Friday 31 August 2018

Burbuja Blanc de Blancs 2017 12.5%, Bodega Forlong

Pale strawy gold with yellowy gold highlights and good mousse with a gentle bead.
Fresh, forthcoming and fruity; naturally the appleyness of the Palomino predominates, but there are aromas of the orchard and a meadow with wild flowers and hints of pear and a trace of sweeties. There is a clean natural air to it making the whole most attractive.
There is just a hint of residual sweetness which balances the fizz (carbonic acid gas or CO2) and adds to the fruitiness yet the wine finishes dry. There are lots of orchard fruit notes and there is a certain attractive weight or presence to the wine, while the acidity, which is comparatively low is perfect, just enough and the length is good and the fizz lasts, leaving a strong appetite for another glass - or two.
Burbuja is the Spanish word for "bubble" and this is Forlong's latest in an ever growing list of really exciting wines: a sparkling wine, and a good one at that. Their 11 hectare vineyard lies in the pago Balbaina Alta near El Puerto de Santa Maria and is farmed organically, verging on bio-dynamically, so the wine is certified organic and has no added sulphur. It is 100% Palomino and comes in hand-numbered bottles - only 530 of them, I'm afraid. The French term "Blanc de Blancs" originates in Champagne where the great majority of wines are made using both red and white grapes, so they came up with the term to differentiate a white wine made only from white grapes from a white wine made only from red grapes: a "Blanc de Noirs". Burbuja is made totally by hand using the metodo ancestral, the original and simplest method which dates back some 500 years, whereby the wine is simply bottled half way through fermentation which then continues in the bottle till the remaining yeast expires. The pressure will obviously be lower than that found in the much more complicated Champagne Method (Metodo Tradicional) wines, and there may be some light sediment and residual sugar; it all depends on when the wine was bottled, but in skilled hands it is amazing how good these wines can be - and indeed are.
19.00 euros, Licores Corredera

31.8.18 The Harvest Begins at Las Angustias

The Jerez Cooperative Nuestra Señora de las Angustias, the largest in the area, has begun harvesting an estimated 14 million kilos of grapes from 200 growers and 1,200 hectares of vineyard from all over the Sherry region. This represents about 18% of the total harvest. The 25 staff at the winery have been working to ensur everything is clean and working correctly in preparation for the “avalanche” to come.

The presses being prepared at Angustias (foto: MAGonzalez,Diario de Jerez) 

Since the weather has been rather odd this year, the grapes took ages to ripen and then ripened rapidly causing a slight worry about higher than usual acidity. The principal parameter for the decision to pick is the Beaumé reading which is fine, but acidity levels have delayed picking. The harvest is expected to last till 15th September approximately and be around 10% bigger than last year.

Throughout the region, over 7 million kilos have already been picked, roughly 6 million in Jerez with an average Beaumé reading of 11.45° and 1 million in Trebujena, averaging 10.72°, but these readings will rise as the harvest progresses. The cooler coastal areas are still waiting.

Thursday 30 August 2018

Manzanilla 2a Saca 2016 15.5%, Sacristía AB

Mid amber with brassy gold coloured highlights.
Intense and forthcoming. It has that sightly wild and salty maritime aroma one would expect, along with notes of rope, flor and  dried flowers, yet the effects on the wine of nearly two years in bottle are noticeable; it has evolved somewhat with hints of oxidation, esparto and caramel adding considerable depth. This is not some fresh zippy Manzanilla, but one which has developed considerably, with young Amontillado-like characteristics of almond, butter and salted caramel. Very complex.
There is quite a bit of zip up front with decent acidity and salinity and that tang and the chalky mineral texture remain while the more developed,fuller-bodied mature notes come through. There are hints of Madeira cake, apple, rancio, almond, caramel, straw all coming together to create a wine which resembles young Amontillado in a way but is still Manzanilla. Amazing wine.
This is another cracker from Antonio Barbadillo. For some reason I missed it when it was first released, so here it is with around a year and a half of bottle age, and so much the better! It was bottled en rama in December 2016 after being selected from the Manzanilla soleras of Francisco Yuste, an excellent source. Antonio selected wine from 31 of the 119 butts in the solera and the saca came to 6,000 1/2 bottles. The gold medal sticker on the bottle was awarded by the Spanish Association of Wine Writers and Journalists as Best Fortified Wine 2016.
14.90 euros per 1/2 bottle, De Albariza

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Tinto Joven 2016 13%, Bodegas Rivero

Deep picota cherry red fading to pink at the rim, still showing an appearance of youth.
Attractive nose which seems very clean and natural with lots of cherry and plum and hints of toast and a faint vanilla note from the oak. It is an unpretentious wine but good for what it is, and while there is a faint whiff of Syrah smoke the Tempranillo and Cabernet predominate with crisp red/black fruit, and even a faint and passing trace of mint.
Medium bodied yet quite well structured, it has a very ripe feel yet there is a decent level of acidity. The tannins are not at all bothersome and balance is good with an overall impression of fruit, yet it is better than some wine of the year and a little more serious. An honest, enjoyable and versatile wine.
Bodegas Rivero were founded in 1864 at Prado del Rey, where Pajarete came from, not far from Arcos de la Frontera in the foothills of the Sierra de Cádiz. Here the soils are very similar to albariza and most of the vineyards are in family hands. The fame of Pajarete may have waned, but the bodega is still very much alive making table wines. They grow Moscatel, Merlot, Tempranillo, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the latter three are used to make this young red (tinto joven). It is sold as a "segundo año", an old term which means it was bottled in the year following vintage, in this case 14/1/17. It spent up to about 4 months in a mix of used French and American oak, not enough to be called a "crianza"which demands 6 months, but enough to keep a balance of youthful fruit and a hint of seriousness at a very reasonable price.
4,95, Licores Corredera


Tuesday 28 August 2018

28.8.18 The Harvest is Beginning to Gather Pace

So far González Byass, Estévez, Williams & Humbert and Fundador have already begun, with Beaumé readings of about 11°. Barbadillo and the two Trebujena cooperatives, Palomares and Albarizas, whose Beaumé readings are around 12°, will start tomorrow. On Friday the Jerez coop Angustias will start the “pies de cuba” – small fermentations of 3-5,000 kilos of grapes which ripened earlier which help get the main fermentations off to a good start by increasing the yeast population – and they anticipate starting to pick on Monday. So the bigger players have begun, at least in Jerez; Sanlúcar will need to wait a little longer.

