Sunday 30 March 2014

30.3.14 Marida Jerez - New Tourist Agency

When Jerezanos are away from Jerez, they really miss its magical beauty, and they see it in a new perspective. This happened to Abel Garcia, a young Jerezano far from home, who decided to go back and set up a way to connect Jerez to the world. He set up a new business,, which offers all sorts of organised visits to the fair city, but in a different way to the current offering. He wants people to really experience Jerez in all its glory and tell their friends and family about this wonderful place. 

The website has all sorts of specially designed visits, and I recommend you have a look. It is not just Sherry (as if that wasn’t enough!), but visits to the Arabic Baths, the world famous Equestrian Centre, Flamenco, tabancos, vineyards, bullfights etc. are all on the menu, along with carefully organised meals at the best restaurants and accommodation at top quality hotels. This is a great idea!

Saturday 29 March 2014

29.3.14 Tio Pepe Sign Nearly Ready

The illuminated Tio Pepe advert which for 80 years stood at no. 1, Puerta del Sol in Madrid, should be back in place – though atop a different building, number 11 – by the end of May. After lengthy negotiations about a new site and skilful restoration work, Tio Pepe will be once more looking his best. The company responsible for the restoration, Spoluz, allowed the press to view some of the work completed so far, and it looks splendid. After 80 years exposed to the elements, the sign needed a lot of sanding and re-painting, all extremely carefully by hand, and 12 people have been working on it over the last 4 months.

(Imagen Diario Jerez)

Thursday 27 March 2014

27.3.14 Al Andalus Train; Jerez Kids to Learn Wine Culture; Russians Visit Jerez

Jerez railway station was the scene recently of a promotion of the famous train “Al Andalus”. This classic old fashioned luxury tourist train is running new routes through Andalucia, and these were announced at the promotion. The season has already begun, with routes visiting Sevilla, Cordoba, Baeza, Ubeda, Granada, Ronda, Cadiz, Jerez, Sanlucar and the Doñana Park. It is a wonderful way to see Andalucia, as one can enjoy the train itself as much as the country.

(Imagen: Renfe)

 Jerez city council is to include education on wine culture at its schools as part of the European City of Wine programme. The initiative has been made possible by the donation of over 150 copies of Jesus Rodriguez’ book “La viña, la bodega y el viento” by the Gonzalez Gordon Foundation. It is worrying how many young people from the area know little of their own culture.

Bodegas Lustau has been entertaining 20 members of the Russian tourism trade to a tasting of its wines and a flamenco show. The Jerez city council has been involved too, and the event is designed to show what the city’s tourism resources can offer the tourist with plenty to spend; luxury hotels, shopping, culture etcetera. Russia is rapidly becoming an important source of tourism in Spain.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Bodegas: Baron

Manuel Baron Fernandez began his career in the wine trade with the acquisition of some old soleras from the Sanlucar almacenista Anselmo Paz in 1895. His wife, Dolores Romero Sanchez, however, came from an old Sherry family, Romero de la Balsa, who had been in the business since the mid XVII century. They were already in the business in 1630 when the Duque de Medina Sidonia led a revolt against Phillip IV, and remained in the business right up to Dolores' father, Rafael Romero. Thus, the newly started bodega could count on centuries of knowledge and experience.

In 1984 the bodega was acquired by businessman Jose Rodriguez Jimenez, and is now run by his two heirs, Juan Luis Rodriguez Carrasco and Jose Rodriguez Carrasco. The bodega is only part of the business which is mainly agriculture and farming. They own three albariza vineyards totalling about 140 ha. in the pagos surrounding Sanlucar; Finca Atalaya, Finca Martin Miguel, the prized Finca El Poedo of 47 ha. on slope looking toward the Guadalquivir estuary, and the 5.7 ha viña El Hato, all farmed organically.

The bodega Molinillos is sited at the lower end of the Barrio Alto facing the river to attract the sea breezes. You can't miss it driving into town. Its central naves date back to 1631, while the rest of the buildings are from 1871. Here the 150 year old plus soleras of Anselmo paz are still guarded, and are still used. There were once coopers here, and wheelwrights for the carts, but they have gone leaving more space for wine. Baron has another bodega complex in Sanlucar, which brings their total to 20,000 square metres and 10,000 butts.

