Wednesday 31 December 2014

31.12.14 Tio Pepe Sign Ready for New Year; Happy New Year! Feliz año!

After an absence of three years, the iconic Tio Pepe illuminated sign will shine down on revellers in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol as they bring in the New Year to the sound of the bells tonight. This will be the sign’s eightieth birthday (well nearly), and Madrileños will likely also raise a glass to welcome it back. Let us hope that glass contains Sherry!

The sign as it is now (foto:reporterosjerez)

The ideal wine would of course be the special edition Tio Pepe Puerta del Sol to commemorate this occasion:

I would like to join Tio Pepe and wish you all a very happy New Year. Feliz y prospero año nuevo!

Monday 29 December 2014

PX Antique 15%, Rey Fernando de Castilla

Dense, almost black, burnt umber fading through amber to yellow at the rim, very viscous.
Most attractive and quite intense nose with the intoxicating smell of the bodega and the pasas from which the wine is made, you can even smell their texture. Then there is a complex array of aromas like coffee, dried figs and dates, even hints of chocolate and licorice, all very natural tasting, perfectly balanced and integrated by age.
Full and intense with a fantastic balance of tanginess and sweetness, wonderful texture, toffee, caramel, dried fruits, not much oak but a certain seriousness which makes this such a classic PX. Lots of nuances - you could play with this for hours, and then it has terrific length. Lovely.
This superb PX would be classed as VORS, but Jan Petterson does not believe in the system. This old solera was bought in the 1970s by Fernando Andrada Vanderwilde, shortly after he had set up the bodega which specialised in the best possible Brandy de Jerez, and the bodega sold these two products only until the arrival of Jan Petterson in 1999 who purchased the bodega and soleras of the neighbouring almacenista, José Bustamante to create a full range of Sherries. This wine is nearly 30 years old with around 450g/l sugar and  a refreshing 7 g/l total acidity, and like the rest of the range bottled in clear glass so one can appreciate the colour.
£25.95 per 50 cl bottle at Drinkmonger and well worth it, reasonable widely available, UK importers Boutinot.

Sunday 28 December 2014

28.12.14 Gonzalez Byass Launches 2014 Palmas

The Palma range 2014 from Gonzalez Byass is now available. This set of four wines shows how the Fino character of Tio Pepe develops when it is given the chance to age longer. As always, this is a very limited release, and I would urge you to hurry if you want some.

After a gentle summer with plenty of west wind, the flor was in very good condition, and the firm’s oenologist and master blender Antonio Flores set about preselecting the butts with the most intense Fino character. The final selection was made by Antonio assisted by well-known blogger Jamie Goode ( and involved a lot of toing and froing between the bodegas La Constancia, La Cuadrada and La Reservada.

A Palma is a Fino which is outstandingly clean, refined and delicate. The number of Palmas (cask markings) relates to the wine’s age. The Palma system is not used much these days, unfortunately.

Una Palma:
A very fine wine selected from three butts aged longer than standard Tio Pepe.
Dos Palmas:
From a selection of two butts, aged longer and still with pronounced flor notes.
Tres Palmas:
Even older, this selection from just one butt is a Fino-Amontillado with the flor at its limit.
Cuatro Palmas:

This is now a very old Amontillado, around 43 years, and selected from just one butt. An absolutely beautiful wine and GB’s oldest Amontillado.

Friday 26 December 2014

Amontillado Old & Plus VORS 19%, Sanchez Romate

Transparent deep amber with slight coppery tones fading to yellow with a trace of green at the rim, legs.
Big, forthcoming, broad and textured with slight burnished woody notes indicating age, yet there are still slight saline and savoury autolytic traces. Fairly intense yet lively, with hints of turron yema tostada, almond, hazelnut praline, walnut and toasty American oak. Very complex yet open. Very attractive, it just draws you right in - more than willingly.
Starts off full of approachable charm, soft, gentle sweet and rounded, then the fuller more serious side kicks in, plenty of old oak gives grip but not excessive, toasted almond, hazelnut and walnut, lovely tension between acidity and glyceric sweetness and plenty of body. It is constantly opening out in the glass and evolving, like a wine trapped for ages in a solera then a bottle bursting out for freedom. It has terrific length and is quite lovely.
A superb wine, well over 30 years old, but from a solera over 200 years old, dating back to the early days of the bodega established in 1781. The soleras supplying the Old & Plus range (Oloroso, Amontillado and PX) were always kept aside for the family's own consumption, but small amounts are bottled occasionally.
Not much of this wine is commercialised, but Harrods stock it at £64,95. The bottle contains 50cl, (and comes in an individual box) so it is not cheap - unless you compare it with Bordeaux or Burgundy! UK importers are Eaux de Vie, but they only seem to list the PX for some reason.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Amontillado Viejo 1830 VORS 19%, El Maestro Sierra