There is a slight worry about rain. Yesterday was very cloudy and a few drops fell, but the forecast looks clear with a 20% chance of rain on Monday and temperatures in the mid 30s till then. While it is unlikely, a downpour would cause problems and require the harvest to be accelerated. It would dilute the grapes’ sugar content and the humidity could cause cryptogamic problems, of which there have already been more than enough this year. Meanwhile the Consejo’s prediction of a crop 10% bigger than last year holds good, and hopefully the harvest will be in full swing by Monday.

Monday 27 August 2018

Manzanilla Zuleta 15%, Bodegas Delgado Zuleta

Pale strawy gold with golden highlights and the faintest trace of green.
Fresh, clean and fairly zippy notes of straw and grassland along with gentle hints of flor - certainly noticeable but not overpowering - dry herbal tea and seaside salinity along with faint hints of apple and apricot fruit. Young, but remarkably well developed for its modest age.
Crisp and fresh with a certain raciness, tangy and light, there is a gentle green herbal note along with apple and hints of yeasty bread, pastry and a trace of almond. The finish is reasonably long with an attractive gentle bitterness from the flor. The perfect everyday Manzanilla; fresh crisp and clean.
The Zuleta range is the bodega's entry-level wine, but pretty good nonetheless, and very good value. This Manzanilla has an average age of between 2 and 3 years so it is quite young and still shows hints of the fruit the wine had before the flor began to dominate. The bodega's prominent position in the Barrio Alto allows for all the benefits of the Poniente giving the wine great freshness.
4.35 Licores Corredera

Sunday 26 August 2018

Brandy Luis Enrique Solera Gran Reserva 38%, Bodegas Dios Baco

Very deep blacky walnut brown fading to amber with copper glints.
Full, forthcoming, quite complex and characterful with pronounced oak notes and lots of super ripe fruity PX fig, date and raisin aromas, yet it doesn't smell dramatically sweet - rather one gets the raisin smell and texture which is nicely melded with the oak and the spirit. There are aromas of nuts toasted in caramel, walnuts, toffee, chocolate and a balsamic hint. A really good nose.
A little more sweetness now, that of dried fruit but much less tannin than expected. It is super smooth and very rich with a gentle bite from the spirit, feeling more viscous than many brandies, but very tasty. There are traces of liquorice along with the dried fruits and hints of nuts, and it lines the palate with flavour and texture which lasts for ages.
The Moors occupied Jerez for 553 years and inevitably the locals learned a few things during that time. One was distillation, an art which would later spread throughout Europe and perhaps reach its zenith in Cognac. This brandy is named after a French general, simply known as "Louis GS", who came from Cognac and fought in Spain in 1809 during the Napoleonic wars. It seems that he passed on some of his wisdom and experience to the locals which helped improve the quality of their brandy.  If only more French soldiers had been so philanthropic! It is a good story, but this brandy could not be more Spanish. It is basically the same spirit as the Dios Baco Solera Gran Reserva which is aged in Oloroso butts, but for Luis Enrique some of this goes on to be further aged in butts seasoned with Pedro Ximénez from the excellent Oxford 1970 solera. This results in two completely different brandies, this one being available only in limited quantities.
37.50 Licores Corredera

Saturday 25 August 2018

25.8.18 2018 Sherry Harvest Under Way

The Sherry grapes are now arriving at the presses, at least those from the inland vineyards. The abnormally low incidence of the hot Levante wind, moderate temperatures and above average rainfall have caused the grapes to ripen more slowly than usual, but that is no bad thing. A harvest of over 80 million kilos is expected, some 10% higher than last year. González Byass and Grupo Estévez, among others, have been granted permission to start picking by the Consejo Regulador.

Grupo Estévez started picking at their 50 hectare Tio Mateo vineyard near Trebujena at about 7 o’ clock last night using a harvesting machine. The firm owns a total of nine machines because they own over 800 hectares of vineyard, making them the largest wine producer in Andalucía, and the machines are much cheaper and quicker than human pickers and can pick up to half a million kilos a day. 80% of the firm’s grapes will be harvested by machine.

The machines discharge the grapes into lorries which take 14,000 kilos of them at a time to the winery where the grape reception system can deal with 25,000 kilos an hour. The grapes are pumped to huge tanks which use gravity to separate out the “mosto yema” or free-run juice which is the best quality. After correction of pH and acidity, it is pumped to the fermentation tanks, while the rest goes to the pneumatic press where two further qualities of juice will be produced: the “segunda yema” and the “prensa”. The mosto yema will be used to make Fino or table wine; the segunda yema will be used to make Oloroso while the prensa will be used for distilling or vinegar. The entire system is controlled by an electronic panel.

Friday 24 August 2018

On the Possibility of a Distillery in Jerez

In recent years the Sherry world has been focusing more on the importance of the origin - the vineyards, and naturally the question of the origin of the alcohol used for fortification and brandy production has cropped up. Currently all spirit for fortification or for brandy (except Lepanto), liqueurs etc. is distilled in La Mancha, and a little in Extremadura, as there is a plentiful supply of grapes, mostly Airén, since the approximately 7,000 hectares of Jerez vineyards can’t produce nearly enough to supply Sherry and brandy. Once, most of the bodegas had their own small distilleries, but as sales of brandy boomed neither the vineyards nor the distilleries could cope with the quantities needed.

