Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Fino Elegante 15%, Gonzalez Byass

Bright pale strawy gold, minimal legs.
Light young and quite fruity, forthcoming with a touch of flor, very fresh with hints of almond, quince, melon and bread dough, appealing.
Similar, fruity, but with a hint of counterbalancing bitterness from the flor, decent acidity and in general fresh and quite zippy with decent length
Much better than I remember it; less plodding and full of youthful zip. Perhaps 3-4 years old
£ 8.49 from Waitrose

31.10.12 Beam sell Palacio Domecq

Beam Global puts the Palacio Domecq up for sale

The emblematic XVIII century home of the Domecq family in the Alameda Cristina in central Jerez is being put up for sale by its owners, the American multinational Jim Beam.  Things are already quite advanced with a group of hoteliers planning to use the building as a venue for celebrations. It has already been the scene of celebrations with, most notably the wedding of the famous bullfighter “El Juli” to Rosario Domecq.

In 2003 the Junta de Andalucia declared the building, which occupies nearly an entire block, as being of Cultural Interest. In recent times, since the 1960s, the house has ceased to be the Domecq residence, and has been used to accommodate company executives. Yesterday the sign outside with the visiting times was being removed, "simply because the season is over", according to Beam sources.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Pale Dry Fino 15%, Bodegas del Principe for the Cooperative

Paleish strawy gold, clean, light legs.
Rather bitter flor edged aroma with the teeniest trace of oxidation and some bitter almond. It is fino all right, but not particularly attractive, and thankfully not terribly forthcoming.
Similar to nose, but a shade more oomph, a trace of olive brine. Not particularly "fine" and has none of the subtleties of the hoped-for delicate flor flavour. It does the job, just. It brings back memories of the finos imported in the 1960s and 70s which were usually 18% vol. At least it is inexpensive.
I can't find out much about this bodega, except that the address given is Crta. N-IV, Km 640, Jerez, which is the same as Grupo Estevez., so one must presume that Bodegas del Principe is a sous-marque of Estevez for bulk blends. It is bottled in Jerez, but is not doing the image of Sherry much good.
Cannot find a photo of this bottle. Maybe that's another reason it's cheap.

Good News for the Sector, and for Garvey 28.10.12

The Audiencia Nacional annuls Sherry sector fines for agreeing grape prices.

The Audiencia Nacional (National Court) has annulled fines imposed on the Consejo Regulador and the association of cooperatives AECOVI by the CNC (Comision Nacional de Competencia – roughly our Office of Fair Trading) for agreeing grape prices, some of which were initiatives from the Andalucian Ministry of Agriculture as part of the Strategic Plan 2002-2006.

The Court took into account that the pricing agreement was done in good faith under government scrutiny and was intended to address the oversupply problems in the Sherry zone.  Other organisations in the trade are now expecting their fines to be quashed. The growers are delighted, as the fine would be almost impossible to pay given the current hard times.

The grape pricing fines were the third measure initiated by the CNC. They had previously imposed fines on the trade of a total of 8 million euros. The first of these was for discriminatory sales quotas, for which the Consejo was fined 400,000 euros, which the Court reduced to 100,000. The second imposed fines of a total of 7 million euros on Fedejerez (the association of Bodegas), the Consejo and various individual bodegas. This is still awaiting resolution at the Court.

(Diario de Jerez)

Garvey back to profit

After 18 months in administration and drastic staff cuts the old-established firm is almost back on its feet. There are now only 53 staff, and those on reduced salaries, but nobody talks about Ruiz Mateos, their eyes are focused on the future. The worst may be over, but there is a lot to be done, not least on the financial side and the administrators are trying to avoid bankruptcy. Since the owner Back in Business was relieved of management of the firm, it it is verging on profit after taxes and suppliers were paid.

Things are difficult, but the bodega has never stopped working and has sufficient stocks to supply demand. Prices have had to rise and a few clients have thus been lost, but some have returned. The firm is actively seeking new customers and is abandoning the cheap and unprofitable BOB (Buyer’s Own Brand) Sherries. Confidence in Garvey is gradually returning, both from suppliers and clients, and it seems that the bodega will be able to stand on its own two feet without depending on being part of a group. The staff are motivated and kept informed of any movement in the administration. It is possible that Garvey might merge with Zoilo Ruiz Mateos, also in administration.

(Diario de Jerez)

Bodegas: Alvaro Domecq

In 1999 Alvaro Domecq Romero bought the oldest surviving (1800) almacenista bodega, that of Pilar Aranda y Latorre. The bodega supplied large quantities of wine to Gonzalez Byass for blending and also supplied Emilio Lustau who bottled the wines unblended for their Almacenista range. He began to put  the wines on the market under the name Alvaro Domecq, the byword being quality. There were initial problems with Allied Domecq's new owners, Pernod Ricard, over the use of the name Domecq, so Pilar Aranda was used for a while, until the problems  were overcome.

Many in the Domecq family thought that "Alvarito" as he was known was mad, after all he was a famous rejoneador (mounted bullfighter) and breeder, but sales slowly grew from fewer than 1,000 cases a month to over 15,000. Now the bodega has a fine reputation. Alvaro always dressed as an English gentleman, wearing tweed and silk ties, like many a Sherry grandee. An outstanding horseman, he was a founder of the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre and also served as mayor of Jerez.

The bodega, constructed in the early XVIII century and consisting of 5 warehouses, sits in the south of the city on a slight hill and is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the west wind which brings moisture to the flor. The warehouses, are built over 3 levels for the same reason, and unique in Jerez. Nowadays the 2,500sq/m bodega is surrounded by housing in the Barrio San Miguel.

