Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Brandy Gran Duque de Alba Solera Gran Reserva 40%, Williams & Humbert

Well patinated mahogany fading through amber with bright copper highlights.
Rich aromas of well matured brandy, the Oloroso, while obvious, is not dominant and balances well with the fruitiness of the spirit. There are notes of raisin, caramel, vanilla, oak and tobacco but on the whole they are well integrated into a very wholesome whole.
A touch of sweetness at the start helps acclimatise the palate to the 40 degrees of alcohol then it opens out nicely and very generously with all the above flavours. There will be a little sweetness from the Dry Sack 15 and I'm not certain if any more has been added (it is not uncommon), but it certainly makes for a very enjoyable brandy rounding it off nicely. Good length.

This is one of the best sellers of the Solera Gran Reservas which originally belonged to Diez-Merito and comes from an 1889 solera. The firm was taken over by Rumasa and the brandy finally ended up at Williams & Humbert. The story goes that it is named in honour of Jacobo Fitz-James Stewart y Falcó, XVII Duke of Alba, a descendant of the Jacobites and father of the late Cayetana, Duchess of Alba. The Duke was a friend of the firm's Madrid agent and having been impressed by the brandy, kindly allowed his title to be used for its brand name. Since then W&H have added two other, older versions of the brandy; GDA XO and GDA Oro. They even have a cream liqueur using GDA as a base. It is made from Airén grapes with a little Palomino fermented at low temperature to conserve primary aromas. The wine is only lightly filtered leaving a little of the lees in suspension on arrival at the still. Distillation is carried out in alquitaras at a very slow rate to achieve the best possible estery holandas. The spirit is then racked into butts seasoned with Dry Sack Oloroso 15 Year Old and goes to the 10th criadera of the solera. Ten years later it emerges as this delicious brandy.
25 euros from the Corte ingles

Monday, 22 May 2017

An Interesting Interview with Francisco Guerrero, President of the Growers

Just as almacenistas have all but ceased to exist, independent growers in the Sherry zone are in danger of extinction. Apathy and discontent are rife among the growers who are not cooperative members. They number around 60 and control some 2,000 hectares, nearly a third of the total under vine, vineyards which the trade cannot allow to be lost. But these vines are ageing quickly because of the impoverished state of their owners, who are unable to make the slightest investment. Asevi-Asaja, the association of independent growers, estimates that at least half are less than 10 years old, and the vines have a commercial life of up to 30 years. Francisco Guerrero, the association president, says the problem is that the vineyards have been unprofitable for years because the price of grapes is too low. There is no spare cash to repair machinery, tractors are literally falling to bits and in small vineyards it doesn’t pay to contract outside help.

After a long period of distance between the growers and the bodegas association, Fedejerez, Asevi has spent the last year trying to renew contact and succeeded in arranging a day of talks between the two parties just before last week’s Feria. According to Guerrero another meeting is expected at the end of June or the start of July to improve the exchange of ideas and seek solutions, the main one being that the grape price has to be fair and reasonable.

One way to earn more from vineyards (foto:Pascual/diariodejerez)

After a small and not particularly good harvest which endured heavy rain in May followed by mildew, the growers are facing another year of uncertainty because of more Levante wind than usual. Last year they suffered its drying and crop-reducing effects for more than a month in July and August, and they fear it will return this year.

After the massive uprooting of excess vineyard subsidised by Brussels which reduced the area of vineyard from 1,050 hectares to the current 6,500, the area managed to reach a balance between supply and demand. But if this year also produces a small crop there will be a supply problem. Naturally the bodegas need to replace their stocks but, as there is currently no overstock, the grape price will shoot up, and nobody wants that. Guerrero explains that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the price shot up from 82 pesetas to 100 (from 50 to 60 céntimos) and that was bad for the trade.

“We want a reasonable price, ideally 40-45 céntimos instead of the current 34-36 céntimos”, says Guerrero, who insists that “after achieving a balance of supply and demand, the trade cannot allow the loss of a further 2,000 hectares. Fedejerez understands the situation and has raised the price for the coming harvest, but it is still not enough”. Meanwhile the bodegas argue that they can’t offer more as the wine itself is not profitable either.

Although Sherry and Manzanilla are enjoying better times, in which little by little prices and sales values are recovering, BOB (buyer’s own brand) is still selling in large volumes and at very low margins, which is chipping away at profitability. The recent growth of Sherry corresponds to the leading brands and the VOS and VORS wines, but the turning point has not yet been reached because of the scale of the BOB trade. It seems that Bodegas and growers alike are condemned to put up with it.

“This year there has been a bit more movement in purchasing by the big bodegas, but only four of them are buying grapes”, says Guerrero, adding that “although the bodegas own some vineyard, it is the minimum possible as they are not interested in large tracts of it either. As they say here “La viña y el potro, que los críe otro” (vineyards and colts – let someone else raise them).

