Tuesday 29 April 2014

29.4.14 Sherry and Tapas; Feria de la Manzanilla

A new “Gastronomic Route” is being planned in Jerez to take place from the 5th – 15th June, coinciding roughly with International Sherry Week. Titled “Imprescindibles de la Tapa y el Vino de Jerez” (Essentials of Sherry and Tapas), the three Sherry towns of Jerez, Sanlucar and El Puerto will all be taking part, matching typical Sherries with traditional tapas. A similar event took place in Sevilla last year with enormous success. Consumers will be asked to vote for the best.

Classic beef with Oloroso (Imagen +Jerez)

This year’s Feria de la Manzanilla has a poster. Jose Antonio Casado Ahumada is the artist whose poster was presented by the mayor of Sanlucar at the bodegas of Elias Gonzalez Pinto along with this year’s speech.

(Foto Ayto. Sanlucar)

Saturday 26 April 2014

Bodegas: Pemartin

Julian Pemartin Rodis, born in Oloron in France in 1770, was a Frenchman who, like many others, had left France’s difficult political and social situation caused by the Revolution. He went to Spain while still a very young man and then spent 20 years in Mexico, where he made a fortune at the silver mines of Zacatecas. Instability and complicated politics in Mexico caused by the movement for independence from Spain, however, decided him to leave, and go back to Spain. He took out Spanish nationality in 1815 and married Mercedes Carolina Laborde Lafargue.

He already had relations in the Sherry area, who no doubt informed him that the Sherry trade was growing rapidly and would be a very profitable investment. He was by no means the only person returning from South America and setting up in business in Spain at that time.  Pemartin set up in business in Jerez in 1818 with a partner, Fermin de Apezechea, bought land and planted a vineyard at Cerro Nuevo in the Macharnudo. They used bodegas in Calle Pizarro before constructing new ones in which consisted of a whole block between Calle Diego Fernandez Herrera and Calle Medina, built in 1819 around a central patio with a well and known as El Cuadro. 

A corner of El Cuadro (Foto reilop.es)
Over the following 30 years, the business prospered, both as an almacenista and as an exporter. Julian’s brother in law, Manuel Lagarde joined the business, effectively running it, and in the early 1820s appointed George Sandeman as their agent in London. Julian became a member of the growing bourgeoisie of moneyed wine producers, and was one of the investors in the railway. In 1830 Fermin de Apezechea retired, (he died in 1836) and Julian was left sole owner of the firm. By about 1850 his bodegas held around 1,600 butts.

In 1853 Julian died, leaving the business to his 3 sons, Julian, Jose and Francisco. The elder, Julian Maria Pemartin Laborde (1816-1885), who had married Cristina Hernandez Boutrix was well known as a spendthrift. The firm had been the largest exporter in 1856, but by 1864 they were drawing large, and unauthorised credits from Sandeman while the quality of the wine was deteriorating. In 1866 he dissolved the company and re-started it on his own. Virtually from that moment, the company’s fortunes began to wane, and yet he felt that having seen such success in business, he should be showing it off.

Julian adorning his house (Foto Jerez Siempre)
He spent a fortune building a palatial home known as the Recreo de las Cadenas between the Calle Pizarro and the Avenida Duque de Abrantes. He and Cristina lived in Calle Porvera till it was completed. It is reputed to have been designed by French architect Charles Garnier (famous for the Paris Opera House and the Casino at Monte Carlo) but was more likely designed by another French architect, Samuel Revel, and completed in 1868. This fabulous palace possessed extensive botanic gardens with lakes, fountains and exotic plants. Julian entertained lavishly the great and the good of the day, even the King. The palace is now the headquarters of the Real Escuela del Arte Ecuestre - or Spanish riding school, whose installations are adjacent. It is a popular venue for weddings.