The firm picks the best available young wines from the best bodegas and rears them in an artisanal manner. The oenologist, Ana Real, cares for the 1,500 butts of old wine, and knows every one personally. Such that she found a few exceptional butts of oloroso Alburejo , and we can look forward to a limited VORS release of this. Exports amount to about 60% of sales, particularly in Europe and Latin America, where the name Domecq is well known thanks to their subsidiary in Mexico.

Alvaro passed away in 2005, and in 2007 the investment company Inveravante bought a sizeable stake bringing the firm into a group with other wines from 10 areas such as Rueda and Rioja among others. They also produce very fine brandy and vinegar. There is a shop which sells not only the Alvaro Domecq products, but also those of Inveravante (or Avante Selecta), being wines from all over Spain.

The Domecq name is famous in Jerez and beyond, and Alvaro and the other family members did not want to lose its connection to the wines of Jerez. The date 1730 used on labels relates to the founding of the bodegas which eventually became Pedro Domecq, not that of Pilar Aranda.

Old Vinegar solera, venencias and scales at Alvaro Domecq

The range consists of:
Fino La Janda (over 7 years old)
Manzanilla La Jaca
Oloroso Alburejo (over 7 years old)
Aranda Cream

And the old wines: These have been a bit unreliable in terms of availablity in recent times (there are limited quantities), but efforts have been made to re-introduce the Amontillado and Palo Cortado, as well as the new Oloroso Alburejo:

Oloroso VORS 1730
Palo Cortado VORS 1730
Amontillado VORS 1730
PX VORS 1730

Some of the finest vinegar in Jerez, the oldest being from 1846!

Address: Calle Madre de Dios S/N, 11401 Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz
Tel:  (+34) 956 339 634
Visits: yes, with prior arrangement. Various events can be held in the bodegas eg weddings

Bodegas: Pilar Aranda

This famous firm is one of the oldest bodegas in Jerez, and the oldest of the almacenistas. It was established in 1800 by Don Antonio Maria de Aranda y Cardenas, the great grandfather of Pilar Aranda. Don Antonio had four children: Carlos, Felix, Pepa and Fermin. Fermin became a very famous surgeon, and was often invited to speak at medical conferences. At one such in 1924, attended by King Alfonso XIII, he extolled the virtues of Sherry so well that the following day, 1200 of those at the conference visited Jerez! Medical man though he was, he looked after the family bodega and expanded it. He even experimented briefly with growing tobacco. A street was later named after him (the old Calle Medina).

A republican and the owner of vineyards – he came to own four fincas: La Rosa Celeste, La Blanquita, La Huerta de la Marquesa and  La Venta Cantero - and of course the bodegas. He spoke three languages and was known for his charm. He married Dona Pilar Latorre Nieto, and they had four children: Antonio, Fermin, Jose and Pilar, born on the 11th of July 1907.

It was Pilar, widowed young - her husband was killed during the Spanish Civil War - who inherited the bodega containing some 500 butts on her father’s death on the 1st of May 1946. Along with her sons and the accountancy skills of her cousin Guillermo Ferguson’s stepson, she continued with the winemaking. She was a woman ahead of her time, possessing grace and spontaneity as well as an excellent knowledge of the workings of a bodega, and great skill as a taster. With a great sense of humour and agility of mind, she was well known and respected not only in bodega circles but also in public. 

Pilar had seven bodegas, but three were rented out. The other four contained about 700 butts. She worked a lot with Manuel Maria Gonzalez Gordon of Gonzalez Byass, buying mosto from them and selling them back matured Sherries, in fact 85% of her bodegas output was sold to them for their blends, the rest being sold to Emilio Lustau – such as a lovely Amontillado Fino - to be bottled unblended and sold bearing her name as well as that of Lustau. One treasure in the bodega was an ancient PX, well over 100 years old, which has been aged statically in only four butts, but it is almost impossible to procure any. There is also some outstanding vinegar.

In 1975, at the Harvest Festival, the Consejo Regulador named her “Capataz de Honor” in recognition of her dedication to Sherry. As she grew older, her grandson, Fermin Garcia Villaescusa managed the business. A trained enologist with experience, he is also an artist, and perhaps his greater interest lay there. Dona Pilar passed away in 1997, aged 90, and in 1999 the firm was sold to Alvaro Domecq, a member of that famous bodega family (qv). In 2006 a street in Jerez was renamed in her honour.

It is hard to say whether or not this is a lost bodega, but many changes have certainly been made. The firm now markets the brands based on the existing soleras, but is now part of a big financial group. Lustau is no longer bottling the wines.

Her brands were
Fino La Janda
Oloroso Alburejo
Cream Aranda 
These brands have been continued by Alvaro Domecq along with some very old wines which are now  as the 1730 range.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

A Rumour.......

I have had wind of a rumour that there are big moves afoot among certain bodegas. According to the rumour, Gonzalez Byass is buying from Osborne all their wine and Sherry brands, and Osborne is buying from GB all their spirit brands.

Any further information gratefully received!!

News from Gonzalez Byass and Ruiz Mateos 27.10.12

Good news from Gonzalez Byass

According to the UK Marketing Director, Jeremy Rockett, GB have finished their financial year on an upward curve with really good growth in table wines and Tio Pepe. The firm is selling increasing amounts of table wine in the £12-13 sector and plans to increase its range.

Last May, Jeremy Rockett said that the London Sherry boom had spread beyond the Capital . Now it is building. More new Spanish restaurants are soon to open in London, but the Sherry boom is spreading to Wales as well.

GB will be releasing a new selection of the four Palmas wines first released last year (see tasting notes very soon). They were selected by the bodega in association with wine journalist Anthony Rose, and there is already much interest.

