Sunday, 22 April 2018

Bodegas: M&F Tosar

Juan Antonio Tosar Hernández was the son of Antonio Tossar, of Italian descent, and Beatriz Hernández. The family lived in Cádiz where young  Juan Antonio, or simply Antonio as he was known, married Bárbara Martínez García who was of noble birth and who bore him seven sons and two daughters before dying around 1835.Antonio was in the business of trade with the Spanish colonies in the Americas. As this trade began to decline, Antonio moved with his large young family to El Puerto de Santa María to try and restore their fortunes in the wine trade. 

Adolfo Tosar
By 1838 he had a modest bodega at Calle Espíritu Santo, 19, next to some houses in Calle Rosas which he had inherited from his mother. Over time these installations would be extended by two of his sons, Manuel and Francisco Javier Tosar Martínez who changed the company name to M&F Tosar and also installed a cooperage in an adjacent plot in 1846. Antonio died in 1850. Another son, Adolfo (1822-1880) went to London where he set up a sales office, and it would be he and his successors who would continue the business till the end. The brothers were hard working, efficient and husbanded their wines with great care, and by the 1860s they were among the leading firms in the area, despite the modest scale of their bodegas. They bought a house at Calle de la Plata, 6, where Manuel lived, remaining a bachelor, and in the basement they installed a sales office, tasting and meeting rooms.

The family home still stands, now a bridal wear shop
Francisco Javier died, also unmarried, in 1865 and divided his share of the business between his brothers Manuel and Adolfo and sister Amalia. When she died, her share was divided between Manuel and Adolfo and the company continued as M&F Tosar for another decade until the death of Manuel. By now the firm had reached its maximum potential and employed 20 people and had some 5,000 arrobas of stock including dozens of wines as well as brandy and vinegar. Everything had to be split among the remaining inheritors, but at least there were not many. In 1870 Adolfo married Manuela Zurutuza Fesser (b 1840). In 1873 he was back in El Puerto with his wife and two children to run the business at the behest of his elder brother who was ageing and infirm, but he did need to return to London from time to time. He was there when Manuel died in 1874. Adolfo’s two sons, Antonio and José, inherited one third each of Manuel’s share of the business and Adolfo continued to run it on his own as Adolfo Tosar & Cía till his death in 1880.

A label blank from the later years

The business continued in the hands of his wife Manuela Zurutuza and their now four children under the title Viuda de Adolfo Tosar & Cía. The name M&A Bayo Tosar was also occasionally used. The firm, which held a royal warrant, ceased trading in the early years of the XX century. At about this time, one of the daughters married an Osborne and another married José Antonio Ruiz de Cortázar who ran Bodegas Alonso Pajares.  In 1901 Manuela’s two sons, Manuel and Francisco Javier, established a brewery and sparkling waters business, Fábrica de Cervezas Tosar, in Calle Cielo, but despite a good start and a change of name to Cervecera Portuense in 1904, it didn’t last very long.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Gewürztraminer 2017 12.5%, Cortijo de Jara

Very bright pale gold with distinct notes of green and silvery gold highlights.
Exotic, fragrant and quite intense with notes of lychee, very slightly under-ripe peach, pineapple, honeysuckle, orange blossom and a trace of almost ginger-like spice. Classic Gewürztraminer nose and very fresh.
Super fresh fruity and tangy - the acidity is very good for the grape and the place, and all that fragrance carries through on the palate. It seems light at first but definitely has some body and there is a gentle, slightly chalky texture and considerable length. 
Gewürztraminer is  very unusual as far south as Cádiz being more of a northern grape, and one which can complete its ripening quickly leaving very low acidity, especially in a hot place. It is not one of the varieties permitted in the Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz regulations so it is legally simply a table wine, though it might contain a little Sauvignon Blanc, which is allowed. Nevertheless, it is a beautifully made wine with real character. The cortijo is located in a beautiful place about 25 km north east of Jerez on mixed soils with some albariza. The grapes were picked by hand at night for maximum freshness, cold fermented in stainless steel, stabilised, bottled without ageing and labelled by hand.
6,95 De Albariza chalky texture

Friday, 20 April 2018

Fino La Barajuela 2014 16%, Luis Pérez

Bright mid brassy gold with golden highlights.
Full, rounded and quite complex with notes of straw and a hint of fruit: ripe apple, quince and ripe grape pulp. There is a restrained note of flor which balances well with the fruit and there is a gentle mineral salinity from the soil, and a general feeling of weight from the extra ripeness of the grapes.
Clean and very fresh with an attractive tension between the flor, decent acidity and the fruit, it has a lovely tanginess too, not to mention a slightly dry chalky mineral feel. It is different from the usual Fino being fruitier as it is made the old fashioned way and the result is a very sophisticated and interesting wine with lots of flavour and terrific length.
Made with Palomino grapes from the El Corregidor vineyard at the heart of the inland pago Carrascal. The soil here is one of the many kinds of albariza: barajuela, which is composed of very thin layers which resemble the side of a pack of cards (baraja). The vines are over 40 years old so the yield is low. The harvest is picked in various passes over a two month period to achieve the ideal ripeness for the various wines. The first grapes, not yet ripe enough for wine, are used for a brandy project and the next ones, which will be used for the Fino, are sun dried for a day or more to increase sugar content as the wine will not be fortified. The must is filled unfiltered straight into butts where it ferments without temperature control. After fermentation a selection is made as to whether the wine will be aged biologically or oxidatively and the level of wine in the butts selected for Fino is kept comparatively high so that the flor will not overpower the character of the vineyard. The ageing of the wines is assiduously observed as the flor yeast strains can vary. This is one of the very few vintage Sherries, and one of the fewer still which are not fortified and has a DO Sherry. It might seem expensive for a Fino, but an enormous amount of work has gone into it, and it is delicious. The back label has a little block with the blank symbols of una palma, dos palmas, tres palmas and cuatro palmas with the una palma symbol overprinted, so one wonders what else might be in the pipeline...
35.50 euros, Licores Corredera

