Sunday 30 April 2017

Making the Sherry of a Bygone Age

La Barajuela is not a fashionable Fino, at least not in the fashion of the modern Finos we know today. It is a primitive Fino in the best sense of the word, an old fashioned wine, a tribute to the albariza soils of the Jerez Superior vineyards where it all began, to the purity of the first Jerez Finos of the XIX century and its static ageing as a vintage wine capable of expressing the essence of the soils and climate which are perfect for the cultivation of the vine.

Obsession with the land, the origins and particularly for the XIX century, are what drive Willy Pérez, who is responsible for starting what promises to be a whole new breed of Sherries like those of the past, whose glory days were before the advent of the solera system where it was the soil and the grape which marked out their distinguishing character in the search for excellence, the quintessence which made each butt of Sherry unique and incomparable.

Who said the Palomino grape is a bland grape? Willy Pérez is a member of that generation of young and not so young winemakers which is attracting so much attention through renovation of the past that it is stirring up the wine scene of the Marco de Jerez. With total respect for the long established traditions of the area, Pérez and other members of his generation like Ramiro Ibáñez, Primitivo Collantes or Alejandro Narváez and Rocío Áspera (Forlong) are making a show of their self- assuredness and fresh approach, attachment to the vineyard and winemaking skills.

Willy Perez (foto:Pascual diario de jerez)

On his own or together with the Sanluqueño winemaker Ramiro Ibáñez, Pérez has dedicated himself to bringing out the best of the principal historic Jerez pagos of Carrascal, Macharnudo, Balbaína and Añina with various single vineyard Finos of great concentration and little biological ageing. More character from the soil and less from the flor is the style of the next Fino to be bottled from Viña la Esperanza, the closest to Sanlúcar in the pago Balbaína, while still ageing are wines from Viña el Caribe in the pago Añina and the pago Macharnudo.

But Barajuela is much more than a Fino, in this case from the pago Carrascal. Under the same name he has another project developing wines and brandies in the viña El Corregidor, an old vineyard in the pago Carrascal which once belonged to Sandeman. It could be said that his motto is innovation through regression while his objective is to demonstrate that highly expressive wines can be made from Palomino.

Named after the stratified albariza soil’s similarity of appearance to a pack of cards, Barajuela is a very ambitious project where, in parallel with the wine production, they are busy renovating the El Corregidor casa de viña to convert it into a château-style bodega right next to the vineyard to emphasise the importance of the vineyard itself.

After last spring’s launch of the first (2013) vintage Fino, which will be followed by consecutive vintages, they will soon launch an Oloroso every bit as distinct as the Fino, with 3½ years of ageing. Both the Fino and the Oloroso are fermented in butt and are aged statically. The grapes were selected bunch by bunch both for quality and suitability for the style of wine after an unhurried harvest lasting two months with up to five passes.

The first pass is for grapes for the brandy, the second for white table wine, the third for Fino, the fourth for Oloroso and the fifth for a Raya like those of the old days. This is how grapes were classified until the end of the XIX century. The final job is to give the grapes a little sun drying to raise the alcohol content naturally without recourse to fortification, again, as it used to be done.

Willy with his father Luis Perez at the family bodega
The Palomino Fino, although it is a less productive clone than that currently used throughout the area, accounts for half the 60 hectares planted at El Corregidor. The Pérez family, already known and respected for their Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz red table wines, bought the vineyard in 2013 to develop their Sherry project. They are now setting out to demonstrate the possibilities of a clone which gave way to more productive ones at a time when Sherry was sold in huge volumes until the crisis of 1870 when it was discovered that cheap wines from outside the region were being passed off as old Sherries.

The warm reception by both the national and international markets of the vintage Fino Barajuela has given real recognition to the work of Willy Pérez - who confesses that his passion for Sherry awoke rather late – thanks to reading books by the pioneers of Sherry’s golden age like Pedro Domecq Nuñez de Villavicencio, first Marqués de Domecq, or travellers like James Busby, father of viticulture in Australia and New Zealand in the XIX century who was impresses by the wines and the wealth of Jerez in those days.

Having worked in Australia with Syrah vines in a climate similar to that of Jerez, Willy returned and initially concentrated his efforts on his father’s red wine business. But he had been infected by the enthusiasm of his predecessors in Jerez and began research to recall those fabulous wines they had spoken of in their writings, and in which the land and the vineyard were of prime importance. “As young oenologists at Cádiz University we saw Sherry as somewhat stagnant, but came to see the grandeur of the area and I was struck by the sheer quality people achieved in the XIX century”.

The purchase in 2013 of El Corregidor by his brother in law José Manuel Bajo and his sister Marta offered the ideal test bed for developing the Sherry project. The old Sandeman vineyard, which had been prepared for uprooting after two years without production, met all their main requirements: old vines of between 40-45 years with low yields (4,500 kilos per hectare as against the 15,000 of the most productive vineyards) only slightly above the yields of the XIX century, and suitable for obtaining alcohol levels of 15degrees or more.

Half the vineyard was grafted to Palomino Fino and the other half to Tintilla de Rota and Pedro Ximénez, although the family oenologist would like to plant some other pre-Phylloxera varieties such as Perruno, Cañocazo, Mantúo etc. even though they are not authorised under the DO. Old, low yielding vines which offer higher alcohol levels as the Pérez family wants also offer higher concentrations of aromas, sapidity, salinity, fruitiness… “We complain that the Palomino is dull, but with such high yields as 15,000 k/ha any grape would lose its aromatic qualities”, says the winemaker, detailing that in the laborious harvest the best bunches are selected up to a weight of 690 kilos for each type of wine. It is entirely possible that from Barajuela other types of wine will evolve such as Rayas and Anontillados, and they are not ruling out experimentation with wood ageing, soleras and bottle ageing.