The firm makes a full range of wines, specialising in Manzanilla naturally:

Fino Baron 3 yo
Manzanillas: Atalaya 3 yo; Baron 3 yo; Micaela 5 yo; Manzanilla Pasada Baron (8yo, 15 criaderas)
Amontillados: Atalaya 10 yo; Amontillado Viejo Baron 30 yo
Olorosos: Pino Viejo 3yo; Oloroso Baron 8 yo;
Moscatel: Baron 3yo; 6yo
Cream: Atalaya 3-4 yo
PX: Baron 6yo; Baron 8 yo

In 2014, there are changes to the range: Soluqua, a range of wines never before released, having been reserved for family consumption, and the bodega's top wines, mostly VORS. Xixarito is the new standard premium range to replace the Baron range. Also new labelling has been introduced for all the wines. How's this for design?

Address: Calle Molinillo Segunda, 2 and 3, 11540 Sanlucar de Barrameda, Cadiz
Tel: (+34) 956 360 796
Visits? By prior arrangement

Saturday 22 March 2014

22.3.14 Latest on Tio Pepe Roundabout; Possible Tax on Spanish Wine

Production of the new sculpture for the Tio Pepe roundabout is under way. Made from high grade stainless steel, Chiqui Diaz’s design will be nine metres high. He has started by moulding the sheet steel into shape, after which he will assemble the piece and then apply patina to the steel, giving it various colours and degrees of polish. Some of it will be mirror-polished to reflect what is going on around the roundabout and interact with the surroundings. It won’t be long now before the roundabout, close to the Corte Ingles store in Jerez, is adorned with its Tio Pepe.

The Spanish Government is proposing to apply a tax on wine. A commission of experts was appointed to look into fiscal reform, and one of their proposals is to raise the tax on wine. This is already in place in fact, but at a rate of zero. France has also done this, but tax is applied at a very low rate on wine and fermented beverages.

The minister for agriculture, food and the environment, Miguel Arias Cañete, who has spent much time in Jerez, has declared his opposition to the idea. He wants to see Spain able to compete with other producer countries, and anyway, sales of wine in Spain are falling. The FEV (Federacion Española del Vino) has also declared opposition to the plan.

Friday 21 March 2014

21.3.14 Gold for Jerez; Pasion; Madrid Sherry Festival

The results of the Bacchus International Wine Competition have been announced, and in a year when Spain has won a huge number of medals, Sherry is up there with Gold Medals (Bacchus de Oro) for Bodegas Tradicion Amontillado, Oloroso, Fino Viejo and Palo Cortado. Osborne Fino Quinta also won a Gold. In the top category, Gran Bacchus de Oro, Bodegas Tradicion PX was a winner.

Bacchus is the biggest international competition, and 80 international wine experts blind tasted 1,593 wines from 20 countries. The event was held in the Casino de Madrid, and was organised by the Union Española de Catadores.

A meeting entitled “Vinos de España, una Pasion” will take place in Jerez on the 10th of April in the recently restored cloisters of the old Santo Domingo Convent. Fifty Spanish bodegas, all of whom are family run, and produce high quality wines, will present 180 wines at a tasting from 25 different Denominaciones de Origen. Places are limited, so only 500 tickets are available.

Convent of Santo Domingo (Voz Digital)
This spectacular tasting was the brainchild of Juan Manuel Martin Hidalgo of the famous Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo in Jerez. Each firm will offer its best wines and important bodega representatives will be in attendance. Embutidos (sliced sausages, ham) and cheeses will be on offer as well. The idea is to join with other wine producers of top quality to celebrate Jerez being European City of Wine.

There is to be a huge Sherry festival in Madrid. The first fortnight of April will see 200 brands and 300 professionals promoting Jerez, the European City of Wine. The event is organised by the Consejo Regulador, and oenologists from Jerez will be meeting restaurateurs, chefs, sommeliers, distributors, educators and the media. There will be general tastings as well as tastings led by oenologists. Madrid will host gourmet experiences, tastings, seminars and special promotions in its main wine bars.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Palo Cortado Apostoles VORS 20%, Gonzalez Byass

