Friday 31 August 2012

News from Jerez 31.8.12

The Oenological Station in the Calle Cordoba in Jerez is considered the finest drinks laboratory in Spain according to two provincial government delegates who visited yesterday. The large building is considered a reference point for safety as well as authenticity in drinks.

The Junta de Andalucia (the RegionalGovernment) has invested heavily in the station in recent years, and it is now recognised worldwide. It is not unusual therefore to see samples on its shelves from as far afield as Russia or Algeria. They are asked, for example, to check if the samples contain natural alcohol, if they have been watered down, or if they are of the stated age.

Jose Maria Mateos, the station director, showed the delegates what the machines linked to computers are capable of, for example measuring the wines’ pH, volatility and alcohol content. Only a few years ago this would have taken a technician 15 days, but now takes only a few seconds. While the machines are impressive, they do cost an average of about 120,000 euros. One has an electronic nose, while another can measure radioactivity levels.

Another facility of the Estacion de Viticultura – as it is known in Jerez – is the checking of age of the VOS and VORS Sherries. For this they use carbon 14 which has a life of 4,000 years. Since nuclear testing was banned in 1962 radioactivity levels have been falling, and it is perfectly possible to work out in which year the grapes grew.

Fraud in vinegars has been completely eliminated by being able to detect whether acetic acid is natural or added. Blended wines can be checked to see if they are blended from the stated grape varieties. Soils can be analysed, nutrition is studied, the list goes on, the lab never stops.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Antique Fino 17%, Fernando de Castilla

Deepish yellowy gold with old gold highlights, clear and bright with slightly more pronounced legs than usual.
Dry with strongly saline olive brine notes, a certain creamy yeastiness and slight traces of oak and bitter almond. This is an old wine in pristine condition, and certainly in the realms of the Palmas, perhaps 2 or 3. It seems slightly austere at first, but soon reveals considerable complexity and a little body too.
Full, very dry with an attractive bitterness and salinity from extended contact with yeast above and below - the saltiness from the flor above, and the slightly autolytic flavours from dead yeast cells at the bottom of the butt. Very complex and crying out for some almonds or Iberico charcuterie.

An amazing wine, so well nurtured for so long, 9 years in fact. Not totally unlike a Manzanilla pasada, but from Jerez, it is amazingly complex, and lingers on the palate for ages. It comes from a single small solera formed by removing 30 butts from the Classic Fino solera and leaving them aside for 4 years to mature further. The wine undergoes only the lightest filtration before being bottled only once a year. Jan Pettersen, the owner of the bodega, is a huge Sherry fan and is dedicated to producing the finest quality. He decided to take the uncommon step (now) of fortifying the wine again to 17% vol which gives it unique personality and more presence than the usual Finos sold at 15% vol and more thoroughly filtered.
£ 17.95 (50cl) from Drinkmonger

News from Jerez 30.8.12

The 2012 harvest is nearly half way through. According to Juan Fernando Bernal vineyard manager of Gonzalez Byass, who as of today have finished the harvest in their own vineyards, there hasn’t been such a short harvest in 40 years. In only 9 days they have picked 2.5 million kilos to which will be added grapes from contracted suppliers.

Sr Bernal said that because of the drought the grapes arrived at the presses small but in excellent condition, the yield was down between 25-30% on last year, however. It is interesting to note the variations in ripeness in the different areas of the area; in Jerez the Beaume levels are over 11.65, in Trebujena up to 11.22 and elsewhere (nearer the coast) less than that. In Sanlucar they are picking at 10.82. One advantage of high Beaume (sugar) readings is of course that less spirit will be needed to fortify the wines, representing a small saving.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

News from Jerez 28.8.12

The biggest of the Jerez cooperatives, Nuestra Senora de las Angustias, known generally as the Jerez Cooperative, has begun harvesting in earnest. Between its 200 members the coop owns some 800 hectares of vineyard, making it the biggest vineyard owner in the region, followed by Grupo Estevez with about 750 hectares. From their 800 hectares the coop predicts a yield of between 6 and 7 million kilos of grapes, or about 7,000 kilos per hectare.

This year’s yield is well down on last year since only about 300 litres of rain per square metre fell – less than half the average – where a normal year would have produced a yield of about 10,000 kilos per hectare. Nonetheless, the coop is expecting 200 lorries a day discharging 700,000 – 800,000 kilos of grapes into the presses, until the end of the harvest next Thursday or Friday.

This year about 40% of the harvest will be picked by machine, though most of the mechanical picking is done by the vineyard-owning bodegas, rather than small growers whose holdings average some 3 hectares each. The quality is very good, very healthy, but the quantity is down due to smaller grapes.

Monday 27 August 2012

Mechanical harvesting

Much of the 2012 Sherry harvest is being collected mechanically. This year, certainly, with the heat wave, conditions are most unpleasant for human pickers, but the machines can work under any conditions, even at night which is actually a better time to pick because the grapes are less prone to liquid loss and oxidation.  A few bodegas own a machine but many simply pay a company with the machines to do their harvest for them. The machines start with the regions which harvest earliest then move on to the next, working Northwards generally.

The machine can pick at least 100 times as much as a man, and because it works by vibration, it harvests only grapes, not the stalks. After the wine harvests, the machine can be adjusted to then pick olives in November. Machines now pick more grapes than humans because they are simply more efficient. The days of hundreds of jolly pickers singing and chattering as they snip each bunch are almost gone. Use of machines depends on the terrain of course, and it should be borne in mind that the vines need to be planted and trained according to the abilities of the machines. It was in the 1980s when machines first appeared in Jerez, but they were never used generally as they were prone to damage the vines. Now in the 21st century they have improved dramatically and are used much more widely. This is a worldwide trend, and Spain is only now beginning to catch up with about 200 machines, where France, with less land under vine has about 4,000.