Quite pale amber/chestnut through to yellow with golden tints, looks old, legs.
Intense, complex and beautiful. It is amazing how it retains minute bitter traces of its Fino origins despite its age, depth and potency. There are vaguely smoky spicy wood notes, along with the sweeter toasted hazelnut and almond notes, but all these are beautifully integrated into an amazing wine. The more you sniff, the more you find
Crisp, intense, tangy and dry, racy, quite a mouthful, but once you let it roll round the mouth it keeps on giving. These old wines are hard work, but so very rewarding - they are a bit of an intellectual exercise. There is a decent amount of glycerol balancing out the acidity and wood notes, but not enough to stop it being a very dynamic wine, assertive and fresh, with unbelievable length.
This astoundingly good wine is from a tiny 1 butt solera with 3 criaderas dated 1830, still in the original beautiful and still totally practical butts made by the bodega's founder, the master cooper Jose Antonio Sierra in the early XIX century. Most unusually, however, these butts contain 120 arrobas (2,000 litres), and they offer a fantastic balance of air to surface area of wood to wine, giving the wine its incredible depth of character. After a long biological ageing period in the Fino solera, the wine destined for Amontillado goes to  the first of the 120 arroba butts and is fortified to 17%. Here it undergoes an even longer oxidative ageing, leaving the solera with over 50 years of age, before being bottled and labelled by hand. Only 200-300 bottles are released.
Somewhere around £120 per bottle. UK importers Indigo Wine

(foto:Migue Zayas)

Turrón, More Spanish Christmas Treats

This quite magnificent almond based sweetmeat is found all over Mediterranean Europe and reaches its peak of perfection in Spain. The word comes from the Latin torrere (to toast) and the product has a very long history, possibly back to 4th century BC Rome. In Spain the oldest references come from the XV century in the town of Jijona near Alicante in the East of the country. King Felipe II decreed in 1595 that turrón and pan de higos (lit. fig bread, a compressed bar of chopped dried figs with or without a drop of anis) should be given at Christmas time, and they have been ever since.

During late January and February the countryside is lit up spectacularly with the beautiful pinky-white almond blossom, and the harvest takes place mid-August to late September. The nuts are dried in the sun for a day or two so they can be ground if necessary. After the USA, Spain is the world’s largest producer of almonds.

Turrón is simply made from toasted almonds (occasionally other nuts), egg white and cooked sugar and honey (usually rosemary or thyme) in a variety of ways. The Alicante style is stiff and resembles nougat with whole almonds in it, while the Jijona style (often referred to as “blando” or soft) uses ground almonds and is comparatively soft. It is essentially simple, but over time an enormous number of variations have appeared which contain for example chocolate, coconut, liqueur, egg yolk or toasted rice. They are nearly always sold in 250 or 300 gram bars.

Turron de Jijona (foto IGP)
Nowadays there is an Indicación Geográfica Protegida (like a Denominación de Origen) “Jijona y Turrón de Alicante” which protects, promotes and supervises their good name. Nevertheless, the producers here also make a huge range of other sweetmeats such as marzipan and various other “dulces” (sweetmeats) which originate elsewhere like Pán de Cádiz and Polvorones (Estepa). Equally, of course, turrón is produced elsewhere in Spain, but without the IGP.

Turron de Alicante (foto IGP)
In November the Spanish food shops and supermarkets begin to positively bristle with Turrón in every imaginable flavour, along with all the other dulces, often in beautifully arranged selection boxes. They are utterly irresistible, but don’t worry, they are very nutritious. There is very little saturated fat but lots of protein and vitamins. And of course they are only available in the Christmas period, which is an incredible pity - but probably just as well!

The ideal wine to accompany turrón is a richer style of Sherry like an off-dry oloroso or light cream.

¡Feliz navidad! Happy Christmas!

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas, and I expect you will be enjoying a glass of lovely Sherry with your festive meal.

