Wednesday 27 June 2012

News from Jerez 27.6.12

Some good news this time! The Consejo Regulador de Jerez may have found the ideal candidate for the post of President. It's not official, but almost certain that Beltran Domecq Williams Gonzalez will be the strongest - if not the only - candidate. With three such legendary bodega surnames he could only come from Jerez; he was brought up in bodegas, knows the business intimately and has the approval of Fedejerez (the sector organisation representing the bodegas). Further, he is an enologist and chemist, good at public relations and speaks languages. There is a great deal of consensus on his candidacy and he carries much respect.

Since the current acting president Francisco Lorenzo has withdrawn his application, the only possible competition would be if the growers organisation (Asevi-Asaja) decided against at a meeting today and put forward another candidate. They haven't ruled out that possibility and have someone in mind, someone who also knows the industry but who turned down the offer.

Major surprises excepted, there will be one candidate at the full meeting of the Consejo tomorrow, Beltran Domecq, who will be elected for just over two years to complete the current presidency. Fedejerez yesterday sang his praises but noted that even he can't produce miracles, alluding to the difficult times currently being suffered in Jerez. Let us hope that such an erudite and respected man who knows the Sherry trade inside out can make a difference.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Fino 15% vol, Vinicola Soto

Pale bright strawy gold, legs.
Full, lots of flor - yeasty, traces of sourdough, Marmite, appleskin and camomile.
Quite full, broad and deep, hints of yeast, fruit - apple or quince perhaps, very dry with low acidity yet has a light tang with a dry finish with a bitter salted almond touch, quite characterful.
A sound and characterful wine if not over subtle. Perhaps not as good as I remember it pre-Rumasa, but then it's not expensive.
Raeburn Fine Wines, Edinburgh

Bodegas: Vinicola Soto

In 1771 Don Francisco de Soto came from Santander and set himself up as a winegrower and almacenista in Calle de Calderas in Jerez. At about the same time he bought a vineyard called Santa Isabel (also known as Las Palmas) which is owned by the company to this day. Later, at the beginning of the XIX century, his son Don Jose de Soto bought a new bodega in Calle Benavente. After his death his son Don Francisco took over, and during this period the storage and ageing capacity was enlarged. He was by now doing good business with the most important exporters of the time. Towards 1888 the bodega started exporting in its own right.

After Phylloxera, Santa Isabel was replanted and important rootstocks were introduced. The Ministry of Agriculture awarded it the only Diploma of Honour ever awarded to a vineyard. In 1920 Don Jose de Soto y Abad, a great proponent of planting vineyards in Jerez, expanded the business enormously by moving it out of town to the Finca Cerro Viejo surrounded by vineyard. He was president of the Jerez Chamber of Commerce for over 20 years, an alumnus of the University of Fine Arts in Cadiz and an Honoured Son of Jerez in 1950. In 1945 the firm became a limited company which increased considerably its working capital. In 1989 the firm was bought by Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos and absorbed into his Nueva Rumasa empire which included Garvey, Valdivia and CAYDSA (Teresa Rivero), and the furure at the moment looks a little uncertain.


Fino Soto; Manzanilla La Lidia (which used to be a Gravey brand and now comes in a tall wine bottle)
Amontillado Seco Soto, Oloroso Espuela; PX Soto, Cream Soto and table wine Virgen Blanca

They also produce brandy, vinegar and the famous Ponche Soto.

Not sure but you could try making contact

Vinicola Soto
Finca Cerro Viejo
Canada de la Loba S/N
11404 Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz
Tel: (+34) 956 319 650

News from Jerez 25.6.12

A very small harvest is expected this year, possibly the smallest ever. This has led the independent grape growers to ask 33 centimos per kilo, 10% more than last year, and double that of two years ago. The shortage is due to two factors: the reduction of vineyards in production to equalise supply and demand, and the drought suffered this year with 40% less rain than usual. Some bodegas are worried about getting enough raw material to replace stocks.

The growers, who control little more than 20% of the vineyards (some 1,500 hectares of the now reduced total of around 6,400 registered with the Consejo Regulador) now find themselves in a powerful position against the bodegas who may have to compete on price to secure grapes.

After a decade of poor prices which hit a low of 15 centimos per kilo in 2010 - the lowest in Europe - some growers found it cheaper not to bother picking the grapes at all. This year they will have a respite and might even make some money.

The highest grape price was in 2002, the result of a strategic plan put forward by the Junta de Andalucia when a price of 30 centimos was agreed. This backfired though, when the National Competence Commission ruled that this represented a cartel, and the Sherry organisations were fined 500,000 euros. Fedejerez, the bodegas' organisation then let individual bodegas negotiate their own prices.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Fake Sherry

When a wine has been so famous for so long as Sherry has, imitations inevitably appear, and while that might be construed as flattery, some of the imitations were much less than flattering. The New World in particular produced all sorts of "copies" of famous wines such as Californian "Chablis", Australian "Port" often with little resemblance to the original but certainly drinkable wines. After all, the famous names were used more as a description of the style rather than direct impersonation. Sherry probably suffered the most humiliation at the hands of the fakers however.

While Sherry has been faked for centuries, it was really between the 1960's and the end of the 1980's that faking was at its height. At that time Sherry had a huge, mainly sweet market in Britain, led by the redoubtable Harveys' Bristol Cream, but it had an alcoholic strength of over 15% vol. as it was fortified more heavily than now (usually @17.5 - 18% vol). Until the 1970's it was still shipped in butt, and the extra alcohol protected the wine on its journey but this meant it was subject to a higher rate of excise duty, and that is where the impersonators came in.

From Spain itself similar wines were imported from Montilla-Moriles, a quality wine area in Cordoba but with cheaper wines, and passed off as Sherry. They still are in a way as people only see the words Cream or Fino and assume it is Sherry, even though it does say on the label that it is from Montilla-Moriles. The word Montilla resembles Amontillado. At least Montilla (as it is known) is good natural wine - often excellent, and not a fake as such. During the sales boom of the 1970's even Sherry itself suffered a reduction in quality due to overproduction. This only affected commercial blends though, not "proper" Sherries.

There were various lower quality perpetrators of fakes: Britain, Cyprus, South Africa and Australia mainly. Australia South Africa and Cyprus managed to get hold of flor yeast, and the locally made "Sherries" were at least passable if not occasionally quite decent - but not very similar to the real thing. They had the advantage that they were made just under 15% vol and (except Cyprus) had a preferential Commonwealth duty rate. Cyprus had the biggest market of the three in Britain being a lot closer. It consisted of either concentrated must or ready made wines which reached about 15 million litres at its peak, second only to Harveys' Bristol Cream.

 Winemaking in Cyprus was poor, however, and dominated by big commercial enterprises. Even in flor wines, ageing was for only 2 years, and the sweet wines were aged outside in the sun to oxidise quicker and often had concentrated must added. Remember Emva Cream? But the worst abominations were "British". These "wines" were either made from poor quality concentrated grape must or raisins imported from Cyprus (or wherever), then reconstituted here, fortified and adjusted, or imported already made. They were neither British nor Sherry - nor even good. But worse, they are still with us. They haunt the bottom shelves in supermarkets, names like QC Cream among others, often supermarket own brands.

After years of protest by the Consejo Regulador in Jerez, the European Union finally ruled on Sherry in 1996 stating that only wine with the Denominacion de Origen Jerez could use the word "Sherry". Hooray! you must be thinking, but it wasn't a total victory. The ruling gave producers of imitations time to change their labelling and sell through old stock, and in that time they promoted their brands and implanted the brand name rather than that of Sherry in consumers' minds, so when the new labels arrived on the shelves they resembled the old ones, and still, annoyingly, were allowed to use Sherry terms such as Fino and Cream. So all that really happened was the loss of the word Sherry from the labels which few even noticed. Still, over time sales of these products have waned, and tastes have changed a bit as well, thank goodness.