Deep amber to burnt umber with coppery tints through yellow to trace green at rim, legs.
Quite intense, more oloroso with traces of chocolate, coconut, wood with hints just of PX. A serious and very complex wine with dried fruits, roasted nuts and walnut along with traces of leanness from age, largely hidden behind the PX front.
Full bodied, just off dry, intensely tasty with the odd savoury note. Deep and nutty yet with a softening layer of PX which makes its presence felt without dominating, and balances the harsher woody notes of age. Round and textured, tangy and fascinating with a trace of coffee at the finish.
This magnificent wine comes from a solera established in 1862 to celebrate the visit to the bodegas of Queen Isabel II. The Queen was keen to see the pressing of the grapes, but as her visit was in October, the harvest was long over. Manuel Maria Gonzalez sent people out to buy any unused grapes they could find and organised a pressing at the bodega of the large quantity they had managed to obtain. The quality of the resultant wine was so good that it was housed in an enormous specially made butt holding the equivalent of 33 butts. This butt, which is still there, was named El Cristo, as Christ was 33 years old. It is flanked by the Apostoles soleras. The solera consists of 12 butts, each with the name of one of the Apostles - except Judas, whose butt is kept in the vinegar store! After 15 years ageing as a Palo Cortado, some of which is sold as Leonor, the wine is transferred to PX butts and slowly absorbs  about 13% of the PX from the butts. Palo Cortado is normally 100% Palomino, but, well this is special.
£17-19 per half bottle. Fairly widely available.UK distributors Gonzalez Byass UK

Saturday 15 March 2014

Sherry in Japan

Japan has really taken to Sherry. The market there is now in the top ten export markets showing consistent growth over the last five years. And it is different to the traditional markets such as the UK, Germany and Holland, taking Sherry seriously, like in the USA. In Japan Fino is king, accounting for about 50% of imports, in fact the dry styles account for about 80%, with PX and Moscatel accounting for about 7%, and the rest, 13%.

No less than 25 bodegas now export to Japan, where one can find up to 200 brands available. In fact the “Sherry Bar” in Ginzha, Tokyo holds the Guinness record for the highest number of Sherries available in a bar – 227! Sherry is now essential in any bar of standing, where it is quite often dispensed with a venencia. 

(Diario de Jerez)
The growth of Spanish style tapas bars and cocktails has led this increase in popularity, as has the Consejo’s introduction of an official qualification for venenciadores, of whom there are now about 120! This naturally attracts attention and curiosity and is an effective sales tool. Since 2002 the Consejo has had a permanent representative in Japan, whose job is to promote and develop Sherry there. There is also a Sherry Cocktail Competition.

City of Bodegas

On Thursday 20th a series of cultural conferences begins in Jerez, organised by the Consejo Regulador for European City of Wine. The first conference will be led by Jose Manuel Aladro, who has a doctorate in architecture from Seville University and who is a winner of the Foundation for the Protection of Industrial Patrimony of Andalucia prize. The title of the conference, “The Construction of the City of Bodegas, Jerez in the XIX Century” is the same as that of his doctoral thesis, which won a prize as the best research project on industrial patrimony in Andalucia.

The economy and society of Jerez cannot be understood without the wine, one of the principal symbols of the identity of a city which grew from its bodega industry, the principal economic motor in the past and an essential part of its history and culture, on which it has left an indelible mark. By way of recognising this, and as one of the commemorative acts of the European City of Wine year, the Consejo Regulador has organised a cycle of conferences entitled “Jerez, Culture and Wine”. This cycle will cover, on a monthly basis, such diverse topics as history, anthropology and literature, all with the common thread of the wine.

This first conference will cover in particular the years 1830-1875, “the fundamental decades of the economic development of Sherry, which then accounted for about 20% of total Spanish exports”. It will also look at bodega architecture, its technical aspects and its extraordinary influence on the layout of the city. The wine business revolutionised the economy and society of the city, not only in terms of architecture, but also in terms of the huge cash flow of the bodegas, which led to Jerez being the first city in Andalucia with a railway and one of the first with street lighting. Jerez was transformed by its wine into a city at the vanguard.

Aladro says that although the bodega architecture was not particularly innovative technically, it has a traditional beauty, and despite many bodegas having been lost for ever, he supports the re-use of old bodegas for other purposes, for example galleries, supermarkets or restaurants, "because it allows us to remember what we once were".

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Bodegas: Morgan

Originally from Tredegar in Wales, the Morgans had lived in London for generations. Aaron Morgan (1742 - 1818) worked in wine trade for Dixon & Langston, established in 1715 and originally called Houghton. In the early 1800s the name changed to reflect new partners: Dixon, Brett & Morgan; Dixon Morgan & Co. Over the years, Aaron ended up managing the company, amassing quite a fortune and passing it down the family line.