I will be enjoying a Palo Cortado Bota No. 41 "Bota No" from Equipo Navazos (Gaspar Florido) to which I have been looking forward for some time!

Monday 22 December 2014

22.12.14 Tokyo Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of DO Manzanilla

Last Tuesday a special Manzanilla festival was held in Tokyo in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Manzanilla’s own Denominación de Origen.  This social and festive event was organised by Sherry lover and Sherry Educator Tomoko Kimura.

That's Tomoko on the left
Many Manzanillas were represented and married with a variety of tapas prepared by the chef Saskai, proprietor of Ardoak. Many people who are interested and indeed passionate about the wines of Andalucia turned out at the recently inaugurated bar restaurant Miz which belongs to the prestigious venenciador Toshiaki Mizuta who was accompanied by another venenciador, Tomomi Watanabe. For such a special occasion, Mr Mizuta created a special Manzanilla cocktail.

Translated from an article in Más Jerez by José Luis Jiménez.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Palo Cortado 1730 VORS 18%, Alvaro Domecq

Bright copper-hued amber-mahogany, slight trace green at rim, legs.
Very elegant and complex, slightly phenolic wood notes are subordinated by a hint of glyceric sweetness with an almond and hazelnut character. Beautiful balance and all sorts of subtleties with traces of polished furniture, tobacco, honey, nuts and those wood notes but all in perfect harmony. An object lesson in balance, and most attractive.
Full and quite intense, dry and concentrated, it is fuller on the palate than one might have imagined from the nose. This is an old wine and it inevitably has a certain astringency from the wood, but it is not excessive, and there is no sign of any PX having been added, it seems totally natural, and one is distracted by the pronounced almond and walnut flavours. Most of the bitterness is balanced out by glycerol, leaving an almost interminable finish. Classic Palo Cortado.
This wine is very hard to find, but I tasted it at Vinoble in 2014. Both the AD Amontillado VORS and this Palo Cortado have been unavailable for a while but are being re-introduced - in very limited quantities. It is made from the old Pilar Aranda solera, bought with the entire bodega in 1999. Doña Pilar was an almacenista with a fine reputation and this small solera is well over a hundred years old. In 2007 the firm was acquired by Avanteselecta who have continued with Álvaro's dream. The oenologist is Ana Real, and she has done a really good job. Production is only 3,600 bottles. After all, the bodega's slogan is "Maximum quality, minimum quantity".
About 35.00 euros in Spain

Saturday 20 December 2014

Amontillado Reliquia 19%, Antonio Barbadillo

Quite pale amber fading through yellow to a touch of green at the rim, looks old, legs.
Starts fairly light but builds, hazelnut, wafers, oak, trace dried fruits, nutshells, traces of its Sanlucar origins such as nuances of salt, bitter almond and sheer pungency. Even after all these years you can still smell the last saline vestiges of Manzanilla, now far more complex.
Tangy, dry and concentrated, there is some astringency here, but it stops just short of excess and there has been no sweetening, a certain lightness in weight is compensated by sheer depth and complexity and grip. Again the nuts, some bitterness and astringency now balanced by glycerol alone, so well integrated over time it is hard to pick out individual notes. It is clearly a very old wine, still with its traces of Sanlucar bitterness, and I would have thought it would have been more like 20-22%. It is a wine to sip rather than drink: quite apart from the price, it is pretty concentrated and has almost interminable length. At such an age these are not easy wines, they require understanding and respect, but repay it handsomely.
This is one of the very limited Reliquia range of four wines (Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and PX) which are bottled in hand-blown decanters. They are among the oldest wines in the Marco de Jerez, this one with an age of over 100 years, some say more, and complexity to match.

When Don Benigno Barbadillo died in 1837, his wife Dolores married Pedro Rodriguez, who ran the firm till the latter part of the XIX century under the name Pedro Rodriguez e Hijos, until Antonio Barbadillo Ambrossy inherited the firm, which is now run by the 7th generation.

This wine has its origins in the Pedro Rodriguez e Hijos days. A very old Amontillado solera called Soberana which aged in the bodega del Toro was fed by another called Hindenburg. This latter came from the bodegas of the Conde de Aldama. The Conde had been buying up as many old wines as he could to sell for a great profit, but ended up with difficulty finding a market for them despite their quality. Antonio Barbadillo Ambrossy exchanged 10 butts of Manzanilla for every one of the Amontillado, so it must have been outstanding even then.