For a while now the idea of a distillery in Jerez has been discussed, and everybody, except the bodegas which own distilleries in La Mancha, is in agreement. While funding would appear to be reasonably straightforward with money available from the Junta de Andalucía and the EU, there would still be considerable problems.  New vineyards would need to be planted - some 5,000 hectares according to estimates based on current sales - and it would take at least four years for them to come into production. There are worries also that the price of the Jerez spirit could not be competitive with that of La Mancha.

Then there is the question of who would run the distillery. The obvious choice would be a cooperative, and the ideal choice would have been Aecovi, a grouping of four Jerez coops, but it went bust three years ago. So far none of the individual coops has expressed interest. It is to be hoped that something can be worked out however, as the project could provide 500 jobs in the vineyards alone, and more in the distillery itself and further down the line. Sherry could be 100% Jerez, and eligible for the DOC it richly deserves and the brandy could change from being a Denoninación Específica to a Denominación de Origen, all of which would add to the prestige, and hopefully profitability of all concerned.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Fino en rama Peña del Águila Saca 2018 15%, Bodegas César Florido

Pale to mid brassy gold with golden highlights.
Full, forthcoming, almost pungent maritime aromas; ozone, beach and even a trace of iodine. Along with a briny, yeasty, bitter flor there are background herbal notes of scrub, esparto and a trace of camomile. It is as elegant as it is complex and harmonious, and speaks of its origin.
Full of flavour, subtle and beautifully balanced. There are hints of sourdough, crusty bread, oak, almond and olive brine as well as a yeasty character as much from the bottom of the wine with its hint of buttery autolysis as from the surface with its more bitter tang. This is delicious.
This is  excellent Fino, and it comes from the production zone, Chipiona to be exact, which is right on the Atlantic coast and is best known for Moscatel. César Florido, a family business, is the oldest bodega in the area, and by far the most interesting. Most are happy with basic wines and Moscatel, but  César has some very classy wines, and the two most oustanding (non Moscatel) are his rare Peña del Águila Fino and Palo Cortado, which are the equal of anything in Jerez. The Fino is made from grapes from the pago Miraflores and is aged through 5 criaderas and a solera, and in Chipiona the flor lasts all year round. When it is time to make the annual saca each spring, César tastes every butt in the solera which is located in the Cherra bodega, some 25 metres from the sea, before choosing just one for bottling, in this case butt no.1 which yielded 1,200 half bottles. This (annual) saca was bottled en rama in April 2018 and is somewhere between Fino and Manzanilla in style but as the bodega is outside the DO area, while it can be called Fino, it can't be called Sherry. It seems really unfair.
11 euros per half bottle, Licores Corredera

Wednesday 22 August 2018

22.8.18 The Harvest is about to Begin; Latest on Mystery Fungus

Lots of people are out in the vineyards with refractometers checking sugar levels in the grapes. In the inland vineyards, many have reached the required 10.5° Beaumé. González Byass and Grupo Estévez have already requested permission from the Consejo to start picking tomorrow, and the Coop Nuestra Señora de las Angustias and Barbadillo will probably start on Friday. The press houses are spotless and ready to receive the first grapes of 2018, most of which will be picked by machine and at night. Thirty-one press houses will process the grapes throughout the nine municipalities in the DO, the same as last year. As to the table wine producers, most are already well underway with their harvests, especially white grapes and Pinot Noir.

Grape reception and fermentation tanks at Grupo Estevez (foto:MAGonzalez,diariodejerez)

Meanwhile the Partido Popular in Cádiz has called on the Junta de Andalucía’s agriculture minister, Rodrigo Sánchez Haro, to provide more details of the mystery fungus which is causing devastation in some vineyards and which has already spread from Sanlúcar to Jerez. They want to know what the Junta is doing and what it will be doing to combat this plague without a name which is causing panic.

It seems, however, that the Junta has been working on the problem for the last year after being alerted by growers to the high mortality rate in their vines, particularly young ones of about 3 years of age especially in vineyards which had been restructured (replanted, change of grape variety or change in vine management). Many samples were taken and analysed and found not to be infected by Xylella Fastidiosa so they were sent to the Plant health Laboratory in Sevilla, where many were found to be infected by fungi of the genus Cilindrocarpon (or Pie Negro), a pathogen which causes disease to the wood of the vine and kills it. The fungus seems to like alkaline soils - like albariza. Now that it has been identified, hopefully treatment with phyto-fortifiers will eventually help.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Pedro Ximénex 2017 12.5%, Bodegas Faustino González

Bright strawy gold with golden reflections.
Quite a striking nose; full and characterful with vibrant fruit such as quince, yellow plum, ripe apricot and white peach backed up by a hint of blond tobacco. There are only gentle hints of the yeasty flor bitterness or of lees, but they do add something to the wine's complexity along with a  clean natural impression of a wine made without need of all the artifice available to a modern bodega.
There is a certain intensity which is highlighted by a refreshing and balancing acidity which carries the clean, ripe fruity flavour across. The wine has some weight and presence and there are noticeable hints of flor and a chalky texture which dry out the sweetness of the fruit. There is a lot going on here and it is quite unlike the PX one usually sees which shows just what a versatile grape it is. This is a very good wine with character and length. 
The excellent family Bodega Faustino González decided to experiment with table wine, and since they grow not only Palomino but also PX in their El Carmen vineyard in the pago Montealegre, they decided to make two. This PX is interesting because very few in Jerez grow PX, and nobody as far as I know makes a dry table wine from it. The bodega works in a very artisan way and the grapes were hand harvested on 30th August and the must was fermented with natural yeast in just two butts, and there it remained ageing on its lees and under flor for 6 months before bottling on 16 May 2018. So one would expect a very interesting wine, and it certainly is. Palomino works best on the purest albariza, but PX is less fussy being perfectly happy on the browner albariza parda in a different part of the vineyard which has a little more iron and a slightly higher organic content. The wine is quite delicious; it has real character and is very much an individual. The only problem is availability as they only produced 1,200 bottles.
9.20 Licores Corredera