Saturday 25 August 2012

News from Jerez 25.8.12

Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos (81) says he is prepared to show that he intends to repay all the money he owes by going on hunger strike. He denies having money outside Spain with which to pay this (which many doubt). He also denies laughing at justice, an accusation made recently by a judge. These statements were made after his third no-show at court in Palma Mallorca where he is supposed to declare in the case of a 13 million euro (presumed) hotel fraud. The judge had ordered his detention to ensure his appearance, and he was detained, but released after 13 hours for "humanitarian reasons" there apparently being a deterioration in his health in detention.

Friday 24 August 2012

News from Jerez 24.8.12

Nearly 10% of the grapes have been harvested so far, these being mainly from the vineyards further inland where ripeness is more advanced. The sugar readings are quite high, some well over 11 degrees Beaume. It looks then as if all the harvesting will have been completed long before the Fiestas de Vendimia scheduled for the 11th - 16th September.

As a part of the Fiestas, the Alcazar in Jerez is for the fifth year playing host to top level Sherry tastings to bring together the best of Jerezano culture: wine, gastronomy and flamenco. These events will take place from the 7th till the 15th of September and feature six bodegas which are: Williams & Humbert, Grupo Estevez, Lustau, Alvaro Domecq, Gonzalez Byass and Beam Global (Harveys). The Consejo is also providing support. Tickets for these wonderful events cost 25 Euros per person for those lucky enough to be there.

Thursday 23 August 2012

News from Jerez 23.8.12

Beltran Domecq, President of the Consejo Regulador of Jerez has been out in the vineyards to see for himself the difficulties of the 2012 harvest. He acknowledged that the expected drop in yields this year was about 20%, but given the extended drought and the heatwaves experienced this August, the figure could drop further. If the 2013 vintage were as bad, it would pose serious problems for Jerez.  At least this year’s harvest is looking good from a quality point of view.

However if one looks back there is hope. This year has brought barely 350 litres/square metre of rain, but last year brought more than the average at 750 l/ m2, and the previous year over 1000 l/m2.  Reserve stocks are not too bad but could be under pressure from the small crop, caused by the weather and also a drop of about 9% in vineyard area due to uprooting.

Sr Domecq reckons that existing stocks will see the bodegas through the next four to four and a half years. The chances of four more years like this are most unlikely, but not impossible what with global warming. However one shouldn’t forget the capacity of the albariza soils for water retention, allowing the vines access to water under extreme conditions.

Sr Domecq also pointed out the importance of the growers. “Nobody who loves Sherry should forget that the wine starts in the vineyards: the land. It is a fundamental pillar which we should value.”

Tuesday 21 August 2012

News from Jerez 21.8.12

As the 2012 harvest gets underway the growers' organisation Asevi-Asaja is forecasting a drop in production of about 30%, due more than anything else to the severe drought, and 5-10% more of a drop than predicted. These figures are averages, and some areas are worse affected than others, meaning the drop could be as high as 50% in some places. At least the quality looks to be good with high sugar levels - already 11.5 Beaume  inland - and no signs of rot on the grapes. It is reckoned about 50,000 butts of must will be produced - 20,000 fewer than last year.

The first musts will be used for the "pie de cuba" - an easily controlled small fermentation which will help with the main one, and also for the many Palomino table wines. It is a horrendous year for the pickers who start at 07.30 and by 11.00 the temperature is already 40C, so that by 14.30 they cannot work any more that day. Also when the grapes arrive at the presses so hot they can oxidise and lose water - or weight by which the growers are paid. There are plenty machines however, which can work at night and bring in cooler grapes, destemming as they go.

Fino Delicado 15.5%, Gonzalez Byass

Light bright strawy gold, legs.
Quite full and forthcoming yet very refined with integrated aromas of relaxed flor, almond, trace autolysis, a slight hint of quince-like fruit, dry petals, sheer depth and ultra-fine oxidation. Amazingly fresh for a Fino of some age.
Very fresh and clean, a certain fruitiness balances tantalisingly with hints of bitter almond and yeasty flor giving a light tanginess. Tight, complex and supremely elegant, with good length. Quite delicious.
Very well named, a remarkably delicate wine for its age. This one caught me on the hop. I hadn't heard of it till I found it in Waitrose today. There is no mention of it on the Gonzalez Byass website, nor have I seen any trade press announcements.
According to the rather uninformative back label it is "a limited production dry Sherry, carefully selected from long-aged casks of Fino still maintaining a good layer of Flor, resulting in a rare wine with exceptional finesse and delicacy of aroma." At 15.5% it must have some age, (8-12 years?) but all that gives it away is its sheer complexity.
The name "Delicado" was once, of course, the name for the Croft Fino, which is not commonly seen any more. GB bought the Sherry division of Croft back in 2001, and seem to have only done anything with Croft Original pale cream - certainly Croft's biggest seller (and possible replacement for GB's San Domingo?). Could this then be wine from Croft soleras (once Gilbey and looked after by GB till Rancho Croft was built)? Could it be en rama? I doubt that, but...
Perhaps somebody from Gonzalez Byass could let us all know. Anyway Antonio Flores the GB capataz (head winemaker) has done it again with the quality, and GB have done it again with the innovation, (though there's plenty scope for more with 417 brand names registered to the company). Congratulations!