Surely the Consejo could finish off these ghastly products, by hassling the EU to forbid the use of Sherry terms on "wines" which are not Sherry, and at the same time spend some money on a really good campaign to promote Proper Sherry, specifically aimed at younger people. They have more open minds, are willing to experiment, and are the potential next generation of Sherry drinkers. Anyway, for the avoidance of doubt, proper Sherry is the only wine permitted to have the above logo on the back label.

The notion of "Terroir" and "Noble Wines"

This is very interesting from a viticultural point of view and concerns wines and vineyards from all over the world. Recently the Academie Internationale du Vin (AIV), an august and learned body which counts as members leading winemakers, wine journalists and critics, wine scientists and Masters of Wine, held a symposium in front of invited members of the press on this very subject.

In case you didn't already know, Terroir is a French word (Terruno in Spanish) which enshrines the principle of place in a wine or the environment in which it was made and which gives it its unique character. Different place different wine. Soils can vary in even a small area, so plants will too, so will the wildlife and wild yeasts. Microclimates vary too as does the topography. It is amazing how different two wines made in neighbouring vineyards can be, even when made with the same grapes and methods. The reason is terroir.

So what is a Noble Wine? Well, according to the AIV it is "A natural wine, traditional in concept, from high-quality vineyards which give it an extra dimension of elegance, complexity and personality and perhaps more importantly, capacity to improve over time". France has its Grand Cru and Premier Cru system, Germany its Einzellagen, but does Spain have such terroirs, they asked. Victor de la Serna, a famous Spanish wine journalist, critic, vineyard owner and member of the AIV gave his view. (I have edited out quite a lot which was about other Spanish wine regions, but this is what he said about Sherry - abridged a bit):

Spain has always sold wines either by a brand name or the name of the production region along with the production method (eg Rioja Reserva or Manzanilla La Gitana). Individual terrunos have long been identified, but their produce has traditionally gone into the melting pot with bought-in grapes and so their individual characteristics have been lost. Plenty of good wine, but less personality.

There have always been great terroirs in Spain, which happens to have the greatest amount of calcareous soils, in the world, ideal for wine. There is also a great range of altitudes which often compensate for the southerly latitudes, and, despite much grubbing-up of vines in the 1970s, still some old vines. Another proof of these soils' quality must be the fantastic longevity of Rioja wines. All that needs to be done is to better get to know these terroirs and make more terroir-specific wines instead of blending away their character. The human component is as important as soil and climate in making a Grand Cru.

In the case of Jerez, the great vineyard terroirs have been identified for thousands of years: there is good reason to believe that the great Macharnudo vineyard was already planted 3,000 years ago. A bit before the French Grands Crus!! Roman writer Columela knew all about the quality of the local albariza soil. Different areas of albariza in the Jerez area benefit from the sun's heat, cooling sea breezes, more freshness from altitude, or humid salty breezes depending on proximity to the sea, altitude or exposure. For example the humid salty breezes help the flor, the wines ageing in solera and the finished Manzanilla to develop its unique character in Sanlucar.

Over the last 40 years or so, terroir has largely been forgotten for two reasons: Firstly the long crisis in Sherry sales has seen bodegas close and brought the uprooting of vines to equalise supply and demand, and secondly mechanisation and modernisation, while reducing the price of Sherry, has introduced fermentation in stainless steel and selected yeast. If the region is to be reborn, albeit smaller but with its traditional qualities recuperated, it will be because more bodegas revert to the old ways, only defended still by Valdespino: single vineyard wines, fermentation in butts and natural wild yeast.

How right he is. Sherry, of course has always been a Noble Wine!
Let's drink a toast to Sherry with a glass of Valdespino!!

News from Jerez 23.6.12

Department of Employment approval appears to be imminent for the agreement between the workforce and the administrators of Bodegas Valdivia to terminate 10 out of 12 employment contracts. According to sources  who know, this is a likely prelude to liquidation, a fate also faced by Garvey's 2 main bodegas: Complejo Bodeguero Bellavista and Zoilo Ruiz Mateos, bought from Nueva Rumasa by Back in Business. The workforce have reluctantly agreed mainly because they have faith that Valdivia will be bought by another firm. Three are said to be interested, including an american multinational who would retain the workers.

Moving on. According to the latest report from Rutas del Vino de Espana (Spanish touristic wine routes) which covers 2011, the Jerez area is the most visited with a total of 480,767 visitors. The Rutas del Vino comprise 21 routes and 546 bodegas, and are to be thoroughly recommended.

Viticulture in Jerez 2. The work in the vineyard

According to the old saying "Las Ninas y las vinas dificiles son de guardar" or girls and vineyards are difficult to look after. Let's just stick to the vineyards! In order to get the best grapes and therefore the best wine, the vineyards must be tended with unceasing care. Over many centuries the vines have been selected as the most suitable for the prevailing soils and climate and have adapted to it. People have learned how to get the best from the vines and developed the wines accordingly and in concert with nature.

Traditional "bienteveo" to keep a watch on the vines

There are three varieties of vine used in Jerez:

Palomino Fino
The most widely planted, as it is responsible for all styles of dry Sherry, Pale Cream and a few light table wines. Yields of about 80 hectolitres per hectare (Hl/Ha) are normal. The grapes are quite low in sugars and acidity, which is a problem for the table wines but fine for Sherry. Its must has a tendency to oxidise, but that isn't a problem either. It also makes a delicious table grape.

Pedro Ximenez (PX)
This variety is responsible for the great sweet Sherries and for sweetening blends. It is the second most widely planted and only a short distance behind Palomino. The skins are thinner making it more disease prone, but it produces higher levels of sugar and acid and yields well. Nearly all PX grapes are dried in the sun (asoleo) into dark raisins which produce tiny amounts of intensely sweet must. The wine sold as PX, especially when old, is a fantastic experience.

The least extensively grown variety, and also used for sweet wines. Moscatel grows on the lesser soils, clay and particularly sand, much of it around Chipiona on the coast. The grapes also undergo asoleo and make lovely sweet wines which are sold as such or also used in blending. As a dry wine, it is often blended with Palomino to produce more interesting table wines.

In 1894 the dreaded Phylloxera louse reached Jerez, and as it had already done in most of viticultural Europe, destroyed the vines by attacking their roots. As the louse came from America, and american rootstocks were resistant to it, Jerez was replanted on american roots with the Vitis Vinifera (the European vine genus responsible for wine grapes) scions grafted on top. To this day all vines are grafted.

The vines here have a useful commercial life of about 30 years. Throughout the life of a vine the quality gets better, but as it ages, the yields can drop to unsustainable levels and it will be replaced. Vine planting is normally done by the system known as "Marco Real", where plants are spaced along the rows at 1.5 metre  intervals, and the rows are 1.5 metres apart. This most traditional system allows good passage of air, workers and machines and is used generally. The other system, known  as "Tresbolillo" allows a few more plants per hectare, but is otherwise less practical. Most vines are trained along a wire cordon.

Once the vines are established, they must be pruned. Pruning in its various forms is important; to set the shape of the vine for production; to keep the vine healthy; to maximise quality, and sometimes to allow best access for harvesting machines. Normally pruning is carried out in late autumn after the harvest, and the system most widely used is called "vara y pulgar" which resembles your forearm (as the vinestock) with extended thumb and forefinger. The forefinger is allowed about 8 buds which will produce fruiting canes in one year, and the thumb 1 or 2,which will produce a vara for the next year, the previous vara being pruned back to 1 or 2 buds. So the pruning alternates annually. In spring, a "green" harvest takes place with the removal of excess buds to avoid overproduction. If you overproduce, you end up with lots of thin wine, so the idea is to produce less but better wine. Pruning is also applied to remove excess foliage which might hinder the access of sunlight and fresh breezes, or retain humidity with the attendant risk of moulds or rot.