Thursday, 19 April 2018

19.4.18 Very Interesting Lecture at Williams & Humbert

The excellent Ciclo de Conferencias (Cycle of Lectures) offered by Williams & Humbert since 2014 continues on Thursday 26th April with a fascinating lecture entitled “Tránsitos de Ida y Vuelta: La Anudación de Tres Continentes” (Return Journeys: the Ties between Three Continents) by María del Carmen Borrego Plá, Professor of History at the Universidad Hispalense in Sevilla, author of various books and co-proprietor of Bodegas El Maestro Sierra. She will explain the connections and cultural, social and economic exchanges between Europe, Asia and America which took place during the XVI century - including the wines and their customs – which have lasted till the present day without us being aware of their origins. The lecture will take place at the bodegas of Williams & Humbert at 19.30 and a glass of Sherry will be served afterwards. Go if you possibly can, there is no charge, but places are limited.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Pedro Ximénez 15%, Bodegas Fernández Gao

Opaque browny black fading to amber at the rim, viscous.
Very fruity, predominantly pasa but hints of prune and dried fig too. It has that lovely smell of raisins on their redores (esparto mats) out in the sun as well as notes of carob, molasses and Christmas cake. 
Amazing viscosity with an attractive dried grape pulp texture, pure raisin concentrate! Super smooth and mouth-filling with just enough acidity to mitigate some of the sweetness giving it a soft treacly tang and very good length. 
This lovely PX has an average age of over 12 years and comes from a small solera in the bodega San Jorge in Calle Arcos, Jerez. Fernández Gao is the welcome reincarnation of a historic old bodega of the same name whose origins date back to 1750. In 2014 Jerez businessman Antonio Sánchez Gago bought two disused bodegas in Calle Pajarete (formerly Real Tesoro) and Calle Arcos along with the original firm's various brand names and, using family soleras as a starting point, set up the new firm along with his brother Juan Carlos who is the oenologist. It is early days but the wines are very good and have already received some deservedly good scores from the critics.
26,60 per 50cl, Licores Corredera

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Brandy Pedro I Solera Reserva 38%, Bodegas Yuste

Mahogany with copper highlights fading to amber.
Complex and refined, it has developed a bouquet of subtle nuances like oak, nuts, Oloroso, caramel and vanilla all nicely melded together. It might contain some aguardiente, but not much, this is mostly holandas and it has an air of quality.
Very smooth and quite rich with hints of dried fruit and caramel rounding it off. It holds the alcohol well too, which helps, and there is a gentle texture. There are gentle brown sugar and orange peel notes and there might be a trace of sweetening (perfectly legal) but it has been well done, and the Oloroso is not excessive. Long, harmonious and very satisfying.
The soleras for this excellent brandy were established in 1860 by the now lost firm of Pedro Romero in Sanlucar, and they were bought by Francisco Yuste after Romero went bust. The brandy itself has an average age of nearly 20 years, spent in butts made from American oak from Costa Rica. I'm not sure if it is named after Pedro Romero or after King Pedro I of Castilla and Leon, a XIV century monarch known as "Pedro the Cruel" or "Pedro the Just" depending on which side you were on.
32,60 euros, Licores Corredera

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Sherry of Royalty

This lovely and very interesting article by Ángel Espejo and video by Miguel Ángel González appeared in yesterday’s Diario de Jerez. The video is in Spanish but is well worth watching nonetheless.

*His wine has a privileged place in the royal household and also refreshes the criaderas of Tio Pepe.
*Curro of La Blanquita is the creator of this Fino without a name from the historic pago of Balbaína.

El Kubala used to enter the royal Zarzuela Palace* just like Pedro did his house. He always went well provided with a few arrobas of Fino wine from La Blanquita to refresh the butt which Pedro Pacheco* had gifted to King Juan Carlos* during his time as mayor. Rafael García González - better known as El Kubala or Kubalita for his resemblance to a Hungarian footballer and his skill with the ball when he competed in the lower divisions – looked after the royal barrel with the same care he put into the maintenance of the small solera in the little private bodega of the ex-mayor of Jerez, which was also refreshed with the wine of La Blanquita, the 50 hectare vineyard in the historic pago Balbaína which belonged to the Barba family.

The connection with royalty was interrupted by the sudden death of El Kubala. The monarch ceased to reign and the ex-mayor was deprived of his liberty. But that is another story. By one of life’s many coincidences, the La Blanquita Fino regained its connection with royalty, but by another route, brought about by the friendship between the elder son of Francisco Barba González, “Curro de la Blanquita”, and José Manuel Zuleta, Duke of Abrantes and equerry to Queen Letizia, childhood classmate of the vine-grower’s son, and by which the despatch of Balbaína Fino to the palace for the annual refreshing of the royal barrel was re-established.

News came directly to the ears of Curro de la Blanquita about the refusal of the King Emeritus* to accept any wine which did not originate from his vines after Pacheco was relieved of the mayorship. “So they say” said the veteran Sanluqueño vine-grower, who was more worried about the quality and prestige of his wines, which also refreshed the criaderas of Tio Pepe at González Byass.

Curro Barba invested the money he had managed to save in Barcelona as a painter, the first place he went after completing his military service at the La Parra base*, in the purchase of the vineyard on the last day of the year back in 1969. Four million of the old pesetas which they gave him to pay half the asking price for La Blanquita, a parcel located on the left of the Jerez-Rota road in the first few kilometres, in the municipality of El Puerto, and which then consisted of 15 hectares of vineyard presided over by the casa de viña La Blanquita whose whitewash shone brightly in the sun giving the vineyard its name.

Barba had only seen the vineyard as a young man working as a day labourer in Sanlúcar, but he quickly adapted to the new role of vine-grower where he soon saw the need to make the change to wine maker because of the slim margins provided by the sale of grapes to the bodegas.