(Foto realescuela.org)
Having overstretched the firm, and despite being in the top ten exporters in 1869, Jose went spectacularly bust on the 28th June 1879 with debts of close to 4 million reales de vellon (units of currency introduced by Napoleon worth 2.5 to the Spanish Real), and owing Sandeman £10,000.

This level of debt to Sandeman gave them the right to the entire Pemartin business, including the bodegas, vineyards, soleras, and the palatial house, which was later sold to the Duque de Abrantes in 1927 after being used as a home for the resident partner, Walter J Buck. What they didn’t manage to acquire were the trademarks, and so had to pay royalties for their use until they bought them from his heirs in 1899. Julian had died, childless, in 1885.

The Pemartin creditors in Spain, however, re-started the firm, with Julian’s younger brothers under the name Jose Pemartin y Cia., and there was considerable acrimony as to who had more right to use the trademarks. This was eventually resolved amicably. The firm continued to trade until being taken over by Rumasa in 1981. After the collapse of Rumasa, the Government merged Pemartin with Bodegas Internacionales (BISA) in 1984 along with Misa, Bertola, Varela, Diestro and Otaolaurruchi. In 1994 BISA was bought by the Rioja businessman Marcos Eguizabal, who had already bought the ex Rumasa Rioja bodega Paternina from the Government. In early 2016 the Eguizabal heirs sold out to the local Espinosa family.

The once famous Pemartin brand is now all but moribund, except for a basic range of Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream and PX, as well as vinegar of that name.

Brands of the past include the Berisford Solera 1914 range in dumpy wired bottles, Royal Cream – in a silvered bottle, Brandy Numancia, Pemartin Vermouth.
The Pemartin family left a positive mark on Jerez, however:  Jose Pemartin (1888-1954) was a philosopher, and Julian Pemartin (1901-1966) wrote the famous Diccionario del Vino de Jerez. Another positive thing is that Sandeman have recently given their historic documents, and those of Pemartin, to the Jerez Municipal Archive, so they can now be studied by historians and academics - and receive better conservation.

Berisford Solera 1914

Friday 25 April 2014

Amontillado Contrabandista 18%, Valdespino

Quite deep reddy amber with slow legs revealing some sweetness.
Fairly full with depth and some age, there is a hint of something maritime harking back to the Fino days, but really it is more about nuts and raisins. Hints of old barrels, PX, hazelnuts and toasted almonds mingle with a slightly smoky note and hints of turron yema tostada. attractive.
The perfect blend of old wine and sweetness, on the dry side of medium, well rounded, generous with touches of almond and walut. Nicely textured and lingering on the palate. Quite a serious wine - a "proper" medium dry!
From grapes grown in the Macharnudo, this wine spends 8 years as a fino before going to a solera established in 1892 for another 8 years of oxidative ageing. Then, a little PX is added (3.5%) to round it off to a medium-dry style. Sold at 15-16 years old, this is certainly among the very best of its style.
Expect to pay around £17 for a 75cl bottle. UK agents: Liberty Wines

25.4.14 Fino Quinta Feria Labels; El Puerto Feria

Osborne’s delicious Fino Quinta is now available in a special edition to celebrate the forthcoming Feria of El Puerto de Santa Maria. The label has been enhanced with an embroidered shawl pattern by Monica Vega Bule. There is a special label every year in honour of the feria. Fino Quinta was the winner of a Bacchus de Oro 2014 award at Spain’s most prestigious wine competition.

El Puerto de Santa Maria will be celebrating the Feria from the 1st till the 26th May this year, and yesterday the mayor, Alfonso Candon, presented this year’s poster designed by Rafael Fenoy. This year’s feria is dedicated to the United States of America.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

23.4.13 Tio Pepe is Back!

Tio Pepe is back adorning the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. The square witnessed many madrilenos coming to admire him after his absence, subsequent restoration and move to No. 11 in the square. The official switching-on will take place on the 8th of May.