(Courtesy of Harpers)

Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos is in Hospital

The Nueva Rumasa founder was admitted to hospital in Madrid yesterday with an arythmic heart condition brought on by an attack of anxiety, according to his spokesman. He was earlier moved from a private clinic as he had not paid the medical insurance. The 81 year old was accompanied by his daughter Begona, and his six sons were criticised for not turning up. The anxiety was apparently brought on by his having to be kept in jail to guarantee his appearance in court in La Palma to answer charges of fraud. This has not been helped by the fact that Begona has denounced her brothers for all sorts of business malpractice.It seems he also has Parkinsons.

(Diario de Jerez)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

News from Jerez 24.10.12

Garvey staff call meeting to find out what is going on

Garvey is two months in arrears with staff pay and has severe liquidity problems, so the unions have called meetings with the staff and management of the four Nueva Rumasa bodegas  (Garvey, Zoilo Ruiz Mateos Teresa Rivero and Valdivia) for Friday as they have had no news for months about what is going on with the receivership. Workers’ representatives will seek an early meeting with the judge of the mercantile court. 

Valdivia is awaiting a judicial decision before being put up for sale. Teresa Rivero – formerly CAYDSA – is in deadlock over the reduction of staff. The management of the bodega hopes to revert to the pre-Nueva Rumasa cooperative status as its sale was never properly finalised (paid for) by the Ruiz Mateos family. These are the two smaller bodegas, going through an abbreviated process. 

The bigger two, Garvey and ZRM have seen swingeing staff cuts – more than half at Garvey and over 20 at ZRM, and there has been little management since the judge removed management authority from Angel de Cabo, the actual owner of Nueva Rumasa. What with the liquidity situation, the bodegas have had problems securing raw materials, and have been steadily losing customers.

Monday, 22 October 2012

PX VORS 16%, Harveys

Opaque black through burnt sienna to narrow greeny-yellow rim, viscous with long slow tinted legs.
Full, old and complex, concentrated pasas (raisins), toast (verging on burnt), coffee, tight and serious, some treacle bitter black chocolate and molasses, slight aroma of cake.
Quite light in weight, but intensely flavoured, pasas and molasses on well-done toast, so tasty you hardly notice the sweetness, but a slight tang there too, licorice, coffee and chocolate come through slowly as it evolves on the palate, hardly a trace of wood.
A beautiful wine, old, balanced and intense, a classic VORS (over 30 years old), from a solera established in 1919. It scores 90 points in Penin.Hopefully these more serious wines from Harveys will help restore its reputation.

£ 21.49 for a 50cl bottle at Waitrose, a good price.

The Strongest Men in Sherry

Interesting article in today’s Diario de Jerez

Arrumbadores. A lovely word. These are the people who move the butts around the bodega and perform the tasks of saca e rocio (running the scales -extracting wine and refilling the butts), a very important job in the Sherry business. This is about the arrumbadores of the 1950s and 60s. The Civil War, closely followed by the Second World War paralysed the Sherry business, and the 1950s saw a resurgence of business, consolidated in the 1960s when the old markets were re-established.

The famous writer on Sherry, Julian Jeffs came to Jerez to work in bodegas during this period, in 1956, and witnessed the rebirth of the Almacenistas and the rude arrival of Rumasa. These had been hungry times, and a rebirth was more than welcome. In the bodegas, squads of arrumbadores did their daily work under the watchful eye of the capataz (cellarmaster) who was king. There were thousands of them, always in charge, demanding and disciplined, with great tasting ability, their hats pulled down and sashes to protect themselves from lumbago – easily incurred from the hard work.

The good capataz was usually a bit older and had to be more experienced and wiser. One, Luis Valle Saborido spent all his working life with Sandeman and after 37 years became capataz, but not before receiving classes in enology and microbiology. Capataces are like that; they don’t boast, but expect some respect. They jealously supervised their teams which consisted of a chargehand, two officials and an apprentice. These were burly men, their sleeves rolled up and wearing black sashes tightly round their kidneys, carrying metal jars hither and thither.

All the while, the capataz would keep an eye on the erection of the rows of butts up to three and even four high, the substitution of faulty ones, their loading and unloading from transport, topping-up, moving wine to fresh butts, and other work requiring great effort and skill. Without them the ageing of the wine would have been impossible, but modernisation quickly wiped them from the map.

The bodegas then transferred this lost tradition to the Fiesta de la Vendimia celebrations as a nostalgic competition, with teams from various bodegas competing against each other. Beforehand, an experienced arrumbador would explain the tactics to a young capataz who in turn would teach his squad.

Gonzalez Byass, like many firms had a paternalistic attitude to their staff. The firm had a company store which supplied staff with basic products at cost price, such as clothing and later on, white goods. When GB then did a deal with car maker Seat, the town filled up with Seat 600s. The bodegas had a deal with builders who sold housing to 20% of the staff at easy rates. They even had a company doctor, since the XIX century who visited the workers' families on occasion.

Workers’children would have priority to fill their father’s vacated post. On the death of a worker, the bodega would offer employment to his son or work in bottling to his widow. In cases of advanced age, the widow would receive a small pension.

Domecq had a company shop with goods at half price. They even promoted education grants to those who could show their children had the necessary skills, not to mention an in-house doctor, and help with purchasing a home.

The arrumbadores worked from 8-12 then from 2-6, Monday to Saturday when they would be paid. To mitigate the poverty and misery during the hungry years of unemployment post war, the bodegas would employ half the work force one week and the other half the other week.

Work was hard, and inevitably the odd glass of wine was drunk, without the capataz knowing obviously. One trick was the “monkey”, a bottle small enough to go through the butt’s bung hole on a string. Another – cruder – way was to use the tube for transferring wine to drink from. GB put a stop to this theft of wine by giving everyone a bottle of wine or a voucher for the equivalent value after work every day.

