalez Byass. The two families carried on the business until 1988, when the Byass family sold out to the Gonzalez family, giving them full ownership.

One lovely story took place in 1862 on the occasion of a visit by Queen Isabel II. Her wish was to watch the treading of the grapes, but as the visit took place in October, the treading was long over. Undaunted, Manuel sent people out to buy any "uvas de cuelga" or grapes which had been kept for eating and succeeded in obtaining enough (23,000kg!) to put on a show for the Queen. The wine thus produced was of such quality that it was kept in a huge barrel containing the equivalent of 33 butts. As Christ was 33, the barrel was named El Cristo, and was flanked with normal butts of top quality wine which are known as the Apostoles. There were to be many Royal visitors, and each one had a butt (or even solera) laid down in their honour which can still be seen there today.

The Price & Princess of Asturias at El Cristo with Mauricio Gonzalez

All the while in the background was Manuel’s uncle Jose. Being from Sanlucar he was naturally a huge fan of the Sanlucar wine, the Manzanilla. He disliked the Jerez wine, and as a favour Manuel kept a few butts of Manzanilla for him when he visited. It was known as “Tio Pepe’s wine” (uncle Joe’s wine), and went on to become the largest-selling Fino in the world.

In the mid XIX century the firm began distilling brandy, and met with great success. They are the only firm which still distils in Jerez (Lepanto). By 1873 GB was the number one exporter, continually acquiring more vineyard and building more bodegas, one of the most interesting of which was “La Concha”, a circular building with a wrought iron roof, often- though inaccurately- attributed to Gustave Eiffel. Manuel Maria died in 1887 at 75 years of age having built up a formidable business, and the firm passed to his son, Pedro Nolasco Gonzalez Soto. 

Jose Maria Angel y Vargas, Manuel Maria's maternal uncle "Tio Pepe"

Pedro was a character. He knew all sorts of Royalty through his international sales trips and collected things such as bicycles; he even had a bodega cleared out to accommodate 37 pianos!  Pedro married Mary Gordon of Scottish aristocratic stock, and whose family were in the Sherry trade. He even introduced Polo to Spain, and was later made Marques de Torresoto by Alfonso XIII with whom he often went shooting. GB eventually took over the Gordon Sherry brand, now lost.

By end of the XIX century Gonzalez Byass & Co Ltd had offices in 110 Fenchurch St. London and Vila Nova de Gaia, where they produced Port. They had bodegas in Jerez, Montilla, Sanlucar and Puerto Real and vineyards in the best areas, as well as the largest lagar in Jerez. Their bodega de Los Gigantes contained immense 4,100 hectolitre blending vats with helical stirring mechanisms to prepare blends as quickly as possible. Their chief salesman in Spain worked from offices in the Hotel de Paris, Puerta del Sol, Madrid (where the famous illuminated Tio Pepe sign was then situated).

Pedro Nolasco and Mary Gordon had at least seven sons, but most died young. Manuel Maria Gonzalez Gordon, later Marques de Bonanza and KBE), had been a sickly child, but a daily dose of Sherry had saved him, and he took over the reins of the firm. It was he who wrote the classic and scholarly book “Xeres Jerez Sherry” (English version simply “Sherry”). He installed electric light in the bodegas and running water. In 1929 GB took over Wisdom & Warter.

Vineyard at the Gonzalez Byass Bodegas, Jerez
In 1935 the firm decided to promote Tio Pepe, which had been a brand (the first registered trade mark in Spain) since 1844, and the famous bottle with a sombrero, bolero jacket and guitar was created. The brand never looked back, and its solera now consists of 22,000 butts. In 1963 the great Tio Pepe bodega was built, which houses 28,000 butts on three floors. In 1972 another even bigger bodega was built, Las Copas, with another innovative roof, which houses 80,000 butts. The firm’s bodegas now occupy some 92 hectares.

With the Sherry business showing signs of decline, GB moved into other wine regions: Rioja (Beronia), Somontano (Viñas del Vero), Cava (Vilarnau), Finca Moncloa in Cadiz and Finca la Constancia in Castilla. These are all now highly successful brands. They also own the Alcomasa distillery in La Mancha and the Anis Chinchon brand. Later they bought Croft Original Pale Cream, dropping their own San Domingo.