“I had no idea about wine but it couldn’t be too difficult and I knew something about vineyards”, explains the official provider of wine to the royal household, who continues “I had a rough time of it at the start since grapes offer very low returns, but after much hard work I completed the payments for the vineyard for which they gave me a reduction for early payments, then I grubbed up the very old vines and re-planted it”.

In the mid-1970s, with his financial affairs in order, Curro assumed another debt to build a press house, and years later, in his tireless search for stability, he again re-mortgaged the family home in Sanlúcar to construct another building to house the necessary tanks as he became a wine producer. “From selling grapes I went to making mostos which I sold straight from the butt to González Byass, and later installed the tanks from which I could sell wine which had been racked for a higher price.

With great effort and sacrifice the business began to finance itself and allowed him to triple the size of the vineyard to 45 hectares with the purchase of another two parcels in the area and establish a modest solera of 180 butts of Fino “as my little treat”, that is to say for personal consumption or with friends – now limited in number by the ailments of age – and for sale in bulk. No Amontillado or Oloroso or any other types of wine, just Fino, but Curro takes care not to allow the wine to get fat, by what he calls “false sales” or withdrawing part of the wine and refreshing it with younger wine so it doesn’t end up losing the flor and becoming Amontillado.

Curro of La Blanquita misses the excitement and hope of those years, despite the hard daily work in the vineyard, but at almost 83 years old his main worry is that he doesn’t see his legacy go beyond his son Francisco Barba “Currito”, the only one of his three children interested in being a grower.

With 52 springs on his shoulders, Currito runs the business in which he began working 13 years ago and he doesn’t want any of his four children anywhere near it. Curro and Currito agree that it “provides a living given hard work, but not much more. It is very demanding and you have to be on top of things all day, every day”.

With a considerable production of some 600 butts per year – between 250,000 and 300,000 litres – La Blanquita remains a small family business far from the winds of change blowing through the area, and this distance doesn’t hold out much hope, in the short term at least, of resulting in increased grape and must prices for the growers.

Curro father and son don’t understand new Sherries or new grape varieties. Theirs is the Palomino, from which they make their Fino, and “the more the merrier”, because according to Curro “Jerez is still one of the few DOs which still pays by the kilo, so how can they ask a grower for more if they don’t pay for it”.

Although this family of cosecheros lives beyond the new airs blowing through the area, they agree on the vital importance of looking after the vineyards and also that of the pago from which the grapes come, in their case, Balbaína “whose wines are famous for their finesse” affirms Francisco Barba senior, who insists that “this provides a living given hard work, and if you don’t have the capacity for such work you would be better trying something else, because only with constant work and attention will the vineyard succeed”.

La Blanquita has other attributes however; the vineyard has beautiful views looking towards Jerez, though they have changed in recent years with the uprooting of vineyards “where we reached 22,000 hectares and now only have 6,000”. The abandoned appearance of some of the nearby slopes resulting from the uprooting saddens Curro, though while there are still some plots dedicated to producing Sherry there are others, like the neighbouring Viña del Caballo, bought by a bodega to plant other, non-Palomino, grape varieties to make Vinos de la Tierra de Cádiz. “At least it is still a vineyard”, he observes.

While he is still physically able, Curro de la Blanquita will keep on going every day to his vineyard, in winter only in the mornings and in summer, mornings and afternoons “to attend to everything that happens here”. And he will continue to do it with an amiable smile, a reflection of his good-natured character to which the inscription on a plaque presented to him by his friends for his 80th birthday refers. It hangs on the main door of the bodega and reads: “We will always be able to count on you because you are a person with a good heart”.

*In 2014 King Juan Carlos I abdicated in favour of his son, now King Felipe VI, married to Queen Letizia, and now holds the title of King Emeritus.
*The Zarzuela Palace in Madrid is the residence of the King/Queen and the royal household.
*Pedro Pacheco was mayor of Jerez between 1979 and 2003. He was imprisoned for municipal irregularities in 2014 and is now nearing the end of his sentence.
*La Parra was an air base built close to Jerez in 1936 and is now the city’s La Parra Airport. Parra means “vine”.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Manzanilla 1a Saca 2017 15.3%, Sacristía AB

Bright old gold with golden highlights.
Full, forthcoming, complex and very fresh with beautifully harmonised notes of bitter mature flor, buttery toasted almond and faint oxidation. There is also plenty of straw and dried herbs and scrub as well as a distinct salinity. There is a nice dry air about it, presumably since it was selected in summer when the flor is thinner.
Big, quite intense and very clean with beautifully balanced acidity. Lots of straw and dried herbs, yeasty sourdough, distinctly maritime and at a lovely stage of maturity. It is very dry with a slight chalky texture and finishes with a very long and impressive flourish.
This wine is the only saca of 2017 (so far, but probably) and comes, as it often does, from the bodega of Francisco Yuste who has stocks of some great Manzanilla. It was selected in July and bottled en rama in November. The hot dry spring had left its mark on the flor giving the wine great depth, personality and elegance, and it is a Manzanilla Pasada, well over eight years old, though that is not mentioned on the label. Despite great success with his wines, Antonio Barbadillo seems ever less inclined to use the electronic media, so unless you bump into him it is difficult to keep up to date and offer more information. Still, this is a lovely wine, classic Manzanilla.
15.50 euros per 50cl, Er Guerrita

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Manzanilla Victoria 15%, Bodegas Diez-Mérito

Bright pale golden straw with golden glints.
Fresh and forthcoming with herbal and slightly floral aromas of grass, straw and camomile there is a salty edge too, and of course some flor bitterness, but not enough yet to obscure traces of apple and fresh apricot. Young and zippy, still with some vino blanco character.
Plenty of tangy freshness, clean and appley with an attractive gentle herbal bitter note and a dry, chalky feel from the albariza and a mineral hint. It gives you the impression of open sea air on the beach near a meadow, and arouses a strong desire for seafood tapas.
The name Victoria has long been a popular name for Sherries having been used by a number of bodegas like Otaolaurruchi, V&F González, Bobadilla and Bodegas Internacionales. This brand will have come from the latter due to the purchase of parts of Internacionales along with Diez-Mérito by Marcos Eguizábal in the 1980s after the collapse of Rumasa. It was then sold under the name of Federico Paternina, the umbrella name of Eguizábal's company, until Diez-Mérito was bought by the Espinosa family in 2016. The wine has an average age of over three years and is excellent value for money.
4.00 euros, widely available.