On Aaron’s death in 1818, his only son Thomas took over his share of the business, married Elizabeth Bonney, and Dixon left the firm. Soon Thomas’ sons would be involved. The firm, which had been specialising in Port, began to diversify into various wines, Madeira and Sherry. From 1835 – 40 the firm was called Morgan Saunders & Co, in 1841 Allen, Morgan & Co, then Thomas Morgan & Co, in 1845 Morgan Jun. & Ridge. Thomas’ son Francis moved to El Puerto de Santa Maria as the firm established a base in Sherry country. They also had a base in Vila Nova de Gaia to supervise their Port business.

Thomas Morgan and Thomas Jr. ran the business in London while in Spain Francis was to create a network of suppliers, overseeing production and export to avoid the need for intermediaries. As far as I can establish, they never had any bodegas, but shipped copious quantities of Sherry. Francis married Maria Manuela Osborne y Bohl de Faber (1827-94) in 1851, eldest daughter of that family which owned Duff Gordon, and was one of the biggest houses in the trade. Their youngest son, Francis(co) Xavier (1857-1935) became a priest, and for many years was the guardian and tutor of JRR Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings, whose parents had died early. Interestingly,Maria Manuela's sister cecilia  was a writer, under the pen name Fernan Caballero, and it is said there are allusions in Tolkien's work to hers.
Francis Morgan Sr & Jr in middle row, Maria Manuela on left

Morgan was always a fairly small but profitable firm with a good reputation for tawny Port, and Charles Dickens mentioned Dixon’s Double Diamond in Nicholas Nickleby. The firm remained in family hands until the 1950s, when Osborne took over the Morgan Sherry interests, and Croft their Port interests. When Diageo, owner of Croft, later sold it to Taylors, a stipulation was that they could not use the name Morgan, to avoid consumer confusion with Captain Morgan Rum. The last Morgan vintage Port decaration was the 1977. The Dixon’s Double Diamond brand is, however, still available from Quinta and Vineyard Bottlers, a subsidiary of Taylors, but the Sherry has long gone, last seen in the 1950s.

12.3.14 Single buyer sought for Garvey and Zoilo Ruiz Mateos

The administrator of bodegas Garvey (the huge Complejo Bodeguero Bellavista) and bodegas Zoilo Ruiz Mateos are looking for one buyer for both bodegas, since both the ex Nueva Rumasa concerns share production facilities. Both are still active going concerns, with Zoilo employing 70 people, and owning bodegas and 400 ha of vineyard. The hope is that the two companies can be sold within the next six months.

Some vineyard and stock of wine has already been sold in order to provide some money for the company to meet expenses. The sale will include all the Garvey brand names, and a protective embargo has been put on them. Also embargoed as a precautionary measure are Grupo Garvey registered names, such as Bodegas Garvey, Garvey, Garvey BV among others, actually owned by Engel Overseas Ltd of Belize.

The brands of Zoilo Ruiz Mateos do not have this problem, as the bodega is the exclusive supplier of Sherry for Sandeman. This relates to a deal from 2004 by which Nueva Rumasa took over the entire bodegas and vineyards of Sandeman - but not the brand – which Rumasa desperately wanted. Anyway, Garvey and Zoilo both belong to Back In Business, whose owner, Angel de Cabo is in preventive custody for fraud with Marsans, a travel company.

While there are no firm offers on the table yet, there has been interest from agricultural alimentary companies from outside the Sherry zone. Let us hope this sale can be brought to a successful conclusion, and that both bodegas – or all three if we include Sandeman – can get on with producing top notch Sherry without worry about their future.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Manzanilla La Barca de Triana 15%, Bodegas Baron

Golden straw, very light legs.
Very Manzanilla, fresh with a salty briny tang, maritime (harbour) and bitter, traces dried flowers, hints camomile and sour dough, dry and punzante (punchy).
Quite full, dry and bitter, only a trace of fruit - more almondy with a distinct savoury note, partly autolysis. Some olive brine, traces oxidised apple and those dried flowers, tangy, good and dry - inspires the appetite.
A jolly good wine with some character. It does not appear on the list of Bodegas Baron, but on that of Bodegas Cruz Conde in Montilla. One can only assume that with the popularity of Manzanilla, Cruz Conde organised their own exclusive label. As to the boat itself, I can only surmise that it is a river boat which took Triana pottery to Sanlucar, perhaps for export, and took Sanlucar prawns up the Guadalquivir to Triana and Sevilla.
6.50 euros in Spain. I doubt this is exported.