The adherence to the vineyard influences the whole process of recreating the Sherries of the past and they are confident they will not be seen as rebels. They have no intention of telling others what to do and don’t want to be marked out as punks. They simply believe that there is room for a return to focus on the vineyard, to differences in wine being led by the soil, which they see as complementary to the DO system.

Fino Barajuela 2013 was very well received in the market, more as a white wine with a little crianza biologica than as a DO Sherry. Willy says that he does not want too much flor as it can kill other characteristics of the wine. Before the end of this year the 2014 will be released and it is “more concentrated and sapid” than the 2013. There will be barely over 1,000 bottles of it which will be allocated before release.

This excellent article by A Espejo appeared in today's Diario de Jerez

Saturday 29 April 2017

29.4.17 New Lustau Amontillado for Aponiente

The Castillo de San Marcos in El Puerto de Santa María was the location for the official introduction of the latest joint Project between Lustau and the restaurant Aponiente owned by the “chef of the sea” Ángel León. Amontillado en rama Yodo joins the Fino Yodo introduced a few months ago. Sergio Martínez, oenologist at Lustau, explained that this textbook Amontillado is the natural evolution of the Fino, it retains the essence of a Fino from El Puerto and its maritime air, yet has many years of ageing statically. Only 1,000 bottles have been released, all of them for Aponiente.

More interesting news snippets: While an endless stream of bikers arrives for the Moto GP which takes place in Jerez next weekend, the first Sherry Marathon takes place tomorrow. Recent heavy rain won’t help the 600 runners negotiate the muddy country stretch of the race, but at least it is what the farmers and vine growers were hoping for after near drought conditions. At least it won’t be too hot, and anyway Jerez is not short of refreshment! A baby leopard has been born at Jerez zoo, while in Sanlúcar the navy has been busy dealing with an unexploded World War II mine caught by fishermen. The touring Sherry Festival will be in San Sebastián between the 5-14 May and there will as usual be many extramural events.

Thursday 27 April 2017

Palo Cortado Encrucijado 2014 14.5%, Bodegas Cota 45

Mid-depth gold with copper tinted golden highlights, legs.
Pure and very attractive, slightly sweet, ripe dried fruit aromas; semi raisined grapes, quince and apricot and a faint dry, almost bitter balancing flor note. There is a very slight oxidative appley note which, with that hint of flor, gives it more of a Sherry character. "Like it says on the tin", it is at a crossroads: young and still quite fruity, yet with much more serious intent, "proto" Palo Cortado.
Despite all the aforementioned fruit notes it is dry - though there is notable glycerine accentuated by fairly low acidity - quite full, and more Sherry-like. This is oxidatively aged wine at an early stage, something very hard to obtain outside the bodegas and absolutely delicious. Wines like this were once common in the days before the standardisation we now endure. This is brilliant!
This is another fascinating wine from the brilliant Sanluqueño winemaker Ramiro Ibáñez, made in tiny quantities (barely 1,000 litres) at his little bodega Cota 45 on the Bajo de Guía. It is a young Palo Cortado made the old way, using the old grapes: 40% Rey, 40% Perruno and 20% Palomino, all grown in albariza in the Pago Miraflores. After manual harvesting  they undergo 24 hours of sunning giving a natural strength of 14.5% and are foot trodden . It is not fortified. Two reasons why it cannot have a DO, but that doesn't matter. The barrel fermented mosto supports a layer of flor for four months before dying off naturally and the wine is aged statically for two years on its lees, long enough for it to decide its future. It is bottled en rama. In the old days when there was much less Fino, the wines were classified as Palmas, Cortados and Rayas and this is how a Cortado would have been. Encrucijada is Spanish for crossroads, meaning the wine has just decided its direction. It really demonstrates not only the incredible variations Sherry offers, but also the skill of its producers.
22.50 euros, Licores Corredera

Wednesday 26 April 2017

26.4.17 Tio Pepe en rama 2017 Launched

The VIIIth edition of the annual spring release of Tio Pepe en rama is now on the market. The firm’s oenologist and IWC Best Fortified Winemaker Antonio Flores, made a selection from 60 butts in the La Constancia and Rebollo bodegas. He chose these barrels as they best showed the moment when the venencia breaks through the flor and releases the wine’s wonderful aromas. He is not short of descriptive powers and pronounced the wine “elegant and aromatic on the nose with the characteristic intense yeasty aroma of the flor intermingled with the distinct almond notes typical of Palomino Fino: fresh, complex and intense, salty and expressive, but most of all alive and wild”. He continued that it is “a version of Tio Pepe that is fragrant, intense, brilliant, salty and immaculate”. Available in the UK from 8th May, so it's time to pester your wine merchant.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Brandy Terry1900 Solera Reserva 36%, Fundador

Mahogany fading to amber, legs.
Attractive slightly biscuity Oloroso nose with traces of oak. It is elegant and clean, not too sweet, and has traces of orange peel, dried fruits, vanilla and toasted nuts and has a freshness about it being not too heavily sherried.
Slightly fuller flavoured than the nose would suggest but nicely balanced between the alcohol, oak and Oloroso and a gentle fruity sweetness. It has a certain charm and good length with the holandas nicely outweighing the aguardientes.
This brandy was originally produced by Fernando A de Terry in El puerto de Santa Maria. Terry is not much more than a brand nowadays, after various adventures with Rumasa, Harveys, Pernod Ricard and Beam Suntory over the last 35 years or so, but now belongs to Grupo Fundador. This brandy comes from a 1900 solera and has 3 years average age. The famous "malla Terry" or string net which adorns the bottle was always made by hand by the women of El Puerto.
10.15 from the Corte Inglés