The situation in the vineyards has been bad for years. Six or seven years ago the grape price was the lowest in Spain – a mere 15 céntimos. The current situation is different; along with the Sherry “boom” the growers see other possibilities such as cask seasoning for whisky which is in great demand, or Jerez Vinegar, demand for which seems unstoppable.

Asevi believes there is a lack of motivation to seek other markets for their production, such as concentrated must or alcohol for Solera Gran Reserva brandies, the superior category, made from Palomino grapes. “We need to apply more pressure because to produce concentrated must and alcohol for brandy we would need at least 15,000 hectares more vineyard, a considerable figure when one takes into account that not a single hectare of vines has been planted for four years.

Guerrero says that now is the time to really back the vineyards. The average age of the growers is over 50 years, and they will not be replaced by their children, as the few who do choose to work vineyards do so through the more profitable Vinos de la Tierra de Cádiz rather than Sherry.


Of the alternatives to unprofitable vines available to the growers, the olive is currently the most attractive, partly for the rising price of olive oil and partly because they grow well in the area. Francisco Guerrero recalls that the olive was the natural substitute for the vine after Phylloxera at the end of the XIX century. Cultivation of the olive is undergoing considerable expansion in the Jerez countryside, and vine growers are looking at it seriously, since there are certain similarities with the vine in terms of cultivation. Guerrero cites the case of a 25 hectare vineyard on the Trebujena road which was converted to olives and is now about to double in size due to the high profitability of olives. And that is not the only alternative; almonds now proliferate in the Trebujena area in soils which bore vines until recently.

This interview by Á Espejo was published in today’s Diario de Jerez

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Granujales 2015 13%, Viña Granujales

Bright pale gold with light legs.
Very fresh and fairly delicate yet with a pronounced Moscatel aroma with hints of mandarine, tea, a hint of blossom and, well, grapiness. Moscatel is high in terpenes which make it so aromatic.
Dry, light and fresh with moderate acidity and full of the above aromas. Very easy and pleasant drinking which leaves a long clean tasty Moscatel finish.
Made from 100% Moscatel Grano Menudo, a small berried and slightly more aromatic version of the grape, picked manually during the first week of August at the Granujales vineyard near Prado del Rey, Cádiz. It was bottled for Viña Granujales by Salvador Rivero Nuñez, proprietor of nearby Bodegas Rivero, famous for Pajarete and also table wine producers. New, smarter packaging has been designed for the next vintage.
9.30, Licores Corredera

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Bebidas Esprituosas

This Spanish term translates as “spirit drinks” which in its broadest sense covers brandy, whisky, gin etc. However in Spain it is used for certain lower strength brandy-like drinks. Some 95% of Spanish brandy is Brandy de Jerez, the only Spanish brandy with a DO, which began to be produced in large quantities at the end of the XIX century. Its huge popularity saved many bodegas from potential ruin during times of slump for Sherry, but times change. The Spanish government increased the Impuesto Especial sobre el Alcohol y Bebidas Derivadas (or alcohol tax) in 2002 leading sales to stagnate. At the same time raw material costs were rising and the EU decided to stop giving grants for distillation of potable alcohol. All this led to a bit of a crisis as increased brandy prices would harm not only sales but competitivity with other spirits.

In 2009 Osborne and González Byass, soon to be followed by others, took the bold decision to convert their basic solera brandies to bebidas espirituosas. These drinks are not controlled by the Consejo Regulador Brandy de Jerez, so there is much less regulation. They can be sold at a lower strength than the minimum 36ᴼ for brandy, thereby reducing tax, there is no minimum ageing requirement, and no minimum content of holandas. They don’t even have to be distilled from wine, and while most are, at least mainly, there is some spirit made from molasses and even beetroot around. The spirit must be of agricultural origin.

The budget of the Consejo Regulador Brandy de Jerez was badly hit, and for two reasons. Firstly, since much of its income depends on a levy on sales of DO brandy, it began to receive much less as bebidas espirituosas are not technically brandy. Secondly the brandies which had been converted to bebidas espirituosas were all basic solera brandies and being the cheaper ones they were best sellers, accounting for 75% of all brandy sales and 90% of sales in the home market.

There was a bit of controversy about the branding of these new drinks, as they used exactly the same labels as used before for brandy, with only slight changes in wording. The less observant consumer was unlikely to spot the difference, but if they did they might feel cheated. The Consejo, however, felt that such commercial decisions were for the bodegas alone. Bebidas espirituosas are not so bad; they are aged in soleras, albeit very briefly, and are useful substitutes for the real thing in cocktails. They are not much cheaper than brandy solera though, only a euro or two, but perhaps Brandy de Jerez should follow the path of Sherry, selling smaller quantities of superior quality at a higher price.