Price paid when tasted nearly four years ago: 260.00 Euros (per bottle), but now around £625 !! according to Wine Searcher. It is almost unobtainable (try John Fells, Farr Vintners in UK) but oh so worth the effort.

The Story of a Stolen Still

In 2010 a historic old still was stolen from the old Valdespino bodega in the Calle Ponce, a bodega which also once housed their Palo Cortado soleras, and which, after the firm’s acquisition and removal to a new - purpose-built bodega by Grupo Estevez - lay virtually empty and was by then Council property. The plan was to create a city museum in which the still would have been a central exhibit, but that never happened. It has since been demolished to make way for a language school.

According to experts the still was of considerable historic value, yet it simply disappeared. It might be suggested - and not totally inaccurately - that site security could have been much better. There was evidence of illegal habitation of the premises, and no evidence of security. Yet it would have required a lorry or a crane to lift this heavy piece of equipment which was three storeys high. It must have been dismantled and taken in individual pieces.

The still could be described as merely a hotchpotch of five metres of copper, a very large pot which made Jerez brandy, but it was more than that: it was beautiful with a sort of organic quality to its design very much of its time – the early XX century. It has probably long since been scrapped for its considerable copper value and is most unlikely to be seen again. Luckily there are photographs….

The still in situ in Calle Ponce (foto:Diario Jerez)
Distilling in Jerez goes back to the days of the Moors who introduced the art to Europe. While the Koran forbade the consumption of alcohol, they used it for medicines and perfumes – and sometimes in alchemy. Commercial use of alcohol goes back to the XVI century, and the first branded distillates – or “brandies” were introduced in the late XVIII and XIX centuries.  The stills used in the early days were simple pot stills, known as “alquitaras” or “alambiques”, not very much different in principle to those used nowadays for malt whisky production. The Valdespino still was a column still, however, a later and more efficient development.

(Information from Diario de Jerez and Sacristia del Caminante)

Thursday 18 December 2014

Moscatel Lerchundi 17%, Luis Caballero

Deep amber colour with hints of burnt sienna to yellow at the rim, very viscous.
Rich fat ripe fruity Moscatel, slightly floral, musky, figs, confectionery, raisins, a certain seriousness imparted by age but not woody, more exuberant.
Luscious and fruity, some light pulpy texture, clean and fresh if very viscous, raisins and figs, full and long and despite the sweetness there is a freshening balancing acidity typical of Moscatel. Good.
Made from Moscatel grapes grown in the Caballero vineyard Las Cruces in Chipiona. The grapes are sun-dried for over a week and the wine is made as a mistela (where alcohol is added to the juice and fermentation is not carried out). It is then aged fairly briefly in the solera system. The wine is named after a Franciscan monk, Padre Lerchundi, who was well respected for what he did for the people of Chipiona and was made a "Hijo Predilecto" (honoured son) of the town in 1892.
This sells for 6-7 euros in Spain, but unfortunately not in the UK.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Mantecados de Estepa: The Traditional Spanish Christmas Treats

In Andalucia, in the province of Sevilla, there is a town called Estepa which is famous for the production of the most delicious, but sadly seasonal, little sweet cakes called Mantecados.

Estepa has a tradition of over a thousand years of artisanship in the making of these, and over the centuries the recipes have become more standardised –or rather perfected -  but it was not till the late XIX century that a proper industry producing the mantecados that we know and love today was established.

(foto: Consejo Regulador)
Micaela Ruiz Tellez was the one who first refined the simple recipe and began selling her mantecados outside Estepa with the help of her lorry-driver husband, and was thus the first to commercialise the local delicacy. As time went by more producers set up in business, and in 1927 the town’s mayor, Salvador Moreno Duran, met with the producers and got them to sign agreements on quality control. Now there is an official Regulatory Council (Consejo Regulador) and a protected designation of origin (IGP) which controls and promotes the 20 producers, some of whom are cooperatives. It is the first of its kind.

Mantecados are made from a basic dough of wheat flour, a little pork lard or olive oil and icing sugar, to which any of the following can be added: almond, hazelnut, cinnamon, occasionally coconut, chocolate and some natural aromas such as lemon, vanilla and clove, and often decorated with sesame seeds or icing sugar. Once ready, the dough is shaped and then baked in an oven. The whole process takes a couple of hours, and the mantecados emerge at around 2 inches in diameter, weigh 35 grams and, being very delicate, (they are known as "polvorones", "polvo" meaning powder) are wrapped individually in paper.