Traditionally the harvest ("Vendimia") starts on the 8th September, the birthday of Our Lady, and this is the start of the Fiesta de la Vendimia (the harvest festival). The weather being what it is, however, the date is decided by the ripeness of the grapes. Palomino is picked at about 11 degrees Beaume (a scale of sugar content) and PX at about 12.8. Global warming has now advanced the date to late August. In the run up to the harvest, the bodegas are all busy checking the grapes' sugar levels, cleaning their equipment and organising pickers - where there are no mechanical harvesters.

If picked by hand, the bunches of Palomino grapes are put into plastic crates to avoid them being squashed and quickly sent to the "lagar" (press house). The PX grapes follow a different path. Out in the fields huge lines of esparto grass mats are laid out where solar exposure is best. Every few metres curved rods are fixed over them. Millions of bunches of PX grapes are then laid out on the mats to dry out in the sun. At night, to avoid humidity from the dew, sheets of plastic are draped over the rods, and next morning the sheets are removed and the grape bunches turned over. This process called "asoleo" or sunning, which lasts up to two weeks, results in bunches of raisins which will make the sweet wines. During the asoleo the grapes lose 70% of their weight due to water evporation, so the sugar content is less diluted and doubles from about 13 to about 25 degrees Beaume. Obviously the amount of juice available on pressing is minute, which explains the extent of vineyard needed for PX cultivation.

This process is used widely in Andalucia, and in Chipiona, one of the Sherry towns specialising in Moscatel, they call the process "Pasil". The only difference being that the rough sandy soils absorb more heat which is radiated back at night through the loose-knit sheets of plastic on which the bunches are laid.

Friday 22 June 2012

News from Jerez 22.6.12

More trouble for the Ruiz Mateos family. Their ex lawyer and also the Guardia Civil have linked them with illegal payments to ex trade union leader Juan Lanzas for securing EREs for 5 Nueva Rumasa companies, 3 in Jerez. EREs (Expedientes de Regulacion de Empleo) are legal proceedings by which a company in difficulty can legally dismiss staff, who will get certain worker rights. It appears that Lanzas was receiving regular "dirty money" cash payments of 20-25,000 euros, all in 500 euro notes, in exchange for abusing his position along with a high ranking civil servant in the Junta de Andalucia. The latter is believed to be married to one of Ruiz Mateos' daughters.

Interestingly, the ex president of the Consejo Regulador of Jerez, Antonio Fernandez had to resign for irregularities with EREs.

Better news:
A festival of flamenco called La Luna de San Juan-Lustau will take place in 4 of Jerez' most traditional squares on the night of San Juan. It is co-sponsored by Bodegas Emilio Lustau. The strains of the cante jondo (the deep song) will ring out from 10.00pm. Go if you can!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Viticulture in Jerez: 1. Landscape, soils and climate

The Sherry production zone is in the north west of the province of Cadiz and north of the city, broadly between the rivers Guadalquivir and Guadalete, and consists of a triangle of towns. Jerez de la Frontera is about 20 km inland from the Atlantic, and the other two are coastal; Sanlucar de Barrameda in the north at the mouth of the Guadalquivir and opposite the famous marshy nature reserve called Coto Donana, and Puerto de Santa Maria in the South at the mouth of the Guadalete.

The landscape is low-lying, rolling country, much of it protected, dotted with small lakes and cork trees - not to mention lots of wind farms which are rarely overworked. Currently the Sherry vineyards cover 8,800 hectares and are located at modest altitudes from about 0 - 150 metres above sea level, generally facing south east. The land here was once under the sea and is made up of marine sediments, principally limestone and clay with lots of chalk, and sandy areas near the coast.

The chalky areas, known as "Albariza", which make up some 62% of the vineyard, are ideal for the Palomino, the main grape by far for Sherry production. The albariza has great properties as a soil, as it acts like a sponge absorbing the winter rains, and dries on the surface in summer, retaining that water. It can be incredibly muddy and slippery when wet and blindingly bright white when dry. Also it can be quite pure with up to 40% calcium carbonate, the rest being clay and silica from long extinct shellfish. Soils such as these are easy to work for humans, and easy for the vines to extend their root systems. Most of the famous "Pagos" or top vineyards, of which there about 300, are to be found on albariza.

The heavier clay soils, called "Barros", and the sandy coastal soils, called "Arenas" accommodate the less fussy grape, the Moscatel. It is happy on any old soil. The other important grape, the Pedro Ximenez - or PX - is generally found on albariza. Below left is a shot of albariza banked up to catch the maximum winter rain. This is called "aserpiado". In the spring, the soil will be levelled off again. Below right is a shot of the 3 soil types, showing just how white is the albariza.


The climate in these parts is another major factor in Sherry production. Jerez is close to parallel 36 north, and is actually not far from Africa, so the summers are hot, up to over 40C and dry with mild winters supplying about 600 litres per square metre of rainfall. This, along with dewfall from the sea is sufficient. The average annual temperature is 17.3 C and annual hours of sunshine amount to over 3,000. The nearby Atlantic moderates the weather, which is subject two two prevailing winds, the Poniente, a cool damp wind from the west, and the Levante, a hot dry wind from the east. Frost is a rarity, thank goodness. The weather varies a little from area to area. It can be a touch hotter in Jerez being further inland with a little less sea breeze.                                                                                      

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Sherry butts and Whisky

A joint investigation by Paula MacLean and Chris Hoban of The Edinburgh Whisky Blog

The barrel (or cask, or butt or whatever it is called by whom) is absolutely fundamental to both the wine trade and the whisky trade, and has been for centuries. Where would Sherry be without its solera systems - or whisky without the used casks? Many great malt whiskies are matured in used Sherry butts: the Macallan, Glenfarclas and Aberlour for example, but there appears to be some confusion as to the precise species of oak and the precise liquid which was once contained therein.

Over the centuries casks have been made from many different woods, but oak has been proved to be the best for wines and spirits because of its strength, durability and breathing and flavouring characteristics. Indeed Scotch Whisky must be matured in oak. One problem, however, is that a barrel made from new oak imparts a lot of flavour and various polyphenolic elements (tannins for example) to its contents. This is fine for winemakers who want that toasty, buttery vanilla tang in their wines which are only in a new barrel for a couple of years or so, but it can ruin wines staying longer as well as spirits which may spend more than a decade in the barrel. The Scotch Whisky trade therefore very rarely use new oak and prefer to use seasoned barrels. The same applies to the Sherry trade.

A Sherry butt and a Bourbon barrel
The vast majority of casks used in Scotland are 2nd hand Bourbon casks, as in the US Bourbon must age in new casks which become redundant after one filling, but the rest consist mainly of used Sherry or other fortified wine casks. As far as Sherry casks - or more correctly "butt"s from Jerez - are concerned, these are almost all made from American White oak (Quercus Alba), and are rarely if ever sold, as the last thing Sherry producers want is their elegant wines tasting oaky from new butts. Furthermore, and especially with Finos, the gradual build up of dead yeast cells at the bottom of the butt adds subtle flavours to the wine which would be lost if the butt was sold and/or replaced. Sherry producers use their butts for as long as is practical, in reality till they disintegrate or start to show signs of rot.

When a bodega needs a new butt it will be "envinado" or filled with fermenting must or inexpensive and plentiful Sherry till that wine has absorbed the worst of the harshness of the new oak, before the butt can be used. It is exactly this process which is generally used now for Scotch Whisky Sherry casks. Until the 1970's Sherry was exported in 500 litre "export" butts and bottled at its destination, so there was an abundance of  butts, but now that Sherry is bottled in Spain, they have to be sourced in different ways. Usually the whisky company buys Spanish oak which is cheaper than importing American, has it coopered in Jerez, filled with Sherry (usually Oloroso) for a couple of years to impart Sherry flavour and colour and extract the worst of the tannins. The wine so used will only be suitable for cheap blends or distillation, but the cask will be ready for whisky and may be used 2 or 3 times.