Nowadays the firm owns some 700 hectares of vineyard and manages a further 150 hectares by contract. They are among the very few still growing PX and own extensive vine nurseries. Around 70% of production is exported - to more countries than Spain has an embassy in! GB has a long history of altruism supporting various charities and the cultural heritage of Jerez and the Marismas. The bodegas are the most-visited in Europe and probably the most interesting.

Sherry Brands:
Basic commercial: Elegante Range
Standard Range: Tio Pepe Fino, Viña AB Amontillado, Nectar PX, Alfonso Oloroso, Solera 1847 Cream,  Cristina Cream (Spain), Palo Cortado Leonor, Pale Cream Croft Original. Sadly Fino Gaditano and Manzanilla El Rocio are no longer produced).
VORS Range: Matusalem Cream, Noe PX, Amontillado del Duque, Palo Cortado Apostoles
Añadas: (Vintage Wines), rare and expensive
Special wines: Tio Pepe en Rama (unfiltered from selected butts, small annual releases), Fino Delicado
The Palmas Range: 1 Palma, 2 Palmas, 3 Palmas, 4 Palmas Seriously good Finos from 8-40 years old

Visits?  Yes, all year round in various languages and there is nearby parking.
Address: Calle Manuel Maria Gonzalez, 12, 11403 Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz
Telephone: 956 357 016

Sunday 20 May 2012

Service of Sherry in Britain - a rant/prayer!

If there's one thing that puts people off a wine, it is when it is not properly served. Warm oxidised Sherry is not a pleasant drink, especially when bar staff often don't even know what measure or even glass to use. Bars all have the correct glasses for beer, spirits and table wine, which enhance their characteristics, especially when they are usually served at the right temperature. So what about Sherry?! (Or Port for that matter)

Very many bar staff are part timers or students, or both, and have no knowledge of or interest in drinks; they are there to earn their digs money. They are only trained to use the ever more complicated tills and in basic licensing law. Many bar managers have no drinks training either. They rely on the fact that most of their customers are equally ignorant and only ask for beer and spirits. Some don't even know that Sherry is a wine!! What a sad state of affairs!

Customers who would like a fresh Manzanilla or Fino are fobbed off with tired warm oxidised stuff that has been sitting on the gantry for ever. The inevitable result is that nobody will ask for Sherry in a bar and instead buy it at a wine merchant and take it home. The bar has thus lost a customer. Many a time and oft I have asked a barman to please put the Tio Pepe (which it usually is) in the fridge, explaining why, and the next time I visit the bar, there it is still on the gantry.

What's to be done? Well, more people should ask for FRESH CHILLED Sherry and explain that they want it served in a copita glass, not one of those useless, stupid Elgin nipped waist things. They should complain when this can't be done - it is not hard for bars to get that together, surely. The Sherry suppliers could help too by offering pubs free copitas which only cost pennies (and often have their brand on the glass) and advising on Sherry service. And the bar managers could help (not just Sherry) by doing their job and learning something and training their staff. Bar owners could help by offering staff some education.

PLEEAASE can the on trade do something? It is so easy!

News from Jerez 20.5.12

The owners of 6 central tabancos (traditional bars where Sherry is served from the barrel) in Jerez are getting together to promote their style of bar and thus, Sherry itself. They are organising a route which takes you from bar to bar easily on foot. Leaflets have been printed for distribution in the bars, and also at the Municipal Tourist Office. More leaflets are on the way printed in English. Where possible, the bars will promote the wines of the smaller bodegas.

The bar owners feel that this initiative is long overdue as the number of traditional Jerezano bars is dwindling It is also another string to the bow of tourism  in the area.

The bars in question (so far) are:
Taberna Surena; El Tabanco San Pablo; El Pasaje; La Bodega; Plateros and Guitarron.

Let's all support them whenever we are in Jerez!

History of Sherry - Ancient times

Few wines can have as long and interesting a history as Sherry. The Phonecians are thought to have brought the vine and viticulture to Cadiz, which may be the oldest city in Europe, being founded around 1100BC. At Dona Blanca, near Puerto de Santa Maria, a two storey winery using gravity has been found, dating from the VIII century BC. The Phonecians were by no means the only colonisers of southern Spain, however.

The Greeks and the Romans were there too, bringing more knowledge and culture along with various wine rituals known as Symposia in Greek or Comisatios in Latin. Ceramic ware has been found painted by the painter of Brygos which represents a Symposium in the Iliad with a person holding a form of strainer and an early venencia (a cup on the end of a stick used even now to extract small quantities of wine from the butts). The Romans went on to hold elaborate - and competitive - dinner parties, and the favoured wine was Sherry. Indeed it was praised by Martial, and Cadiz-born Columela wrote a treatise on viticulture, much of which holds true to this day.