Friday, 13 April 2018

13.4.18 Tio Pepe en rama 2018 Launched

The 9th release of Tio Pepe en rama is now available. After an initial selection of 120 butts in October, Antonio Flores has selected the wine from just 62 butts from the Constancia and Rebollo soleras, both of which are made from Macharnudo musts. Autumn 2017 was very hot and followed by a cooler winter, with decent rainfall into spring which gave the wine a healthy layer of flor which is reflected in the wine’s yeastiness. For the first time it will also be available in magnums.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Molinero 2016 11%, Cuatro Ojos Wines

Bright pale golden straw with golden glints.
Attractive and quite intense Moscatel nose, fragrant - almost perfumed - and very floral with notes of jasmine, citrus blossom and honeysuckle and a definite grapiness with the faintest hints of mineral and salinity.
Fresh and dry with loads of grapey flavour up front. Acidity is fairly low but you wouldn't really notice as there is a clean mineral backbone which helps maintain balance, and a faint creaminess, and there is a chalky texture too, no doubt from the albariza. It has a long delicate fragrant finish.
This is the first release of this interesting wine made by three girls in El Puerto de Santa Maria. It is named in honour of their viti-viniculture tutor Araceli Molinero and is made from Moscatel grapes grown in albariza soil. The must is fermented in tank and the wine is aged, surprisingly, in old Amontillado and Oloroso butts for 3 months on its lees before bottling without filtration. It spends two months in numbered bottles before release. A vintage date on the label would be helpful. 
20.50 euros Licores Corredera

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

La Bota de Palo Cortado 72 "Pata de Gallina" 20.5%, Equipo Navazos

Polished antique chestnut with brassy glints fading to amber at the rim.
Fresh and gently crisp at the start with notes of fine oak mingling with toasted almond and hazelnut along with traces of marzipan, pastry filled with orange cream and tobacco. It is aromatic, elegant and complex as it opens out with some hints of Oloroso, and slightly stronger hints of Amontillado.
Mouthfilling and generous yet super refined flavour up front with lots of nuts, pastry, a faint hint of ginger and orange cake and those fine, almost aromatic woods. There is remarkably little tannin and the texture is exceptionally well rounded and smooth with a hint of sweetness, probably from glycerine, which gives it great balance and impeccable charm. Delicious!
Pata de Gallina translates as "hen's foot" and relates to a cask marking denoting an oxidatively aged wine with a particularly well rounded, smooth, almost viscous character. Equipo Navazos have worked with Bodegas Ferando de Castilla for some years - in fact their logo derives from a photo taken there. In the case of this particular wine, it came from a selection made at the Jerez bodega of the almacenista Juan García Jarana five or six years ago, from which La Bota 34 was drawn, and which has been kindly stored at Ferando de Castilla in a tiny six butt Equipo Navazos "little altar" (3,2,1) solera. So this wine comes from that same solera but with five years more ageing, and it has an estimated average age of around 30 years and was bottled in January 2017, unfiltered naturally, at La Guita.
58 euros per 50 cl bottle, Er Guerrita

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

10.4.18 Vinoble Latest and Dates for International Sherry Week

Vinoble is back with a bang this year (3-5 June), the crisis is over and strenuous efforts have been made by the city council and Consejo Regulador to make this tenth edition the best yet. It is the perfect event to show off the wines of Jerez and also the gastronomy and culture of the city. There will be a free daily tasting with capacity for 100 people as well as a special Tokaj tasting for 30 people. There will also be tastings of Fondillón Sweet Bordeaux and Port among others, not to mention Sherry and some of the leading bodegas will do their own. Two sessions will be devoted to the pagos and the Consejo will do a tasting of vintage wines made from the treading of the grapes at the Fiesta de la Vendimia and looked after at its bodega San Ginés. There will also be the opportunity to try wines from the Poets Laureate butts and one laid down in honour of the visit of Prince (now King) Felipe. Vinoble is special because it is the only exhibition to specifically promote fortified and sweet wines which, as Consejo Director César Saldaña put it, “tend to disappear behind a tide of red and white wines at most shows”.

Meanwhile the dates have been announced for International Sherry Week 2018. This, the largest celebration of Sherry in the world, will take place on 8 – 14 October. The dates have been put forward so they fall while it is still summer time and it doesn’t conflict with European Wine Tourism Day. Registration for events is open now so it is time to plan yours! The chance of winning Sherry to the value of 1,000 euros for the most innovative and original event is a great incentive.

Monday, 9 April 2018

9.4.18 Good Start to the Year for Sherry Sales

The Consejo Regulador was a little worried at the end of 2017 as sales had dropped by 5% with a volume of 3.3 million litres, but the start of 2018 has brought some cheer. In the course of January and February this year sales rose 4% to 3.8 million litres or 140,000 litres more than in the same period last year.

In the home market, which has been very encouraging recently, sales were about 1.5 million litres after a slight drop of 0.4% in the first two months of 2018, but it is hoped that this drop can be recovered in the coming Feria season of April and May in Andalucía, where large amounts of Sherry are consumed. Exports, on the other hand, grew by 6.6% in January and February to 2.37 million litres. This growth in sales abroad, where ever falling sales of the cheaper lower quality BOBs are concentrated, is wholly thanks to the UK, traditionally Sherry’s biggest market and where the Consejo has high hopes of recovery. Here sales jumped by an amazing 40% in the first two months of 2018.