Monday 24 April 2017

Mahara 2014 12.5%, Bodega Vinifícate

Dense black cherry with a reddy-pink rim, legs.
Most attractive mix of very ripe yet fresh bramble and plum. There is a trace of background minerality and bitterness, true to the grape, and perhaps a balsamic note but very little oak, so presumably it had seen a few vintages, but the wine itself shines through, without need of adornment, with its powerful black fruit.
Big, ripe and well structured yet the tannins are good and ripe. There is a lovely glyceric plumpness about it and a certain rustic (in the very best sense of the word) charm. There is plenty of very slightly tight tangy black fruit and a slightly mineral texture, and a long clean finish. You have the effect of the oak without the flavour of the oak. Very good wine with character.
This is a very friendly, warm-hearted wine whose name translates as “nuts” or “crazy”. It is made by the brothers José and Miguel Gómez Lucas whose plan is to make reds from grapes indigenous to Cádiz so the wines really express their origin. Their friends thought they were nuts to start making wine in 2011 during the economic crisis, hence the name. But they had travelled and studied wine making in other countries and knew what they were doing. As proof, this wine was awarded 92 Parker points.

Mahara is 100% Tintilla, being the only indigenous red grape available in any quantity, as the other varieties are still being recuperated after phylloxera all but wiped them out,( but they do make a second wine, Amorro, which is 50/50 Tintilla and Tempranillo). The Tintilla comes from the Calderín del Obispo vineyard in the pago Balbaína where the soil is pure albariza.

Vinification, which is done in San Fernando, is totally artisan. They tread the grapes and use natural local yeasts, leaving the stems in for fermentation, which takes place in PVC tanks. The wine was aged for seven months, half in both French oak barricas and tinajas and the other half remaining in the PVC tanks. It was bottled unfiltered. However deserving, the wine has no DO. It is sealed with a driven cork and wax capsule.
18.95 euros from Licores Corredera

Sunday 23 April 2017

Civil War Sherry Labelling and Advertising

Throughout the years various themes have appeared in Sherry labelling, be they flamenco, bullfighting, sport, religion etc., but the Civil War revived another theme: politics. While doubtless some bodegas supported the rebels, many naturally felt it was safer to at least appear to support them, and fascist wording and imagery was used on many labels to this end. Commonly seen was the yoke and arrows symbol, adopted by the blue shirted members of the Falange from the shield of the Catholic Monarchs. Here is a very brief outline of the Civil War and its beginnings.

Once a great colonial power, at the start of the XX century Spain retained only the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, or Spanish Morocco. King Alfonso XIII began his reign in 1902 after the 16 year regency of his mother Queen María Cristina of Habsburg – Lorraine. The country was facing many internal problems such as calls for democracy, the growing workers’ movements and Basque and Catalan nationalism, and the coalition government seemed unable to cope.

Azaña was the republican prime minister

A military coup led by general Miguel Primo de Rivera (1870-1930), born in Jerez, and of whom there is an equestrian statue in the Plaza Arenal, took place with the King’s backing in 1923. At first things went well until the King tried to restore constitutional order in 1930 and Primo de Rivera stepped down, partly because he was ill - he died shortly afterwards.

Without the strong military hand, republicans, liberals, socialists, communists, anarchists and nationalists united against the King. After a landslide victory for the left in elections held in 1931, the Second Republic was proclaimed and the King went into exile. Interestingly, González Byass were asked by the new Republican government to remove the word “rey” (king) from their Oloroso, which is now known simply as “Alfonso”.

Gonzalez Byass Sherry named in honour of Franco's relief of the siege of the Alcazar of Toledo.
The new government immediately set out on a path of social and land reform, public education was secularised and minority rights recognised. This upset the Church and the conservatives and tension increased with the election in 1936 of the Popular Front. The army began to conspire, with the support of the Church and the fascist Falange party – founded by Primo de Rivera’s son José Antonio - to overthrow the republic. 

The 18th July 1936 was the day the war began
In July of that year most units throughout Spain rose up in a rebellion, led by General Mola. The Civil War had begun and would last till February 1939. The Republicans had changed the Spanish flag to red, yellow and purple stripes and this was changed back again to the original red, yellow and red. General Francisco Franco assumed leadership of the army after Mola’s death and became Spain’s dictator till his own death in 1975.

In Jerez the cavalry commander Salvador Arizón had worked hard to ensure rebel control of the city and this was quickly achieved. There was the occasional confrontation but the republican government had not supplied arms to the people of Jerez for their defence and the mayor wanted to avoid bloodshed. The city council was taken over and replaced and the radio station commandeered while both civilian and military patrols kept an eye on the streets and censorship was introduced. Parties and institutions loyal to the Republic were dissolved, their leaders jailed and many shot causing a frightening atmosphere in the city. Then began the systematic and bloody repression and over 400 people were executed during and after the war. At least there were no battles here and life could continue with some sort of normality.... for the next 40 years.

Domecq Oloroso La Raza dedicated to Franco

After Franco' death King Juan Carlos I and his very able prime minister Adolfo Suarez quickly restored constitutional monarchy and introduced the autonomous communities, of which Andalucia is one. All the wartime labelling and advertising rapidly disappeared into people's label collections, and any Francoist statues, street names etc. were gradually removed after the passing of the Historical Memory law.