The age of decadence couldn't last, however, and in the V century the Roman empire began to implode. Barbarians known as the Visigoths or Vandals took over. These were less peaceful times, but only lasted until 711 AD with the invasion of the Arabs, or Moors. Their power was growing immensely, and in a short time they had conquered all of Spain, nearly half of France and more. They fell in love with what they called Al Andalus (the land of the Vandals - now Andalucia), and were to remain for nearly 800 years, influencing profoundly Spanish culture, language and cuisine.

The Moorish religion was Islam, and the holy Koran forbids the ingestion of alcohol, but ways were found to circumvent the rules due to certain ambiguities. There was the occasional backlash, but since the raisin formed a part of Moorish cuisine, it was usually rescinded. A certain air of decadence developed as well as tolerance, not totally unlike that of the Greeks and Romans. Treatises not dissimilar that of Columela were written on agriculture, and even poetry eulogising wine. The arrival of subsequent more hard line Moors bent on being truer to the Koran failed to fully stamp out these Hispanic customs. It was a long period of peace and learning.

Saturday 12 May 2012

News from Jerez 12.5.12

Four ex-executives of Nueva Rumasa have blown the whistle on the company, accusing it of massive levels of fraud and implicating its owners, the Ruiz Mateos family. Its debt to the tax man has grown to 290 million euros since 2006 and comprises unpaid corporation tax and VAT. The ex-executives are offering to appear as witnesses at the inevitable trial.

Nueva Rumasa, and particularly its owners are no strangers to scandal, especially of the false and imaginative accounting type. The company is in serious trouble, with some of its subsidiaries virtually bankrupt. It looks very much as if Nueva Rumasa will go the way its predecessor, Rumasa did in the 1980's. Watch out for some colourful events!

History of Sherry - the XX Century to the present day

The results of Phylloxera were far reaching. Many small growers were ruined, and the big bodegas bought them out, thus increasing their vineyard holdings. The Domecq proposals involved the elimination of cheap blends, and a return to the natural quality wines, little understood as they were in the export markets. Other wine producing areas in Spain (and even abroad - Bordeaux, Hamburg for example) could quite easily fake the blends , but far less easily the natural quality wines. It was decided to promote the "proper" Sherries and to protect their authenticity by bottling them at source, a measure which also protected them from adulteration further down the line.

In 1914 a proposal was sent to the Government to delimit the production zone, and it was met with approval - but also procrastination. Many exporters, however felt that delimiting the production zone would reduce their flexibility in blending and pricing. In the end, the Government of the Second Republic passed a "Wine Statute" in 1932 which became law in the following year. This law established and regulated the concept of Denomination of Origin, and a local regulating council (the Consejo Regulador) was set up in 1934, the first of its kind in Spain. Much argument ensued about the specifics of the delimitation, and keeping a fair balance of rights between the growers and the exporters, the latter often being quite intransigent. A new Reglamento (Ruling) was issued by the Government in 1936, and things settled down somewhat. Partly as a result of the next lot of troubles.

In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out, which was to last till 1939. It had comparatively little effect on Jerez, whose sales were gradually rising, but the outbreak of World War Two had much more effect, with German U-Boat attacks on shipping making export difficult. After the wars much of Spain lay devastated, but Jerez got off reasonably lightly and sales continued growing steadily. In 1960 exports reached 86,000 butts, and by 1965 that figure had climbed to 126,000. Another key event took place that year; the founding in Jerez of a company called Rumasa, (please see separate posts).

Through the 1970's sales stabilised despite the introduction of a new style of Sherry, namely Pale Cream, and soon they would start to fall as the world economic crisis took effect. To stay competitive and boost declining sales, exporters had allowed production and pricing to get out of hand, leaving little room for profit. Things got to quite a state and eventually a plan was arrived at. To balance supply with demand, surplus vineyards were put to other uses such as production of table wine, or grubbed up and replanted with cereals which attracted grants from the European Union which Spain had joined in 1985. Permitted yields were cut; sales were limited to demand - not production, obliging producers to cut production. Membership of the EU meant national wine laws were superceded by the EU wine regime, but its effects were largely beneficial.