Other baked delights are made here as well, though not covered by the IGP, such as hojaldres (puff pastry), milhojas (millefeuille), barquillos (filled wafer tubes) and rosquillas (ring-shaped pastry). Boxed assortments are widely available, and beautifully presented.

(foto: Consejo Regulador)
Christmas is celebrated in Spain on the 6th of January, and in the run up to it many small food shops occasionally offer customers a mantecado and a glass of brandy or anis (aniseed flavoured spirit) while they wait to be served. Another match made in Heaven would be an Amontillado or Oloroso Sherry. It would be a rare Spanish family which did not have a box of these delights in the house. It is said that food tastes better when it is made with love, and that is beyond doubt here.

When the season starts, the town is transformed: 2,000 jobs are created, of which women make up 85%. Their jobs have been passed down through the generations. Work is scarce in Spain, and this is only temporary work, but it helps keep many families going till the next season. The unemployment rate among women here is 52%. Without the mantecado industry there would only be the olives. Nearly every family in Estepa has some involvement with mantecados, and during the season you can catch their lovely, appetising aromas as you walk down the street.

Monday 15 December 2014

Oloroso VORS 1/14 22%, Bodegas Maestro Sierra

Deep amber fading to yellow with a hint of green at the rim, looks really old, legs.
Full, pungent and nutty. There is a great complexity here with  slightly bitter hints of walnut but also lots of toasted almond and hazelnut and a touch of old wood with slight varnishy traces. Then there are hints of raisin giving a suspicion of roundness, but not enough to make the wine any less dry. I think it just might have been teaspooned, which is all to the good as these very old wines can be a little astringent otherwise.
Big and powerful with a noticeable tang of acidity which keeps it fresh, and a trace of sweetness confirming that it may have been teaspooned. Acidity, trace sweetness and also a hint of walnutty woody bitterness give an almost bitter-sweet effect compounded by good grip and terrific length. A superb old oloroso with real character and vivacity.
This Fantastic wine comes from a small solera of just 14 butts, through which it has taken over 50 years (according to the bodega website) or 60 years (according to Peter Liem) or 70 years (according to what I was told by bodega staff at Vinoble) to arrive. Suffice to say it is very old - and they have another (the Extra Viejo 1/7) which is even older. Sold in very limited quantities of some 400 hand filled and labelled bottles a year, this is hard to get hold of, but well worth the effort.
Somewhere around £150 per bottle - there may be halves - from UK agents Indigo Wine

(Foto Migue Zayas/Maestro Sierra)

Friday 12 December 2014

11.12.14 Gonzalez Byass join Grandes Pagos de Espana

González Byass’ Finca Moncloa vineyards have joined Grandes Pagos de España. GPE is an association, established in 2000, of wine producers across Spain whose motive is to produce, defend and promote wine from a specific terrain which reflects the unmistakable character of the soil, subsoil and climate. This is what the French call “Terroir”. A wine should taste of the place it was created.

GB are only the second producer from Cádiz to join this association, the first being Valdespino with their Inocente vineyard in the Pago Macharnudo. Finca Moncloa, situated near Arcos de la Frontera, was established to recuperate lost traditions, and where they have planted much Tintilla de Rota, a variety which was all but lost, and make a wonderful wine with it.

Finca Moncloa (foto: correodelvino)

Alfredo García González Gordon, fifth generation of the GB family, is the driving force behind Moncloa. As an agricultural engineer he has travelled extensively in other wine regions, and according to him, the farther south he went, the more he liked the wines, so the concept of table wine from Cádiz was born.

The vineyards are in an enviable position, sheltered from the awful hot dry Levante wind by the Sierra Valleja. They benefit from a reasonably high altitude and plenty hours of sunshine during the vegetative cycle, not to mention spectacular views from the highest parts of the vineyard. There are no other vineyards in the area and little habitation. Despite the cultivation being quite difficult, with steep slopes and shallow soils as well as differences between parcels, every year has produced fine quality.

Only a single vineyard whose characteristics differentiate it from those nearby can be considered as a Pago. These differences could be in the soil structure, a specific orientation, microclimate or in the grape varieties cultivated. As a result the fruit should be of exceptional quality and the wine stored or aged apart from any others.