Saturday 22 April 2017

22.4.17 Wine Route Now Most Visited in Spain; New La Guita/Covisan Agrement

The Wine Route of the Marco de Jerez is now the most visited in Spain with 501,783 visitors last year. The Catalán wine route of Penedés has been relegated to second place despite having 80 bodegas on its route and Jerez having only 32. In total, Spanish wine routes welcomed 2,714,409 visitors, a healthy 21% more than 2015. The business generated is enormous, and the association of wine cities (ACEVIN) reckon that it amounted to 54.2 million spent at member establishments an increase of 10.66%. This does not take into account money spent in hotels, restaurants and shops which are not members of the Ruta. The majority of visitors are Spanish so there is still plenty of room to boost the figures by attracting more foreigners.  To find out more go to:

Grupo Estévez and the Sanlúcar cooperative Covisan have renewed their collaboration agreement to guarantee grape supply for La Guita for a further five years. The cooperative has 175 members with around 350 hectares of vineyard. Some of these grapes will be distilled to make fortification spirit so that the best-selling Manzanilla in Spain can be 100% Sanluqueño. It is produced in two bodegas; the old one in Calle Misericordia and the more modern one on the Jerez road, where the bottling line is situated. It is very busy right now ensuring there is enough La Guita for the Feria de Abril in Sevilla which kicks off on the 30th. Hopefully they will also be bottling the 2017 La Guita en rama.

Friday 21 April 2017

The Challenges Facing Sherry, Lecture at Williams & Humbert

Williams & Humbert last night hosted the first of their excellent cycle of lectures for 2017 at the bodega. The speaker was Manuel Pimentel, ex minister for work and social affairs and ex-president of the Consejo Regulador of Montilla-Moriles among many other posts, and his theme was “The Changes Faced by Wine in Society, Bodegas and Consejos Reguladores”.  He began optimistically saying that things are looking up, “we have already touched the bottom”, but Sherry faces many challenges, one being to stop being seen only as a wine for ferias and romerіas (pilgrimages), and approach young urban people who are not familiar with it. They are always looking for something different, and that is one of Sherry’s many attributes, so reaching them would bring better times.

The lecture put considerable focus on the importance of Consejos Reguladores saying that “we associate wine with the place it is made, and thus the importance of the DO which defines it and guarantees a minimum quality to its particular style. If shifting the focus back to the vineyards, to the origins, is a trend, then the DOs have a fundamental role to play along with the Consejos Reguladores which regulate them”. He said that while bodegas, cooperatives and growers are proud of their DO they often mistrust it, seeing it simply as an expensive immovable bureaucratic organisation, restrictive rather than helpful.

Manuel Pimentel (L) and W&H CEO Jesus Medina (foto:Pascual diariodejerez)

So do Consejos Reguladores have a future? Absolutely, according to Pimentel who said that if they didn’t already exist they would have to be invented. “But they must evolve in unison with social changes, fashions of producers and consumers and the technical possibilities which will amaze us in the coming years. Furthermore, the wine world in general and the Consejos Reguladores in particular should fight for wine to be considered a healthy drink unlike certain others.

He noted the recent growth in wine consumption in Spain, but while in the 1970s it stood at 40 litres per person per year, it stands at only 21 litres now. There are without doubt social factors beyond just the economic crisis, and those social changes related to the perception of wine are the ones which should be addressed by the Consejos Reguladores. “Urban society idolises the natural, and wine is just that. No product symbolises the land quite like wine, and people are attracted to its culture and participate in the story it has to tell, but this requires sustainability of production in the face of better environmental awareness.

These days, consumers are very worried about their health and quality of life, and wine is full of healthy attributes which should be promoted. The health benefits of biological ageing of Sherry deserve to be researched; after all, red wine has been promoting itself on its antioxidant properties and cardiovascular benefits for years. People nowadays value leisure time more; the millennials consider it equally important to their professional life and they value wine more as the perfect drink for social occasions than for everyday; drinking better wine but less frequently. As great users of the internet and social media, wine should be seducing them by that means. Consumers look for more quality and variety because they want to feel special and are prepared to pay for it. Sherry has all these attributes in spades, so Pimentel said he was “reasonably optimistic” for wine in general and Sherry in particular.

Thursday 20 April 2017

20.4.17 Growers Worried about Weather

The vines are starting to flower and in the next four weeks or so the nascent grape bunches will appear, so it is still too early to worry about the Levante wind which has been blowing for some time. But with grape prices so low, the growers are worried about profitability as they are paid on weight. This wind from the east is hot and dry, and while it can stop mildew in its tracks, it can also accelerate ripening and reduce yields. Only yesterday the high winds tore down many trees in the province. The 2016 harvest was down around 17% on the average due to the persistent Levante, and many growers simply can’t afford another poor year.

(foto: Pascual, diariodejerez)

Rainfall this year has been more normal than last year’s drought followed by torrential rain and the inevitable outbreak of mildew, and while there are now sufficient water reserves in the sub soil, growers still worry. It is hard to spray against mildew in high wind, so many haven’t done so. Only time will tell as the weeks leading up to the harvest determine quality and quantity. The growers are between a rock and a hard place with such low prices and potential crop-reducing weather, and many have given up. 

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Oloroso 15 Years Old 19%, Bodegas Maestro Sierra

Deep antique mahogany with copper highlights fading to amber, legs.
Savoury with a trace of Marmite, lots of walnut, hints of old fashioned raisin-packed fruit cake, cinnamon, old oak barrels, fallen leaves, tobacco, traces perhaps of orange peel, gravy and a certain dankness from the well sited bodega. This is complex, and characterful.
Full bodied and intensely flavoured, the glycerine is balanced by a decent level of acidity, much of it volatile, making it well rounded on the palate, even with a trace of tannin. The glycerine, and perhaps the raisin and cinnamon notes, give an impression of sweetness, but it is dry with a very long, clean finish. Excellent Oloroso.
This is the youngest Oloroso commercialised by this outstanding bodega, and older than many out there; their others are 50 and 80 years old respectively. It may be the youngest but it lacks nothing in complexity; every time you take a sniff it reveals something more. Of course this solera feeds the older ones, so you can see why they are so good.
9.50 per half bottle, Licores Corredera

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Petit Forlong 2014 14.5%, Bodega Forlong