Normal 600 litre Sherry bodega butts are coopered in Jerez from American Quercus Alba (White Oak). Various alternatives have been tried, but this has proved best due to the wood's strength, water and rot proof characteristics. Spanish oak is mainly Quercus Robur which grows in the Atlantic North of Spain and the North West and is good for wine ageing, but as few forests are managed the trees tend to sprawl rather than grow tall and straight, making coopering difficult and yields low. And there are not so many forests, so there would never be enough Spanish oak to supply the wine trade should they want to use it. Worse still, forests without either protection or economic purpose could gradually disappear, so we should be grateful to the whisky trade who now manage some forest sustainably.

The Sherry butts used to age whisky, then, are no longer quite the same as they were, but fulfil the same purpose, ie to age the whisky and imbue it with some Sherry flavour. The two can go fantastically well together, but too strong a Sherry influence can spoil a whisky despite the large capacity of a butt. (The bigger the barrel, the lesser the flavour influence and the longer time needed to age). Although bodega butts are of 600 litre capacity, the Scotch Whisky trade uses butts of 500 litres, and the Sherry used to season the butts could be any type, but it is usually dry oloroso or sometimes sweet Pedro Ximenez.

Chris and I, who have been debating these matters for ages, were fortunate enough to attend a recent event in Edinburgh where we met a number of leading whisky blenders and were able to discuss these matters with them. They confirmed the above. Many also use the Sherry butts for "finishing" the whisky, that is ageing it for say 10 years in bourbon casks and then transferring the whisky to a Sherry butt for the last year or two of its ageing. This way the Sherry gives an extra dimension of flavour but can't dominate the whisky, and the butt can be reused. So hurray for whisky and hurray for Sherry!

Monday 18 June 2012

Bodegas: Herederos de Argüeso

Leon de Argüeso y Argüeso (1801 - 1880) arrived in Sanlucar from Arija (Burgos) in about 1820 and like so many northerners established himself in a grocer's shop called the Almacen del Reloj in Calle Bolsa. Here he sold goods imported from the Americas and  went on to prosper. He then bought an old bodega, San Jose in the Callejon de Santo Domingo, and soleras, all of which were over 50 years old at the time.  He never married as he was so busy working. It is said he even slept on his butts of Manzanilla! He owned the 70 hectare Viña Poeda vineyard in the pago Torrebreba. He made so much money he paid for a school in his native Arija.

On his death in 1880 without issue his nephews Juan, Manuel and Lucio inherited his bodega and a sizeable fortune. The company name was changed to Herederos de Leon de Argüeso, but soon Manuel split from the company to start his own business, which he called Manuel de Argüeso SA, while the others called their part Herederos de Argüeso SA. Juan kept the latter going profitably and introduced the now famous trademark known as "los dos herederos" with his and his wife's initials J&F (Francisca). Juan died prematurely in 1905 and the firm's name changed to Herederos de Juan de Argüeso, changing again in the 1930s to Herederos de Argüeso SA, and remaining unchanged since.

In the early days of the XX century the business began to expand and more bodegas were bought or erected around the original nucleus of bodega San Jose. As the business grew, more buildings appeared and the bodega complex covered 26,000 square metres, employing 25 people and owning over 50 hectares of vineyard. This complex is sited partly on what was once the cloister and sacristy of the convent and orchards of San Domingo from the XVI century, some reminders of which can still be seen in the form of old tiles, doors and the magnificent ceilings of the refectory.


Meanwhile Manuel de Argüeso was doing well, principally as an almacenista, and his son, Manuel de Argüeso y Rios further developed the company with the purchase of Gutiérrez Hermanos in Jerez in 1942. They had already bought Carrasco hermanos in 1916. Among Manuel's brands were Manzanilla Santa Ana, Manzanilla Olorosa Señorita, Amontillado Medallas, PX El Candado, Brandy Genesis, Anis del Leon, ponche and vermouth. They had been supplying Manzanilla to Valdespino, who eventually bought the firm in 1972. They retained the brands Señorita and El Candado.

Exterior in Calle Mar before blue and white Yuste paint job. Red flag means mosto is available

Herederos de Argüeso SA carried on, but times changed, and the bodega complex now only covers 14,000 metres and contains only 6,000 butts. The vineyard has been sold off. Around the year 2000, the family sold out to a group of enthusiastic investors who kept the company going, though there was a slightly run-down air about the place, but the wines were still good. In 2016 the bodega was sold to Francisco Yuste who has the resources for the much needed investment. He is now the largest producer in Sanlúcar after Barbadillo.

The range of wines produced is as follows:

Argüeso (4 years); Medallas de Argüeso (5 years) San Leon (over 5 years); San Leon Reserva de Familia (7 years). There is also a good Manzanilla sold in bulk, La E
Amontillado Argüeso (10 years); Amontillado Viejo (over 30 years)
Oloroso Argüeso (5 years); Argueso Cream ( @5years)
Moscatel Fruta (5 years)
PX Argueso (5 years)
Table wine "Vina del Carmen", "Castillo de Argüeso" also vinegar and brandy

Yes by appointment
Calle Mar, 8, 11540 Sanlucar de Barrameda, Cadiz
Tel: (+34) 956 385 116
Web: www.

Manzanilla San Leon 15%, Bodegas Herederos de Argueso

Bright, clean, pale strawy gold, legs.
Quite full, lots of flor salinity and seaside aromas, trace yeast autolysis, has an impact yet quite delicate, trace bread and overall yeasty, zesty and quite complex. This is what flor smells like.
Similar, salty yeasty and dry with a gentle Palomino fruit, quite low acidity yet tangy, fresh, yeasty and zippy but with a more serious side. Doesn't half stimulate the appetite, and has very good length.
Classic no holds barred Manzanilla. Aged for over 5 years near the sea with healthy flor. Real character. It comes from a small, very old solera established at the same time as the firm itself in 1822. The solera butts number 71. Winner of the Iberwine 2009 "Best Spanish Wine" and many other accolades.
£12.25  Available at Drinkmonger Edinburgh, UK importers Eaux de Vie.

Sunday 17 June 2012

News from Jerez 17.6.12

Jerez's annual Fiesta de la Vendimia (Harvest Festival) will take place from the 11 -16 September. The festivities start with the Fiesta de la Buleria (a Flamenco Festival) on the 8th, and on the 11th the symbolic treading of the grapes at the Cathedral. Many other events follow such as tastings and a gastronomic fair from the 12th - 16th - which was so successful last year it is now extended to 5 days. There is also a programme of sport, equestrianism, exhibitions, special bodega visits, and more still to be arranged. The Mayoress, Maria Jose Garcia Pelayo noted that last year's event was as good as usual despite a saving in costs of 60% due to the crisis, and hopes that this year more private business would be involved in this magnificent opportunity to promote Jerez and all it stands for. This is well worth attending.

 Meanwhile in Madrid, the Tio pepe sign has now been offered accommodation on various buildings in the Puerta del Sol, and negotiations are ongoing. They have full local and regional government support, and in only a week the online supporters have received 26,000 signatures. The Puerta del Sol was yesterday the scene of a demonstration by the "national association of supporters of Tio Pepe forever in Puerta del Sol" which was slightly marred by scuffles with francoist opponents.

Friday 15 June 2012

Bodegas: Emilio Lustau

One of Jerez's most prestigious bodegas, Lustau dates back to 1896 when it was founded by Don Jose Ruiz-Berdejo, a legal secretary who cultivated a modest vineyard in the outskirts of Jerez caled Finca Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza. Here he made and stored his own wines in a small bodega, and as such was an Almacenista. He would later sell the wines to the big exporting bodegas.