Monday 20 August 2018

Amontillado El Neto 18%, Bodegas Manuel Aragón

Deep amber with golden highlights.
Fresh and fairly young, it has all the almonds and hazelnuts, toasted bread and a hint of caramel one would expect but there are still faint traces of the Fino it once was in the form of a very slight  bitterness and an attractive lightness. It is elegant and quite refined.
The same holds true on the palate. It is moderately crisp, quite light and has a pleasant tang which brings out that nuttiness and a hint of salted caramel. It is at a nice stage of development and is good and dry leaving a sort of Fino/Amontillado character on the long elegant finish.
The origins of Bodegas Manuel Aragón, known after its despacho (wine shop) as “El Sanatorio” (hospital or clinic), go back to the XVIII century. This family firm is in Chiclana in the production zone and so cannot use the word “Sherry” on its labels –even though two of their wines bottled by Equipo Navazos scored almost maximum Parker points: Palo Cortado La Bota 62 (98) and Oloroso La Bota 63 (99). Anyway they have their own vineyards and make red, white, rosé and vermouth as well as the various Sherry styles. This is their standard Amontillado which is somewhere around 10-12 years old and is very good value for money. The word “neto” is an old word for a cart driver.

6.20 euros, Licores Corredera

Sunday 19 August 2018

19.8.18 Unknown Fungus Spreading Panic in the Vineyards

The fungus, which dries out and kills affected vines, was first detected in Sanlúcar two or three years ago and has already reached Jerez. It has been detected mainly in the wood of the rootstock most commonly used in the area, 161-49 Couderc, onto which Palomino scions are grafted, and is concentrated in new plantings or replacements from their second year. The first hypotheses being considered by vineyard experts trying to determine the origin of the problem point to the nursery but it is only a suspicion so far. Other less probable hypotheses like exhaustion of the vineyard due to climate change or another: the feared Xylella Fastidiosa which has wreaked havoc in some areas of Spain, particularly in olive groves, seem to have been discounted.

Comparison between healthy and affected vines

Vara y Pulgar, a firm specialised in technical vineyard advice, released a report last July titled “Loss of Vines in new Plantations” in which they gathered data on the affected vineyards in Sanlúcar which on a visit with the vineyards’ owners “growers with huge experience of vineyard husbandry”. Samples sent to the laboratory showed a lack of incidences, so Vara y Pulgar conclude in their report that “we don’t know yet what is happening, only where and to whom”, alluding to the location of the problem in plantings of 161-49 in the Sanlúcar area “a privileged area for vine growing” and in which the rootstock used is “a guarantee for that type of soil”.  According to the report, the damage is centred in the pagos Miraflores and Carrascal and there is a “surprising lack of symptoms in new plantings in Jerez and other areas of Sanlúcar such as Mahina, Cabeza Gorda and Callejuela”. It was probably happening in 2017 and according to the president of the independent growers’ association Asevi-Asaja it has already extended to Jerez but there fewer have noticed it, either because the vineyards are more extensive or because they have paid less attention so far.

The Consejo Regulador has no record of the problem, but the Rancho de la Merced, the Junta de Andalucía’s agricultural research station is in continuous contact with Vara y Pulgar and they will get down to work as soon as the harvest is over. Both men recognise the growers’ fear of a disease they don’t know and therefore have no answer to. Conventional treatments which work on mildew and oidium whose spores are windblown don’t work on this.

The first trials of ozone treatment took place recently and gave good results but the jury is still out as the vineyards used in the tests had already been treated conventionally. In their report, Vara y Pulgar note a growing incidence of chlorosis in new plantations which does not respond to the normal treatment with iron, and also a lack of vigour in cuttings and fewer buds during flowering, symptoms only found with the 161-49 rootstock, although Asevi  say they have observed the problem in others. According to the Vara y Pulgar report, the symptoms are mostly to be found in two to three year old plantations – in younger ones they are more difficult to spot – and to a lesser extent in four to five year old plantations. One affected vineyard they visited had looked great just last year.

Friday 17 August 2018

Palomino 2017 12.5%, Bodegas Faustino González

Mid strawy gold with bright golden highlights.
Forthcoming, fairly generous and pure Palomino with lots of ripe apple and faint traces of cider and apricot and grassy green herbs. It is quite fruity and naturally smells like mosto only it is more sophisticated. There are faint flor notes which barely intrude but add a certain complexity along with some distinct Fino characteristics which give the wine real appeal.. 
Quite full and very tasty. It has a good level of acidity which keeps it fresh, and balances the gentle chalky, appleskin texture and the ripeness. It is a style that could only come from the south and that appley flavour and faintly bitter edge would take one straight to Jerez. The flor is more noticeable on the palate which, added to the nicely judged acidity, makes it reasonable lively. It is an open, honest well-made wine with good length which speaks of its place and which I really enjoyed.
The Faustino González family have their own 7 hectare vineyard, Viña El Carmen, in the Pago Montealegre in Jerez. Here they grow Palomino and also a little PX and have just released their first table wines made from these grapes, but in very small quantities: 600 bottles of this Palomino and 1,200 bottles of the (dry) PX ie one and two butts respectively. The Palomino is grown on albariza of the tosca variety and was hand harvested on the 28th August. The must was fermented in butt with natural yeast and left in the butt for 6 months on its lees and under flor. The bottle is sealed with a Diam cork.
9.20, Licores Corredera

Thursday 16 August 2018

16.8.18 Is Ozone the Answer to the Growers' Prayers?

With the harvest beginning in perhaps a week’s time, growers are reflecting on what an extremely costly one it has been. Higher than average rainfall followed by mild temperatures have not only caused ripening to be later and uneven, but also provided ideal conditions for cryptogamic diseases like botrytis, mildew and especially oidium, requiring numerous treatments of the vines. Added to that there are new moulds attacking the wood of the vine which seem resistant to conventional treatments. But there is an alternative.