In those days a job in the bodegas was thought to be for life, but technology put an end to that - and the arrumbadores - from the end of the 1960s. Sherry would soon go through its worst times.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Manzanilla Barbiana 15%, Delgado Zuleta

Pale strawy gold, slight trace green, very light legs.
Attractive coastal nose full of sea breezes, soft, plump and yeasty, if not over saline, but a hint of green almond bitterness lifts it. Fresh and zippy.
Fuller, quite solid, lots of flor, tangy, hints of green almond, yeasty, complex and quite subtle, growing on you all the time, a real Sanluquena!
The label bears the interesting legend "Procedente de las criaderas de Barbiana", B Rodriguez La-Cave. The wine is aged 3-4 years and tastes jolly good for its youth -it has character. presumably the soleras came from Rodriguez La-Cave when DZ bought the company.

6 Euros in Jerez

Palo Cortado 19% Waitrose, Lustau

Deep amber with the slightest trace of black and coppery tints fading through autumnal yellow to a pale rim with just a trace of green, legs.
At first a hint of meaty oloroso, then a trace of Marmite and some toasted almonds and hazelnuts, fairly light and genuinely neither oloroso nor amontillado, but with characteristics of both, but leaning towards amontillado, not particularly forceful.
Dry, slightly fuller and definitely more oloroso, quite savoury with good texture, slightly bitter walnut and a trace of something burnt, fairly low acidity balanced by the bitterness to give it a tang. Slightly odd, (dare I say confected?) but a very pleasant wine, especially with cheese or stews.
This wine is from Waitrose's more up-market range of own labels from Lustau with a brown label and the brand "Solera Jerezana". It also carries the Lustau brand "Solera Reserva". Lustau themselves market a Palo Cortado from their Solera Reserva range called "Peninsula", also 19%, though it is unlikely to be the same wine as the price is quite different; Peninsula is usually over £20, and the Waitrose one is £8,89. After referring to my notes on Peninsula, it is definitely not the same, but represents good value.

News from Jerez/El Puerto 17.10.12

Bodegas Osborne will produce over 2.7 million bottles this year

Osborne Communications Director, Ivan Llanza told Efeagro in an interview that although the harvest has been very small, the health and sugar level of the grapes is excellent. From the 6,000 remaining hectares of vineyard, 57 million kilos of grapes were harvested. Osborne own 200 hectares of vineyard in the Jerez Superior area of Balbaina where they grow principally Palomino but also PX, their oldest version of which was awarded 98 Parker points.

EU Reconversion plan will have little effect on Jerez

Of the 123 million Euros awarded to the Spanish Autonomies, Andalucia will receive about 5 million in the 2013 (and final) grant for reconversion and restructuring of vineyard. Vinegrowers in Jerez can pretty well forget any benefits this will bring due to a lack of plant stock and grafts at the nurseries caused by lack of demand due in turn to the uprooting of vineyards.

Growers should have applied by March for grants to change vine varieties or to upgrade vines from the traditional “en vaso” training to “espaldera” training for example, and the lack of plant stock impedes this. Oddly, however the nurseries have begun to increase stocks as some growers are needing them, but this will be too late.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Fino Don Zoilo 15%, Williams & Humbert

Slightly lemony pale strawy gold, light legs.
Fresh, quite full and soft yet with plenty flor yeastines, traces of almondy bitterness and quince fruit, quite plump, all this yet quite serious.
Also quite serious, assertive, some salty flor tang, a trace of Marmite and that almondy bitterness, some weight yet a certain leanness, very dry, long and classy, that seriousness needs food though.
A very good Fino, and a cracking aperitif - it really gets the gastric juices going. It comes from a solera with 9 criaderas and is aged approximately 8 years. This wine was named in honour of Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos' father, Zoilo Ruiz Mateos Camacho, who in a small way established the business which eventually became Rumasa. It was Rumasa's best Fino, and always sold at a premium.

If I remember rightly it was about 10 Euros at the Bodega

Bodegas: Luis Caballero

It all began when Don Jose Cabaleiro do Largo and family decided to get involved in the wine business in Chipiona in 1795. The Cabaleiro family hailed from Vigo, Galicia, and were already known in the Jerez area as wood suppliers. A major step forward was the purchase, in 1830, of the old bodegas of the Dukes of Medinaceli in El Puerto de Santa Maria, which contained valuable old XVII century soleras of Amontillado and Oloroso. They acquired vineyards in Sanlucar and set up a still to distill the wines of Sanlucar and Chipiona. Since that time the company has been involved in the entire production process of wines and spirits.

By the 1870s the firm was expanding, having begun exports to Britain and America and bought two important vineyards totalling 33 hectares: El Benito and Las Cruzes. In 1908 the firm launched Conac Caballero and concentrated its export efforts to  Britain. At the end of the 1930s they opened a glass factory Vidrierias del Guadalete  mainly to supply America as the War had put Supplies from England out of reach. By the 1940s the firm became a Group with interests in glass, farming and wines and spirits. They acquired the bodegas of Jose de La Cuesta and John William Burdon in 1932, becoming Grupo Caballero. In the 1970s the company bought the old bodegas Sancho opposite the Puerto de Santa Maria bullring and restructured itself featuring its brands and there was strong growth in sales of both wines and spirits, especially for Ponche Caballero, the leading brand of its type.

This growth funded the acquisition of bodegas from outside the Sherry zone: Marques de Irun in Rueda; Vina Herminia in Rioja and Santuario in Toro, and in 1990 the best acquisition of them all, Emilio Lustau. The traditional old Cazalla distillery joined Grupo Caballero in 1996 and proceeded to successfully launch Miura liqueur, and a distribution company Europvin was established, based in Bordeaux and run by Christopher Cannan. In June 2008, Caballero acquired four of the famous Pedro Domecq brands: La Ina, Rio Viejo, Vina 25 and Botaina, which are marketed under the Lustau brand, yet keep the old Domecq appearance.