Back in all his glory! (Imagen Diario Jerez)

Monday 21 April 2014

21.4.14 Tio Pepe Sign Back Tomorrow!

Madrid’s famous illuminated Tio Pepe sign will be re-erected starting at midnight tonight! After three years of finding a new site and complete restoration of the 80 year old sign, it will be back in the Plaza Mayor to look down benignly once again on New Year revellers.

Nearly there! (Imagen Diario Jerez)

Saturday 19 April 2014

Manzanilla Amontillada 1/21 17.5% Lustau Almacenista

Bright golden amber with slightest trace of green at rim, legs.
Full and super-complex with pronounced flor characteristics such as bitter salinity, tarry rope and traces of Marmite from autolysis, but the bitterness is tempered by the softening effect of oxidation and sweeter aromas of hazelnut and almond. Truly in between Manzanilla and Amontillado, and quite lovely.
Mid weight, the half-way-house theme continues, intensely flavoured and quite tangy with those autolytic and oxidative notes. There is a slight feeling of fleeting sweetness from the small amount of glycerol from ageing, yet it is bone dry. Amazing intensity and length, it just goes on and on developing. Beautiful.
From Lustau's Almacenista range, this is an absolute gem made by the Almacenista Manuel Cuevas Jurado, who also makes the Manzanilla Pasada which Lustau bottle. It comes from a tiny solera of only 21 butts, and is quite a rare style of wine. Its age of about 15 years is quite sufficient for it to be a full-blown Amontillado, yet it retains a great deal of Manzanilla characteristics. The grapes come from the Pago Miraflores. Highly recommended!
Expect to pay over £20 (50cl) but expect to be amazed! UK agents Fields, Morris & Verdin.

18.4.14 Feria de la Manzanilla

Sanlucar’s Feria de la Manzanilla starts soon, so get booking!  It runs from the 27th May till the 1st June. Officially a five day event, it does tend to overrun as people let their hair down. Colour, crowds, music, bullfights, horses, food and…Manzanilla – it is a magical combination. It starts when the lights at the fairground are switched on and ends with a firework display.  The 27th is actually Manzanilla Day, but this last till 26th June. That’s the kind of Manzanilla Day I like!

3 girls, 1 rebujito and 2 fans

Friday 18 April 2014

17.4.14 Apostoles Wins Prize; Tio Pepe Sculpture

Apostoles Palo Cortado VORS from Gonzalez Byass has won the prize for Best Fortified wine in the fourth edition (2014) of the “Wine Guide” of the magazine Semana Vitivinocola. 1440 wines were tasted from 344 bodegas and 62 wine regions, but out of only 37 fortified wines GB’s Apostoles received 97 points, the highest score of any fortified in this edition of the guide.

The new Tio Pepe Statue for the Tio Pepe roundabout in Jerez should be in place by the 15th July. It will be 9 metres high and built from stainless steel which will be “patinated” to reflect the Tio Pepe colours. Chiqui Diaz, the sculptor is delighted to be building a “monument to a monument” that is the Tio Pepe symbol on a roundabout on the Avenida Tio Pepe.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Armada Cream 17.5%, Sandeman

Deep transparent copper tinted mahogany with a trace of green to rim, legs.
At first walnuts and old oak barrels, then a surface aroma of PX leading into the depths of old Oloroso, traces earthiness, toasted nuts, raisins, dried figs and a trace of cinnamon. An interesting nose, well balanced between the PX and Oloroso, like a good Cream should be.
Fairly light with an attractive open textured mellow quality, nicely balanced and not over sweet. One can appreciate the PX and Oloroso separately, but they work really well as a fully integrated blend. Figs, raisins old barrels and walnuts sum it up, and it has very good length with a clean uncloying finish.
A very good and very old brand of Cream. The Oloroso is about ten years old and is 90% of the blend with PX being 10%. The total sugar content is 134 g/l which is not excessive and allows flavour to come through without cloying. The Oloroso at least might come from an old Pemartin solera, who knows?! Anyway, on Sandeman's website the wine is labelled "Superior Cream" (below) and this one is labelled "Rich Cream Oloroso". I doubt there is any difference (other than marketing), but I thought I'd mention it.
£12-14 A little more than the heavily promoted Bristol Cream, but less complex and more enjoyable. UK importers: Stevens Garnier.