Monday 8 December 2014

The Great Challenge facing the Historic Vineyards

From an interesting article in today’s Diario de Jerez by A. Espejo.

A great deal of work needs to be done to develop the countryside as a tourism resource, and this is the principal aim of the provincial vineyard plan. The coordinator of the plan stresses that the first thing to be done is to stop the destruction of the patrimony and to deal with its state of abandon.

From the porch of the vineyard house of La Esperanza in the Pago Balbaína a sonnet on a beautiful tiled panel greets the passer-by. It is a vestige of the times of splendour which were experienced by the countryside and the wine trade in the mid XIX century when the house was built. It was later refurbished in 1935 by José de Soto Abad.

The caserio at La Esperanza in a rather dilapidated state (foto
Unfortunately the La Esperanza vineyard is also a clear example of the decadence and the state of abandon of the patrimony throughout the Jerez area. Its privileged position, separated from Jerez by a sea of vines is now a small island of vines, albeit still in production, is now spattered with wind turbines. What once resembled an earthly paradise has lost most of its charm.

Sonnet to the glory of Esperanza (foto
Among the distinct Pagos of Jerez, bald patches of uncultivated soil occupy a great part of the land which was once a sea of productive vines until the ravages of grubbing-up to reduce production during the crisis. But there are still a few spots which retain the flavour of those glorious times, places which make one think that there is room to extend the Ruta del Vino de Jerez - thus far only including bodegas - to the vineyards. Currently Rafael Martín, the coordinator of the provincial vineyard plan, is paying visits to many of these spots, some in better shape than others, some owned by growers, others by bodegas.

Wind farms are everywhere (foto
This is the first phase of the plan, which centres on understanding the terrain and getting to know proprietors and their concerns and ideas, is hoped to be complete by the end of this year. Starting in January, the man from the Junta will begin the second phase which will involve meetings with local councils to try and assess the necessary public measures to invigorate vineyard tourism.

It is a mammoth task. The historic vineyards add up to some 7,000 hectares but another thousand exist which are either Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz (VT Cádiz) or not connected to any Denominación de Origen.  Martín says that not only is there no vineyard tourism, but that it is a long way from being a reality. “It is not impossible, but we have to start from zero.”

You don’t have to go far in the countryside to see the deterioration of the landscape and the patrimony.  In the Pago Balbaína, approached by a gully from the road to Rota, the wind turbines completely spoil the aesthetic of any vineyards which still exist, while there are hardly any traces of the roadside vegetation and even the roads are in a poor state.

Much farther north the Pago Carrascal offers a very different picture, perhaps somewhat closer to the model for vineyard tourism. Here the vegetation still exists and the landscape is dotted with jacarandas along the roadsides making a bicycle route a possibility with various country roads which are passable if not in a great state of repair.

The regeneration of the countryside will take time and will need the cooperation of the various administrations as well as the wine trade.  Martín says that what is needed is awareness of the damage being done, putting a stop to the wind and solar energy farms which are not irreversible. What it will take is local authority ordinances and the Junta’s Plan de Ordenación Territorial (POT) de la Bahía de Cádiz to take things forward with the minimum obstruction.

The wind turbines are, of course, a source of income to small growers, who would need some other source of income to augment their meagre income from grapes. The big vineyard owning bodegas are the obvious ones to grab the reins and start attracting tourists to the vineyards, opening the growers’ eyes as to how it is done.

The wine tourist is demanding, quite different to the locals who might hire a vineyard house for a celebration but are not prepared to shell out 10 to 15 euros for a tutored tasting at the vineyard, or less still prepared to spend more on a whole day’s visit with lunch.

Unlike the traditional vineyards which are scattered and with distant bodegas, the VT Cádiz vineyards often have a bodega on site, making them ideal vineyard tourism venues where they can actively promote their wines, which are still not widely known.  They could be a good model for the Sherry vineyards, but the challenge for the Junta is to make it work. There is, needless to say, much competition with other wine regions both in Spain and abroad, as well as the inevitable shortage of investment.

Entrance to Vina El Caballo (foto
The El Caballo vineyard, also in the Pago Balbaina could be a good example of an outside investor who has confidence in the future of tourism and winemaking in the Jerez countryside. The vineyard, which has a vineyard house in a good state of repair was bought from Osborne by Vicente Taberner, a businessman from Valencia and owner of the Huerta de Albalá near Arcos de la Frontera, one of the first wineries in the VT Cádiz. So far he has not divulged his plans for El Caballo.