Caballero’s San Marcos bodegas in El Puerto de Santa Maria are integrated with the old XIIC Castillo San Marcos, and every summer a musical cycle of concerts is held in the patio which is one of the best cultural events in the town.

Castillo San Marcos

Bodegas San Marcos (formerly Sancho)

The Group products include:
Ponche, Liqueurs and Cream Liqueurs, Brandies, Table wines from Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Rioja and Distribution of others companies' brands.

Apart from the Lustau and Domecq brands, the bodegas own Sherries are:
Fino Pavon
Amo Don Luis
Oloroso Real
Manola Cream
Padre Lerchundi Moscatel de Chipiona

Address: Calle San Francisco, 32, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz
Tel: 956 851 751
Visits: yes but phone in advance to arrange

Monday, 15 October 2012

Oloroso Don Nuno 20%, Emilio Lustau

Deep bright amber fading through amber to yellowy green rim, legs.
Elegant, very fine, forthcoming, walnut in syrup with a slightly savoury edge and a crisp note, and at the same time a touch of implicit sweetness, quite rich with some chestnut there too and a toasty suggestion of oak.
Tangy and elegant, some age but not too full and lean, well rounded with that savoury edge and implicit sweetness yet dry. Beautifully controlled oxidation, nutty with the slightest trace of natural chocolate and toast. Considerable length.
Although perhaps appearing older, Don Nuno is aged for about 12 years.From Lustau's Solera Reserva range, it is delicious, and a very good example of oloroso.

£ 13.95 from Drinkmonger, and very reasonable too.

The Women in the Sherry Trade

From an interesting article in the Diario de Jerez

In what has always been a masculine world there have always been women, though never as many as there are now. In the past they were generally inheritors of bodegas when their husbands died, and continued to run them successfully despite the men.

Widows like Teresa Reizo, widow of Francisco Ramon Mendoza of Jerez who inherited in 1817. At about the same time there was the widow of the owner of Victoria e Hijos in El Puerto de Santa Maria. The widow of Richard Sheild; in Sanlucar there was  Josefa Colom, widow of Eduardo Hidalgo; and Aurora Ambrosy Lacave who ran bodegas Pedro Romero between 1911 and 1921.

But there were two outstanding women - Pilar Aranda Latorre and Pilar Pla Pechovierto, both with similar problems and needs. Pilar Aranda was a widow with great strength of character and resourcefulness who decided to take on the traditional formality of the trade to give her sons a future in the family almacenista business starting with the 500 butts of some of the finest and oldest wines in Jerez, which she had inherited from her father Fermin Aranda. The bodega managers cooperated fully, and along with good accounting from her cousin Guillermo Ferguson’s stepson, things went very well and she earned universal respect running the bodega for 50 years till her death in 1997. The wines were bottled and marketed by Emilio Lustau, until the bodega was sold to Alvaro Domecq in 1999.

Pilar Pla Pechovierto “the Sherry Lady” runs the bodega El Maestro Sierra, an all-woman firm along with her daughter Maria del Carmen Borrego Pla and the brilliant enologist Ana Cabestrero Ortega. The bodega began in 1830 when the cooper Jose Antonio Sierra of the Calle Merced filled a bodega with butts which he had made. He died with no heirs and the bodega was inherited by his niece Carmen Casal Soto who, when widowed, set up a company with her children Rosario, Josefa and Antonio to whom she entrusted the production of high quality wines by artisanal means. On Antonio’s death she and her daughters took over the running of the business, and it has prospered ever since. It is now one of the most highly regarded bodegas in Jerez.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Moscatel Viejisimo Toneles 15%, Valdespino

Very dark blacky chestnut/mahogany with burnished copper/gold  reflections, viscous, with trace of green at rim,looks ancient.
Intense concentrated moscatel aroma and a touch of oak yet a hint of crisp freshness really carries it through. It has beautiful citrus notes with traces of spice and coffee all deeply integrated. It is in a different league to most others by its sheer intensity and seductiveness. The oldest Moscatel in Jerez.
Full, concentrated, intensely sweet, bursting with that complex mix of raisined moscatel, oxidation and wood that only time can achieve. Intensely flavoured, textured, viscous, tangy and lingers for ages on the palate, practically forever. It is so complex, balanced and delicious you barely notice the sweetness. Quite exquisite.
This must be the oldest moscatel around. It is at least 80 years old. Moscatel has never been a particularly  important wine in Jerez, but this one is! It merits 97 Penin points and 100 Parker. In my view it is an honour to have been able to taste it, especially given the tiny quantities available. I tasted it from the solera - of just one tonel, a 1000 litre butt - which is sealed with a padlock! The Toneles criaderas are refreshed from the Promesa solera and the wine has a sugar content of 420 g/l balanced by a refreshing 10g/l total acidity. The grapes are from Chipiona and the solera, which totals 31 toneles, was established in the early XIX century. In the Valdespino days the solera was stored at the Bodega Grande in Calle Ponce and the wine was very rarely sold. Since Grupo Estevez bought the firm and the wine received such high praise from the critics, a total of 350 bottles were released annually. As demand grew, this was changed to half bottles.

Really it is priceless, but Vilaviniteca in Spain have it at the best price - 110 euros for a half bottle. It can also be bought from Slurp in the UK - at £280 for a 75cl bottle

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Fino Pavon 15%, Luis Caballero

Fairly full bright strawy gold, light legs,
Quite big but soft and open, slight traces Marmite, yeast and Palomino fruit, more yeasty than saline, yet a trace of the sea, less "punzante" than some, but attractive.
Plenty Flor, lovely and fresh with a gentle touch of almondy bitterness and not a little body, quite generous in style, big soft and tasty with good length, very good.