14.4.14 Sandeman Donates Historic Documents to Municipal Archive

An extensive and valuable archive of documents relating to the Sherry business over the late XVIII and XIX centuries has been donated to the Jerez Municipal Archive by Sandeman. The documents will now be conserved and catalogued by the Archive’s technicians. This gift comes about thanks to an agreement between Jose Moreno Silvetti of Sandeman and the Council, both of whom recognise the huge historical importance of the archive.

The documents amount to 141 boxes containing  among other things accounts books, correspondence, inventories, title deeds,  information on bodegas, vineyards, export figures and photographs covering the bodega Julian Pemartin & Cia (1799 – 1880) and Sandeman Buck & Co (1878 – 1976) who took over Pemartin when they went bust in 1879.

The collection was found in the casa de la viña, built in the late XVII- early XVIIIcentury at the Viña El Corregidor vineyard in the Carrascal. It has been well looked after since by Alberto Ramos Santana of the Historic Wine Studies Department of the University of Cadiz.

These valuable documents join others of great importance at the Municipal Archive, such as those of Manuel Misa, Diez Hermanos, Marques del Merito, Salvador Diez and Valdespino, along with documentation about the Gremio de Vinateria. Combined, this collection is of incalculable value to the study of the history and patrimony of Jerez

Sunday 13 April 2014

Bodegas: Cooperativa Nuestra Senora de las Angustias

Also known as Covijerez, this cooperative bodega was founded in 1967 by growers who decided to set up their own business for making and selling wine. They felt this gave them more security than merely selling grapes to the big producers. No less than 311 growers are members of the cooperative, and between them they control 995 hectares of Palomino vineyard - 14% of the total vineyard. Covijerez is the largest of the seven cooperatives in the Jerez area. It was a member of the grade 2 super coop Aecovi till the latter went bust in 2015.

The bodegas contain 5,800 butts comprising soleras of Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso; a fermentation bodega in two parts with stainless steel tanks with a combined capacity of 13.4 million litres; a production area with the wine presses; a storage area where they keep all the tools and equipment. In 2013, 11 million kilos of grapes were pressed here.

The bodega is keen to progress its business by getting involved in oeno-tourism and by taking advantage of the proximity of Ikea, which should attract many potential visitors to the bodega.

While grapes, concentrated musts and wine are still sold to other bodegas, the Cooperative has its own range of wines which they are keen to promote, and which are:

Fino Sin Pecado (available in the Tabanco Plateros)
The Romerito range : Amontillado Romerito, Oloroso Seco Romerito, Medium Romerito, Cream Romerito, Pedro Ximenez Romerito. The coop also makes Vinegar.

As the growers own no PX, it is bought in. The finished wines are available in bulk to tabancos, bars and restaurants, or in bottle. They are of very good quality.

Address: Ctra. N-IV (Circunvalacion), Km. 638, Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz
Telephone: (+34) 956 301 209
Web: www.covijerez.es
Visits? Yes by arrangement

Saturday 12 April 2014

PX Triana 15%, Hidalgo La Gitana

Almost black through very deep burnt umber to yellow at rim, viscous with pronounced and slow legs.
Treacle toffee, prunes and dried figs, rich and deep with just a slight savoury note of walnuts in syrup and damp barrels. Remarkably fresh and textured; you can just smell the grape pulp! There is also an air of Christmas pudding here, with its dried fruits and a slight trace of spices.
Very viscous and intensely sweet, yet there is an attractive balancing tang of oak, acidity and even a little tannin. Prunes, figs and raisins predominate along with very slightly salted toffee and that walnut note, even a hint of pepper. Luscious and very long and very characterful.
Hidalgo have an annoying habit of having different versions of wines. There is also a Triana 30 year-old VORS, but this is the "ordinary", younger version. Wine from this solera,which  is used to sweeten the Alameda Cream, and thus limits the quantity available, averages 18-20 years of age. Triana is a district of Seville, traditionally a gypsy neighbourhood, but now rather trendy. Rodrigo de Triana (who features on the label), was a sailor who went to the Americas with Columbus, and was the first to sight the New World from the crow's nest.
Around £15 per 50cl bottle. UK distributor is Mentzendorff.