Sales to the UK rose from 557,000 litres to 780,000 litres for the same period, a rise of some 225,000 litres. Of the other two large traditional export markets, Holland saw a fall of 3% with a little under 600,000 litres sold in January and February and Germany saw a 0.2% rise to 324,000 litres. Across the Atlantic, and after a promising year in the US, sales in North America lost steam in the first two months and fell by 18.5%, with volumes in the US remaining largely unchanged at around 160,000 litres, very slightly above the 2016 figure. In Asia, although sales volumes are small at around 34,000 litres, they shrank by 25% in January and February although the principal Asian market, Japan, saw growth of 5% to around 25,000 litres.

This recovery at the start of 2018 is not enough to balance out the 4.65% (3.27 million litres) drop in sales over the course of 2017 with the home market falling by 1.7% and export markets by 6.3%.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

8.4.18 Historic Tasting in Sanlúcar

On Friday night Antonio Peña who runs the great wine shop De Albariza put on a really interesting tasting. It consisted of comparing some classic Sherries, bottled 40 years ago or more, with the same wines bottled recently. Antonio Barbadillo (Sacristía AB) gave a fascinating talk and brought two Manzanillas of his own. It was a wonderful tasting, and here is a list of the wines along with brief comments:

Manzanilla Sacristía AB Primera saca 2011 (@ 7 years in bottle)
Quite deep in colour, slight hint of Amontillado, traces of biscuit, caramel, complex, lovely.
Manzanilla Sacristía AB Primera saca 2017 (@ 1 year in bottle)
Fresh, complex, full, saline and rounded, classic.

Palo Cortado Wellington, Hidalgo La Gitana (@ 40 years in bottle)
Early hints of diesel, cardboard, slightly drier but opened out beautifully, delicious
Palo Cortado Wellington VORS, Hidalgo La Gitana (@ 1 year in bottle)
Very slightly darker, sweeter, hints orange, cinnamon, saline, charming

Amontillado del Duque, González Byass (@ 40 years in bottle)
A bit leaner and cardboardy at first but opened out beautifully,
Amontillado del Duque VORS, González Byass (@ 1 year in bottle)
A shade sweeter, hint of tobacco, delightful. These two were remarkably similar.

Amontillado Quo Vadis, Delgado Zuleta (@ 40 years in bottle)
Tight at first but remarkable complexity as it opened out, crisp saline, elegant, long
Amontillado Quo Vadis VORS, Delgado Zuleta (@ 1 year in bottle)
A shade sweeter, even a faint fruit note but still saline, crisp and long

Sherry Crema, González Byass (almost certainly well over 50 years in bottle)
This was without doubt the oldest wine but it is sadly no longer available so we couldn’t obtain a newer version. It was fruity, balanced, not over sweet and quite delicious, made with a little Moscatel as well, as was the style in the past, and it was aged as a blend. It had the most sediment, so it had certainly lost both colour and sweetness - but certainly none of its appeal.

It was fascinating to see how well the old wines had developed in bottle and how things have changed. Firstly it was hard to date the old bottlings precisely as they had no lot numbers on the label, and no back label, so we had to make educated guesses. The recently bottled Palos Cortados and Amontillados were all VORS, but as the system was only introduced in the year 2,000, that qualification was not available to the old wines though they have the same solera age, being effectively the same wines, just with more bottle age. The old corks showed their age more than the wine. They were all of the T type which is not terribly suitable for laying-down and so have a tendency to dry out, and with one exception they all broke. Not unexpectedly, the old wines were a little closed and showed a hint of reduction, requiring persuasion to open them out, and naturally they were very slightly paler and drier. Once they had opened out they were reassuringly similar to the new wines which all had a little more up front charm, at least at first. Times have moved on, labels have changed, but Sherry is as good as ever.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Vino Blanco 2015 12%, Navazos Niepoort

Bright mid strawy yellow with golden highlights.
Quite full and subtly complex with a certain richness and noticeable flor bitterness with slight floral and herbal hints like camomile. There are also gentle fruit notes of quince, apple and yellow plum and a touch of mineral. There are even slight Fino notes.
Full and very tasty. Perfectly balanced acidity with just the right tanginess helped by a zing of flor, lots of appley fruit and minerals and attractive strawy herbal notes. Again a hint of Fino, but more fruit. The finish is long and clean with apple and mineral and a faint bitter flourish.
Palomino grapes for this excellent wine were picked in the pago Macharnudo and pressed lightly for maximum quality (mosto yema). The must was fermented with indigenous yeast in 40 year old butts where it remained under flor for nearly a year before bottling with minimal filtration in 2017. The idea behind this wine is to reproduce the style that was widely drunk in the area in the XVIII century. Wines for export were generally fortified but for local consumption were not, so this is not unlike a Fino, but without the extra alcohol, and with less time under flor. It now has at least a year in bottle and is opening out nicely, and it should be be rewarding to  keep for at least 5 years.
16.50 euros, Er Guerrita

Friday, 6 April 2018

Palo Cortado 12 YO Great Duke 18%, Juan Piñero

Bright deep amber - chestnut with old gold reflections.
Elegant and attractive with lots of almond and hazelnut with a hint of salted caramel and the faintest background bitterness. It resembles a fairly young Amontillado and there are gentle notes of vanilla and American oak, and a faint suggestion of orange peel, really quite fragrant.
Again elegant, and reasonably light, perhaps more in the Amontillado style, but there is a little more weight on the palate. It has a decent acidity and lightness of touch which could only come from Sanlúcar. It is at a lovely stage of development where one can make out clearly the origins of the wine and there is a distinct and attractive Manzanilla note to it.
This is one of a new range consisting of Oloroso, Amontillado and Palo Cortado all sold at 12 years old. It replaces the equivalent old range and the bodega assures me it is exactly the same, just a new label, though I seem to remember a little more body. The choice of name is down to what they feel would sell better in export markets. Nonetheless, it is a delicious wine. The mosto is supplied from the pago Hornillos by Vina Callejuela, and the PC solera has three criaderas with one saca each year.
15,75 Licores Corredera

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Manzanilla La Gitana on Draught!