£ 13.99 (50cl) from Waitrose

Monday 20 August 2012

Fino Tio Mateo 15%, Marques del Real Tesoro

Bright pale straw gold with golden highlights.
Attractive. Lots of flor, touch saline and minerally with a little bitter almond and slight apple notes behind and a distinct yeastiness, very bright, fresh and clean.
Broadly similar, quite a light style of wine and delightfully bitter what with the flor and almond tones. There's an element of appley Palomino fruit too, so the whole thing balances perfectly.
A really good refreshing Fino which certainly stimulates the appetite. The wine is made by Grupo Estevez under the name Marques del Real Tesoro, although it was originally made by Palomino & Vergara who were taken over by Harveys, and the brand found its way to Estevez via Allied Domecq and Pernod Ricard. It was the focus of some controversy for a while after the company wanted to put the words "Contains hardly any Histamine" on the label. The CRDO didn't like it, neither did the Andalucian courts, and it was forbidden in 2006. This ruling was overturned in 2009 by the Tribunal Superior. Histamine is a substance found in many fermented products (red wine is full of it - though Sherry is quite low) as well as foods such as cheese, cabbage tuna, tomato. People who have a deficient enzyme in the intestine can get awful headaches among other symptoms. So Jose Estevez came up with some undisclosed way to reduce histamine content in Tio Mateo, known as the Metodo Estevez. Apparently it in no way affects the quality of the wine nor does it contravene any CRDO production rules. Certainly the wine is lovely, and it is a bit over 4 years old. The solera system contains some 2,500 butts with three criaderas plus, of course the solera. The grapes come from both the Macharnudo and Corchuelo pagos.
About 5 euros, widely available

Bodegas: Grupo Estevez

The story of this successful Bodega began in 1809 when Don Jose Lena Rendon set up as a dealer in Sherry wines. He was joined at some point by Don Inigo Ruiz de Villegas y Sanchez de Tagle. Bodegas were constructed in Jerez at No. 8 Calle Lechuga.  By the 1870s the firm had important business in Northern Europe and South America, as well as offices in London run by Antonio Rodrigo Ruiz. In 1894 the principal shareholder, Felix Ruiz y Ruiz a descendant of Don Inigo, changed the company name to Felix Ruiz y Ruiz SA. The name was changed a few times: AR Ruiz Hermanos, J Ruiz y Cia.

Rumasa's first bodega purchase was AR Ruiz Hnos. with its 10,000 butts in 1963, and in 1974 Ruiz was bought by Jose Estevez SA. Jose Estevez de los Reyes was a real entrepreneur, a Jerezano who from childhood was always on the lookout for business opportunities. Among many other things, he was involved in construction, a bottle factory, he worked in the production department at Domecq, studied geology and owned a silica sand mining company at Arcos, the sale of which (for 12,000 million pesetas!) gave him the money to invest in the wine business. He died in 2005 and his son Jose Ramon now runs the business.

 In 1982 he bought a significant holding in the bodega Marques del Real Tesoro, completing the purchase in 1989, merging the companies, for which he spent a fortune building a new bodega complex. 1993 saw the purchase of the ex Harveys fino brand Tio Mateo, along with its soleras, and expansion didn't stop there. Valdespino was purchased in 2002, and in 2007 the group bought Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin,owner of the best selling Manzanilla, La Guita, and Bodegas M Gil Luque.

Grupo Estevez is more dynamic than many Sherry firms, and one of the few with facilities in all three of the main Sherry towns, turning over 103 million Euros and employing 200 staff. The company recently bought 400 hectares more vineyard (ex Domecq) from Beam Global, a very canny move, giving the firm almost 800 in total. The firm is also keen to use fortification spirit made from Palomino in Jerez rather than from Airen in la Mancha, and is now sending Jerez mosto to Tomelloso for distillation and using it in an experimental solera set up in 2015. They are also trying to raise interest in the establishment of a distillery in Jerez.

The bodegas also house an art gallery, a carriage museum and a stud. More recently the firm has moved into spirits, and supplies no less than 48 wine and spirit products to the Mercadona supermarket which has 1500 branches in Spain. The two firms have worked very well together and prospered.

Address: Carretera Nacional IV - km 640, CP 11408, Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz
Tel: (+34)  956 321 004

Bodegas: Palomino & Vergara

In 1765 a man called Palomino (claimed by the family, and not without reason, to be descended from the knight Fernan Yanez Palomino who helped Alfonso X defeat the Moors at the battle of Jerez, and after whom the grape is named) set himself up as a vine grower and wine maker. He earned himself a decent reputation and did well. At roughly the same time three brothers called Juan, Bartolome and Mateo Vergara y Vegas of El Puerto de Santa Maria joined up with a British firm, becoming Vergara & Dickson. This firm prospered and moved to Jerez. Later the firm's name was changed to Juan Vicente Vergara before the two firms merged to become Palomino & Vergara at the beginning of the 20th century.

They were quite a pair. Juan Jose Palomino was appointed Deputy for Andalucia in 1933  by the II Republic, and was also owner of the Diario de Jerez newspaper. Juan Vergara was also a bit of a businessman, having established a pair of factories, one for pencils and the other for ice. They took over the now lost firm of Jose Bertemati. The Vergara family owned a beautiful mansion called the Atalaya, for a while Rumasa's HQ in Jerez, now the Jerez Museum. They owned 300 hectares of vineyard, and their impressive bodega formed a complex known as the 12 Disciples, but unfortunately only three remain; La Cruce, Pio XII and Dios Baco. The latter, built in 1848, was named after a statue of Bacchus on the facade, one of quite a few embellishments. It contained 2,000 butts and a cooperage.

An old print of the bodegas (from Bodegas Dios Baco)
In 1963 the firm was bought by Rumasa, and for the next 20 years or so all went passably well. The palatial Atalaya became Rumasa offices, but  it wasn't to last, and Rumasa was expropriated by the Government in 1983 and its component companies checked over and sold off. Harveys bought Palomino and Vergara in 1985, and what with the continual restructuring of multinationals, sold the Dios Baco bodega in 1992 to Paez Morilla who then established Bodegas Dios Baco, and the Fino Tio Mateo brand and its soleras to Grupo Estevez in 1993.