Dense black cherry with only a trace of red in the tight pink rim, legs.
Beautifully ripe blackcurrant and bramble nose with noticeable and open texture, rich plump, bright and fruity with very little apparent oak but slight traces of smoke, red fruit and rubber from the Syrah nicely balanced with jam from the Merlot and tight black fruit from the Tintilla.
Quite full bodied and well structured with very good texture, very ripe tannins, lots of fruit and great length. It really shows the quality of wine that Cadiz can produce.
Incredibe value for money, but as with all wines from this excellent bodega, in rather short supply. It has no DO, probably because it would be too much hassle for a small bodega, but it simply doesn't matter, the wine has great integrity. It is made from 60% Syrah, 30% Merlot and 10% Tintilla grown organically on albariza soil near El Puerto de Santa Maria in what was once a Sherry vineyard. The must is fermented in tinajas and aged in oak barrels for six months before being bottled unfiltered.
7.50 euros from Licores Corredera

Monday 17 April 2017

Glycerine in Sherry

Glycerine, from the Greek “glukus” = sweet and often known as Glycerol, is a natural by-product of fermentation of sugar in the grape juice and is abundant in wine. This colourless, odourless, viscous liquid which has a slightly sweet taste is responsible for roundness and smoothness on the palate as it also tends to mask acidity. In conjunction with alcohol, it forms the legs or tears on the glass through the Marangoni effect whereby as the alcohol evaporates up the side of the glass it takes water and glycerine with it until the weight of the latter makes it fall back down into the glass. The more sugar in the must, the more glycerine the wine will contain, and it is more evident in warmer countries where grapes ripen more fully, like Spain for example.

A wine’s glycerine content can vary according to the yeast strain, however. Wine yeasts are from the Saccahromyces or (sugar-eating) group and some are hungrier sugar eaters than others. While Saccaromyces Cerevisiae is responsible for most wine fermentations, it is not the only yeast involved and different places have different native yeast populations which help to create so many different styles of wine. In the Marco de Jerez the flor yeasts are rapacious.

Levels of glycerine in Sherry vary enormously due to the actions (or not) of flor yeasts. A newly fermented wine such as a mosto destined for Fino will contain somewhere around 7.3 g/l, but after say five years under flor this level will have diminished to close to zero, while volatile acidity and alcohol, which flor is also fond of, will have dropped to a quarter and by half a degree respectively from their original levels. The resulting Fino is therefore bone dry, low in acidity and viscosity.

When that Fino is fortified again to become an Amontillado, things go into reverse once flor is no longer present. Through the concentration caused by transpiration of water from the butts, everything slowly becomes less dilute, so the tiny glycerine content becomes more apparent again, though rarely beyond 2 g/l, while the alcohol level rises and oxidation increases volatile acidity again. The finished wine remains very dry and with more bite yet that hint of glycerine rounds it off.

Oloroso starts off with much the same glycerine content but, never having been subjected to flor, that content rises by perhaps a third during ageing to reach some 9 g/l. Meanwhile the alcohol level rises and continuous oxidation causes volatile acidity levels to rise also. This gives the fuller bodied, generous, darker, and apparently sweeter style we know and love.

To get the feel of the effect of glycerine, you could try a sip of Fino or Manzanilla followed by a sip of a normal table wine, and see how sweet the latter seems despite containing nearly double the level of acidity.

Sunday 16 April 2017

Brandy Uno en Mil Solera Gran Reserva 40%, Sánchez Romate

Bright light mahogany with gold flecked amber highlights, legs.
Forthcoming and refined with lots of toasted hazelnuts and almond and only faint notes of toasty American oak balanced by a slight trace of sweetness giving the impression of a 40% Amontillado. There is a  slight dried apricot or raisin note and traces of straw and cabinet maker's workshop, all beautifully integrated.
Fresh and clean with gentle clove and orange notes and a hint of exotic wood. The nuttiness is still there and the overall impression is one of elegant restraint, rather than the heavier Oloroso or PX aged style, yet it is intensely nuanced and beautifully balanced with charm and length. Very Good.
By the norms of Brandy de Jerez this one is unusual - in the best possible way. At Romate's Bodega de Barreras they have 1,000 butts of ageing holandas (the finest spirit, slowly distilled in alquitaras or pot stills). Rather than go through a solera, this brandy is the contents of a single numbered butt selected by the firm's spirits expert, Ricardo Real, for its unique and distinguished character. It follows that the brandy from each selected butt will be slightly different, as is the case with single cask whiskies, so there is a whole new brandy to look forward to every now and then. Each bottle carries the number of that butt which may have been seasoned with either Fino or Amontillado. This was Amontillado butt 186 and it quite superb, highly complex world class brandy.
29.95 from Licoreria La Latina, Fuengirola

Saturday 15 April 2017

La Casa de Contratación

In May this year celebrations will take place to mark the tercentenary of the arrival of the Casa de Contratación de Indias in Cádiz. It had first been established near the quayside in Sevilla in 1503 by royal decree of the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, and its purpose was to control  a monopoly on the vast trade with recently discovered Spanish America. It also collected 20% tax for the crown of Castilla on all imports. The archives of the Indies are still there, occupying no fewer than 8 kilometres of shelving. Sevilla soon became the nerve centre of the Spanish empire and ships plying the Indies route came and went from here on the river Guadalquivir, with Sanlúcar benefiting considerably. Here many traders established themselves as Cargadores de Indias, supplying wine, provisions and cargo to the ships, and some of their houses still survive, usually with a bodega and store on the ground floor and living quarters above.

The original in Sevilla, now lost (

As cargoes continued to increase, 600 ton weight limits had to be imposed on ships sailing up the Guadalquivir, and many found it more convenient to dock at Cádiz, which by 1680 had overtaken Sevilla in importance. King Felipe V therefore decided to move the Casa de Contratación to Cádiz in 1717, and after using various rented buildings, a new neoclassical purpose built complex was completed in 1783, containing the customs, mercantile consulate and the Casa de Contratación itself. It now houses provincial government offices. Among the main exports were textiles, iron goods, wine - mainly Sherry - oil and wheat, while imports included cochineal, indigo, copper, tin, tobacco, sugar, cacao and precious metals.