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana have patented a system for serving Manzanilla La Gitana on draught, like beer. It consists of a 16 litre bag-in-box beneath the counter which feeds chilled Manzanilla to a bar-mounted dispense-tap in the shape of a large bottle of La Gitana. The firm invested 100,000€ in the system, and it almost floundered with the Consejo Regulador’s ban on BIB, but the Junta decided to allow it in the catering trade.

The firm is careful to protect its image by only offering the system to better quality bars, and over 270 are now using it. It has been very successful; some say they were selling the equivalent of 40 cases a year before, but are now selling 400. Most of the systems are to be found in bars in Andalucía, while some 10 bars in the USA have them as does the Sherry Club in Ginza, Japan. Hidalgo’s excellent single vineyard Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana is also available, luckily not quite so cold, on draught in one Sanlúcar establishment; Restaurante Puerta de la Victoria, a few steps from the bodega itself.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

4/4/18 Consejo Opens Debate on Supporting New Wines of the Area

The last few years have seen a wave of new wines being produced in the Marco de Jerez which is attracting much attention by revitalising traditions, recuperating old native grape varieties, reviving old artisan winemaking practices and focusing on the terroir. It has attracted the interest of both producers and institutions and these characterful wines, which so beautifully express their origins and traditions, will be the subject of debate in a new commission set up by the Consejo Regulador to look into their possible incorporation into the regulations. The idea is to study the viability of including what is already happening in the area, both with the big bodegas and the dynamic young winemakers, to find a way to legalise their production to open the door to commercialising the wines with a DO seal, which many undoubtedly merit.

This parallel reality encompasses traditional winemaking methods such as unfortified Sherries made from extra ripe grapes, perhaps sunned and with little or no crianza, wines made from almost lost local grape varieties which have been resuscitated like Mantua and Perruno as well as other older clones of Palomino.  It also encompasses other types of wine like mosto and sobretablas used to make Sherry, and those made by cooperatives and bodegas located in the production zone, which can only be sold with the name of the type of wine and its town of origin but without the DO seal.

The plan is to study, avoiding where possible any conflict, the new winemaking realities which are taking off in the area in terms of what Sherry used to be before the DO regulations restricted the possibilities with fortification and ageing requirements. While the commission was formally constituted on Monday, there is no set calendar for meetings so far, but at a preliminary meeting the various topics for debate were put on the table with a view to trying to achieve consensus through debate before submitting them to a full Consejo meeting for approbation. Attending the meeting were officials from the Consejo, Fedejerez, Asevi-Asaja and the cooperatives, that is to say all interested parties – except the Manzanilleros of Sanlúcar, who are not happy with the inclusion of the contentious issue of Fino from Sanlúcar, which Fedejerez wants to veto.

On the agenda are certain other conflictive issues which have been festering such as the extension of the ageing zone to include the production zone, but the focus has been switched to look at other formulas to commercialise the wines of those communities which are not in the ageing zone and thus unable to use the DO seal. Another issue is the definition of grape quality parameters to more accurately assess prices. The Consejo director, César Saldaña, says the agenda is not closed, and any issue which is reasonable and would need a modification of the regulations can be added. He also expressed the desire of the Consejo that the Manzanilleros reconsider their position so that the commission can count on the participation of everybody.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Bodegas: José Alonso y Pajares

José Alonso y Pajares founded a bodega in El Puerto de Santa María in 1870 in the Calle Postigo on the corner with Calle Santa Fé. He operated successfully as an almacenista and exporter and while the bodega was small it was busy, sending its wines and spirits all over the world. In fact he won various medals and diplomas for quality at exhibitions in Europe and America, and supplied more than one royal household.

A late XIX century label blank

Wine was sold in bulk under the style J Alonso and in bottle under the style José Alonso Pajares and was as natural as possible, something he made a feature of. Labels for the bottles were produced by the best designers and printers in Paris, Málaga and Jerez. The range of Sherries was considerable, with all the standard styles as well as Manzanilla Fina and Moscatel Superior and Vermouth. Various other lines were produced in their own small distillery: Anís, Ojén (a style of anís made famous in Ojén (Málaga). They even had the nerve to promote their “Cognac Fine Champagne” at the great exhibition in Paris, while they also sold red and white table wine from La Mancha.

José was married to María de los Dolores Ruiz de Cortázar y Calderón but since they had no children she inherited the bodega after his death using the name Viuda de Pajares until her brother José A Ruiz de Cortázar Calderón took over, reverting to the name José Alonso Pajares and adding “Sucesor José A Ruiz de Cortázar” by 1902. He also moved to premises in Calle Albareda, and interestingly was married to one of the daughters of the bodegueros Adolfo and Manuela Tosar. At this time there were no fewer than 25 bodegas, 8 distilleries and 18 cooperages operating in El Puerto; how times change! After  José's  death in 1937 the business was wound up.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Barbazul Blanco 2016 12%, Huerta de Albalá