The Dios Baco Bodega before restoration

Very little of P&V is left now. Tio Mateo is alive and well but the name P&V has disappeared from the label which now quotes Real Tesoro as producer. Other well known products were Infante Oloroso, and a pair of good brandies, Fabuloso and Eminencia.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Bodegas: Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin

This famous Sanlucar bodega founded in 1852 by Don Domingo Perez Marin, who came from Santander was originally at Calle Regina, 49, in the Barrio Bajo, later expanding into a bodega in Calle Banda Playa next to Vinicola Hidalgo. In the early XX century some of the sons of Eduardo Hidalgo Verjano left the family firm to their widowed mother and bought the Perez Marin bodega (now a block of flats). The firm was sold in the 1970s during which time it moved into the bodega in Calle Misericordia in the Barrio Alto and in 1990 it was bought by four ex-Rumasa executives who also bought the growers cooperative of Miraflores, guaranteeing grape supply from 150 hectares of vineyard.

In 2007 "La Guita" as it is known was sold to Grupo Estevez. The firm owns a certain amount of vineyard, but most must is bought in from the local Cooperative Covisan to replenish the 11 scale La Guita solera of nearly 20,000 butts, which are divided between two bodegas. Unusually for a Sherry firm, there are only two products, namely the Manzanilla La Guita and a very fine vinegar.

The older Calle Misericordia bodega in which some La Guita is aged is situated at one of the the highest points of Sanlucar,  so as to best take advantage of the fresh humid breezes. It was originally the most important hospital in Sanlucar, Santa Misericordia, from 1526 till 1589 when it was donated to the order of San Juan de Dios who changed its name to their own. In 1867-8 it was reconstructed as a bodega while retaining the name, which can still be seen on tiles on the wall. Before the arrival of Perez Marin, it was the bodega of Manuel Garcia Monge.

The company has other bodegas; Pago de Miraflores and Pago Sanlucar Viejo (bought 1993 and holding most of the La Guita wine and the bottling line).

The brand name "La Guita" has an amusing history. The founder, Don Domingo, was a stickler for cash on the nail ("guita" in local slang) and the bodega came to be known by that name. More recently the bottle had a piece of string ("guita" in Spanish) attached between the capsule and the label as a form of joke. The brand was first registered in 1908 and was sold as a Manzanilla Pasada but it was changed to a Manzanilla Fina in 1985 as it was felt that it would be more popular - and it was. More recently it was the first Manzanilla to print a bottling date on the back label.

In 1986 Rafael Rivas, capataz (cellar master) of Perez Marin set up a new 15 butt solera of Manzanilla Pasada in the expectation that the wine would be used to bolster or improve La Guita, but this was never needed, and he kept the solera going with tiny sacas (withdrawals) until he retired in 2010 and Equipo Navazos arrived. They were spellbound by this unused solera and bottled some of this wonderful wine with an average age of 15 years (eg La Bota de Manzanilla No. 30 - QV).

Meanwhile La Guita continues to be the most popular Manzanilla in Spain and abroad with sales of nearly 4 million litres annually, especially at the Feria de Sevilla. Here they go to inordinate lengths to ensure the wine is in perfect condition. The brand has a Manzanilla market share of over a quarter so sacas are frequent; every two months.

Address: calle Misericordia,1, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Cadiz
Tel: (+34) 956 319 564
Web: or
Visits by prior appointment

Manzanilla La Guita 15%, Hijos de R Perez Marin

Pale strawy gold with golden highlights, clean and bright.
Typical tangy Manzanilla aromas; fresh sea air, flor with its attendant yeastiness and salinity and the faintest hint of yeast autolysis, a touch of Palomino fruit and a hint of camomile flowers, very fresh with immediate appeal.
Clean, dry and tangy, bready with traces of fruit and a slightly more savoury follow-through. It is very racy with lively acidity and plenty of minerality. It really expresses the word "punzante" (sharp, crisp, zippy in the wine sense) with flor and bitter almond and has a very long dry fresh finish  leaving you wanting more.

At one time this wine was sold as a Manzanilla Pasada aged for around 12 years in solera, and it was one of the very best. It is no longer Pasada - not that it pretends to be - but it has just under 5 years in solera, which on one hand gives really vibrant freshness, but on the other hand lacks the complexity of a Pasada. The bodega does have another solera of Manzanilla Pasada but doesn't seem to sell the wine - at least under its own name. The name "La Guita" is a play on words: the bodega's founder liked cash on the nail, and "guita" is Andaluz slang for cash, which also means string. That is why since 1908 the bottle has a bit of string running down the neck from capsule to label. Interestingly, this was the first Manzanilla to carry a bottling date on the back label - so you know it's fresh. The wine is produced from the firm´s own vineyard Miraflores La Baja, but being a best seller they need to buy in a lot of mosto from the cooperative COVISAN next door with whom Estevez has a close relationship. All the grapes come from Sanlucar. La Guita passes through 6 criaderas before reaching the solera.
£ 12.50 per bottle from Drinkmonger, Edinburgh

Friday 17 August 2012

News from Jerez 17.8.12

Due to the scarcity of grapes or wine forecast for this year throughout Spain, good offers of up to 32 centimos/kilo have been coming in from outside the Sherry zone, which represent  2 – 5 centimos more than the prices offered or contracted by the Sherry bodegas for this year. The bodegas’ 3 year contracts however, offer annual increases of 3 centimos, so it is a difficult decision for growers who are not contracted – generally cooperatives - as the offer only covers this year’s harvest. While the Sherry harvest will probably be reduced on last year by about 25%, many other Spanish regions are facing drops of about 15%, all due to the drought. Let us hope the grapes stay in Jerez to replenish the stocks.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Amontillado Tio Diego 18%, Bodegas Valdespino

Pure amber with slight coppery tints, fading through unburnished gold to yellow at the rim with a trace of green.
Very refined and integrated, soft but complex. A definite Amontillado aroma with fewer of the saline flor characteristics of a younger wine, but perhaps just a trace of autolysis along with toasted hazelnut and linseed oil, beautifully controlled oxidation and a hint of well used butts, a suggestion of sweetness.
Dry, slightly tangy yet well rounded, the nutty oily bodega butt flavour grows slowly on the palate to a greater intensity than expected. And a greater complexity too, as it has passed through 20 criaderas and 2 soleras! Good and dry but not at all astringent, traces of walnut there too.
Very fine. Tio Diego is one of those very few single vineyard wines and comes from the Inocente vineyard in the pago Macharnudo. In fact the solera is fed from the Fino Inocente solera when the wine has spent nearly 10 years under flor, and then at least a further 8 years without flor in a very old solera consisting of 10 criaderas plus solera. The wine is bottled in autumn every year at about 18 years of age.