In the 1930s he died, and his son in law took over in 1940. His name was Don Emilio Lustau Ortega from Granada. He managed to combine a rather impressive military career with that of a bodeguero, deciding to move the bodega to the old Santiago area in the heart of Jerez. There, in historic buildings which formed part of the old Arab city walls, he set about slowly but surely building up the business - still as an almacenista. He also invested in more vineyards, in 1948 he purchased Pago La Guita in Balbaina and Pago Pino Fiel in Raboatun, followed in 1962 by Pago la Cruz de Usillo in Balbaina. Emilio began to export wines in the 1950s. In 1962 the company became an SA (limited Company) and his sons took over.

The company continued to expand during the 1970s, constructing new bodegas at the old family finca, then at the start of the 1980s, under the management of Rafael Balao Chilla (1933-93) it became one of the most innovative firms in Jerez. He felt Lustau should be at the forefront of quality, and what with its almacenista roots, he introduced the Solera Reserva range which comes from old almacenista stocks then added the Almacenista range, a series of beautiful wines from small almacenistas bottled by Lustau. Balao also revived the old tradition of Old East India Sherry, and released Vendimia Cream (now Lustau Anada) in 1992.

Luis Caballero, a Sherry, brandy and liqueur producer in Puerto de Santa Maria purchased Lustau in 1990. His Ponche Caballero is Spain's biggest selling liqueur. This added 170 hectares of vineyard at Montegilillo to the portfolio. In 2001 Lustau purchased 6 bodegas in the Calle Arcos from Allied Domecq totalling 20,000 square metres which were then restored, and in 2008 they purchased the great Domecq brands La Ina, Botaina, Rio Viejo Macarena and Vina 25 along with the appropriate soleras - 4,000 butts in all. Lustau now market over 40 wines, not to mention brandy and vinegar. They are now the Sherry division of Caballero which concentrates on spirits.

Their impressive list of products is as follows:

Solera Reserva Range:
Puerto Fino; Fino Jarana; Manzanilla Papirusa; Amontillados Los Arcos and Escuadrilla; Palo Cortado Peninsula; Oloroso Don Nuno; Creams Capataz Andres, Candela and Rare Cream Superior; Moscatel Emilin; PX San Emilio

The Domecq Range
Fino la Ina; Rio Viejo Oloroso; PX Vina 25; Botaina Amontillado; Manzanilla Macarena

Solera Gran Reserva
Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia

VORS Amontillado; Palo Cortado; Oloroso; PX
East India Solera
Seleccion Centenaria PX Murillo
Anada 1990 Oloroso Dulce

Almacenista Range
10 different rare wines from small almacenista soleras.

Visits? Yes, by previous appointment
Address: Calle Arcos, 53, 11402 Jerez de la Frontera (Cadiz)
Tel: (+34) 956 341 597

News from Jerez 15.6.12

To commemorate  the bicentenary of the 1812 Constitution of Cadiz , "la Pepa", the Consejo Regulador, the provincial government and the consortium for the commemoration of La Pepa have released a limited edition of Sherries labelled with a reproduction of a picture of the Cadiz countryside from the original printing of the Constitution.
There are five wines: Fino, Oloroso, Manzanilla, Cream and PX, and only 1000 bottles of each. They were specially selected by five of the region's most representative bodegas: Luis Caballero, Delgado and Zuleta, Barbadillo, Williams and Humbert and Lustau. Unfortunately, the wines will only be available to public institutions or local ones linked to La Pepa celebrations, or bodegas.

Two further embargoes have been placed on the assets of Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos and his family, this time 99 million Euros for Bodegas Garvey and 6 million Euros for Union de Grandes Bodegas, a distribution firm.

Thursday 14 June 2012

News from Jerez 14.6.12

Gonzalez Byass has launched a new i-Phone and Android application which lets you match the Sherries they produce with 12 different international cuisines. It is called Tio Pepe & Food , and is available in either Spanish or English. You have the opportunity to try 1800 combinations - you choose a dish and the app shows you the ideal wine to complement it - AND a more daring alternative. Each page gives you tasting notes, the degree of the wine's sweetness and tasting advice, along with 12 international recipes. The app is very easy to use and showcases just how versatile Sherry is with food.

Puerto Fino 15%, Emilio Lustau

Bright pale strawy gold, legs.
Light and fresh, touches seaside, almond, quince, flor and slight traces of dried apricot and bread with just the slightest hint of Marmite, soft.
Middle weight soft and very smooth. Less "punzante" (sharp pungent attack) than some, dry, low acid and easy but quite classy with all the flavours offered by the nose plus some Palomino fruit. Good length with some charm and presence.
This fino has an average age of about 5 years, matured in Lustau's bodega in el Puerto de Santa Maria. It won a gold medal in the 2005 International Wine Challenge, and was Champion Fortified Wine in the IWC of 2007.

About £13.50
Available at Drinkmonger Edinburgh and Pitlochry

Sibarita Oloroso VORS 20%, Pedro Domecq

Deep burnt umber through mahogany and amber to a yellowy green rim, legs.
Rich, full, forthcoming and fragrant; hardly any woodiness but traces of sweetness - raisins, a savoury Marmite note, walnuts, leather armchairs, toasted bread. Immaculately clean for a wine which has been oxidising for over 30 years, and very complex, not at all austere.
Full bodied, powerful, dry, yet a trace of sweetness mollifies the astringency these old wines can have, a hint of toffee, even coffee, a slight fried mushroom and truffle oil note, gamey touches too, phenolic aromas as well as a touch of wood tannin, almost interminable finish. Wonderfully old and complex.
From a solera laid down by Haurie e Sobrinos in 1792 and acquired by Pedro Domecq in 1822, this is a classic and rare old Sherry. VORS wines all have to prove a minimum of 30 years in solera, but few if any are from soleras of such an age. This is an original Domecq bottling in the square footed bottle, and is probably no longer available, but Osborne now bottle the wines with similar presentation except the foot of the bottle is round. There is almost certainly a touch of PX blended into this wine to round it off and balance out the astringency such old wines can have.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

News from Jerez 13.6.12

A Cadiz court has embargoed assets of the Ruiz Mateos family, Jose Maria, his six sons and one daughter, to cover a 94m Euro deficit at bodegas Zoilo Ruiz Mateos. This is on top of existing embargoes on two of the group's food companies (Dhul and Clesa) totalling 1.3bn Euros. The embargoes cover all family assets, direct or indirect, and investigation will take place if these prove insufficient. The judge reckons there are strong possibilities that the hitherto apparent solvency of the group may have attracted funding from private investors and this might have been channelled out of the group. The administrators have been criticised. The bodega was sold to Back in Business for 1 Euro in April 2011.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Bodegas: Pedro Domecq

Probably the oldest and certainly among the most important bodegas in Jerez, the story of this firm goes back to the XVIII century and the arrival in Jerez of an Irishman called Patrick Murphy in 1725. He came to work with timber but saw that the local wine could be a far better enterprise and established a bodega in 1730 - the date given by Domecq (not wholly inaccurately) of its foundation. Murphy made friends with a French expatriate called Juan Haurie who inherited the business after the former's death in 1762. Haurie worked hard on the ageing, storage and export of wines, and in 1791 his 5 nephews joined him in the business which they called Juan Haurie y Sobrinos. On Juan's death in 1794 the nephews inherited the bodega, but by 1814 only one, Juan Carlos Haurie survived, and he was beset by problems caused by the war with France and rented the bodega to Pedro Domecq, another expatriate Frenchman, to avoid bankruptcy.