A delicious glass of wine, classic Puerto de Santa Maria style, made using an unusual process which involves putting the finished wine into butts containing 100 litres of young wine with active flor before bottling. This is to ensure maximum freshness. Perfect with olives and ham, but which is difficult to restrict oneself to just one glass. (I failed). Not available in UK as far as I know, but should be.

Fino Sin Pecado 15%, Coop Las Angustias

Bright strawy gold, not much glycerol, so very light legs.
Very fresh and clean, some flor character but not particularly salty or bitter, trace Palomino fruit, quite young but none the worse for that, quite attractive.
Fresh and yeasty with a trace of acidity and a touch of bitterness, quite full with a hint of fruit, good length and very nice but young.
Very pleasant wine with no faults and some character. No sins commited here. The photo below (couldn't find a better one - this is from the Coop website) shows the wine in bottled form, but Tabanco Plateros buys and sells it on draught.

Not available in UK as far as I know, but not expensive.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Back from Jerez: Part 3

The third important bodega visit was to Valdespino, probably the oldest of the Sherry houses, and in family hands until the fairly recent buy-out by Grupo Estevez. The family was losing interest in the firm however, and the bodegas were much in need of repair, so the buy-out could be seen as more of a rescue of the great soleras than just a corporate take-over. The Valdespino enologist Eduardo Ojeda also moved to Estevez.

In Jerez, when a  wine company is taken over the soleras normally stay put; all that changes is ownership. It is a very difficult and expensive thing to do to move entire soleras, but that is what Estevez undertook, and all the Valdespino soleras were moved to the Group's modern - 1990s built, but in traditional style -bodega complex on the outskirts of Jerez. The complex is roughly a square of four buildings: offices; laboratories, bottling and hospitality centre; Bodegas Valdespino and Bodegas Marques del Real Tesoro - which also house the soleras of Tio Mateo.

The Marques de Real Tesoro bodega

Now Eduardo Ojeda must be by far the most expert and the most enthusiastic ambassador for Sherry it ispossible to imagine - only more so! His passion is palpable, and infectious. Not only does he work for Estevez, but he also works for - and is a founder member of - Equipo Navazos along with Jesus Barquin. He has access to the Valdespino wines and also the Manzanilla Pasada soleras of La Guita in Sanlucar, also part of Estevez, and these form part of the ever growing range offered by Navazos.

Part of the Grupo Estevez laboratory

We began with a visit to the state of the art laboratories. Here, apart from testing wines, samples of all sorts of products are tasted, tested and developed, many for future sale in the Mercadona supermarkets with which Estevez work closely. We took a trip through the Real Tesoro bodega and ended up at Valdespino.

This huge bodega holds more precious treasure than the Tower of London! First we looked at the 2012 must which had recently completed its fermentation in butt - the norm at Valdespino. It was highly aromatic, rich and nuanced, with a surprising resemblance to a really good southern white Burgundy. Some of this wine will become Navazos Niepoort. Next we looked at the 2011, now fortified and already with flor. It too was delicious, and, as we progressed through the 10 criaderas the wines slowly came to resemble Sherry - Fino Inocente. It was fascinating to see how the wine develops. An absolute privilege.

Valdespino soleras at night
We went on to look at Amontillados, Pedro Ximenez - well lots of things - and then on to another highlight, the fabulous Moscatel Toneles. This must be the oldest moscatel around, nobody really knows, but speculation is anywhere between 100 and 200 years. The solera consists of one butt, as do the 5 or so criaderas. That solera butt has its bung sealed with a padlock! The wine retails at around 250 euros a bottle, and is worth every penny! It is phenomenal. See Tastings section.

I will be eternally grateful to Eduardo for teaching and showing me so much, and of course, I will be drinking -and recommending them - Valdespino and Navazos wines whenever I can. He very kindly dropped me in the city centre and I made my way home via the Plaza Plateros. This ancient plaza, full of tall trees which ring out with birdsong, was once home to the silversmiths. The attraction for me however, was the Tabanco Plateros. Here one can enjoy the famous and delicious Fino Sin Pecado (Fino without sin) made by the Cooperativa La Angustias (see Tastings) direct from the barrel and served in a chilled glass with some tapas and watch the world go by.

Plaza Plateros, the tabanco background centre

Thursday, 11 October 2012

News from 11.10.12 Jerez

Madrid signs Missile Agreement
The American anti missile shield has been agreed by the Ministry of defence in Madrid. The military base at Rota will now have it installed.

A “Third Rumasa”?
Begona Ruiz Mateos, one of seven daughters of Jose Maria has asked the police to look into her six brothers’ activities, those of her cousin and five others, including Angel de Cabo, accusing them of money laundering and fraud among many other things. She also said her brothers were trying to start up another Rumasa using all sorts of dodgy methods.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Great Sherry Tasting, London 17.9.12

145 Sherries - the most ever assembled at a UK tasting!

What a tasting! In the presence of the president of the Consejo Regulador, Don Beltran Domecq Williams, (for whom "Sherry is not just a vocation, it is a passion") and Graham Hines, (president of the Sherry Institute of Spain in London, and a fellow "aficionado") we assembled for a tasting of epic proportions.

The venue, the Imagination Gallery, just off Tottenham Court Road was an interesting choice, easy to reach and in a nice area, on a nice day. But it was on the top floor, and while there were great views over London, one had to cross a metal bridge to reach the tasting area which I felt was rather small as the tasting was full (160 people), so hopefully they wouldn't all come at once, or it would be chaotic. Luckily when Beltran Domecq did his two talks, there was more room at the tasting. Not that I wanted to miss the talks, but I could hear them anyway while tasting!