11.3.14 Tasting; Tabancos; Feria; Brandy; Estevez/Covisan

After the success of the interactive online Manzanilla and Fino tasting in January between Cesar Saldaña, director of the Consejo Regulador, and Chelsea Anthon, general manager of International Sherry Week and some restaurateurs in Australia, another tasting is to take place with 60 London restaurateurs in Sevilla.

The tasting is organised by the Restaurant magazine as the highlight of a two day culinary trip. The restaurateurs will unfortunately be unable to visit Jerez, but at least they will be able to see how amazing the wines are. As Chelsea puts it, “I can’t allow such a powerful group to leave Andalucia without tasting the best wines in the world.”

Jesus Muñoz, president of Tabancora, the association of traditional bars in Jerez, has been in London at the invitation of the city’s latest Sherry bar, Drake’s Tabanco. The new establishment, at 3, Windmill Street, Fitzrovia, London, and which only opened last October, serves Sherry from the barrel – with a venencia! They also serve a wide variety of delicious looking Spanish food. Jesus Muñoz was impressed how the staff act as Sherry educators.

The 2014 Feria del Caballo in Jerez will take place between the 11th and 18th of May. The poster for this spectacular feria has just been revealed at Gonzalez Byass, and here it is, a montage of 2,166 Sherry glasses!

Jerez Brandy sales have seen a sharp fall over the last few years due to various adverse conditions. Sales of the top level brandies actually rose slightly, but those of the cheaper ones have been falling fairly dramatically. Brandy has faced changes in consumer drinking habits, such as the disappearance of the early morning noggin or one after dinner. Gin is seen by the younger drinkers as far more modern and fashionable, along with whisky and rum – and are far cheaper to make. Not only is the raw material (grapes) 3 times the price of cereals or molasses, but brandy needs costly ageing. European Union grants for potable spirits distillation have all but dried up, and recent grape harvests have been very small.

Producers are having to focus on promoting brandy in the export markets, while the domestic market declines. The Brandy Consejo Regulador is looking at changes to the production rules, one of which is that the spirit must have a minimum alcohol content of 36 degrees. Some producers have argued for a reduction, and also to be permitted to sell non-grape spirit under existing brandy brand names. The latter has caused some controversy.

Grupo Estevez and the Sanlucar cooperative Covisan have been celebrating working together. Last Saturday the 167 growers and their families were welcomed at the cooperative bodega by its president, Antonio Palacios, then addressed by Estevez president, Jose Ramon Estevez. He highlighted the history of Estevez, owner of La Guita, its commitment to Sanlucar, vineyard sustainability, quality, and the importance of origin. All the grapes for Manzanillas La Bailora and La Guita come from Sanlucar. A visit to the La Guita bodegas followed, and cooperative members could see the 14,000 butts of Manzanilla stored there. They also saw what happens to the must made at their bodega to transform it into finished wine. Estevez explained the joint project with supermarket Mercadona and their efforts to develop a sustainable agro-alimentary chain. The event shows the strong bond between the cooperative and Estevez, and the latter’s commitment to but most of the cooperative’s produce.

Friday 7 March 2014

A Chat with Pilar Pla of Bodegas Maestro Sierra

Pilar Pla was born in Teruel, but when only a few months old, her family moved to Valencia. There, in the land of rice, she met her husband, Antonio Borrego from Jerez, with whom she fell madly in love. They married and moved to Jerez. Pilar is a slim woman, but strong. She has always worn shoes with heels, even now. "Me with flat shoes? Get away!" Her mind works quickly, full of memories, ideas, projects, but she speaks in a quiet, relaxed way, quiet like her bodega.

That bodega in the Plaza Silos is, according to her, like a workers' meeting, all opinions are respected, ideas weighed up, and if they are good for business, they are adopted. It is unusual, but they know that if it works, they are guaranteed employment.