Ozone spraying. The mist disappears in seconds along with most vineyard problems. (photo AgriOzein)

Francisco Guerrero, president of the independent growers association Asevi-Asaja has called a general assembly for tomorrow to address growers’ concerns. One topic for discussion will be the use of ozone as a vine treatment which one local grower has found to give promising results. The maker of the system will be present to explain how it works. It has been successful with strawberries in Huelva, pumped through the irrigation systems, American vine growers have had great success, and it is already used in bodegas for disinfecting barrels and tanks. Ozone (O3) is a gas which can be dissolved in water and sprayed leaving no residues except oxygen and is much cheaper than current treatments after initial equipment costs are covered. This might be a great way forward as it obviates the need for most expensive chemical treatments, in fact some growers have not used any chemicals since investing in ozone.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Brandy Mérito Solera 36%, Marqués del Mérito

Amber to mahogany with bright copper glints.
Classic Brandy de Jerez nose of Oloroso and vanilla with some subtle oak notes and there are gentle hints of pastry, toasted bread, almond and dried fruit. It is attractive and homogeneous without any aggressive spirity notes.
Dried fruit is to the fore with an attractive almond and walnut nuttiness and vanilla following through and mingling with hints of Oloroso. There is a faint suggestion of sweetness but the finish is clean and dry. This is very good quality brandy, well rounded with real character and a long finish.
This is very good for a "simple" Solera brandy and its price is good as well. It comes from a Marqués del Mérito solera established in 1915, long before Rumasa merged the bodega with Diez Hermanos. It is a blend of column and pot still spirits distilled from both Palomino and Airen grapes and aged in solera for well over one year in butts previously seasoned with Oloroso. Neither the column still spirit nor the Oloroso overwhelm it and the result is tasty, smooth and balanced.
9.50 per litre, Mantequeria Jerezana

Monday 13 August 2018

Vino Tinto Arx 2016 14%, Bodega Tesalia

very deep black-red with a cherry coloured rim and a faint trace of maturity starting to sneak in.
Big and ripe yet still fairly tight dominated by hefty Syrah notes of leathery black fruit, a suspicion of smoke and spice and a hint of pepper. Then there are toasty, lead pencil notes of French oak leaving the Petit Verdot and Tintilla to play a minor role but provide some freshness and elegance with some blueberry notes. It is still young and once all these aromas start to integrate it should be amazing.
Full bodied and well structured with notable spice and pepper notes then that leathery plummy ripe fruit appears with a smoky almost barbecue character, and the Andalusian heat really comes through. This is a very fine but rather masculine wine with plenty of tannin but at least it is good and ripe. It needs a couple of years to soften off a bit and a few more to reveal the finesse it surely has.
Made from a blend of Tintilla (35%), Syrah (50%) and Petit Verdot (15%) all hand harvested at night, this excellent wine comes from near Arcos de la Frontera. The plots where the vines are grown are all clay soils over chalk oriented north east and while they catch the hot Levante wind they are protected from the worst of its heat by the slopes of the vineyard, thus getting good ripening conditions. The grape bunches are carefully selected before a 4 day cold soak and the different grape varieties are fermented separately for two to three weeks. The wines are then blended to achieve the optimum character and aged in mostly French oak for a year. Production was 18,000 bottles. Arx is the estate's second wine after Tesalia. The wine's name and indeed the place it comes from derive from the Latin Arx (castle/fortress). This is the first commercial release of this wine which is produced at an estate belonging to the Golding family which has 11 hectares under vine.
17.85 Licores Corredera

Sunday 12 August 2018

12.8.17 "Seasick" Palo Cortado Returns to Cádiz

Built in Cádiz in 1927, the Juan Sebastián Elcano, is a beautiful four-masted vessel used as a training ship by the Spanish Navy. In its 90 years it has sailed some 1.7 million nautical miles and docked in 71 countries. It returned on Saturday to its home port after a training exercise lasting nearly six months during which time it called in at Funchal, Las Palmas, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Valparaiso, El Callao and Charleston, acting as a sort of floating embassy.  Meanwhile an old bronze cannon dated 1801 was found in excellent condition in the water of the docks during routine works days before the ship returned, luckily it was not loaded.

The welcoming comittee (foto:DiariodeJerez)

Below the ship’s decks were two butts of González Byass Palo Cortado XC from the 1990 vintage selected by Antonio Flores for an experimental revival of the old tradition of sending wine on a sea journey to improve it. He described the wine as having “reached its peak, one step from glory” so it will be very interesting to see how it has turned out. It will be bottled in time for next year’s 500th anniversary celebrations of the first circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan set out from Sanlúcar in 1519 with five ships, but only one made it home, captained by one Juan Sebastián Elcano. The wine will be called Palo Cortado XC De Ida y Vuelta (there and back); it is unlikely to be cheap however.