Around £ 17.00. I bought this from Dougie at the excellent Lupe Pinto Deli in Edinburgh.

News from Jerez 16.8.12

The high temperatures (well into the 40’s) registered in the Sherry vineyards over the weekend have advanced the grapes’ state of ripeness  already to at least the minimum 10.5 degrees Beaume required by the CRDO for picking. This represents 2 degrees more than a few days ago. Overnight dew has done nothing to mitigate this intense ripening, and more high temperatures are forecast.

The heat has upset the plans of the growers and bodegas who had expected a later than usual harvest. Now it will probably start next week. While the hot dry conditions will eliminate any risk of health problems in the grapes, the heat and west wind could still further reduce the size of the crop. It should be remembered that while the high sugar levels will save the bodegas a little cash in fortification spirit, the growers are paid by weight, and will lose out further.

Looking towards Macharnudo castle, Jerez

The harvest looks like being 20-25% smaller than last year, or about 50 million kilos, of which 40 million will qualify as Sherry, as compared with the 64 million and 54 million last year. According to the CRDO’s survey in the second half of July the harvest will yield between 6.5 and 7000 kilos per hectare, representing a drop of 15%.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

A Sherry dinner at Bia Bistrot, Edinburgh

Recently I enjoyed one of the best dinners ever, not only because the only wine served was Sherry but because the food was quite excellent and married beautifully with the wines.

Roisin and Matthias of Bia Bistrot organised five courses and Mat and I from Drinkmonger organised the five accompanying Sherries, about which I had to say a few words. Encouragingly the dinner was sold out in no time, but did leave a disappointed waiting list. An opportunity for a repeat, hopefully!

Here is what we had:

On arrival
Mackerel wrapped in crisped serrano ham and grated courgette salad  with  Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa

Coley and brandade with a tapenade crust accompanied by Sanchez Romate Fino Marismeno

Ayrshire pork fillet and cheek "mojo picon" with Lustau Almacenista Vides Palo Cortado

Corra Linn and Lanark Blue, fig and almond wheel, Lustau Don Nuno Oloroso

Walnut cake and butterscotch ice cream, Venerable PX VORS Domec/Osborne

So if you're having friends round, why not try one or more of these very successful marriages? If you are in the Edinburgh area, I can't recommend Bia enough. There is a friendly, quietly competent atmosphere. They have a website:

News from Jerez 15.8.12

Some good news for a change. A shop in Barcelona called 24 Kilates (carats) was selling a limited edition of 60 pairs of the Japanese Asics trainers bearing the Tio Pepe logo. They turned out to be so popular that they are now fetching nearly 600 euros on e-bay.
If only the Sherry was so popular....

Tuesday 14 August 2012

PX Venerable VORS 17%, Domecq/Osborne

Black almost to the rim of the glass, through burnt umber, amber, to yellow, very viscous.
Intense and complex: dried dates, raisins, figs, traces of licorice, Marmite, musty old barrels, coffee, treacle, molasses, hint of alcohol, concentrated and beautiful.
Viscous and surprisingly tangy, some savoury elements, loads of treacle toffee and coffee, something dry there too, lovely texture - almost like eating pasas (PX raisins) - that dried grape pulp feel, hints of burnt coffee, an immensity of nuances. Oh yes, sweet! Very, very sweet, yet balanced by the dry burnt flavours and that tanginess. Finish lasts forever but not too cloying. Lovely.

From a solera laid down by Juan Haurie in 1790 and bought by Pedro Domecq in 1822. After the break-up of Domecq, the solera was acquired by Osborne, who bottled this wine. It is officially VORS - i.e. over 30 years old - but tastes much older than that. It is exquisite! And SO cheap for what it is!
£33,95 from Drinkmonger, Edinburgh

Monday 13 August 2012

News from Jerez 13.8.12

The first semester of 2012 has brought the unwelcome news that Sherry sales in Germany, the 3rd biggest export market, have plummeted by 32 % (2.4m litres down to 1.6m litres).  This wipes out the slight growth in markets such as the UK, the biggest export market at @ 4m litres - up 1%), Holland (up 4% to 3.5m litres) and Japan, up 10%. So sales are down on aggregate by about 5%.

Sherry is an export wine with well over 60% going abroad. The Spanish market is about 35% or 6.5m litres - down 1%, with sales in Europe accounting for some 60%. Many feel that the market has bottomed out and that sales can only grow, especially since the recent uprooting of vineyards has supposedly brought supply and demand into balance. We can only hope so.

Other news:
The King, Don Juan Carlos was in Puerto de Santa Maria the other day to celebrate a bullfight on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of La Pepa (the Cadiz Constitution of 1812). Security was tight. In case he fell?

Antonio Fernandez, ex President of the CRDO Jerez, in custody for involvement in the ERE scandal, has been released on payment of 450,000 euros in bail. He is one of about 60 people involved. While this had nothing to do with his CRDO duties, he resigned, and has been replaced by Beltran Domecq.