Full strawy yellowy gold with bright golden highlights.
Very slightly floral with a trace of orange blossom and lots of ripe Chardonnay fruit; apricot and ripe peach. There is a certain richness which comes from the greater ripeness than that of Burgundy for example yet the Chardonnay character is unmistakable.
There is definitely some body here which is nicely balanced with a decent acidity and a gentle texture, and the wine has plenty of tangy ripe yellow fruit. A hint of mineral gives away the albariza. After a full, quite intense start the wine has a fresh, clean, slightly mineral finish.
This is Vino de la Tierra de Cádiz Chardonnay grown in a Sherry vineyard! While the firm is based at Arcos where it makes the red wines, it also owns a 160 hectare albariza vineyard in the pago Balbaína (bought from Osborne) where Chardonnay now accounts for 17% of their total vines. It sits at between 100 and 200 metres above sea level. The wine was first released in 2012. The must is pressed from hand picked grapes and fermented in stainless steel tanks at very low temperature (@ 12 C) for around three weeks. Then it rests on lees before stabilisation and bottling. The wine is complex for the money despite no oak ageing - something Taberner know a lot about.
6.60 euros, Licores Corredera

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Pedro Ximénez Niños VORS 15%, Valdespino

Dense, completely opaque and completely black except for a tiny narrow brown to amber edge. It is viscous and stains the glass for a while.
Intense, concentrated, serious and super complex, you can immediately tell this is very old. It is not the usual up front fruity raisins which predominate but distinct, almost bitter oak aromas from the long ageing in wood, along with toasted notes like coffee, a trace of volatile acidity, licorice and hints of spice. The dried fruit notes are there of course, intense but less dominant, and it doesn't smell as sweet as most.
The unctuous, luscious dried fruit - but older and more reduced - presents first and is soon followed by those delicious, ever so slightly bitter toasted notes almost like burned coffee on toast mixed with toffee. Then it all comes together in perfect balance with the richness on one side balanced by the bitterness and decent acidity on the other. It is incredibly nuanced, super long and, well, wonderful.
This is one of the truly great PX wines. A VORS must have an average age of at least 30 years, but in fact this one is over 60. The solera dates from the end of the XIX century and consists of only 8 butts, so naturally it is not released very often. Selected wine of well over 10 years of age from the firm's PX El Candado solera is used to refresh the youngest criadera of this solera, and the final wine contains some 440 g/l sugars but is well balanced by 5.7 g/l acidity (expressed as tartaric acid) and the subtle notes of oak imparted by age. It is quite magnificent and scored a well deserved 98 Parker points.
95 euros per half bottle, Er Guerrita


Saturday, 31 March 2018

Fino Alexandro 15% Bodegas Yuste

Slightly brassy, strawy mid gold with golden highlights.
Some depth here with fairly intense notes of straw, minerals, a little flor bitterness, faint oxidation from bottle age and some hints of fallen leaves and wax. It smells very natural and very Fino.
Full and characterful, clean and tasty and better than I remember it - not there was anything wrong with it before. Some bottle age has made it slightly more serious and it is nicely balanced with a gentle bitter flor edge and a grassy strawy roundness with a long clean finish.
Alexandro was a good quality range of Sherries bottled by the "cooperative of cooperatives" in Jerez, Aecovi, which amalgamated four smaller ones in 1989. Unfortunately the crisis hit it hard and it went into receivership in March 2015. So I was surprised to come across this Fino bottled by Francisco Yuste in July 2016. The original was just over 3 years old and it now has a screwcap rather than the old stopper cork. The approximately 20 months in bottle have rounded it off nicely and added a little complexity, so it was a very good buy.
7 euros Pura Cepa

Friday, 30 March 2018

Tierra Blanca 2017 11%, Bodegas Páez Morilla

Bright, very pale with silvery golden glints.
Lightish but quite fragrant with both floral and fruity notes. Although in a minority, the Riesling is noticeable for its aroma of pear and grape while the Palomino adds apple and the result is quite attractive with slight hints of petals.
Again fairly light but gently tasty. It is very nicely balanced with plenty of that pear fruit and some almost sherbety confectionery notes. Clean and fresh, but not particularly long. It is a very easy- drinking commercial wine of decent quality at a good price.
Páez Morilla dates back to 1910 and originally specialised in Jerez Vinegar, being the first to bottle and promote it, leading to a DO in 1994. In the 1940s they established a successful cooperage and in the 1970s they decided to produce table wine. A vineyard, Viña La Vicaria, was bought near Arcos in the Sierra de Cádiz at some 350 metres above sea level and Tierra Blanca was launched in 1981. It is made from Palomino and Riesling which are fermented at low temperature in stainless steel and the wine is rested on lees for three months before stabilisation and bottling without any oak ageing. It became very popular and semi sweet and red versions followed.
3.50 euros, Licores Corredera

Thursday, 29 March 2018

29.3.18 Great New Book about Sherry

An excellent new book on Sherry has been published entitled “Sherry, a Life’s Journey” by Philip Rowles. Philip has spent over 50 years in the wine trade working exclusively with Spanish wine, having started his career at Williams & Humbert, later working with various other Sherry bodegas and subsequently with other Spanish wines. A member of the Gran Orden de los Caballeros del Vino he lectured on Sherry, his first love, and Spanish wines for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and worked with the EU on wine related matters. Up to date and informed with clearly written explanations, this well illustrated book is an essential part of everybody’s Sherry library.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Fino L&B 15%, Bodegas Lorente & Barba

A little deeper than some, bright brassy strawy gold with golden glints.
Deep and complex with lots of character. This is a Fino aged towards the limit with quite intense aromas of maturity; straw, hints of oxidation, bitter flor, sourdough, toasted bread, dry autumn leaves, the very smell of a bodega, blonde tobacco and hints of the Amontillado it could become. Lovely.
Full, clean and packed with flavour. It has a subtle balance between the bitterness of the flor - which must be pretty thin by now - with the roundness born only of maturity, a buttery hint of cabezuela and those tantalising hints of Amontillado. This wine has reached its moment, it is magnificent. A Sherry connoisseur's Fino.
This bodega is new on the scene but, as is the norm in Jerez, the producers have a long family history in the trade and the wines come from old soleras. Another novelty is the way they bottle the wine; instead of the usual system of blending the wine taken from each solera butt to achieve homogeneity, they bottle the wine from each butt separately and write on the label which butt the wine came from and which saca, even numbering the bottles individually. Now there is traceability for you! Within reason, no two bottles taste the same - and that is one thing that is so exciting about Sherry. They try to age the Fino to the limit of the flor and it has an average age of around twelve years in a 500 years  old bodega with perfect conditions which really helps. Naturally it is bottled en rama. This bottle was from the 2nd saca, butt no.7 and bottle number 125. Only about 225 bottles are taken from the butt at any one saca. The wine is sealed with a driven cork with the year of the saca (2016) printed on it.
14,50 euros, La Tienda del Jerez