Industrial relations took a turn for the worse in 1991 with a turbulent strike about pensions and retirement. The strike lasted 59 days leading to a 40% reduction of must supply and export disruption over the important Christmas period. There have been disputes over grape prices, with threats to leave the grapes unpicked. Nevertheless, things looked reasonably optimistic going into the 21st century. Exports were increasing beyond the traditional markets of Holland and Britain, and going to Japan, Germany the USA.

The introduction in 2000 of the Vejez Calificada (Guaranteed Age: 12 years old, 15 years old, VOS 20 years old and VORS 30 years old) wines has been most successful. Recent grubbing up of excess vineyard has finally brought supply and demand into equilibrium and Sherry is shaking off the (totally undeserved) fuddy duddy image of yore, and making headway with some superb natural quality wines - just as Pedro Domecq would have wanted. It just needs a bigger promotional and educational budget...

Friday 11 May 2012

History of Jerez - the XIX Century

The XIX Century began during the Napoleonic Wars. Spain's alliance with France against England collapsed after their defeat at Trafalgar. Napoleon decided to occupy Spain, and the government fled Madrid. On St. Joseph's day 1812, they introduced the famous liberal constitution in Cadiz, known ever since as "La Pepa", but it was not to last. With the restoration of Fernando VII La Pepa was derogated. The absolutist wishes of the king led to the eventual loss of the American colonies, and what with the devastation of war wreaked on Andalucia, marauding soldiers stealing wine, and French ships disrupting exports, Spain was in a bad way.

In Jerez some of the Sherry old guard had died, and some new names were appearing such as Gonzalez, Pemartin, Barbadillo, Burdon, Argueso. Business began to grow again, and with it the local economy; more coopers were needed, and metalworkers, builders, port facilities, transport. In Britain new importers were being established; for example Avery's, John Harvey. Some were also dealing in Port, but Sherry was the more important wine. At the start of the century, 8,000 butts had been exported, but by the mid 1870's over 68,000 butts were being exported. After a dreadful start to the century, things were going very successfully; every British home had a bottle of Sherry.

In 1855, however, things changed. Oidium, a parasitic fungus attacked the vines. Sulphur proved successful in defeating this enemy, but it was at least 5 years before the vines were back in full production, and prices had shot up. Then, another attack came. This time an insect called the Pulgon in 1867. These disasters happened at a time when sales had never been so good, and to supply the demand, wines were brought in from neighbouring areas Lebrija, Trebujena and Chiclana - and even Huelva. Less reputable merchants began exporting concocted wines, which combined with overproduction, led to a trend away from Sherry.

In the 1850's a railway was built to Puerto de Santa Maria, and at much the same time Oidium hit France, giving Sherry a lifeline. As the 1870's reached the height of Sherry production, two innovations arrived. Firstly bodega bottling of the wines under the Bodega (not the merchant) label, and secondly the production of Jerez brandy. In an attempt to improve Sherry's reputation, Pedro Domecq wrote to his fellow bodegueros suggesting they get to grips with the issue of quality, and eventually the Association of Sherry Exporters was established in 1910.

Jerez was beset by enough problems, but in 1894 came another disaster. Phylloxera is an aphid which destroys vines, and did exactly that, but as it had already attacked France and Malaga, the cure was known, and accordingly all vines were replaced by vines grafted onto resistant American rootstocks. The mayor of Jerez played a leading role in financing replantation, assisted by the wealthier Sherry merchants, but it was realised that things needed to be modernised. Luckily the soleras were amply stocked with wine to see Jerez through the period of replanting.

Monday 7 May 2012

Pedro Ximenez Noe VORS 15.5%, Bodegas Gonzalez Byass

Dense black going through burnt umber to slightly green tinged yellow rim. Very viscous.
Dense and extremely concentrated; initially pasas (PX raisins) then more complex notes of coffee, treacle, caramel, dried fig, certain age-related austerity, and yet very fruity.
Lightness of weight is complemented  by intensity of flavour; extremely sweet round the edges but with a dry almost burnt or toasted dried fruit core. The treacle and pasas remain in an extremely long finish helped by a decent 5.3 g/l acidity which gives pleasure for ages after the last drop.
An outstanding wine aged for over 30 years in solera qualifying it as a VORS (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum). Yes, it is sweet, very sweet (over 400g/l), but look past the sweetness for its amazing complexity. The bodega's chief oenologist Antonio Flores calls this wine "Las lagrimas de Dios" or the tears of God.