She loved wine the moment she encountered it. When Antonio died in 1976, she had two options: to continue on his path, or sell up. "At that moment I thought if this had been his life it would be cowardly to throw it away. I did not understand a word about wine, but had at my side a capataz in whom I had confidence, Juanito. We carried on and it worked out well. There's a maxim in the bodegas that if you are willing to learn, then you will learn, and I learned a lot. They would come to me saying "Dona Pilar, what do you think of this wine? I find it a bit acidic, or there's this strange note of something... " I knew how to pick out a wine's defects and virtues. With determination you can achieve anything, well, determination and work - hard work."

Pilar with two of her oldest butts from 1830
Dona Pilar thinks of herself as another resident of "her" little square. Gratitude is reflected in her eyes and a tear appears as she recalls the women of the neighbourhood appeared with chick pea stew or puchero (a country stew of meat stock and vegetables) when her husband died. "Can you believe it? They didn't know me, but they saw me opening the bodega every morning. They said "Dona Pilar, you're so thin, and with so much work to do you won't have time to cook." "My goodness, me without any family here, and all these people bringing me food, I'll be grateful to them for the rest of my life."

While the women of the neighbourhood were looking after her health, the vultures were circling, but in the hardest moments she remained firm, protected by her mother and daughter ("my greatest success!"). She managed to defend Antonio's legacy and avoid being cheated. "When I was widowed, lots of lizards appeared, but I wasn't stupid and put a brave face on it. I learned common sense, and am grateful now."

This common sense has served her well so that Bodegas El Maestro Sierra has not lost its essence, its reputation. She tells of how some American businessmen were stunned when she refused to sell them a large quantity of wine "because it would have drained the criaderas, and I wasn't interested. We care for our patrimony, but some bodegas - I won't say who - are simply there to make money. I believe it is better to earn five and maintain one's reputation, than to earn ten an be discredited. I would rather lose money than prestige," she declares.

For this businesswoman the real perfume of Jerez is the wine. She can't resist saying loudly "Aah! what a smell of wine!" as she passes down streets lined with bodegas, the "cathedrals of wine". This in a city which, despite the terrible crisis, can still earn a crust. "In Jerez there creative spirits because the wine enlightens the brain. There are unemployed people here, but instead of just doing nothing, they go into the countryside and forage edible plants, fruits, snails, which they take home to feed their families. It is a constant struggle. The Jerezano is capable and hard-working, even if some say the opposite," she says.

Asked what it is she so likes about Jerez, she replies "Frankly, I'm not very sure, but authors have been inspired here, befor going on to write their greatest works... it is all to do with the spirit of the wine." She feels very comforted that "at last" Jerez is European City of Wine. "Important historical events were sealed with a glass of Sherry, so it was definitely time," she points out.

Her love of Sherry is such that she simply cannot understand how someone could prefer a cubata (a mixed drink eg rum and coke) "It's outrageous! People are free to do what they like in their own homes, but a Sherry is unarguably better than any other drink. It animates the spirit rather than dulling the senses."

Pilar likes to relax with a good book or music such as Beethoven or Strauss waltzes, she even hums some and moves her arms as if to play a violin. She adores the arts, culture. "In Andalucia there have been many civilisations, and they have all left their mark, so the Andaluces are multifaceted, resourceful.

The person she would most like to share a glass of Sherry with is the Pope. "The wars between religions are the worst, because it is fanaticism. The true history of the Church is the life of Jesus Christ who was a man and who left us phenomenal teachings", she declares. Her views on certain churchmen are less laudatory. "They must take a lot of blame for being ambitious. They want everyone to be in their flock without taking into account that everyone is different, a human being with a God-given brain of their own..., but I should leave it there!"

The best place in the world for her is "Spain, with out doubt. We don't appreciate what we have. Even with family in Catalunya she will have no truck with independence. "They're all mad. Where would they go? It's daft. If we didn't love them so much we should let them go, and collapse, but how would we rescue them?"

Pilar Pla loves Andalucia, she feels a part of it. "An Andaluz with only a slice of bread and a chorizo is happy with his lot. You can't say that about the others. That's patrimony."