Friday 10 August 2012

Palo Cortado Vides19%, Lustau Almacenista

Deep amber fading through amber to a yellow rim with a trace of green, legs.
Very well rounded, harmonious, forthcoming, quite amontillado in style with traces fresh tobacco, toasted hazelnut, and a hint of toasted oak, complex and graceful.
Tangy - more so than expected, nutty- but more in the Amo. hazelnut style, lighter than the Oloroso weight expected, dry but with that implied sweetness, beautifully poised and rounded, long and refined.
Quite delicious. From the small Almacenista bodega Vides in Jerez. This wine is from a solera of only 50 butts, bottled by Lustau.

£20.50 (50cl) from Drinkmonger

Aperitifs and tapas

The recent news that Cava is trying to promote itself as the ideal accompaniment to tapas is worrying. And not a little insulting. The tapa has been an Andaluz tradition forever, as has Sherry, which is without doubt the perfect match for it. No other wine comes near.

Surely Catalunya has the imagination to create a more innovative promotion. They certainly need to; sales of wine in Spain have tumbled over the last 25 years to less than half the 47 litres per capita consumed then, and the golden age of booming Cava sales is over. This applies throughout Spanish wine regions unfortunately, not least Sherry. Perhaps it's time for the CRDO Jerez to retaliate with a campaign such as "Crema Catalana is better with PX Sherry". Or perhaps they could do a promotion at the Boqueria Market in Barcelona "Fideos go better with Sherry".

News from Jerez 10.8.12

The word "Tapa" has always been used to describe small dishes to accompany an aperitif, of which Sherry is the indisputable king. Many competitors have appeared, some very well known, but now the CRDO of Cava has launched a publicity campaign with the aim of muscling in on Sherry's prime position using the slogan "Tapas are better with Cava". As if Jerez didn't have enough problems.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 30, 15,6%, Equipo Navazos

Old unburnished gold, slight coppery traces at edge, legs.
Full, a hint of oxidation and some definite Amontillado touches, traces of flor, sand mixed with shells and seaweed on a beach, exactly half way between Manzanilla and Amontillado - some characteristics of both, traces of apple, hazelnut, dried fruit, more briny than salty and a hint of farmyard (from autolysis presumably), full of sea breezes and remarkably fresh.
Dry and fresh, lots of flavour, quite low acidity but tangy, trace olive brine, a touch of texture with some body coming in as it goes towards Amontillado, very fresh and lingering leaving a clean finish and a strong desire for another glass. Quite superb!
This wine was drawn from a solera of only 15 butts in June 2011 by Rafael Rivas who laid down the solera in 1986 at Bodegas La Guita (now owned by Grupo Estevez). His plan was to provide a super-quality manzanilla to embellish the standard La Guita, but it was never deemed necessary and he has been doing a minimum of running the scales to keep the flor going. This wine is the third from this solera and is around 15 years old.

£30.95 from

News from Jerez 8.8.12

This year's harvest estimates keep coming in but don't get any better. Growers in Trebujena and inland areas of Sanlucar fear a loss of up to 50% on last year. The severe drought has not allowed the grapes to bulk out. The picture for the Sherry zone as a whole still looks to be down some 20%. At least with the drought there have been no rot problems, and the vines have been treated for insects. Currently sugar readings in the grapes are around 9 degrees Beaume, still 1.5 degrees short of the level required by the Consejo for picking, which will be about a fortnight late. And another heatwave with record temperatures is forecast......

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Sherry Institute Tasting London 17.9.12

Sherry lovers will be delighted that Beltran Domecq, new President of the CRDO Jerez will attend this fantastic tasting in central London. Such a tasting will give a real fillip to the slowly emerging renaissance of Sherry here in the UK - so long as you live near London. It promises to showcase the biggest range of Sherries ever presented at a tasting, as well as promoting the "en rama" style Finos and Manzanillas.

With a dramatically squeezed budget the Institute and its director, Graham Hines, do fantastic work, mainly from sheer dedication to and love of Sherry. But could the budget not accommodate a tasting in Scotland too? Are the bodegas not chipping in for the tasting? It costs us north of the border a fortune to get to and fro London, with the almost inevitable overnight stay. It will cost me much the same to go to Jerez itself.

Many others already do two tastings; Australia and New Zealand are only two examples, but then their budget is probably much bigger. Hey ho.

News from Jerez 7.8.12

Bodegas Sanchez Romate are sponsoring a competition for "Flashfiction" (or "Microfiction") in conjunction with the Jerez writer Mauricio Gil Cano to promote literary creativity in relation to Sherry and Brandy de Jerez. The "I Certamen de Microrelatos Cardenal Mendoza" is open to anybody over 18 who submits a text not exceeding 200 words in Spanish. Subject matter is entirely open as long as there is mention of Sherry or Brandy de Jerez. The full rules can be found at

Three prizes will be awarded, the first being 300 euros, a bottle of Cardenal Mendoza Non Plus Ultra brandy and a case of Sanchez Romate Sherry. The closing date for entries is 1 November. Go on, pour a glass of Sherry and get creative!!

Vinification in Jerez: Making the Wine

The dry wines

With the grapes harvested and brought to the bodegas the next phase begins: making wine. First the grapes are analysed for sugar content (they will need to ferment to a minimum of 10.5 % vol to be able to make Sherry), then total acidity and pH are checked. Next the grapes go into a destemming machine and on to a crusher where they are gently squeezed to make the job of the press a little easier. Sometimes some stems are left in to help the juice drain better from the pulp in the press. Great care must be taken to avoid the risks of oxidation and excess tannin. The harder you press, the more juice you extract, but the more tannic it gets, so the pressing is very carefully done. The first juice (must) to come out is called "primera yema" and accounts for around two thirds of the total extracted. This is the finest juice, low in phenolics and will go on to produce the Finos, Manzanillas and Amontillados. The "segunda yema" accounts for about 25% of the must and is more phenolic and so destined for the oxidatively aged wines, the Palos Cortados and olorosos.