Pedro Domecq Lembeye (1787-1839)

The Domecqs, a very old family, were country aristocrats in the southern Bearn region of France who were related to the Hauries (and the Loustaus). Their motto was "Domecq oblige". Because of their position in society they felt threatened by the  persecution of the French Revolution, and Pedro Domecq Lambeye went to London where he worked with the British agents for Haurie for a while before arriving in Jerez in 1816. The British agents were Gordon Murphy & Co.established by Duff Gordon, but the name was changed to Ruskin Telford & Domecq in 1809, and wound up in 1869, on the death of Ruskin. A grandson of Juan Haurie, Domecq was a very able man, and went on to acquire the bodega in 1818, renaming it Pedro Domecq in 1822. He brought a new type of still from France which he used to produce what he claimed was the first Jerez (and indeed Spanish) brandy and later launched the brand Fundador with great success in 1874.

The Domecq bodegas at the Puerta de Rota Jerez in an 1849 engraving
The most important soleras were laid down by Haurie: Capuchino (1790) and Sibarita (1792) and by Pedro Domecq: Amontillado 51-1a (1830), followed by Venerable PX (1902) and La Ina (1919). With the exception of La Ina, these soleras now produce the VORS wines sold at a minimum age of 30 years - though much older. The firm went on to produce many famous brands, listed below and was the first to produce Jerez brandy on a large scale. They were also the owners of extensive vineyard, mostly in the important pago Macharnudo where they owned the Castle and the Majuelo vineyard.

In 1855 Juan Pedro Domecq bought the lovely Palacio del Marques de Montana, built in 1778 and with a beautiful courtyard and detailing, and this became the seat of the Domecq dynasty, now known as the Palacio Domecq. It was restored and modified in the 1960s for commercial use. A famous resident was Jose Ignacio Domecq, a brilliant taster known to all as "La Nariz" (The Nose).

The Palacio de Domecq with a statue of the Marques de Casa Domecq

During the 1950s the company expanded into South America, most notably in Mexico where Domecq still makes the leading brandy (Presidente) and operates a successful wine company, being the largest wine and spirits company there. Expansion took place in Spain also with the acquisition of Bodegas Antonio de la Riva, Bodegas Agustin Blazquez, whisky distiller DYC and the Jerez Sherry and brandy firm Fernando A de Terry along with the establishment of a bodega in Rioja known as Domecq Domain. After managing to resist takeover by Rumasa, Grupo Domecq as it was now called fell prey in 1994 to the acquisitive British group Allied Lyons, owners of Harveys of Bristol, already owners of Bodegas Palomino Y Vergara, MacKenzie and Terry, and the new conglomerate Allied Domecq eventually itself fell prey to a takeover by Pernod Ricard in 2005 who sold off what was not of interest. As a rather sad result, the Domecq brands were scattered amongst various owners:

Pernod Ricard: Domecq Mexico
Beam Global: Harveys, Terry, Fundador and DYC
Lustau (Grupo Caballero): La Ina, Botaina, Rio Viejo, Vina 25 PX
Osborne: Carlos I and Carlos III brandy and the VORS range
Marques de Riscal: Marques de Arienzo Rioja (previously named Domecq Domain)

Beam was bought by Suntory in 2014 and the new Beam Suntory sold Harveys, Terry and Fundador to Phillipino brandy magnate Andrew Tan for 275 million euros in late 2015. The firm is now called Fundador, part of Andrew Tan´s Grupo Emperador. Tan, along with Gonzalez Byass, has since bought back those available of the brand names. Meanwhile Harveys have been winning lots of medals.

Among the many Domecq brands are/were:

Fino: La Ina  (Albeit Lustau now, but usually the highest scoring Fino in Guia Peñin)
Manzanilla: Pochola, Prodigio
Amontillado: Botaina; Amontillado 51-1a VORS; Jandilla; Primero; Imperial; Casarejo
Palo Cortado: Capuchino VORS
Oloroso: Rio Viejo; La Raza (Abocado); Sibarita VORS; Double Century, Añada 1840;
PX: Vina 25; Venerable VORS
Cream: Celebration
Brandy:  Tres Cepas, Fundador, Carlos I, Carlos III, Marques de Domecq

Visits and contact: 
Bodegas Fundador:

Monday 11 June 2012

News from Jerez 11.6.12

Two items today:

Firstly, the mayor of Jerez, Maria Jose Garcia Pelayo has announced that the council will shortly approve a resolution to name a section of the N-IV Cadiz-Madrid road after Tio Pepe. It will be called Avenida Tio Pepe in recognition of the brand's promotion of Sherry, its sponsorship of the annual Horse Fair and its attraction to Jerez of so many visitors. Gonzalez Byass is Europe's most visited winery.

Secondly, after the embarrassment of the last president of the Consejo Regulador being imprisoned (albeit not for anything related to Sherry), the need for a new president is becoming urgent. This person will ideally be suitable to all parties of the Consejo: the bodegas, the grape growers and the cooperatives. The successful candidate should have the following qualities: be respectable, acceptable to all parties, have plenty of local experience, know how to represent all interests, have a sound commercial understanding, speak at least one foreign language (as 75% of Sherry is exported), have skills in dealing with both local and national government and manage to achieve the best consensus. The director, Cesar Saldana has done a good job as acting president, but the position needs to be filled soon.

Friday 8 June 2012

16 of the top 20 wines in Penin are Sherries!!

Guia Penin 2012 has also awarded its highest marks to Sherry.

The Guia Penin is an annual Spanish guide fully annotated with tasting notes to most Spanish wines. It is published by Jose Penin who has a whole team of tasters. Each wine submitted by a bodega is marked on a 100 point scale. The book is incredibly useful for any fan of Spanish wines, as it has notes on each Denominacion de Origen, vintages and an overview of what has happened over the past year. It can be ordered online at @ 28 euros, and there is sometimes an English version.

Tio Pepe Fino en Rama 15%, Bodegas Gonzalez Byass

Rather deeper colour than normal Tio Pepe, mid strawy gold, and not as bright (due to lack of fining and filtration, legs.
Has a certain intensity and depth, less "punzante" (sharp in attack) than normal Tio Pepe and more complex. Quite broad with very slightly floral notes eg camomile, perhaps less saline, but no lack of Flor. Beautiful.
Quite full with a gentle tang despite low acidity, very dry and full flavoured, quite savoury - almost to the point of trace yeast autolysis, hints of membrillo (quince) and palomino fruit with slightest hint of oxidation. Flavour lingers on the palate leaving a dry sensation - and the strong desire for another glass!
This 3rd edition of Tio Pepe en Rama, drawn in Spring when the Flor is thickest, commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel. It comes from a selection of butts from the 4 oldest fino soleras known as "the casks of great aroma", the best of which Manuel Maria used to mark with a chalk star. The wine is sold as it once used to be: direct from the cask without fining nor filtration. (Though these operations provide better stability, they do remove some of the wine's subtlety and intensity). En Rama wines should be enjoyed within about 3 months of bottling, so don't waste a minute in obtaining yours!

I tasted the normal Tio Pepe alongside the En Rama, and they are like chalk and cheese. Normal TP has very little flavour or subtlety after the En Rama, yet is lovely beforehand, so one can see how much is lost in fining and filtration. Also the En Rama was from a specially selected limited range of casks, as opposed to hundreds. It just shows how good Sherry must have been before technology took over.
Price About £15-16 - And worth every penny!

Tio Pepe Fino 15%, Bodegas Gonzalez Byass

Fairly pale, bright, strawy gold, legs.
Noticeable Flor, very fresh with slight salinity, hints of straw, dried flowers and light Palomino fruit.
Very dry, quite low acidity yet slightly tangy with just a trace of bitterness from the Flor, very clean with good length, and certainly stimulates the appetite. Unashamedly dry, for real Fino aficionados.
A classic. No nonsense, ultra refreshing and wonderful with tapas. The world's biggest selling Fino, not surprisingly, and very good despite the scale of its production. It came from an original solera laid down in 1849 with three criaderas and a solera but which has grown to 22 soleras containing some 21,750 butts housed on two floors of Jerez's only three storey bodega and various other bodegas too - there are eight in Las Copas. The wine therefore has to be a blend from the various soleras. So there's plenty of scope for wine for the Tio Pepe en Rama, and indeed the Una and Dos Palmas.

Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel, the founder, named the wine after his uncle (Sp: tio) Jose (pet name Pepe) Angel y Vargas, who encouraged him to make Fino. Uncle Jose often visited and advised his nephew and had a key to the bodega, and being from Sanlucar, he expected Manuel to have some Manzanilla for him. Manuel did this and this Manzanilla formed the basis of the Tio Pepe solera.

Price: £9-10  Available everywhere.

Bodegas A.R. Valdespino

Certainly one of the oldest bodegas in Jerez, Valdespino gives its date of foundation as 1430. Don Alfonso Valdespino, from Santander, was one of the knights who in 1264 helped king Alfonso X "El Sabio" (The Wise) to defeat the Moors at Jerez. In gratitude the king awarded them lands, and most planted vines.

Thus, Valdespino has been involved with wine for much longer, but it was in 1430 that they started commercial activity, mainly as growers and almacenistas, and not till 1837 that the business was established as a proper shipping company by Antonio Fernandez de Valdespino. By 1883 they already held a warrant as suppliers to the Spanish Royal Household. In 1899 they purchased the bodega of Heyward Wilson & Co in Jerez - whom they had long supplied with wines. As a result they were represented in Britain by Wilson & Valdespino for years till the British end was bought out.

Blending vats at in one of the old Valdespino bodegas

The firm owns important vineyards such as Inocente in Macharnudo Alto, with its attendant casa de vina, El Corregidor Viejo, and San Isidro in the Carrascal. They had many bodegas in Jerez, and famously each has a number which is formed on the lock end of each key. Brandy has also been a feature of the firm's production, and they have been making it since the XV century. A beautiful old copper column still recently disappeared from one of their disused bodegas.

The bodega has always been very traditional, owning large tracts of land in the Jerez Superior zone of Macharnudo Alto, the highest vineyard land in the area (at a staggering 135 metres above sea level!), and fermenting the wines in butts. This latter process has been discontinued by almost every other bodega. The firm has some very old soleras, and even the Fino, Inocente, spends around 10 years in solera - double what many others spend. Valdespino had always had significant connections in Sanlucar, but in 1972 they bought the Manuel de Argueso bodega in Sanlucar which had long supplied Manzanilla for the Valdespino Deliciosa brand.

The Valdespino family was losing interest in the Sherry trade, and in 1999 the firm was sold to Grupo Estevez, owners of  Real Tesoro, Tio Mateo and later La Guita. A whole new bodega complex was built on the outskirts of Jerez, which accommodates the 25,000 butts of these brands - with the exception of La Guita which is in Sanlucar. The wine is as good as ever, however, as Estevez took on the exceptionally able oenologist Eduardo Ojeda, previously with Croft, to supervise the moving of all the wines from the many bodegas to the one (an exceptionally delicate task) and look after the brand.

The firm has sold an enormous number of brands over the years, but the following are the current ones.
Fino Inocente (a single vineyard Sherry, coming from the Inocente vineyard)
Manzanilla: Senorita;  Deliciosa (also en rama version)
Amontillados: Contrabandista; Tio Diego; Coliseo VORS
Palo Cortado: Viejo CP; Cardenal VORS
Olorosos: Solera 1842; Don Gonzalo VOS; Su Majestad VORS; Cavadonga VORS
PX: El Candado; Ninos VORS (at least 50 years old)
Moscatel: Promesa; Toneles (at least 80 years old)
Cream: Isabela
Pale Cream: Ideal

Yes, by contacting Grupo Estevez in advance at following contacts:
Address: Carretera N-IV, Km 640, 11408 Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz
Tel: (+34) 956 321 004

The Rumasa Saga: part 2

Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos was an entrepreneur to his fingertips, and he started up all over again in 1990 using funds he had managed to keep from the taxman. Nueva Rumasa, however, was a group of companies and not a holding company as had been Rumasa, and he issued millions of shares, promising returns of 8%.  He began buying up companies in a variety of sectors including construction, a football team, property, food companies, and of course bodegas.

He bought Garvey for a second time in 1997, Jose de Soto (which was now owned by Garvey), Valdivia, Zoilo Ruiz Mateos (again) and CAYDSA, an old firm in Sanlucar whose name was changed to Teresa Rivero after his wife, and non Sherry bodegas Cavas Hill in Penedes, Marques de Olivara in Toro and Campo Nuble in Ribera del Duero. In 2004 Ruiz Mateos was diagnosed with Parkinsons and gradually delegated management of the group to his six sons - though he was pulling strings in the background - but they proceeded to run it corruptly and irresponsibly. In 2005 Jose Maria was jailed for 3 years for concealment of assets.

By 2010 ten of the biggest of the group´s companies (out of around 100) were declared bankrupt with debts totalling 700 million euros owed to investors - many of whom would lose their life savings - and the tax man. Four of the group´s own executives raised a court action alleging fraud, so Jose Maria and his sons found themselves back in court.

In September 2011 a company called Back in Business owned by a valenciano Angel de Cabo and which specialises in buying up and restructuring ailing firms bought Nueva Rumasa for 1.5 billion euros in a "very complex process". The details of the deal were not released but a promise was made to meet all commitments to shareholders and the workforce. There may be interest from competitors in buying component companies which might offer hope to the approximately 9,000 workers, and indeed some of the food companies have already been sold.

It now seems that the courts are highly suspicious of Back in Business, and suspect that the "complex process" was an exercise in obfuscation of dodgy dealings. Certainly all six sons are in jail having been convicted of fraud, money laundering, concealment of assets and non payment of tax. Jose Maria died in September 2015

News from Jerez 8.6.12

Back in Business, the company which buys ailing firms. has been relieved by the Courts of the management of the Grupo Nueva Rumasa  bodegas (mainly Garvey and Zoilo Ruiz Mateos) for fear of asset sales. Administrators have been appointed as no effective management or business trajectory seems to be in place, and the Courts are worried that there may be covert dealings between Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos and Angel de Cabo, owner of Back in Business. They deny this, of course, but from frequent bodega visits and interviews with staff, the Court feels its view is justified.

Thursday 7 June 2012

News from Jerez 7.6.12

First, The Consejo Regulador has released a Sherry Tasting Kit, so one can learn about Sherry any time, anywhere. It consists of a little box containing 6 samples of the various types of Sherry, an explanatory booklet and an interactive CD ROM. It can be obtained by contacting the Consejo at

Second, more news about the Tio Pepe sign in Madrid. An "avalanche" of public, business and political support has been received for the sign to stay put in the Puerta del Sol, No.1. Over 20,000 have voiced protest online so far. Coca Cola has offered Gonzalez Byass a site on their Madrid HQ at Barajas if they have to move it and GB are considering the offer, but are going to try their best to keep it in the Puerta del Sol, ideally in its original site. Another offer has been received from an estate agent also in the Puerta del Sol.

What has happened to Sherry?!!

It was once drunk by everybody, now it is all but a niche wine. It seems very strange that one of the world's finest wines is drunk by so few people, especially when one takes into account its extraordinary value for money. The usual reasons appear to be that it is old fashioned, and drunk by grandmothers because it is nice and sweet. Some people don't even know it is a wine! Sherry has a real mountain to climb to regain sales and consumer confidence. That is not to say that a lot of Sherry isn't drunk here, but it could be much, much more - and much better. Current sales are poor compared to, say, the 1970s.