Saturday 11 August 2018

Fino Castillo de Guzmán 15%, Coop Albarizas

Mid strawy yellowy gold with golden highlights.
Fresh with hints of sea breeze herbs and yeastiness then develops that lovely bitter flor character along with salty, briny mineral notes and traces of esparto, even cabezuela. It could almost be a Manzanilla Pasada and is definitely more serious than the price would suggest.
Quite full, very dry with comparatively low acidity which is made up for by that flor. There are slightly buttery almost rancio notes which along with that esparto note give depth and texture and while the flavour is fairly intense the wine still retains its freshness and has very good length.
This new brand of Fino, launched in November 2017, comes from the Cooperativa Vitivinícola Albarizas, established in 1977 in Trebujena. To celebrate their 40th anniversary they bottled some wines for the first time: Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Mosto and a white called Bijuré. Since the coop is located in the production zone it cannot therefore carry the word "Sherry" on its label. It is made from 100% Palomino grapes from the 200 coop members' 300 hectares of vineyard, most of which is sold to Williams & Humbert and Grupo Estévez. The brand name refers to Alonso Pérez de Guzmán "El Bueno" who founded the Medina de Sidonia dynasty in the XIII century. As is sometimes the case with cooperative labels, the design is a little doubtful, but the contents make up for it spectacularly, and at an absurdly reasonable price. It was bottled en rama with a driven cork.
3.50 per 50 cl, Licores Corredera

Friday 10 August 2018

The Role of the Arrumbador

Among its various meanings the verb “arrumbar” means to stack or put away. The arrumbador therefore, is one who does the physical labour in a bodega; stacking butts, removing and replacing those needing repair or cleaning, racking, fortifying, blending, running the solera scales, fining and extracting samples. In the old days when Sherry was exported in butt, they also used to move the butts from the bodega and load them onto the train or lorry.

Arrumbadores doing various tasks in the 1850s

These heroic men, known as “trasegadores” in Sanlúcar, and without whom Sherry production would have been near impossible, tended to work in cuadrillas (squads) usually consisting of a leader, two experienced men and an apprentice, and the cuadrilla was responsible to the capataz, who was quite likely to have once been an arrumbador himself.

Building an andana in the 1920s

Not only do arrumbadores need physical strength and stamina – they need to be able to move butts weighing nearly 700 kilos - but they also need great skill and a pretty sound understanding of how the wine is made. The arrumbadores developed ways of stacking butts or extracting one (possibly leaking) from a solera system and putting it back again, using simple tools like ramps, poles and ropes, but with great skill and precision. They used to wear a sort of corset around the waist to protect them from hernias but covered them with smarter looking cummerbunds.

That butt weighs the same as a Mini car, 1960s. The two wooden beams are palos de cargar

It was very hard physical work and there were many dangers like pulling muscles, rope burns, oak splinters and falling butts. The men were supposed to wear gloves but rarely did, for better feel and grip. Most arrumbadores started their working life in other parts of the bodega; perhaps on the bottling lines or washing out butts, and gradually worked their way up, once they had mastered each job. A typical scene might be the capataz tasting wine with a pair of arrumbadores; one climbing up the butts and throwing a venencia of wine to the other on the ground who would catch it expertly and pour the wine into the capataz’ glass.

Racking 1940s. Tools (L-R) Canoa, Jarras and bomba de trasiego

There were once thousands of arrumbadores but sadly this once important office has almost become a thing of the past now, what with all the health and safety regulations and corresponding technical innovations since the 1970s such as forklifts and pumps, and the seemingly never ending decline in sales and therefore the industry itself.  In 1992 Jerez City Council and González Byass erected a statue in homage to the arrumbadores by local sculptor Francisco Pinto in the Avenida de Europa in Jerez.

racking using a canuto, Williams & Humbert

Over the centuries the “Arrumbaóres” as they are known locally, have evolved their own tools and terminology, some of which appears below:

Words connected with stacking butts:
Andamio = a form of moveable scaffolding used to reach the higher butts
Andana = a row of stacked butts
Bajete = Support for the bottom row of butts. Mostly wooden beams, but in Sanlúcar traditionally made of limestone (often containing fossilised oyster shells) often with a cork liner
Bocacha = oak wedge used to position butts
Chirlata = flat piece of oak, thinner than a llano used to help level butts
Deslío = Racking off lees
Escalera de trasiego = short wooden ladder
Llano = flat wooden square made from oak, eucalyptus or pine, acts as the base for a bocacha
Palos de cargar =  a pair of stout wooden beams used as a ramp for locating butts at a higher level
Puente = literally “bridge” an operation where the arrumbadores can move neighbouring butts enough to free and remove/replace a particular one.
Tranquilla = Stout wooden pole @ 1 m in length used as a lever for fine adjustment of butt position

Words connected with running the scales (saca y rocío):
Aspilla = a gauging stick for measuring the contents of a butt
A toca dedo = when a butt is filled to the top
Boca de bojo = upper bung hole on the butt’s widest diameter
Bomba de trasiego = long curved tube used to siphon wine from a higher butt during the saca
Canoa = a triangular stainless steel funnel with legs fitting between butts used in the rocío process in conjunction with a rociador and a jarra (QV)
Canuto = curved pipe which fits in the lower bung hole (falsete), used for racking higher butts
Falsete = Bung hole on the lower front of the butt
Jarra = a stainless steel jug of @12 ½ litres used in the saca y rocío process where done by hand.
Rociador: a stainless steel tube in the shape of a bull’s horn with a flange on the upper (wider) end while the narrower end is perforated. It is used for rocío along with a canoa. When inserted into the butt the new wine enters gently below the flor to minimise its disturbance.
Saca y Rocío = Running the scales. Wine is taken from the solera (saca) and then it is topped up from the following crideras (rocío). The last criadera is topped up with wine from sobretablas.

General terms:
Bota del gasto = separate butt especially for guests, or the workers’ refreshment. This butt was only occasionally abused…

Wednesday 8 August 2018

8.8.18 Table Wine Harvest Begins

Last night the pickers and harvesting machines were out collecting the first white table wine grapes of 2018 and the quality is good. Cortijo de Jara has been picking Gewürztraminer and Barbadillo have been picking the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc they use in their Blanco de Blancos and the sparkling Beta Brut. The Palomino harvest looks like being a couple of weeks away still, but it can’t really be described as late, since last year was the earliest on record. What is needed for the table wine grapes is freshness and acidity when they reach optimum ripeness, and in the case of the Gewürztraminer they are getting readings of 12.5° Beaumé while Chardonnay is 11.5°.