Once extracted, the musts are lightly filtered to remove any solids then the pH is corrected if necessary with the addition of tartaric acid. With the acidity correct, all that remains to be done is to add a touch of SO2 (sulphur dioxide) and leave the juice - or "mosto" to settle for a day or so. Now the must is pumped to the fermentation tanks where a tiny amount of already fermenting must ("pie de cuba") is added to help the fermentation get under way.Control of fermentation temperature is less critical  in Jerez than in other places, and it proceeds at about 23-25 degrees C which helps the yeast to convert all the sugar into alcohol. After about a week the fermentation comes to an end and the must is left to settle and the lees separated off. During settling a film of yeast appears on the surface of the must which is called "Flor". Malo-lactic fermentation may or may not be carried out.

Flor seen through the bunghole at Los Caireles (foto:pacobarroso)

Now is the time for the first classification of the musts. They are examined sensorially and analytically, and depending on their characteristics are classified into two broad groups: those which will age biologically and become Finos, Manzanillas and Amontillados, or those which will age oxidatively and become Palos Cortados or Olorosos. Each must will be classified with a marking thus: / ("raya") /. ("raya y punto") or //("dos rayas") according to its lightness or fullness of body. After clasification, the musts will be fortified to 15.5 % vol for the biological raya and raya y punto musts, which will allow the flor to grow, and to 18 % vol for the oxidative dos rayas musts which precludes the growth of flor. The musts are now racked - transferred to clean butts - and stored. In the case of the biological musts they are called "sobretablas", and the oxidative wines are called "anadas". Both are only now referred to as "wine". Here the wine will wait for further, more precise classification before going to the appropriate solera.

These sweet wines

Meanwhile, the PX grapes which are picked at about 16 Beaume (or about 300 grams per litre (g/l) of sugar) and then dried under the hot Andalucian sun have reached incredible levels of (natural) sugar - 450-500 g/l of must! They have also dried out - raisined ("pasificada") and cannot be pressed in the same way as the Palomino. So vertical presses are used which exert far more pressure than the paltry 5 or 6 kg/cm2 used for Palomino. In order to let the (much more viscous) juice run from the pomace, the presses are loaded carefully using "esterillas" (round esparto mats) alternately with bunches of raisins ("pasas") like a huge sandwich. When the pressure is applied and aromatic honey like juice runs free. Fermentation generally starts spontaneously but slowly and the must will be fortified to about 10% vol to stabilise it. The following spring after it has settled out the solids, the wine will be fortified to between 15 and 17 % vol and filled into butts ready for the solera. These wines have higher than usual levels of tannin as the raisins cannot be removed from the stems, however with all that sugar and flavour you wouldn't really notice.

The Moscatel grapes are treated either in exactly the same way as PX, or without the "asoleo" (drying in the sun). Many Moscateles are made simply with super ripe grapes picked straight from the vine which are pressed in a normal press then fortified soon after fermentation has begun. The result is a pale golden wine, very sweet and with the aromas of fresh rather than dried grapes. It requires no ageing.

The colouring wines

These are produced in small quantities for the purpose of giving the expected colour to the blended wines such as Cream and Medium. While they contain a lot of sugar, they are not good enough as sweetening wines. Palomino grape must is boiled down on direct heat to concentrate the must down to 1/5 of its original volume and to caramelize the sugars. This liquid is called "arrope" and is also used for making desserts and as a preservative in jams. To make colouring wine, the arrope is mixed 1/3 to 2/3 with Palomino must and slowly fermented to about 8 % vol, and after settling it is fortified to 15 or 17 % vol and aged in soleras ready for the commercial Medium and Cream blends.

See also: Asoleo

Monday 6 August 2012

News from Jerez 6.8.12

Two items today:

In the light of this year's small harvest, some in Jerez are wondering if the "adjustment" (grubbing up vines to balance supply and demand) has gone too far. The mean years which have seen dozens of growers ruined or close to ruin - and some bodegas too, are thought to be over and the crisis to have bottomed out, but there is little agreement on what steps to take now.

Grape price rises are inevitable, and while bodegas and the CRDO are happy with moderate rises, the growers want compensation for the mean years whose effects can be widely seen. The countryside once dominated by the green of vineyards is now full of bald patches where vines once grew.

The CRDO calculates a quota of 3 litres of wine in crianza for every 1 litre sold guaranteeing 4 years of sales, but some worry that after 4 years there might be shortages - especially after this year's small crop. One can see the wisdom of Grupo Estevez' canny move in buying 400 hectares of old Domecq vineyard. There are now only 6,900 hectares registered at the CRDO, of which only 6013 are in production for Sherry. The remaining 887 hectares are either used for concentrated must or vino de color, or are in a poor state due to abandonment. Unattended vineyards give cause for concern for the spread of infections and insects, the latter prevalent in dry years such as this one. Putting these back into production will cost more than anyone has.

While EU planting liberalisation could help recuperate part of the vineyard area without the need to pay for planting rights - which are still held by the beneficiaries of EU sponsored grubbing up or victims of abandonment - it would take until at least 2018 to come into force.

Construction companies have caused further worries by buying up speculatively vineyards close to the city intending to build. They too, however have been hit by the crisis, and nothing has been built, leaving these vineyards abandoned and uncared for. The demise of Nueva Rumasa has caused Garvey's San Patricio
vineyard to be untended, and it is not alone.

Luckily there is also some good news from Jerez!

