Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Lecture on PX by José Luís Zarzana

The Palomino Fino grape dominates the vineyards of the Marco de Jerez almost completely, leaving only very small plantations of the other two grapes authorised by the DO; Moscatel, most of which is in Chipiona, and Pedro Ximénez, of which there is even less, accounting for under 100 hectares.

In Jerez last Tuesday, in his maiden lecture as a member the Real Academia de San Dionisio, José Luís Zarzana Palma of PX specialist Bodegas Ximénez Spínola (est.1729) focused on “The Pedro Ximénez Grape in Jerez, its Origins, Varietal Characteristics and Winemaking Possibilities”. In his view there is room for PX in the area and it merits greater attention from the trade, and he encouraged growers to plant more of this variety “after a long and unjustified period of abandonment which caused a shortage which had to be supplemented imaginatively”. This shortage led to the paradox of being able to make and sell PX under the DO but not having sufficient raw material. Luckily, Brussels gave the bodegas permission to get their supplies from Montilla-Moriles in order to preserve this type of wine. Thus, the European Union sanctioned a practice which has been widespread since Phylloxera caused the Palomino to become almost a monoculture, relegating other local grape varieties which were more “problematic” such as PX and others like Mantúa and Perruno to virtual disuse due to their greater predisposition to diseases and lower levels of production. In his opinion therefore, the area has long experienced an excess of Palomino which has brought about successive grubbing-up of vines and re-conversion of vineyards without it occurring to anyone to substitute the grape that we are so short of.

(foto: JL Jimenez/Jerez Siempre)

But times have changed and now quality rules over quantity again with less standardisation, so he called for common sense to prevail, defending with the voice of experience all the grapes which grow in Jerez’ albariza soil, and encouraging the growers, organisations and the Consejo Regulador to plant more PX to bring even more greatness to the vineyards. He sustained that in the past different kinds of wines were produced from PX. Although there is no evidence, he is convinced that all the different kinds of DO Sherry have been produced from this grape.

Bodegas Ximenez Spinola and the PX vines (foto:carrerdelvo.com)

This assertion is supported by experimental work carried out by the Zarzana family over the last ten years on vinification of PX in Jerez, to which they are dedicated under the auspices of the National Accreditation Body (ENAC). The recuperation of this local variety, along with the others already mentioned, has opened the debate about their inclusion as authorised varieties in the DO thanks to their conservation in the vinifera bank at the Rancho de la Merced and the efforts of its director, Alberto García de Luján. Making Oloroso from PX is straightforward but not so a Fino type wine which the firm has already produced, in this case without fortification and en rama, but it cannot be sold as Sherry. Nonetheless it caught the attention of the sommelier at Aponiente who has included it on the list of this famous restaurant owned by Ángel León.

Sundrying PX at Ximenez Spinola (foto:expansion.com)

As to the history of PX, its origins are still a mystery due to the lack of evidence to support the various hypotheses, among them the theory that it is German Riesling, now disproved by DNA testing on both varieties. The central European theory points to a soldier in the army of the Emperor Charles V or a Catholic cardinal by the name of Pedro Ximénez – Peter Siemens – as possibilities for the introduction of the grape, though more recent research relates PX to the Gibi, related to the Alarije of Extremadura. There is historical evidence for its presence in Sanlúcar in the treatise on vines by published by Esteban Boutelou in 1807. Zarzana’s research in collaboration with the University of Utrecht has come up with a new fact on the possible origin of the grape which relates it to a Dutch wine merchant, one Pieter Simonz, about whom there is evidence that in the XVII century he sold PX wine in the Baltic countries and Saint Petersburg having sent a fleet to Sanlúcar and Alicante to buy it. “In the end, with the grammatical and phonetic differences, it would be difficult to explain that the grape could have the same name all over the world if there didn’t exist a Peter, Pieter or Pedro Siemens, Simonz or Ximénez”.

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