The wines were well laid out according to style and (roughly) in ascending order of weight and body, starting with the Manzanillas. It is very difficult to decide on the order for such a tasting. For example, the Manzanillas start delicate and fresh then work up the scale through Manzanilla Pasada (older, fuller, more oxidised) to Manzanilla Amontillada (virtually Amontillado, from Sanlucar). Then you have to double back to begin with the lighter Finos again and work your way up the scale, but one can taste in any order one likes, dotting about as required, so no trouble really.

Unfortunately there were no bodega representatives there to discuss the wines with, which I felt was a missed opportunity, but then it would have taken much longer to get through the wines. Luckily I had tasted many before, so was able to concentrate on the rest. And there were some beauties! The following were my highlights:

Manzanilla en rama Goya XL, Delgado Zuleta
La Bota de Fino Macharnudo No. 35, Equipo Navazos
La Bota de Palo Cortado No. 34, Equipo Navazos
Palo Cortado Viejo CP, Valdespino
Palo Cortado VORS, Bodegas Tradicion
Palo Cortado Vintage 1982, Gonzalez Byass
Oloroso Pata de Gallina 1/38, Lustau
Venerable PX VORS, Osborne

I can only say that it was a wonderful tasting and a great opportunity to taste some hard-to-obtain wines. Given the drastically reduced budget, it was a spectacular success which I hope repaid the enormous efforts which had been gone to. Roll on the next tasting!!

Tintilla de Rota 2009 15%, Gonzalez Byass

Dense black through cherry/ruby to ruby rim, little age apparent, quite viscous.
Well ripened black fruits with noticeable hints of honey and prunes, hints of minerality along with a touch of almost cedary French oak, textured, rich and obviously sweet but firm and serious, still young but complexity beginning to show as it develops.
Quite full bodied, rich honeyed sweetness, the asoleo of the grapes apparent, some tannin present but not at all aggressive, just adding to the lovely texture, bramble/mulberry/plummy fruit, quite low acidity yet has a certain tang and good length given low acidity. Very moreish. Delicious.
One of very few Tintillas available. They are all hard to come by, though one or two minor bodegas in the Rota area still make them for local consumption. Lustau make one apparently, though I've never seen it. This one is from GB's Finca Moncloa estate near Arcos and is (50cl) bottle No. 23 of 690. The grapes were sunned for 60 hours on esparto mats, followed by 8 days fermenting with the skins, then 3 months settling in tank and 18 months in French oak barrels. Production strictly followed the methods outlined by Manuel Maria Gonzalez, and this is an exact reproduction of the wine supplied to Her Majesty Queen Isabel II in the XIX century. I feel this wine could catch on.
40 euros for 50cl bottle at Gonzalez Byass shop in Jerez. Very expensive, but it is delicious.

Famous visitors to bodegas

A lovely article in today’s Diario de Jerez about famous people visiting bodegas

In 1862 Queen Isabel II decided she would like to know how Sherry was made. A visit was arranged to Gonzalez Byass, but in the days before trains the journey took some time and she arrived long after the harvest. This was no problem for Manuel Maria Gonzalez, who went out to the vineyards and managed to buy enough unpicked grapes (the growers kept them back for eating) to make 3 butts of mosto (new wine), which he was able to offer to her Majesty.

At Domecq, Paco Perez was in charge of the visit of JFK’s daughter Caroline. He pulled out all the stops for such a VIP and showed her everything from the vineyard to the finished wine. After more than two hours, he asked her what she would like to drink. “Do you have any Coca Cola?” was the reply.

Ian Fleming and Roger Moore preferred whisky, but Orson Wells liked Tio Pepe - though he went on to promote Domecq’s Double Century in the USA.

Jose Carreras was out of sorts when he visited Jerez, as he was suffering from advanced Leukemia, yet when he appeared with make-up on stage at the Teatro Villamarta he looked well. After the show, a lady whose son was crying and also had Leukemia asked if her son could meet Carreras. After 10 minutes the son came out with him, both smiling.

These are just some of the anecdotes.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

News from Jerez 4.10.12

Growers at last see some profit

After years of ruinous prices, the 2012 harvest has seen growers return to profit with 40% increases in grape prices due to the 30% harvest shortfall in Jerez - and elsewhere. A butt of must has increased from last year’s 210 euros to 300 euros, an increase of 42%. The shortfall left some bodegas short of raw material, and they have either had to pay higher prices or buy in from the Cooperatives.

Bodegas are having to rethink future supplies including the possibility of replanting vineyard lost through abandonment or uprooting leaving only 7,000 hectares compared with 10,000 last year. The growers are not in a mood to cooperate however and return to the loss-making past. They wish to keep the supply and demand situation as it now is, but are aware that another drought and a 4% drop in sales (due to the German market) as well as the end of EU planting subsidies might force the bodegas’ hand.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Back from Jerez: Part 2

My appointment for the next day was in Jerez with the team at bodegas Sanchez Romate: Commercial Director Marcelino Piquero, International Area Director Cesar Gutierrez and Miriam Alonso from the Export Department. A nicer and more good humoroued bunch would be hard to find. The bodega complex is in the central Calle Lealas - where it has always been, and is still family owned after 230 years.

Bodegas Sanchez Romate, Jerez
Romate has a range of Sherries of serious quality, but their biggest line in terms of turnover is the out-standingly good brandy Cardenal Mendoza, aged in oloroso and PX butts for complexity and smoothness. They also offer an excellent rum, Manacas. But we're on the subject of Sherry here. They offer three ranges: the Romate range, more of a commercial range; the Special Reserve range, which are serious and very old wines; and the Old & Plus range which are the VORS wines, all excellent value for money.