(Translated from an interview in Diario de Jerez)

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Palo Cortado Viejo VORS 19%, Hidalgo la Gitana

Clean deep amber to patinated mahogany through yellow to a touch of green at the rim, legs.
Deeply nutty; walnut, toasted nuts, garrapinadas (almonds cooked in caramel), toffee - a slight suggestion of Madeira, and also a savoury hint, wood too, and in the background a distinct saline air from the flor once there and overall delicacy which show it is from Sanlucar. Very complex and constantly opening out. Beautiful.
Tangy and lively, dry - only some glycerol to give a little smoothness. Intensely flavoured if not as full bodied as some wines from Jerez, but rather more incisive. No full fat oloroso on the palate, more lean amontillado but with more depth. That tang carries the flavour through to some incredible length. If the standard concept of Palo Cortado is amontillado on the nose and oloroso on the palate, then this is exceptional: more amontillado on the palate, leaner, crisper. Who cares, it's lovely!
This magnificent wine would be brilliant with game or after dinner, but perhaps accompanied by some sort of nibble, ideally old cheese. It was bottled in 2003 after ageing for a minimum of 30 years - and probably quite a few more. Thus, it also has a decade of bottle age which has certainly done no harm - but there is a little sediment. The grapes came from Balbaina and Miraflores, and the juice was free run. The family used to pick out special butts for personal use, but decided a while ago to bottle limited quantities for sale. The label shows an Imperial Eagle as Javier Hidalgo, proprietor of the firm, is a great supporter of wildlife in the nearby Coto Donana.
About £80 per 75cl bottle in the UK. I got this from Villeneuve Wines, Edinburgh and Peebles. UK distributor is Mentzendorff.

Monday 3 March 2014

Bodegas: Fernando A de Terry

The Terry family came originally from Cork in the south of Ireland, and like many at the time, left the financial, religious and political troubles in their homeland for a better life. They were known as the "Wild Geese". After Oliver Cromwell confiscated their Irish estates, William Terry, one of the “Wild Geese” and his family went to France, leaving in 1693 thence via Genoa to Cadiz, and settled there in 1774, working in shipping, as he had done in Italy. Some members of the large - huge - Terry family went to Peru, Venezuela and Cuba, becoming immensely rich from, among other things, sugar plantations. (Tomas Terry y Adan was known as the Cuban Croesus!)

William Terry’s descendants would involve themselves in the wine trade, and Fernando de Terry y Brucet, who was born in Cadiz in 1783, had stocks of maturing wine by 1816 in both Cadiz and El Puerto de Santa Maria, acting as an almacenista. In 1835 Fernando de Terry y Carrera established the firm, but it encountered difficulties and was re-financed and re-established in 1865, forming the company we know now, when he expanded the business into making and shipping wines and brandies. He was succeeded by Fernando C Terry del Cuvillo, who in 1948 bought for the Terry bodegas the Yeguada (stud) del Hierro del Bocado, the most importand breeding stock of Cartujano horses.

His relation, Santiago Terry was involved with the defence of Cadiz from Napoleon during the Peninsular War. He organised battalions of volunteers, as well as being one of the writers of the famous 1812 Constitucion de Cadiz (known affectionately as “la Pepa”) and there is a Cadiz street (formerly Calle Gamonales, where he was born) named after him.

The Terry bodegas in the Calle Santisima Trinidad were among the most beautiful in the town, built around a patio with ancient olive trees with carved wood interiors in the offices. In the "sacristia" where the oldest wines were kept, there, on the wall, the head of a bull killed by Mazzantini, the only Italian to have ever had success in the bullring. In these bodegas was aged the wine made in their vinification plant on the outskirts of town. Nearby is the Finca San Jose del Pedroso, the stud for the famous Terry horses, the white pure bred Cartujanos, which are stabled in the old bodegas of John William Burdon. The bodegas, El Carmen, La Tribuna, La Maruja have gardens, patios and even a museum of XIX century carriages, evoking the past.

Terry had a good reputation for looking after their employees, and was known as the “social bodega”. They paid women of all ages to “knit” the nets for their Centenario brandy bottles, which brought in a little extra income to hard-pressed families. The yellow net was created with simple tools; a special looped needle, a headless nail and a train ticket!  It was introduced in 1905, with different coloured nets for different brandies.

Another Terry firm, Carlos y Javier de Terry, known nowadays as Bodegas 501 to avoid confusion, also in El Puerto de Santa Maria, was established by other members of the Terry family in the late XIX century on soleras from the XVIII century purchased from Manuel Moreno de Mora. (See separate  post).

The last Terry in the family business was Fernando de Terry Merello (1935-2009), Santiago’s great grandson, and son of Fernando C de Terry del Cuvillo, mayor of El Puerto de Santa Maria 1941-3. His wife was the daughter of the Conde de Osborne (of bodegas Osborne) Fernando was in charge of the bodegas until 1981, when the business was sold.