11.4.14 Vinos de España, una Pasion

Jerez is sharing its great passion for wine with the rest of Spain. The European City of Wine designation is the perfect excuse for winemakers, sommeliers, restaurateurs, members of the wine trade and consumers to seize the slightest opportunity to celebrate wine’s very existence, and especially those of Jerez, host of many of this year’s best wine events.

Alongside the many public and institutional events – The Gala of European Cities of Wine, the Iberoamerican Wine Forum, Sherry Festival, the Annual Horse Fair, Vinoble... there is the privately organised event “Vinos de España, una Pasion”, which yesterday transformed the cloisters of the church of San Domingo into a veritable wine tasting Heaven.

A scene at the tasting (Foto Diario Jerez)
Around 50 bodegas from 20 Spanish Denominaciones de Origen made available some 200 wines. Juan Martin Hidalgo of Bodegas Hidalgo turned a dream into reality by organising a large range of Spanish wineries from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro, Priorato, Mentrida, Penedes, Bierzo, Mallorca, Madrid, Extremadura, Castilla and many more – not forgetting Jerez and Vinos de la Tierra de Cadiz, all unified in the spirit of making excellent wine.

The event attracted many more participants than it could cope with at the Hidalgo bodegas, so Martin Hidalgo asked the Council for larger premises. Sherry was represented by Hidalgo, Lustau, Sanchez Romate and Fernando de Castilla along with 4 Vinos de la Tierra de Cadiz. According to the Mayor, Maria Jose Garcia Pelayo, Jerez is now putting itself back on the map, the city is in fashion again thanks to its wine, and the brand is recovering.

The other bodegas present were impressed and hope that more such events can be arranged.  They were delighted to be face to face with the consumer, and recognised that however good Spanish wines might be, they have a lot to learn in selling them. They were, however impressed with Sherry and the place it comes from. Aren't we all?!

Wednesday 9 April 2014

9.4.14 The Big Fortified Tasting

The BFT as it is known, takes place on the 24th of April at Church House, Dean's Yard, Westminster, London. It is trade only, but if you can wangle a ticket, it is well worth it. It is quite simply the biggest tasting of fortified wines in the UK, most prominently with Port and Sherry, but also Madeira and a host of others. There are masterclasses from leading experts as well.

Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass leads a masterclass (Foto bft)

9.4.14 Education for Sanlucar Youth; Madrid Sherry Festival; Prizes for GB and Beltran Domecq

Two new schemes have been introduced in Sanlucar by the Junta to provide a future and gainful employment for the unemployed. A little over 1 million euros is to be spent on teaching 50 young people in wine and vineyards and tourism. They will even be paid for their work.

The Sherry Festival in Madrid is a huge success. It is the biggest Sherry event ever held in Spain. No fewer than 700 professionals turned up at the Hotel Wellington yesterday, beyond the Consejo’s wildest dreams. Chefs, sommeliers, journalists and educators met up with some 200 Sherries provided by around 20 bodegas. The Consejo is delighted with the interest shown. Indeed, such was the interest that three top level tastings had to be extended to five. There are three themes: Sherry and Gastronomy, Finos/Manzanillas en Rama and VOS/VORS wines.

Cesar saldana and the mayoress of Jerez with oenologists in Madrid (Foto Diario Jerez)
Many Bars and Restaurants are putting on a menu maridaje (food matched with Sherry), wine shops are offering tastings and promotions, and many sommeliers and bodega people are participating. It is wonderful to see how popular Sherry is – so why do people not buy more!!