Picking Gewurztraminer at Cortijo de Jara (foto:MAGonzalez/diariodejerez)

The important decision as to when to pick has been more difficult this year as ripening has been uneven due to the atypical spring and summer weather causing excess humidity and thus delay in ripening. The recent heatwave has been a great boost in ripening the grapes and stopping cryptogamic problems without much evaporation loss due to a low incidence of the Levante. But from today temperatures have gone down and the nights might bring dewfall slowing ripening down again but possibly adding weight to the grapes. All that can be done is to wait and see and hope, and take constant sugar readings.

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Vino Blanco Bijuré 2017 12%, Coop Albarizas

Clean bright gold with golden highlights.
Attractive up front with gentle orchard fruit notes like apple, pear and apricot and a hint of blossom, and then it gets more serious with mineral and faintly saline notes, possibly even a trace of flor, which instantly give away its origin. You can faintly smell the albariza, the Guadalquivir, the salt marshes and the not so distant sea. And it smells so natural.
Both the fruit and the minerally salinity are there straight off, and the wine has a certain presence, it is not some cheap co-op wine at all. It has a perfectly judged acidity, a lovely almost sherbet fruit and a dry chalky texture, and is extremely refreshing and moreish. Very much a wine of its place, and one of character which will even improve a few years in bottle.
A white wine from Cádiz which isn't 100% Palomino? That's right! And it is very good value for money too. And above all, it is interesting. This new wine comes from the Cooperativa Vitivinicola Albarizas at Trebujena, not so far from Sanlúcar, and not so different, overlooking the Guadalquivir estuary. The label states that it is made from the Vidueño grape, which is not actually a grape variety but rather a fairly ad hoc mix of grapes which happen to be in the vineyard. In fact these are very old vines of various varieties (including Palomino) which have almost disappeared from the area since Palomino took over. This gives the wine its unusual but delicious flavour, and  it is very good to know that some are trying to revive them. The wine is fermented in butts seasoned with Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso, and after natural decantation it is blended together and bottled with no more ageing than a while on the lees. It sold out very quickly. The word Bijuré is a Gypsy word for "golden".
7.00 euros, Licores Corredera

Monday 6 August 2018

6.8.18 Sales Figures for First Half of 2018

Sherry has always been an export wine, most of it was exported, and that has even played a part in its style, but the current picture is one of decline in most of the export markets. The Sherry revolution which has done so much to restore the wine’s prestige and allowed modest price increases has yet to be reflected in sales volumes.

In the first 6 months of 2018 total volumes slipped by 3.2% to 14 million litres, half a million fewer than in the same period of 2017 and 10% fewer than in 2016. Export and domestic sales volumes are slowly heading towards par with export sales of 7.6 million litres and 6.3 in Spain in the first 6 months of 2018. After an encouraging 2017 for domestic sales, they have slipped back by 2.54% while exports have slipped by 3.75%. Taken over the last 2 years, Spain has slipped by 1.77% but exports by a worrying 16%.

The traditional export markets, led by Britain, Holland and Germany, still imported the majority of exports with a total of 6.7 million litres between January and June, but the European market as a whole saw the biggest sales drop, some 4%, mainly because of a drop of 1.9 million litres or 17% in Holland, which imports a great deal of BOB. This negates the good results in Germany and the rest of Europe where sales actually grew by 2.6% and 6.7% respectively with volumes of 0.9 and 1.1 million litres. Britain was the biggest of all markets till it was overtaken by Spain in the last few years, but is still the largest export market, and showed no change at just over 2.7 million litres.

Things are a little more optimistic in the Americas with first half sales of 785,000 litres, 600,000 of which went to the US, showing growth of about 4.5%. Asia however, showed a drop of 6.3% as a whole to 109,000 litres, 80,000 of which went to Japan which grew by around 18%.

Sunday 5 August 2018

5.8.18 Bodegas Álvaro Domecq Launch New Liqueur

Alvaro Domecq may be 78 years old, but he is still active.  His bodega has just launched a new product called Waler 19 which is a bottled cocktail inspired by the classic Pisco Sour cocktail he had enjoyed in South America. The bittersweet product is based on Jerez Brandy holandas with a dash of Angostura, lime, a little brown sugar and two other secret ingredients. Waler is a pure breed of Arab horse, a passion of Don Álvaro, who used to be a famous rejoneador (horseback bullfighter), and the 19 refers to the alcoholic strength. This innovative drink can be enjoyed as a shot, with lots of ice or as a mixed drink, ideally with something citric and perhaps some mint. Perfect for summer sipping. The stunning bottle design was used in a fashion competition for the best matching dress.

Saturday 4 August 2018

4.8.18 Harvest Update

The heat wave and Levante have arrived and temperatures in Jerez have reached 42C in the shade. The effect of this is to accelerate the ripening of the grapes, but the harvest will still be late due to the heavy rainfall and moderate temperatures in spring. This time last year the Palomino harvest was about to start, and other varieties like Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer had already been picked. At least the current weather conditions have stopped the cryptogamic problems which have been so costly in their tracks, but they also cause dehydration of the grapes, reducing yields.