One facade of the Casa de Contratacion in Cadiz (

The city became very prosperous and looked like it. 1,000 heavily laden ships were coming and going every year and the population had nearly doubled, with many foreigners living there, but this prosperity began to decline with the arrival of free trade in 1790 when Cádiz lost its monopoly and ships could trade where they liked. The XIX century was very unkind to Spain as it suffered invasion from Napoleon and gradually lost nearly all of the colonies. The tercentenary will be celebrated with a mixture of pride and sadness.

Friday 14 April 2017

Amontillado 3/10 18.5%, Alexander Jules

Light amber with brassy gold highlights, legs.
Very attractive young Amontillado nose, yet still full of zippy Manzanilla-ness. Lurking just behind the softly buttery and gently nutty facade with its slight trace of cinnamon, is a raw, saline windswept Manzanilla. The wine is at a lovely stage, just at the cusp (or just past it?) of being one style or another. It used to be called "Amontillado Fino" but that term can no longer be used.
Delightful tension between the salty Manzanilla and the sweeter Amontillado, and they don't cancel each other out, a little like the idea of salted caramel. There is plenty glyceric nuttiness more or less balanced by a hint of flor driven bitterness, and it has real character, length, and is exciting to drink.
This wonderful wine, of a type rarely seen commercially these days, comes from bodegas Juan Piñero in Sanlúcar. It started life as Manzanilla Maruja which, sixteen clases (criaderas) and the solera later, emerges as Amontillado. This wine was drawn at an interim stage from three butts from two five-butt clases, hence its name. 80% of the saca is from the older clase. The solera is refreshed with mosto from the local Pago Hornillo, and the wine has an average age of 18 years despite its freshness. It was bottled with the absolute minimum of stabilisation in two sacas: 50cl (684 bottles) in June 2016 and 37.5cl (1006 bottles) in October 2016, just under 720 litres in all.  The bottle is sealed with a Diam cork.
25 euros per 50cl, Er Guerrita

This label shows a different strength and bottling date from mine...

Wednesday 12 April 2017

12.4.17 More Single Cask Lustau Sherries

The legendary wine merchants and online retailers Vila Viniteca have teamed up with Lustau again to launch more of the superb single cask Sherries. Vila Viniteca was established in Barcelona in 1932 and is now run by third generation Quim Vila. Over the years it has expanded dramatically and become one of Europe’s leading international wine merchants and distributors, being the first in Spain with a website and the first to offer wines en primeur, among many other initiatives. The project with Lustau goes back to 2002, and this time it was organised with the bodega’s new oenologist Sergio Martínez. Various butts were tasted and wine from the best ones was selected and bottled in March. They might appear expensive but the quality is exceptional and the wines virtually unique, so they are definitely worth the money. Quantities are very limited and the bottles are 50cl. The wines are:

Fino del Puerto 480 bottles @ 24.50€
Fino de Jerez 480 bottles @ 24.50€
Oloroso del Tonel 480 bottles @ 29.90€
Moscatel Las Cruces  504 bottles @ 59.25€
Pedro Ximénez 480 bottles @ 59.25€
Tintilla de Rota 204 bottles @ 98.70€

Tuesday 11 April 2017

11.4.17 Various Interesting Snippets of News

Williams & Humbert have announced the first lecture for 2017 in their Ciclo de Conferencias. It will be given by Manuel Pimentel, writer, agricultural engineer, businessman and ex-president of the DO Montilla-Moriles on the subject of the changes in society, bodegas and Consejos Reguladores which wine faces. Entry is free but one must confirm attendance to the bodega.

Two wines from Bodegas Tradición CZ have triumphed in a recent blind tasting of 400 Spanish wines in Barcelona. The Amontillado VORS and the Palo Cortado VORS were both awarded the highest score of 95 points – seven points higher than the average of 88 - by wine expert and 2007 Best Sommelier in the World, Andreas Larsson. was set up as a promotional tool for wine producers whereby all wines would be tasted blind in identical conditions.

Barbadillo’s Amontillado Versos 1891 has won a gold medal for brand packaging in the Best Awards 2017. Only 100 bottles of the wine were sold, at 10,000€ each, on the 125 anniversary of the birth of Manuel Barbadillo, poet and bodeguero who was linked to the “generation of 27” which included names like Rafel Alberti and Federico García Lorca.

Fundador have begun restoration work on the Torre de Riquelme, part of the old city wall which nestles between the bodega buildings and was part of the historic but now disappeared Puerta de Rota. It has long been in a very poor state and now that the necessary permissions have been granted,work has begun.

The remains of José María Ruiz Mateos, founder of Rumasa, have been exhumed for a DNA sample by order of the court. This is to prove once and for all whether or not he was the father of Adela Montes de Oca who has long claimed to be his daughter. Three times he found excuses not to give a sample while he was still alive.

Monday 10 April 2017

Bodegas: Robertson Bros & Co

The history of this firm goes back to 1847 when James Nisbet Robertson joined British wine merchants Burdon & Gray, and traded mainly in Sherry until 1856 when John Gray died and the firm became Robertson Brothers. From 1860 the firm traded as Robertson Bros & Co, a partnership of John Robertson, Peter Robertson Rodger and Stormonth Darling Tait. Robertsons had a trading agreement with B Vergara & Co (later Hijos de B Vergara), shipping Sherry as Vergara Robertson & Co until 1886.