Beltran Domecq and Gonzalez Byass have been awarded prizes in the VII edition of the Business, Markets, Wine & Distribution awards. The president of the Consejo won the prize for Wine Personality in recognition for all he has done to promote Sherry, and GB’s president, Mauricio Gonzalez Gordon collected the prize for the firm’s contribution to the socio-economic development of the area.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

8.4.14 Sherry Week; New Jerez App; Semana Santa

The International Sherry Week website is now up and running. After the success of last year’s World Sherry Day, it was felt that one day was insufficient to squeeze in all the 300 events in 29 countries, and it has been extended to a week. This year’s event, from the 2nd – 8th of June,  will have ambassadors such as Jose Pizarro, owner of London tapas bar Jose and restaurant Pizarro, Angel Leon, Michelin-starred owner of the famous Poniente restaurant in El Puerto de Santa Maria and the sommelier Cristina Losada, among other internationally known names.

There will be a wealth of events this year, including tastings, interactive online tastings, maridajes (food and Sherry matching) along with cultural events such as Flamenco, theatre and festivals. For information on how you can be involved, look at the website: www.isherryweek.com

There is a new guide to Jerez Application available for your Android or i.phone. The website is www.guiadejerez.com/descargar/html. It is a fantastic tool for those who are not familiar with Jerez, and is a lot handier than maps.

Semana Santa (Holy Week  starts on the 13th and runs till the 20th of this month in Jerez. It is the most spectacular series of processions of huge thrones carried through the streets by many people, bands and penitents. Just one more reason to visit Jerez this year.

(Fantastic poster by Francisco Jose Jimenez Iglesias for the Ayuntamiento de Jerez)

Saturday 5 April 2014

5.4.14 De Brindis con Brandy de Jerez

Jerez Council Tourism, Culture and Fairs councillor Antonio Real, along with the director of the Consejo Regulador, Cesar Saldaña, has announced the first fair dedicated to the brandy of Jerez, which will be called “De Brindis con (a toast with) Brandy de Jerez” . It will take place between the 2nd and 6th of July in the Alameda Vieja (just by the Alcazar) as part of the Jerez City of Wine celebrations.

There will be 16 stalls, all backlit in blue (the colour of Jerez), and there will be tastings, cocktail demonstrations, even ice sculptures. Cocktail and mixed drink competitions, the perfect marriage of brandy with food and the best ice cream with brandy will all attract prizes. The fair will be open from 17.00 – 2.00. Brandy needs a boost, so go if you can – it will be fantastic!

Wednesday 2 April 2014

When, How and Why to Drink Sherry

This fascinating and amusing little discourse comes from the wonderful book “Diccionario del Vino de Jerez”, published in 1965 by Julian Pemartin. Among many other headings in the chapter “El Vino de Jerez”, there are two amusing ones: “Uses” and “Abuses”. Let’s look at “Uses” - it’s more fun.

“It could be said without accusation of partiality or flattery that Sherry is suitable for drinking with pleasure and enjoyment during the whole day, and in any circumstances, which is not surprising given the great diversity of its varieties.  During meals, Fino can accompany to perfection a plate of fish, and then with desserts, a very old Oloroso competes in a dignified manner with the best Ports or Marsalas.

Thus, Sherry has been included in places of unalloyed refinement, such as the houses of English gentlemen, on whose tables – once the ladies have retired - the Old Sherry is obliged by ritual to circulate frequently, always following the orbit of the sun…

Sherry is drunk at certain indisputable times: aperitif times - those before lunch and before dinner. The most suitable wines for these great occasions depend, naturally on personal preferences, but one piece of pretty safe advice would suggest Olorosos during the day and Finos in the evening. How to drink them has always been important. You always need to have a glass of fine quality, best shaped like a tasting glass, and never filled more than two thirds, in order best to perceive the wine’s aroma. Always avoid large sips which, in normal people, can reduce the pleasure and even be harmful.