Some are predicting a start date of the 20th of August for the inland vineyards but others say it will be later as the grapes are not ripening uniformly even in the same vineyard. Some growers are thinning out under-ripe bunches leaving only the riper ones and pruning back leaf cover so the sun and wind have better access. Currently the average sugar levels are only around 7.5° Beaumé, and the minimum legal requirement is 10.5°. Many are lowering their earlier predictions of a huge harvest 20% bigger than last year and falling into line with the prediction of the Consejo Regulador of a 10% increase. (82.5 million kilos compared to the 7.5 million of 2017). A lot can happen in a week to affect the character of the harvest, and temperatures are expected to drop on Wednesday but until then it will be very hot with changeable wind.

Friday 3 August 2018

Manzanilla pago Macharnudo Añada 2014 16%, Viña Callejuela

Amber tinged golden straw with gold reflections.
Attractive complex and fresh although it is well developed for its age, with notable minerality, hints of straw, almond, damp cloth, olive brine and very faint aromas of butter and Marmite. Oxidation is slightly more advanced than in the Callejuela but less so than in the Añina. The characteristic flor bitterness is noticeable but not particularly obvious and the overall impression is of quite a mature biological wine, almost as if it had a few years in bottle.
Fairly full,very classy and very much still a biological wine; there is still a bitter bite from the flor yet there is also a very smooth, almost creamy feel to it. It is very dry with notes of brine and esparto with traces of cabezuela (though there can't have been much) and all the nuances are beautifully harmonised to give a very sophisticated result. It is delicious, long and very satisfying.
This is one of a trio of wines from the 2014 vintage produced in the vineyards owned by the Blanco brothers of Viña Callejuela in the pagos Callejuela, Añina and Macharnudo. They were all vinified separately but in the same way so as to highlight the styles of wine the different vineyards produce. The wines were all aged statically, no solera, and bottled on the same date, 6/5/2018, so they are all approximately 3 years and 8 months old. Without the refreshment and homogeneity provided by a solera the wines age and develop more quickly and in slightly different ways making them extremely interesting. Already they have reached 16%, unlikely in a solera, and have very distinct identities. The pago Macharnudo is regarded as the best of the pagos located near Jerez, and while grapes from any part of the area can be used to make Manzanilla, Macharnudo grapes are less common. This wine was classified as a Palma, an elegant and mature Fino/Manzanilla. These three wines were a brilliant idea and are a real experience and education in how Sherry develops, and the incredible range of styles produced. 2014 was a good year with few serious problems and a "normal" but very early harvest.
26.50 per 50 cl, Licores Corredera

Thursday 2 August 2018

Manzanilla pago Añina Añada 2014 16%, Viña Callejuela

Fairly full amber tinged gold with bright amber highlights.
Full, complex and assertive, there are some distinct notes of oxidation with the characteristic very slight caramel and overripe apple character, yet you can still find a salty maritime air and hints of brine and esparto along with a faint buttery note. It is almost beyond Manzanilla Pasada, there can't have been much flor left, and there is a hint of toasted bread and a very slight nuttiness.
Again full, a trace of Oloroso character here but still light in weight and strength and at the very early stages of its oxidative future. It is clean and well rounded with moderate acidity and quite intensely flavoured yet while the oxidative character dominates, you can still make out some Manzanilla notes; there is a slightly salty freshness and the faintest bitterness. Amazing stuff.
The Blanco brothers of  Viña Callejuela own vineyards in 3 pagos: Callejuela in Sanlúcar, Añina between Sanlúcar and Jerez and Macharnudo, regarded as the "grand cru" of Jerez. The three different vineyards give very different wines and the brothers have produced a range of three wines, one from each vineyard and all from the 2014 vintage, so the only difference between them is the vineyard. Being vintage wines they have not been refreshed as they would have been in a solera so they are more concentrated, effectively tasting a little older. They were all bottled in May 2018 making them nearly 4 years old but with a complexity which belies their age. Lying farther inland from the sea and the Guadalquivir, Añina gives fuller bodied wines than Callejuela, but the wine was aged in Sanlúcar and under flor so it is slightly fuller than "normal" Manzanilla. Given its style and stage of development it was classified as a Cortado, a wine which with continued ageing should become a Palo Cortado.
26.50 per 50 cl, Licores Corredera

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Manzanilla pago Callejuela Añada 2014 16%, Viña Callejuela

Bright clean mid gold with golden highlights.
Fresh and fairly intense with all the classic Manzanilla hallmarks: almost steely fresh saline sea air, hints of fresh herbs, esparto, olive brine, sourdough and of course flor, but while this is slightly muted by static ageing it still gives verve and balance to the wine. There are also the faintest almost buttery oxidative notes which give more complexity than one could expect of a solera wine of this age.
Full and well developed, it starts out fresh, crisp and tangy and soon the complexity starts to come through. It really grows on the palate and has much more to offer than a solera wine with a similar average age. It has greater depth too coming from the concentration the wine undergoes without refreshment. There are very subtle oxidative or rancio notes which, together with the forgoing make the wine remarkably complex for its age, while still being a Manzanilla, and not far from a Manzanilla Pasada. It is very dry yet rounded with a slightly chalky texture and great length. 
This beautiful wine is one of a very interesting new range of 3 wines called Soleras de Almacenista from the Blanco brothers of Viña Callejuela. It strikes me as an odd name to choose given that the wines are vintage and have not been through a solera. Also the labels refer to them as "sobretablas" but I would have thought they were a little too old for that. Be that as it may, since they own vineyard in 3 pagos (Callejuela in Sanlúcar, Añina, between Sanlúcar and Jerez, and Macharnudo near Jerez) they have made a wine from each one from the 2014 vintage in exactly the same way so the only difference between them is the vineyard. They were then aged statically in Sanlúcar, and without the regular refreshment provided by a solera the wines develop more quickly, so in order to retain their biological character they need to be bottled comparatively early - this one on 6/5/18 to be exact, so they have just under 4 years of ageing. Static ageing explains the 16% alcohol content. This wine was classified as a Palma, a mature and complex biologically aged wine.
26.50 per 50 cl, Licores Corredera