Sunday 6 May 2012

History of Sherry - The XVII and XVIII Centuries

The XVI century was a time of religious wars and economic upheaval. Spain Portugal and France were Catholic, and from the reign of Elizabeth I England, along with the Northern countries was Protestant. At this time vast riches were crossing the Atlantic to Spain and Portugal from their colonies which proved irresistible to cash - strapped England. English raids against their territories and shipping became a real threat to Spanish economic interests, and along with other European religious/economic strife, there was a real possibility of war.

In 1585 the Anglo Spanish War broke out and Philip II ordered the "Invincible Armada" to be built. English raids on Cadiz, notably that of Sir Francis Drake involved destruction of ships and plunder of provisions - much of which was Sherry (which converted the English palate to it). These raids delayed the Armada's unsuccessful attack on England till 1588, and eventually peace was declared in 1604. Despite events, trade had continued.

The XVII century was more peaceful, and some rationalisation took place in the vineyards after it had been realised that the chalky "Albariza" soils produced better musts, and that the "Flor" yeast was beneficial. The effects of oxidation had also been observed, and so various styles of Sherry were beginning to emerge. Early bodegas began to be established, starting with those of Cabeza de Aranzada and Zarco, who merged in 1653 and introduced what was probably the first Sherry "Brand" namely CZ in the early years of the XVIII century.

The last third of the XVII and first third of the XVIII centuries saw many important developments converting Sherry from traditional viticulture to a modern wine industry. During this time the system of criaderas and soleras was developed and established; the various types of wine; bodega architecture; improved methods of business; choice of the most suitable vines; addition of fortifying spirit; more systematic racking; ageing and blending. Increased demand from Britain and Holland had necessarily led to these recent changes which established the "Sherry Business" much as we know it today.

In the meantime, however, the British had been at work in Portugal. As an alternative to French wines, merchants had been exploring the wines of the Douro. With the signing of the Methuen Treaty in 1703, duties on Port wines were reduced in exchange for preferential treatment for English textiles. Britain has a long history of friendship with Portugal, and while this represented competition for Sherry, both were popular in Britain.

In Jerez, there were inevitable problems between growers and merchants, as there still are, but things generally progressed. Another novelty was the gradual establishment of foreign merchants in the area. Many of their names are familiar today Domecq, O'Neale, Garvey,  Duff Gordon, Osborne, Sandeman...With their contacts abroad the business grew exponentially, as did the vineyards.

Friday 4 May 2012

History of Sherry - The Middle Ages -XVII Century

For a long time, actually since the Moors had arrived, the Christians had been working -well fighting - to get them out again. The "Reconquista" or Reconquest was led by the Christian monarch Alfonso X. He and his armies had fought their way South till in 1264 they reached Jerez, which was renamed Jerez de la Frontera, as it lay on the frontier of Christendom and Islam. Many towns in western Andalucia have the tag "de la Frontera" for the same reason. In gratitude for their services to king and country, Alfonso granted lands, often areas of vineyard, to his faithful knights. (One was a Valdespino - more about that in the Bodegas section anon.) Another, one Fernan Ibanez Palomino was to give his name to the grape variety that made Sherry famous. Sherry was even sent to the knights to fortify themselves for battle. It worked.

At about this time, the XIII C, exports of Sherry took off. It had been exported by the Romans and no doubt the previous colonists back to their own countries before, but connections began to be made with the northern countries. Early quality control measures were also in place. In 1492 The Catholic Monarchs Fernando and Isabel finally defeated the Moors, restoring Christianity to Spain. Soon they sponsored Columbus' voyage to the Americas, and slowly vast wealth began to flow into Andalucia, particularly Sevilla, home of the Casa de Contratacion (the Colonial administration office), and exports to the new colonies began to develop. Magellan's round the world voyage was well supplied with Sherry wine.

In the mid XV C trading links were established with Britain, and British as well as other nationalities began to establish themselves in the area  between the XV and XVI centuries. Sherry was beginning to build an international reputation. In 1509 HenryVIII of England married Catalina (Catherine) of Aragon, and Sherry was the chosen wine. In 1560 Ireland imported 100 butts, but the biggest buyers were Britain and the Low Countries.

In 1517 the Casa de Contratacion  ordered vines to be taken to the colonies to see how they would grow. They weren't all successful, but wine was important for the sacrament, and eventually various missionaries established vines. But what with wine and goods shipments from Sevilla taking a certain priority, the Gaditanos (the people of Cadiz) found things very difficult until the Casa de Contrataciones was moved to Cadiz in 1717.