With any product, marketing is essential, along with promotion, or consumers will know nothing of it. One only has to look at the Scotch Whisky industry to get some idea of how to promote an "old fashioned" drink - and their success in recent times. There are whisky ambassadors worldwide; constant new "expression" releases; limited editions; releases of rare bottlings; single cask expressions to encourage collectors; whisky societies; whisky magazines; whisky blogs........ There is a dynamism there which is infectious. The Scotch Whisky Association is constantly in court somewhere to protect the integrity of whisky. It is paid for by a levy on its members - the majority of the trade. Not unlike the Consejo Regulador of Jerez.

All is not doom and gloom, however; many bodegas are doing their own marketing and innovating. A while ago Lustau introduced the "Almacenista " range. More recently Hidalgo La Gitana, Barbadillo and Gonzalez Byass have introduced the lovely Manzanillas and Finos "En Rama", and the latter also a range of "Palmas". Equipo Navazos offer a wonderful range of single barrel Sherries, and a sort of Fino-style table wine made by Dirk Niepoort of Port fame. Some progress has been made in establishing PX as a dessert wine or one for pouring onto desserts, but this all amounts to very little compared to whisky.

Hopefully the recent wave of new Sherry bars in London (Pepito's et al), New York (Tertulia), Tokyo (Sherry Club), and Chicago (Vera Bar) will help, and they should be encouraged by the Consejo. We should  remember, however, that only about 4% (in cash terms) of fortified wine sold in Britain is sold by the pouring trade, so they really need promotional help.

I realise the Consejo is short of a president at the moment, but surely a lot more could - and should -be done to really get Sherry going again. Britain has caught on to Tapas, so let's promote Sherry - the ideal Tapa wine - with them. It has already happened a bit in London, but needs to be nationwide. What about ambassadors? There are the Sherry Educators, could they be increased in number and work with restaurants, bars and wine merchants offering promotional and educational help?

The Media need to be exploited - the press, celebrities, Facebook, Twitter, bloggers - with an educational campaign to dispel the myths that Sherry is old fashioned and all sweet. What about a Sherry movie? It worked for table wine and whisky. Could the tourist agencies in Spain offer Sherry-themed holidays? There is already a Ruta Turistica de Bodegas.

So come on, Consejo and Bodegas, such a good wine at such a good price can't be too hard to promote!

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Madrid's Tio Pepe sign

Some years ago the Spanish Government listed the Osborne bull signs to be found all over Spain as of cultural importance, as long as any advertising was removed from them. Everyone still refers to them, however, as the "Osborne Bulls", so they are still effective as advertisements.

Perhaps the Government could consider a similar approach to Madrid's Tio Pepe sign. Even if the words "Tio Pepe" were removed, the bottle figure with red sombrero and jacket holding a guitar still conjures up the brand to any Spaniard - and not a few foreigners.

News from Jerez 5.6.12

The Nueva Rumasa saga trundles ever onward. Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos has now asked to be jailed until such time as all the investors have been paid. He says that Banco Popular and Banco Santander have direct responsibility for all that has happened to the group, but that ultimately he has full responsibility for any final decision. Juridical sources say that his imprisonment is most unlikely as neither they nor the investors have called for it.

Sherry news 5.6.12

A campaign is under way on Facebook and Twitter to stop the removal of the iconic illuminated Tio Pepe sign which has adorned a rooftop at Madrid's Puerta del Sol, No.1 since 1936. It has been removed to facilitate repair work on the Hotel Paris. While the owners of the building on which the sign stands are not particularly bothered about renewing the contract, the new tenants, who will be Apple, are unlikely to want it competing with their own sign, but are keeping quiet on the issue. If you wish to voice your own protest, go to:

The sign was erected just after the cenenary of Gonzalez Byass, and has become a much loved landmark of Madrid. The ex mayor of Madrid said it was like Madrid's Eiffel Tower. It weighs 70 tons, so moving it is not undertaken lightly.

Monday 4 June 2012

Famous Sherry Aficionados

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812-1870), the great author and social reformer of Victorian times lived in the heyday of Sherry's popularity in England. He makes frequent references to it in his books. After his death the family auctioned his possessions which included a cellar containing no less than 340 bottles of Sherry!

Sherry News 4.6.12

A fantastic tasting took place on the 2nd May at the Fishmongers' Hall in London. The third "Great Fortified Wines of the World" show/tasting included 52 producers from places such as Madeira, Oporto, Marsala, and of course Jerez, from where 12 producers were present, and no less than 300 wines were on show!

News from Sanlucar 4.6.12

The season is getting under way in Sanlucar. Manzanilla Day (which actually runs from the 1st of June till the 26th) is sponsored by the local council, and the exciting agenda has already been announced.

On Friday 1st June, the Mayoress of Sanlucar, Irene Garcia Macias, together with councillors, the directriz of "Sanlucar...descubretela" (a local tourism organisation) and the director of administration of Bodegas Delgado Zuleta inaugurated the first "Centre for the Interpretation of Wine" in the Sherry area at Bodegas Delgado Zuleta. The purpose of the new Centre is to pass on the cultural heritage of Sanlucar wine, while trying to reduce the seasonality of tourism and offer more than just bodega visits. Tourists will be able to follow the entire production process from vineyard to glass in one place, including tasting, and will leave full of knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the wines of Sanlucar and Sherry in general.

The president of the Society of Horse Racing of Sanlucar, Rafael Hidalgo, has negotiated with the Council for races to take place between the 12th and 29th of June on the beach, as has been customary now for 167 years.

The Ruta de la Manzanilla y el Tapeo de sanlucar is up and running with 30 central bars offering a tapa and a glass of Manzanilla for 2,50 euros. Well worth a little "pub crawl"!

Furthermore, there are conferences, bodega visits, tastings, trips round vineyard areas, dinners and Heaven knows what else! All the main bodegas are involved, so if you can get there this month, it is not to be missed!

Useful info: (Town Council) (Local News)


Sunday 3 June 2012

Fino Inocente 15%, Bodegas AR Valdespino

Bright strawy gold with golden highlights.
Big, quite full, plenty flor salinity and slight trace of butter from yeast autolysis, light Palomino fruit, slight almond notes and a hint of dried flowers, dry with subtle quince notes. Complex and full. This is a serious wine, lovely.
Dry, firm, salty with traces of tangy fruit and mineral notes, fairly low acidity, fresh yet obviously has some solera age which imparts great subtleties and complexity, fuller and more structured than many and quite delicious, its wonderful purity of flavour lingers on the palate arousing the appetite.
A wonderful wine. The grapes come from the 18 hectare single "Inocente" vineyard located in the classic Pago Macharnudo in Jerez Superior. It is, most unusually, fermented in wood, and aged for about 10 years through the solera system, which has 10 criaderas and then the solera. The solera wine is remarkably mature presenting hints of Amontillado, most of which are lost in filtration. Wine from this solera is also used to feed the Amontillado Tio Diego solera. There are two "sacas" (withdrawals of wine) every year, Spring and Autumn. The brand was first registered in 1894. Wines from this solera have been used on many occasions by Equipo Navazos for La Bota de Fino, and Parker awarded Inocente 94 points.
Price: About £15

Friday 1 June 2012

News from Jerez 1.6.12

Things are not happy in Jerez. The town council has run out of money, and health workers as well as public workers have taken to the streets to protest about more than a year of cuts, delayed pay and the threat of redundancies. Even the annual Feria has been scaled back.

The fantasticVinoble international sweet and fortified wine fair which takes place every two years in the Alcazar has been cancelled due to lack of council funds.

The Consejo Regulador of Jerez is looking for a new president as a result of the resignation of Antonio Fernandez, and is hoping to appoint somebody by the end of June. Sr Fernandez, in his other role as a minister of employment in the Junta de Andalucia, has been charged with certain falsifications and is in custody after bail was refused.

All this, and the woes of Nueva Rumasa and the potential hace llorar!