Soleras and Criaderas of Fino Marismeno, Sanchez Romate

The bodega is old and traditional, but is nevertheless equipped with modern stainless steel tanks, pumps, filtration etc., the perfect fusion of old and new. We left the office and entered the old, nicely humid bodegas permeated with that beautiful scent of ageing Sherry. After much discussion Cesar very kindly took me to lunch at the excellent restaurant Carbona, in what used to be a bodega. There the discussion continued over a wonderful meal and a glass or two of Romate's gorgeous Fino Perdido (see tasting notes).

Restaurante Carbona, Jerez
On my way home from a fascinating visit and a lovely lunch, I happened across one of those wonderful Jerezano institutions, the Tabanco El Pasaje. Surely another glass of Sherry wouldn't kill me, I thought, and went in. The tabancos are traditional bars serving Sherry from the barrel (in a frozen glass), and there is always a good atmosphere. Here, some people were seated at a table with a guitar, singing and strumming as best they could with all that Sherry. One quick glass soon turned into three and the conversation got more interesting till I decided that a siesta was what I needed most. After all, there was a whole evening ahead.

Tabanco El Pasaje, Jerez

But in the end, a quiet dinner was what I needed - after an aperitif of Fino La Ina at the popular central bar the Gallo Azul, of course! It is a great place - between the Market and the Plaza del Arenal roughly, with a dining room upstairs and tapas downstairs. Great for people watching!

Gallo Azul, Jerez

Amontillado NPU 19%, Sanchez Romate

Pure, deepish amber fading through autumn leaf yellow and a trace of green on rim, legs
Classic Amontillado: toasted hazelnuts and apparent sweetness, traces of oak from long ageing along with remnants of a past life as Fino: traces of autolised yeast, garrapinadas (almonds cooked in caramelised sugar), full, serious, some age.
Dry, certain crispness, gentle acidity, quite full and textured, lovely nutty, oaky follow-through and a little less implicit sweetness than on the nose. Very long.
Classic wine from the bodega's excellent Special Reserves range, and over 20 years old, although not marketed as a VOS. It spends about 7 years as a Fino before entering the Amontillado solera. A really good buy...just needs Bellota ham!

Somewhere around £18.00 available shortly from Drinkmonger Edinburgh

News from Jerez 3.10.12

Beltran Domecq leads tutored tasting to elderly

As part of the XII Elderly Persons Week, the Consejo president “was honoured to give a tasting to such distinguished people”, about a hundred of them, in the Consejo’s own bodega San Gines. He emphasised the importance of tasting the wine, the best in the World, and best practice in marrying it with food. The elderly people gave him a rapturous applause before leaving to go to the next of their many activities.

Bodega San Gines with thanks to Jerez Siempre

Monday, 1 October 2012

Waitrose Fino, 15%, Emilio Lustau

Fairly pale bright strawy gold, light legs.
Very bready flor character with very slight salinity and traces of bitter almond, and a very slight background trace of autolysis, fairly complex and quite good but don't serve wine too cold or you'll lose it.
Similar, nice and bitter, balancing quite low acidity, that autolysis giving an impression of age, decent length with a bitter flor finish.

For a supermarket Fino, this is better than most. It is proper Fino, warts and all, and very good value. Emilio Lustau don't win prizes for poor Sherry!
£5,29 (50cl) or £6,29 (75cl)

Very interesting - a new study of vineyards

A new study into the differences between Fino and Manzanilla

AECOVI , a large cooperative has completed a two year study which shows that the differences, particularly in salinity, between Fino and Manzanilla are not simply due to the crianza of the wines being in different places. They have found a close relationship between salinity and proximity of the vineyard to the sea in wines aged biologically (under Flor).

In the second half of the XIX century the ageing of the wines was changed from a system of anadas (or vintage wines) to the now well-known solera system, largely to suit the English importers who wanted more consistent styles. This served to reinforce the “myth” that Sherry is made in the bodega and that the differences in style of Finos and Manzanillas were due to the place of crianza, not the grapes themselves.

Under current regulations (the Reglamento) the “myth” is continued as regards definitions of Fino and Manzanilla. The only real difference according to the Consejo is that Manzanilla must be aged in Sanlucar. The grapes themselves can come from anywhere in the Sherry zone, although in practice many do come from the Sanlucar area. Equally, the grapes for the Finos of Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria may come from anywhere in the zone. Custom has become law and has been accepted.

The study found that the grapes grown near the sea contain more sodium and that the salinity is more concentrated in the summer months – particularly around harvest time – in areas which are exposed to westerly winds and nightly dewfall. This compares with the drier vineyards of Jerez where the winds alternate more, east and west. Aecovi studied 27 parcels of vineyard, 22 in Sanlucar, 4 in Jerez and one in Chipiona which link the location of the vineyard to the salinity in the grapes for the first time.

Temperatures, rainfall and solar radiation were found to be very similar in Jerez and Sanlucar, but the latter has more humidity due to the west wind – which brings more salt. Soils and leaves were analysed in all 27 parcels, showing more salt in the Sanlucar area especially towards harvest time.

As well as field studies, the investigators analysed the wines themselves – 30 bottles of Manzanilla and 24 bottles of Fino from both Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria, all available commercially, with concurrent results. The Manzanillas contained an average of 70 mg/l compared to an average of 40 in the Finos, thus reinforcing the Aecovi theory that wines are born in the vineyard, not the bodega, but due to the homogeneity required by export markets this has been lost.

The aim of the study is to put value back into the vineyard, says Carmen Romero, manager of Aecovi, and perhaps help save it from housing development because of its seaside position. Also up for consideration now is the notion of redefining the Denominacion de Origen Manzanilla, restricting its production to only coastal vineyards. 

For sure we haven’t heard the end of this one!