With both styles of wine, and especially during the evening, it is a common custom to accompany the drink with little portions of cold meat, fried food, even stewed, which are known as tapas, and just as suitable are shellfish. The best gift you can give a friend is to taste succulent just - caught langoustines sprinkled with Manzanilla Pasada or Amontillado at sunset in Sanlucar. There are those who enjoy a glass of Sherry in the afternoon with cake or a biscuit. Here, it is always preferable to drink a sweet or semi-sweet wine.

In some parts of Spain, particularly in the mountains, it is customary to have a glass of Sherry at elevenses; indeed in the bodegas of Jerez it is common for senior staff to have a morning “torito” (little bull) which consists of a glass of Oloroso mixed with some Vino de Color or Vino Dulce. On many occasions, such as family parties, weddings or baptisms, the most solemnly happy moment is when the Sherry is uncorked.

It should not be forgotten that Sherry is a wonderful condiment, especially Oloroso. It is particularly efficacious in consommé, invented by the monks of the monastery of Alcantara from whose recipe book it passed by the hand of Mme. Junot, Duquesa de Abrantes, into the bibles of French cuisine. Oloroso is also magnificent in diverse meat stews, poultry such as chicken and pheasant, and in various desserts such as cakes sweetened with syrup and soaked in Sherry.

There is another very important use for Sherry. It is a medicine.  It is one of the elements of a tonic called “Vinum Xericum”, or in its natural state its prescription is obligatory for not a few illnesses, and in almost all convalescences.  It was proclaimed at the International Medical Congress held in Sevilla in 1882 that Sherry not only contains nutritive elements but is an important therapeutic agent. Soon afterwards, in 1883, a group of doctors belonging to the Medical Academy of Surgery of Jerez published a paper in which they declared that Sherry has a rapid tonic effect on neurasthenia (fatigue, a feeling of out of sorts) and awakens the appetite, facilitates digestion and invigorates both physical and mental exercise. They recommended daily use of Sherry for all those reasons, and especially in the case of epidemics, since it acts as a tonic to the body, creates relative immunity and is capable at times of curing these diseases. This was proved in 1834 during a cholera epidemic.

Another no less eloquent confirmation of these immunising virtues of Sherry comes to us from abroad. According to “The Times” of the 25th January 1892, during the plague of 1665 which decimated London in the reign of Charles II, only one doctor was left standing, and in his memoirs he attributes his immunity to daily doses of “Sherris Sack”, which not only gave him resistance, but also the optimism necessary to attend to so many victims and dispense a cure – or at least some happiness – to them.

Top medical authorities such as Don Federico Rubio, Don Nicasio Mariscal,Don Gregorio Marañon, Dr. Decref and Don Fermin Aranda have recognised and published the health-giving properties of Sherry, which in varying quantities can help with anaemia (especially chlorosis), depression, breakdown, bone disorders and more, as well as in most convalescences.

After all that has been said, let us round off this chapter with an aphorism on the delights of sherry composed by the Jesuit Father Jaime Sirmond:

Si bene commemini, causae sunt quinque bibendi
(If I remember correctly, there are five reasons to drink,)
Hospitis adventus, praesens sitis atque futura,
(The arrival of a guest, the present thirst and that of the future,)
Et vini bonitas, et quaelibet altera causa.
(The goodness of the wine, and any other reason.)

Hear Hear!!

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Scotch Malt Whisky and Sherry Butts

Sherry lends prestige to Malt Whiskies. Distillers of some of the most important Whisky brands incorporate expressions such as "Matured in Sherry barrels" or "Aged in Sherry casks" in their labels, referring to the ageing of the spirit in butts seasoned with wine from Jerez. With the current boom in whisky sales, there has been strong growth in demand for these butts.