John Robertson

Between 1888 and 1893 they worked in partnership with Juan P Marks, whose bodegas were opposite at Calle Pizarro 10-12, while the Robertson bodegas were at number 13. They occupied 4,500 square metres and there was another bodega in Calle Guadalete. For a while they even had a bodega in El Puerto. Virtually all their wine, which was of the traditional full bodied rounded style, was shipped to England. In 1896 they moved to spacious premises in the Paseo de las Delicias located on the eastern side of Jerez where they had their bodegas, offices, presses and everything necessary for the Sherry trade. The Robertson Bros & Co partnership was dissolved in 1897.

Moving ever closer to the Port trade, they had greatly increased their interests there with the purchase in 1881 of various Port installations from Allen & Co, including Quinta Nova de D Roza and Quinta Roncão along with the vintage Port brand Rabello Valente. In 1910 the Sherry bodegas were moved to Calle San Francisco de Paula, and from around 1912 they were owned by Williams & Humbert and sold to Sandeman in 1963. Sandeman was itself taken over by Seagram in 1980 and now belongs to the Portuguese group Sogrape, for whom the name Robertson remains a sous marque.

Sunday 9 April 2017

Lagar Ambrosio NV 12.5%, Bodegas Ambrosio

Bright, pale green tinged gold with golden highlights, legs.
Fresh and very attractive mix of yellow fruits, white flowers and herbs; it really smells of the countryside where it comes from. There are notes of quince, apricot and plum, possibly even kiwi, none of which dominate the lovely florality.
There is an element of sweetness here from the late harvested grapes but it is balanced out by a trace of bitterness typical of the grape, leaving a dry feel. This gives the wine an interesting texture, as if sweet wine were blended with dry, and good balance. It is fruity, tangy refreshing and quite idiosyncratic, in the nicest possible way.
This interesting and attractive wine has real character and is made from the Perruno grape, once widespread in the Sierra de Cádiz but pretty much all that is left now is the 3 hectare vineyard belonging to José Antonio Bocanegra Párraga and his sister Ana who inherited it from their father in 1982 along with the family tabanco. It is located in Olvera in the Sierra de Cádiz. Perruno has almost died out largely because its yields are low and it has thin skins which are difficult to ripen requiring late harvesting. Its very name translates as "not good". It may turn out to be a useful grape with an ever warming climate, however. Nevertheless the Bocanegras have persevered and succeeded. The wine is not aged in oak and is bottled young. I believe it is a 2015, but couldn't find any reference to vintage on the labels or cork.
7.15 euros, Licores Corredera

Saturday 8 April 2017

8.4.17 Vinoble 2018 Dates Announced; More Medals for Sherry

The X edition of the biennial fortified and sweet wine fair will take place in Jerez on 3rd – 5th June 2018. Setting dates is tricky as there are many other wine fairs in May and other events in Jerez itself, but this time the dates have been set early, allowing plenty of time for organisers and exhibitors to prepare. The council has recognised the importance of the fair to Sherry and to Jerez and wants to make a better job of it than last time.


The XIII Concurso Internacional de Vinos y Espirituosos (Premios CINVE) took place recently in Huelva, and an international panel of judges tasted over 650 samples from four continents. All the fortified wine winners were from Andalucia, including the following Sherries:

Francisco Yuste: Manzanilla Aurora: Gold
                              Manzanilla Señorita Irene: Silver
                              Manzanilla Las Medallas: Silver
González Byass: Pedro Ximénez VORS Noé: Gold
                              Fino Tio Pepe: Gold
                              Palo Cortado Leonor: Silver
Bodegas Fundador: Harveys Oloroso VORS: Silver

Friday 7 April 2017

7.4.17 Copa Jerez Becomes Top International Gastronomic Forum; UK Sherry Festival

Already an outstanding international Sherry and food matching competition, the Copa Jerez has just got better still. The final of the VII Copa Jerez, held in Jerez, will take place alongside a new wine and gastronomy symposium under the banner I Foro Gastronómico Internacional Copa Jerez. The dates are the 12th and 13th June, when the city will be full of wine trade professionals and international gastronomic superstars.

Yesterday's presentation at the Consejo Regulador (foto:diariodejerez)

The symposium has an extensive programme of lectures, tastings, workshops and show cooking sessions, all aimed at demonstrating just how versatile Sherry is with food, as proved by how many top chefs and sommeliers choose it to accompany their dishes. Names like Josep Roca, Andoni Aduriz, Ricard Camarena and François Chartier will be there to judge the Copa Jerez and give talks and demonstrations.

According to Carmen Aumesquet, chief of promotion at the Consejo Regulador, the idea of creating a much bigger event stemmed from the interest Sherry has aroused among professionals and to promote these leading figures who put Sherry at the heart of their cuisine and inspire other professionals.

Full details are available on the new web page

The UK Great Sherry Festival returns for another round between 5th and 18th June during which wine merchants the length and breadth of the UK will be promoting Sherry, and the three most imaginative promotions will win a trip to Jerez, so that is an incentive – as if one were needed. According to Angeline Bayly, the UK campaign director, more and more merchants are getting involved and reporting significant increases in sales. Look out for offers and tastings!