During the 1970’s the domestic brandy boom led many bodegas to invest large (borrowed) sums to boost capacity. Terry invested 2,000 million pesetas, half of which was spent on the vinification plant. The world oil crisis of 1974, however, spoiled the party. Borrowing suddenly became much more expensive, and sales were starting to slide. Using the Finca San Jose del Pedroso as collateral, the Terrys raised another 400 million pesetas, but even this did not stem the costs of borrowing and trading losses, and the bodega was sold to two Catalan investment firms, SERVAY (90%) and INPISA-2 (10%) on 11th August 1981.

There was speculation at the time that RUMASA may have been behind the purchase, leading Domecq, Gonzalez Byass and Osborne to form a consortium to defend themselves from the “Little Bee” (the trademark of RUMASA). They were right, it was a front for RUMASA, who got Terry for the ridiculously low price of 250 million pesetas, which was partly paid with credit RUMASA received from the Banco Condal – which it owned.

Soon, however, RUMASA itself collapsed, its component companies being taken over by the Spanish Government, who having gone through the books with a fine-tooth comb, sold the companies off.  In 1985 Terry was bought by Harveys of Bristol, part of Allied Lyons, who agreed to look after the stud.  Allied then took over Domecq in 1994 forming Allied Domecq, which was bought by Pernod Ricard in 2005 and subsequently dismembered. Terry was sold to Beam Global, a subsidiary of Fortune Brands.

Terry is now a small brand as far as Sherry is concerned, marketing only a Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and PX, albeit of good quality, and it looks, unfortunately, as if Beam, a major player in the spirits world is not really interested in Sherry. What most of the acquisitors wanted from Terry was the brandy, Centenario, a big seller in its famous bottle with a yellow net round it. They also make a Brandy 1900 and a Brandy Primero.

Address: Visitor Centre Bodegas Fundador Pedro Domecq, Terry and Harveys
                 C/ San Ildefonso, 3, Jerez

Telephone: (+34) 956 15 15 00


Visits: yes, by arrangement online/telephone

The Last Cooper in Chiclana

Paco Gomez Morales has spent 50 years among Sherry barrels. He was only 14 years old when he became an apprentice at the cooperage of Juan “El Chinche”, and it never occurred to him that he would be the last cooper in the town until he noticed he was the last apprentice, the old men were retiring, and there were no more cooperages. When he began his career there were three in Chiclana alone. Now there are only two in Jerez itself.

Now, at 64, he is in his last year of work, at the cooperative bodega Union de Viticultores Chiclaneras, and remembers how he began. “I loved it from the start, though I had never been involved with this world. I lived near the workshop of “El Chinche” and when I passed by, I saw the men working. I asked a friend who worked there if he would let me know if a vacancy for an apprentice arose, and two days later he got in touch.”

Next year Paco will retire, and Chiclana will no longer have a cooper. Falling sales and modernisation mean he is no longer indispensable. The butts were once used for storage and transport of wine, but now are only used in the soleras themselves, some being over a century old.  Huge stainless steel tanks have replaced many butts, and are now used for fermentation and storage, meaning that while there used to be three coopers at each bodega, there are no longer any.

Paco works the hoops on a butt (Imagen Voz Digital)
“As butts are only used now in soleras, they live quietly, while before the shipping and storage butts  were constantly being moved around and taken apart for cleaning and subsequent re-use. Thus latterly, the cooper’s job has been more the repair of casks than the making of them, and the skills required have been less and less needed with the introduction of machinery and purchase of barrels from elsewhere.”

Chestnut wood was used more in the past, but that changed to oak, and the cooper’s hammer blows and skills in shaping and bending staves produce consistent leak-free butts. Chiclana’s last cooper will retire next year at 65. He says he will miss the bodega, but after 50 years he fancies a rest.

3.3.14 Chiclana's Wine and Salt Museum

The Wine and Salt Museum project in Chiclana, which should have been finished by now, is still under way despite delays which mean that about 30% of the work remains to be done. There have been problems with the roof, which was in a worse state than had been thought, and which needs to be completely replaced. All the supporting beams of this old bodega have been fixed, and the new roof will resemble the original. Once the roof is finished, interior works can begin, and it is hoped that the museum will be up and running by the end of this year.

(Imagen La Voz Digital)