The Consejo Regulador is therefore worried that these terms could be misused, and that the name of Sherry, a wine protected under a Denominacion de Origen (DO), could be applied to labels of whiskies aged in barrels which have previously contained other, fairly similar wines. For this reason, the Consejo has started to look into the situation in order to regulate the practice and to avoid advantage being taken of Sherry by the whisky distillers or other wine producers passing the butts off as "Sherry" butts. There are quite a few wines with a reasonable resemblance to Sherry from Sevilla, Cordoba, Huelva, Malaga... There is nothing at all wrong with these, as long as it is made clear on the label. Indeed, some outside Jerez are considering setting up a small operation in the Jerez area to take advantage of being able to use the word "Sherry" for the butts.

The seasoning of butts for the ageing of (world) whiskies, rums - and of course, Spanish brandies, an 80 million bottle a year business - is a time-honoured practice in the bodegas of the Sherry zone and provides a profitable sideline, as these butts fetch very high prices. After all, they have been sitting in bodegas, absorbing wine, usually declassified for Sherry production, and which cannot be sold as DO wine (but could be distilled) after usually between one to two years' seasoning, as the wine tastes so strongly of the new wood. Currently there are tens of thousands of them - warehouses full of them. Scotch distillers are paying over £500 (@600 Euros) for such a butt - around £1 per bottle of finished whisky.

It should be remembered that until the end of the 1970's, Sherry - and most other wines - were exported in barrel and bottled at destination. There were thousands of empty barrels therefore in which to age whisky, but when that source dried up with the advent of local bottling in 1981, the distillers had to find new means of sourcing Sherry butts. New butts are therefore raised and filled specifically for the distillers, and this has had major consequences in terms of quality and price. Distillers now spend infinitely more on casks than in the past, and that has dramatically increased the quality of whisky, but at quite a price, (The Edrington Group alone spend 10 million a year on casks), and there is likely to be a shortage of casks in the not too distant future. One should also bear in mind that most whisky - well over 90% - goes into ex-bourbon barrels, so you get an idea of how big the barrel thing is. It makes or breaks a whisky.

Members of the Consejo were informed of the plans which  it has to create a register of official "envinadores" (or "cask seasoners") at the last plenary meeting a few days ago. While the Consejo cannot restrict people from outside the Sherry zone from seasoning casks, it can control the number of casks/butts seasoned in Jerez. According to the director of the Consejo, Cesar Saldana, the explosion of the whisky market has developed recognition of the quality and prestige brought by cask seasoning with Sherry.

The distinguished sommelier, Jose Joaquin Cortes had no doubt that much of the aromatic complexity, character and sheer satisfying quality of the Macallan 1824 Series single malts was attributable to the Sherry butts the whisky was aged in. The Distillery itself is proud, not only of its Scottish roots, but of the quality of the Sherry butts it uses for ageing, and Bob Dalgarno, their chief whisky maker took the decision to use only top quality Sherry butts (made by the Tevasa  cooperage and seasoned with Gonzalez Byass oloroso for two years) to age these whiskies.

What is not yet clear, however, is whether certain terms like "Amontillado", "Pedro Ximenez", "PX", "Oloroso", "Fino" etc. will be allowed, given that these wines can be and are made outside Jerez. Would the Consejo permit a whisky to be labelled "aged in Oloroso casks"? My view is that they would have to, even though many might assume that the oloroso was Jerez. A whisky aged in a Montilla oloroso barrel, for example, should be perfectly legal if the label stated "aged in Oloroso cask".

There is some debate about whether the cask is American oak (Q.Alba) or Spanish (Q. Robur), the two having slightly different effects on a whisky, quite apart from the type of Sherry aged in them. Robur gives off more colour and tannin, and Alba more vanillin, so it really depends on the kind of whisky one is looking for.

Much work remains to be done on this, and there is only so much the Consejo can do. One thing they should do, if they haven't already, is to talk with the Scotch Whisky Association, the governing body of Scotch Whisky - the equivalent of the Consejo itself - and come to some sort of agreement - which they would need to publish.