Gonzalez Byass is hosting a classical concert performed by The Soloists of London on the 14th August. It will be conducted by Andrew Coman, and is the first of a series of annual events planned by the bodega. The idea is that guests will tour the bodega, stopping at particularly nice spots and enjoy a glass of fine Sherry while the 17 musicians play. Afterwards an a la carte dinner will be served in the open air. Future events will provide a variety of music, including Flamenco and Jazz. Yet another innovation from GB!

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Fino Marismeno 15%, Bodegas Sanchez Romate Hnos.

Slightly deeper than some Finos, strawy gold, not 100% bright so not over filtered by the look of it, legs.
Full, quite penetrating and complex, traces autolysis, saline Flor, almond, slight hints of oxidation, yellow fruit - mainly Palomino, bread dough, even Marmite, lovely.
Broadly similar, lots of flavour starting with fruit then evolving through saline Flor, then bread and then bitter almond and yeast, all the time with some weight. Not particularly acidic yet very tangy, and very long. lovely.
A delicious wine. Such depth and flavour along with the autolytic flavours show some age and in fact it is about 7 years old. This wine comes from a solera of 836 butts with 3 criaderas. A third of the solera (227 butts) is drawn 2-3 times annually and some goes for bottling and the rest feeds the NPU Amontillado solera. Superb. Worth every penny. "Marismeno" presumably refers to the marshes at the mouth of the river Guadalquivir near Sanlucar which are a protected wildlife zone.

£14.95 from Drinkmonger. UK Importers are Marussia Beverages

Bodegas: Sanchez Romate Hnos.

One of the few larger bodegas to remain in family hands, Sanchez Romate was established in 1781. The founder, a restless, educated man called Juan Sanchez de la Torre was born in 1756 and came, like many bodegueros, from Ruiloba in Santander. He enjoyed the bustle of Jerez in the formative years of Sherry's success and was a noted benefactor to the city, founding various schools and institutes. He also lent money and even wine to smaller bodegas. A street is named after him. He had no children and on his death in 1838 the business passed to to those of his brother with whom he had been associated, one of whom married into the Romate family, and to their children's children. He must have been extremely successful as he is said to have left 12 million reales de vellon in his will.

In 1887 the fourth generation of the family introduced a new product, brandy. It had been intended for the use of  family and friends, but was so good they decided to market it. They chose the name Cardenal Mendoza after a XV century cardinal who helped Columbus, and the brandy has been very successful ever since, providing a worthwhile income while sales of Sherry are depressed. In 1909 the firm was appointed official supplier of Sherry to the House of Lords, and in 1917 to the Vatican. One of the bodegas contained three enormous toneles, each with a capacity of 20,000 litres, named after the three sons of Noah: Sem, Cam and Jafet. These were used for making large quantity blends and were later substituted by tiled cement vats.

Facade in C/Lealas showing fungus from brandy ageing
The company owns about 100 hectares of albariza vineyard, the Viña Soledad in the pago Balbaina for the production of Finos and a little parcel of PX, and the Viña Santa Genoveva in the pago Carrascal mainly used for Olorosos and Palos cortados. They buy in Moscatel from Chipiona. When Fernando de Castilla bought the soloeras of Jose Bustamante, Romate bought the bodega next door and also that of the old firm of Wisdom and Warter (though not the soleras which went to Gonzalez Byass). The Romate bodegas, built mostly in 1820, have an interesting device to maintain the necessary 70% humidity. Instead of simply spraying water from a hose, they have a high pressure mist spray system on the walls. It is efficient and economical with water.

Now in its 10th generation, Romate exports to over 40 countries, and produces much BOB (buyer's own brand) Sherry. One prominent client is the Wine Society. Some of the firm's bottlings have magnificent old fashioned labels of  Victorian ladies, for example their Manzanilla "Viva la Pepa" and the 8 year old Fino Perdido from the 85 butt Celestino solera (a different solera to Marismeño). The firm also contract bottles wine for Cayetano del Pino and Fernando de Castilla, as well as supplying occasional almacenista wines for Viniberia.

The range consists of: Brandy, Vinegar, table wine from Rueda and Ribera del Duero, and Sherry:

Old and Plus:
Amontillado, Oloroso and PX from 200 year old soleras once kept back for family use. They are sold in 50cl decanters and are well over 30 years old and easily VORS, but the firm does not believe in this system.
Other special wines:
Fino Perdido, Amontillado Olvidado, Oloroso Encontrado.
Special Reserve:
Fino Marismeno, and the following are all 15 years old: NPU Amontillado; Palo Cortado Regente; Oloroso Don Jose; Iberia Cream; PX Duquesa; PX Cardenal Cisneros; Moscatel Ambrosia
Fino; Medium Amontillado; Dry Oloroso; Cream; PX. Also Manzanilla Viva La Pepa (once Fernando A de Terry)
Romate, Cardenal Mendoza, cardenal Mendoza Lujo, Cardenal Mendoza Carta Real, Cardenal Mendoza NPU, Uno en Mil (static aged single cask brandy)
Angelus - based on brandy with bitter orange, lemon, cardamom and clove
Ingenio Manacas (own solera in Jerez)
Officially they don't offer visits, but might be persuaded...
Address:  C/ Lealas, 26-30, 11404 Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz
Tel:  (+34) 956 182 212

News from Jerez 1.8.12

At a recent meeting between the Mayor of Jerez, Maria Jose Garcia Pelayo and councillors, and Beltran Domecq and Cesar Saldana, President and Director General respectively of the Consejo, the two parties agreed to continue collaborating, and especially for the forthcoming harvest festival (Fiesta de la Vendimia), which of course is really all about Sherry.

Meanwhile in Mallorca, a judge in Palma has ordered the arrest of Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos for failing to appear at court on fraud charges connected with the purchase of a local hotel. Ruiz Mateos blamed his absence on a broken foot, but the judge ruled that there were insufficient medical or legal grounds for him not to appear on a new date set for the 23rd August. She said that while he had rights, one of them was not to laugh at justice.