The following were all big selling brandies before “conversion”
Veterano (Osborne)
Soberano (González Byass)
Decano (Caballero)
501(Carlos & Javier de Terry, now made by Osborne)
Centenario (Fernando A de Terry, now Fundador) offered as Brandy de Jerez Solera as well!
103 Etiqueta Blanca (Bobadilla, now Osborne) 
Real Tesoro (Marqués del Real Tesoro, now Grupo Estévez)
Felipe II (Agustin Blázquez, now Osborne)

Friday, 19 May 2017

19.5.17 International Wine Challenge 2017 Gold Medals for Sherry

In the 34th edition of the prestigious IWC competition, Spain scored even better than last year with a total of 647 medals and 433 recommendations. Of the 72 gold medals, an amazing 35 were awarded to Sherries. In all, Sherry won 109 medals when gold, silver and bronze are included, meaning that nearly one third of the medals won by Sherry were gold. The trophy winners and best wines of the competition will be published soon; meanwhile the gold medal winners are as follows:

Tradición CZ 
Amontillado VORS, Oloroso VORS, Palo Cortado VORS, PX VOS
Bodegas Diez Mérito
Bertola Palo Cortado 12, Oloroso Victoria Regina VORS, PX Vieja Solera VORS
González Byass
Cuatro Palmas, Tres Palmas, Una Palma, Amontillado del Duque, Noé PX VORS
Bodegas Fundador
Harveys Amontillado, Harverys Palo Cortado, Harveys Oloroso
Solera 1842 Oloroso Abocado
Hidalgo La Gitana
Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, PX Triana
Bodegas Yuste
Amontillado Conde de Aldama, Argüeso Manzanilla San León
Bodegas Barbadillo
Manzanilla Solear
Bodegas Lustau
Fino Jarana, Amontillado VORS, Oloroso VORS, Palo Cortado VORS, PX VORS, Palo Cortado Almacenista Cayetano del Pino, PX San Emilio. Then the BOBs: Very Rare Dry Old Amontillado (for Marks & Spencer), Very Rare Oloroso (for Marks & Spencer), The Best Oloroso (for Morrisons), The Best Palo Cortado (for Morrisons), Waitrose Fino (for Waitrose), Waitrose Manzanilla (for Waitrose), Berry Bros. & Rudd Fino ( for Berry Bros. & Rudd)

To demonstrate how well Sherry did, Rioja only got 15 golds, Cava 2, and Ribera del Duero none. Sherry scored a further 36 Silver, 22 Bronze and 16 recommendations. Impressive!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Oloroso Los Caireles 18.5%, Bodegas Portales Pérez

Bright deep amber/light mahogany with copper glints, legs.
Forthcoming with gentle toasty oak notes, traces of caramel, cinnamon, walnut and orange with a saline, slightly savoury backbone which quickly locates its origin in Sanlúcar. It has a certain complexity, changing slightly with every sniff, but always positively, which gives real character.
Fairly full bodied at first then some tangy acidity comes through, lots of nuts, clean, saline and generous. As the impact subsides the palate is left with a very smooth, satisfying flavour of nuts with a trace of cinnamon and a long clean finish.
This bodega is not well known outside Sanlúcar, but certainly deserves to be. They make good honest wines by artisan methods and have done so for five generations, during most of which they were almacenistas to some of the best bodegas. This Oloroso has an average age of about 8 years coming from a very old solera which has two criaderas, all in very old butts, and the wine is good.
8 euros ex bodega

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Manzanilla Pasada 8 15%, Mar 7

Pale strawy gold with bright golden highlights, legs.
Forthcoming and super fresh. Traces of wild herbs and flowers mix with a powerful saline kick behind which there are notes of bitter almond, flor and tantalising traces of cabezuela. Quite racy and maritime yet vivatious and absolutely classic Manzanilla.
A lot of flavour in an elegant package. It starts off as a good Manzanilla with relatively low acidity but keeps on developing on the palate with very dry, more intense salty cabezuela notes with a faint hint of butter and only a faint trace of oxidation. The flor must have been vigorous. Lovely.
This elegant Manzanilla was produced and bottled  for María José Romero, owner of Mar 7, by Delgado Zuleta. It was aged for at least eight years in their bodegas and selected by María José for its quality and freshness. Some of her wines are bottled for her and some are brought in bulk to her beautiful, atmospheric, traditional old bodega, the one where Pedro Romero started out, and they are filled into 80 year old butts so she can sell them on draught. Don't miss a visit to Mar 7 if you're in Sanlúcar, it is in Calle Mar, 7, opposite Bodegas Argüeso.
13 euros from Mar 7