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Fino del Maestro Sierra La Bota de Paco

Brassy gold with bright golden highlights, a trace darker than La Bota de Ana, legs.
Full, generous and nuanced with traces of straw and butter, the aromas of the cabezuela and the flor are almost equal in intensity, and there are hints of almond and herbs and perhaps a faint trace of wood, even spice. It is a little more intense than Ana, and it tastes a touch more "hecho" (mature), yet there is not a hint of oxidation.
Mature and full with perfect balance. There is a little acidity, helped by the flor bitterness, and this balances with the body and mature oily buttery flavours from the bottom of the butt. There is a lovely rounded softness to the casual taste which belies serious the complexity which is there in spades if you look for it. Just a little fuller than Ana and with a trace more flor bitterness.
Please read this in conjunction to the post on La Bota de Ana as they are closely related - from the same solera. This superb Fino is from bottle number 5 of just 20 filled from one butt in the Fino solera selected by Paco Salas, an oenologist and friend of the bodega. He and the firm's official oenologist Ana Cabestrero must have had so much fun selecting their favourite butts! And what a brilliant idea. It is only a pity that so little could be bottled. This one is from andana 32, butt number 3 which is in a different location in the bodega from La Bota de Ana which is closer to the back door which looks out toward the sea at El Puerto. Being further inside the bodega, this butt is slightly different but equally delicious. It is incredible how small differences in location within the same bodega can make such a difference to the wine. Thank goodness the Sherry oenologists recognise these wonderful and unique features of a wine which does what it likes. Both are simply outstanding Finos and being asked which is your favourite would be like being asked which is your favourite child.
50 euros from Licores Corredera

The bottle...

...and the butt!

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Fino del Maestro Sierra La Bota de Ana

Fairly deep brassy gold with bright gold glints, legs.
Full and deep and very serious. Rich, soft, mature with lots of cabezuela notes and some autolysis but zipped up a little by some gently yeasty and bitter flor top notes. This is classic Jerez Fino with hints of wax and  straw, fairly low acid and a certain weight, justifying the term "vino generoso". It smells wonderful, it's just so intense and classy.
Big and beautifully rounded, packed with flavour, hints of umami and a gentle texture. Very dry with complex flavours as much from the bottom of the butt as from the top. This is absolutely delicious with terrific length and dangerously easy to drink. One of the best I've ever tasted.
This very special and highly interesting wine even has a twin, La Bota de Paco (qv). As everyone knows, no two butts in a solera will taste exactly the same, each one has its own micro environment, and that is one of the most fascinating things about Sherry. When running the scales of a solera, one can blend the wine extracted from a given criadera before refreshing the next one, thus achieving more commercial homogeneity. Or you can not do that, and simply refresh from the butt above which will hopefully maintain these subtle differences. Ana Cabestrero, like any good oenologist, knows this and monitors things carefully. So rather than simply blend away wine from particularly good butts in the solera, she and Paco Salas, also an oenologist and friend of the bodega, chose their favourites and bottled a minute quantity of each - 20 bottles - direct from each butt by hand with no filtration at all. The two chosen butts are in different areas of the bodega with very slightly different atmospheres. The labelling is interesting too, with an old Fino label and an extra handwritten one with the details, which are: andana (row) 5, butt 3, bottle 8/20, filled November 2016 and signed. They did leave one detail out; the alcoholic strength, but I don't care.
50 euros from Licores Corredera

The bottle.....
and the butt

Monday 3 April 2017

Tinto Roble 2014 14%, Manuel Aragón

Dense black cherry red with ruby highlights, legs.
A good fruity start with fresh brambles and plums at the perfect point of ripeness, and some ripe red fruit notes from the Syrah. There are balsamic traces and gentle spice notes from the oak ageing and just a hint of charming rusticity.
Good and fruity up front then it gets a little more serious with firm but ripe tannins, a mineral note and a refreshing acidity, all well balanced. It is a lively wine with a mix of fresh brambles and very ripe plums and a faint trace of licorice near the long finish.
Established around 1820 this family run bodega in Chiclana has always produced Sherry style wines but has more recently diversified into table wines, though not in enormous quantities. This red, a Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz, is made from Tempranillo and Syrah. The grapes are hand picked and the wines made separately. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks and the wine is pumped over  twice daily. The two wines are then blended and that blend is aged in French and American oak barrels for nine months. The firm also grows Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which sometimes go into the blend. This is a very good value bottle of wine.
5.00 euros ex bodega

Sunday 2 April 2017

Hotel Los Cisnes

Surprisingly, as recently as 1961 Jerez had only four hotels, and the grandest was the much lamented Los Cisnes (the swans) in the central Calle Larga. This Jerez institution stocked Sherry from all the bodegas and served afternoon tea to the many British bodegueros’ wives and families.

The facade, 1950s

It was originally founded in the early 1890s by Blas Gil López on a different site, further down the Calle Larga, which was then known as Calle Duque de Almodóvar, at the corner with the Plaza del Banco. It consisted then of a luxury hotel, café and restaurant. It was fitted out with all modern conveniences and even had a car at the railway station to collect guests, and luxury carriages to take them sightseeing. Service was impeccable but came at a price.

The gardens

The old Los Cisnes would be converted at around the turn of the century by a later owner into the sumptuous Gran Café Fornos, with a high class restaurant, which from the 1940s, offered musical performances from a local quartet. It survived until the 1950s.

The dining room

Meanwhile Blas Gil López had died and his widow established a new, bigger and more luxurious hotel with the same name further up the street. There were 5 storeys with 25 rooms on each and behind the entrance patio there were magnificent gardens. Opposite the large bar-café, the walls of the gallery were lined with works by contemporary artists, most of which were sold to American collectors. There was also the annual competition for the best Fiesta de la Vendimia poster.

Part of the bar

The heyday of the hotel was probably between the refurbishment of 1938 and the 1960s when anyone who was anyone stayed there, from bullfighters to flamenco and movie stars. Names like Lola Flores, Manolo Caracol, Conchita Piquer, Tyrone Power and many more could be found on the register. Lola and Caracol were infamous for their constant bickering and fighting, much to the bemusement of other guests. The hotel also had royal approval.

A business card

After the death of viuda de Blas Gil López the hotel was bought by a firm called Hotelera Andaluza but sadly, at the end of the 1970s it was sold to a property developer and converted into the ugly shopping centre we see today. Many of its external features can still be seen, however. Other fine hotels have opened since the loss of the old Los Cisnes and the era that it represented, but excellent though they are, none could be described as institutions.

A luggage label