Some of the leading Sherry bodegas have perfectly serviceable facilities for vineyard tourism; Gonzalez Byass in Carrascal, for example, and Barbadillo in Gibalbín where the Santa Lucía vineyard impressed Martín. But these are isolated cases, and there is a massive amount of work to do.

7.12.14 About Sherry Consumers; Vinoble 2016

There appear to be three types of Sherry consumer: the older generation who have always drunk it, but are now dying off; the occasional drinkers who will drink it but not go out of their way to find it, considering it unfashionable and not really competitive with other drinks; and the experts on whom Sherry depends for its future growth.

A clear understanding of consumers is vital for any product, and wine is no exception.  Who drinks Sherry nowadays? What are the consumers like who drink the approximately 50 million bottles of Sherry sold annually? To simplify a little, we could classify Sherry drinkers into three basic categories:

The traditionals: regular consumers in the traditional markets. In Spain these would mainly be men who drink Fino or Manzanilla, while in Britain, Holland etc. they would mainly be women who drink Cream or Medium; people over 55, brand snobs who do not realise Sherry is a wine.

The Sherry snob
The occasionals: people of any age or gender who drink Sherry sporadically, usually at functions such as ferias or celebrations where it is the wine on offer. They don’t know much about it and have no brand preferences, drinking Sherry of any type according to the local style, and they do it in any way such as aperitif, with tapas, in cocktails…

The experts: wine lovers who drink Sherry as part of a range of wines which they drink more or less frequently. They drink Sherry as they would any other wine: preferably with food and in a relatively informal environment. They drink most styles of Sherry, are of a younger profile - usually over thirty - and of either gender.

Given the situation and assuming that there are no foreseeable changes in the Sherry business or the consumer, the logical evolution of each category is very different.

There is no doubt that the traditional consumer is slowly disappearing and this is the main reason for the falling sales. Developing sales to the occasional consumers, the ones who come across Sherry without looking for it, depend on marketing skills to keep them interested and the creation of opportunities for them to come across Sherry, not an easy thing to do in the face of voracious competition from vast numbers of other drinks.

So the best opportunity for growth is with the experts, the wine drinkers. Luckily numbers of these consumers are growing, everywhere. These are people with some knowledge or at least curiosity and interest in wine in its broadest sense. It is very important therefore, that the bodegas and the Sherry trade in general do their best to introduce Sherry to these consumers, along with its historic vineyards, grape varieties and ageing systems. Everything in fact that makes Sherry special, but within their scope of interest: the world of wine.

If Jerez plays its cards right, these will be the consumers to return us to the path of growth. They will assure the future of the industry and our heritage, so important to us all.

(From Diario de Jerez 6.12.14)

A patio at the Alacazar, Jerez

Vinoble 2016

The dates for the IX edition of Vinoble, the sweet and fortified wine fair which takes place every two years at the Alcázar in Jerez, have been announced. They are the 29th 30th and 31st May 2016. The dates have been carefully chosen to avoid clashing with other international wine fairs.

After the 2012 fair was cancelled due to lack of funds, the 2014 was a great success and for the first time, gastronomic activities were included. These will be expanded in 2016 along with revised marketing and improved access. The closing of the fair in the middle of the day will remain, the idea being to give visitors time to have a good lunch and a look around the city.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

PX Sacromonte 15 Years Old 15%, Valdivia

Very deep blacky burnt umber to amber to yellow at the rim, very viscous.
Quite intense, lots of pasa, dried grape pulp, date, dried fig (you can smell the texture) with traces of coffee, even a slight note of tar, a hint of alcohol and a slight note of old barrels. Rich, hefty, fairly concentrated and not excessively sweet.
Full, assertive, viscous with all sorts of flavours: chocolate, coffee, raisin (naturally), oak, fig, prunes, caramel, toffee, even licorice, really quite complex and serious, intensely sweet with interminable length. Really very good.
Aged for 15 years and contains about 380 g/l sugar - quite low really for PX, but no bad thing as flavour can get lost in too much viscosity. It would be good to see the whole range here, but Liberty only import the 15 year olds: Amontillado, Oloroso and this PX. It would be better still to see someone buy this bodega which has been languishing since its purchase by Garvey (read Nueva Rumasa). These wines are good though. 91 Penin points for this one.
A 50 cl bottle will set you back about £20.00. UK agents Liberty Wines.

Monday 1 December 2014

Canasta 19.5%, Williams & Humbert

Fairly deep burnt umber brown through to amber at rim, legs.
Big soft and forthcoming, notes of carob, nuts, pasa, walnuts in syrup, vanilla smooth and attractive with plenty of Oloroso and PX notes.
Rich and smooth, fairly fruity raisin notes, quite young so no woody notes, just nicely textured clean and well rounded without any cloying and a trace of brown sugar at the finish. A very good Cream.
Grapes come from the pagos Balbaina and Carrascal vineyards, and after fermentation the young PX and Oloroso wines are blended and aged together for at least six years through the solera to marry them as harmoniously as possible. The result is a smooth, well integrated wine of about 132 g/l sugar which is known as an Oloroso Dulce (though this term is no longer permitted) or Cream. This is a classic well made Cream Sherry. Canasta is a play on words: it is a card game which would be most enjoyable with a glass of this, or it is a basket for collecting the harvested grapes.
About £12-13 and reasonably widely available. UK agents: Ehrmanns

Bodegas: El Maestro Sierra

At the beginning of the XIX century a master cooper aptly named Jose Antonio Sierra - a sierra is a “saw” (or mountain range) ran a successful firm called La Merced supplying butts to the various bodegas. Fellow coopers admired his skill and he was nicknamed “Maestro” Sierra. While coopering is close to wine it is not quite the same, and he dreamed of establishing his own bodega. This he did in 1830, acquiring a magnificently-sited bodega in what was then the outskirts of Jerez in the Plaza Silos, where the bodega remains to this day, on high ground open to the Poniente (west wind) and still resolutely in family hands. It contains some 800 butts.

Jose Antonio died without issue and the bodega passed to his niece, Carmen Casal Soto who, when she lost her husband soon after, formed a company with her children, one of whom, Antonio Borrego Casal took charge of the bodega. Under his control, the bodega earned a good reputation, though not without enduring hard times.

When he died in 1976 his widow, Doña Pilar Pla Pechovierto, inherited the bodega and has run it ever since. In those days smaller bodegas could not market their wines on their own account and acted as almacenistas selling their wine to bigger bodegas.  Fino went to Gonzalez Byass and Oloroso to Domecq, both of whom took ages to pay. Some Maestro Sierra Oloroso was sold to Lustau who marketed it under the Lustau Almacenista label as “Viuda de Antonio Borrego”. The rules changed in 1992 however, and they were free to bottle and market their own wine. As is the case with many bodegas, El Maestro Sierra buys in ready fermented musts from the Cooperative Nuestra Senora de las Angustias with whom they have been doing business for years.

Back in the 1970s it was unusual, not to say slightly frowned-upon for a woman to run a bodega, and the capataz was usually left to run things, but Pilar was more than up to the job, despite the macho Sherry world of the time making things difficult. Now she runs it with her daughter (and fifth generation) Carmen Borrego who has a doctorate in history of the Americas and has written various books on the subject, and on wine as well but now works full time at the bodega with just as much commitment as her mother. Both are now held in great respect as are their wines. In fact Maestro Sierra is in the top 100 best wineries in the world having received much favourable critical acclaim with scores in the 90s.

Pilar with Juan Clavijo 
The passage of time has proved the skill of the founder as many of the bodega’s variously sized butts which he made are still in use, identified by his mark carved into each one. Little has changed in nearly 200 years and all the bodega work is done by hand by oenologist Ana Cabestrero and capataz Juan Clavijo. Some cooperage is still done, but more in the way of repairs. The bodega has a despacho de vinos (shop). All the wines are bottled with minimal filtration and labelled by hand. This is a classic old fashioned bodega with outstanding wines made by outstanding people.

The wines:
VORS: Amontillado 1830, Palo Cortado, Oloroso 1/14, Oloroso Extraviejo 1/7, PX Viejísimo, all have at least 50 years solera age.

Fino (@ 5 years old), Fino en Rama, Amontillado 12 years old, Oloroso 15 years old, PX over 5 years old, Amoroso Medium about 18 years old and Cream around 18 years old.

The Bodega also makes a superb Brandy Solera Gran Reserva aged around 25 years in used Oloroso and PX butts.

Visits?  Not open to the public
Address: Plaza de Silos, 5, 11403 Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain
Telephone: (+34) 956 342 433