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The Cabeceo or Blending of Sherry

For a very long time Sherry has been greatly misunderstood, and most of the blame lies in the perception of it in its export markets. Here, merchants have traditionally sold blends of different types of Sherry, rather than the unblended product of a particular solera, to match their idea of the public taste and pocket. The results tasted different from the wine in its natural state - which most people had never tasted - and led to widespread assumptions that, for example, Amontillado is medium and darker wine is sweet – indeed many often thought that all Sherry was sweet. As tastes moved towards dryer wines this misconception was an important contributory factor to Sherry’s plummeting sales.

The huge sample room at Domecq
Blending was usually, but not always, carried out by the Sherry bodegas who were asked to make up blends specified by merchants who then shipped and sold them under their own mark or brand name, (marcas blancas or BOB) and were entirely free to call the blend whatever they liked. Some bodegas in Jerez were owned by foreign wine merchants who shipped their wines, sometimes exclusively to their home market, where they bottled and labelled them as they saw fit. Some blending was done by the wine merchants themselves in their own cellars, Harveys for example. Terms like “Milk”, “Cream”, “Brown”, “Pale Cream”, “Pale” and “Golden” were British not Spanish inventions, and all were blends with more or less sweetness. Cream alone currently accounts for about 50% of Sherry consumption in Britain and about 20% of total consumption. Such blends still exist today, but in much smaller quantities and mainly in supermarkets, and are thankfully giving way to the natural solera wines which are at last taking off.

Blending at Gonzalez Byass in the 1950s (foto:charleshewitt/gettyimages)

Natural Sherry is a “vino generoso” and blended wines are known as “vinos generosos de licor” with a minimum alcohol content of 17ᴼ and a minimum sugar content of 5 g/l. In response to a petition by the Consejo Regulador to improve labelling nomenclature, the Junta de Andalucía published a directive in April 2012 which put a stop to the likes of “Medium Amontillado” which tended to contain very little Amontillado, and “Sweet Oloroso”. It stipulated that mention of the names of the traditional styles (Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso) could only be used in the labelling of blends with a minimum content of 85% and then only with qualifying expressions like “made from a base of” or “a blend of” printed in lettering of the same size as that of the name of the traditional style. Some chose then to simply use expressions like “Medium” or Medium Dry”.

Blending vats at Gonzalez Byass

Bodegas traditionally had large rooms dedicated to reference samples of shippers’ or indeed their own blends. These were used as a guide for the next batch of a particular blend along with notes from the sample book, which held details of which soleras and precise quantities, so as to avoid any difference to the previous batch. The 12½ litre jarra or jug was the tool usually used to measure out quantities of wine needed for a blend. It takes forty jarras to fill an export butt, so blends were made in divisions of forty.  A glass measuring cylinder graduated with forty marks, each representing one jarra, was used in the tasting room to create the original blend and the numbers were duly noted in the sample book. Larger scale blends were also made up in the same fashion using arrobas (@), an old liquid measure of 16.66 litres, 30 to a 500 litre shipping butt.

Arrumbadores making up blends at Sandeman 1920s

Here is an example (from Pedro Verdad’s book) of a blend in jarras for a late XIX century Brown Sherry, which might seem pretty unpalatable today, and also a little strong:

Pale Solera …………………….....23 (young Oloroso or possibly Raya)
Oloroso…….………………………4 (older Oloroso)
Vino de Color……………………...5 (Colouring wine: boiled down must with a little oloroso)
Vino Dulce………………..……….6 (probably Pedro Ximénez)
Aguardiente……………………......2 (fortifying wine spirit)
Total………………………………40 jarras

Julian Jeffs quotes the following cabeceo in arrobas of a commercial “Amontillado” blended some time ago for a well-known merchant. It contains only about 8% Amontillado.

Fino Fuerte………………………13 ½ (slightly rough full bodied Fino)
Amontillado Dolores………… ......5     (already a blend of @ 50% Amontillado)
MZA puro…………………………2     (Manzanilla)
Chiclana Fino……………………...7    (Fino from Chiclana, obviously)
Dulce…………………………...….2 ½ (Sweet, probably PX)
Total………………………………30 arrobas

The wines would be carefully drawn by taking measured amounts from all of the solera butts so as to minimise any change in them, and then, for small scale blending, filled into export butts previously rinsed with spirit. Next it was fined, first with egg whites and then with Spanish earth from Lebrija, a powdered silica clay which was whisked into the wine with a switch. Once the wine fell bright it was racked into a clean export butt, sealed and branded with the customer’s name and order reference ready for shipment. The blend would marry en route. For larger scale blending huge oak vats were used in which the component wines could marry. Some blends however, are made up at the sobretablas stage and age and marry in their own solera, for example Dry Sack and Canasta from Williams & Humbert.

In addition to a number of different solera wines of varying types, ages and quality, the blender's palette consisted of many types of wine  which were produced specifically for blending, and there follows a list of the main ones:

Vino de Color: Used to darken a blend, it is made by simmering must over a fire  for a day or more to obtain a very dark, very sweet syrup. Once cool, more must is added and fermentation takes place. The wine is then aged and is very dark and aromatic with toffee aromas.
Mistela: This is basically juice from super ripe sunned grapes to which alcohol has been added so it retains all the sugars and is intensely sweet. Normal PX and Moscatel lose some during fermentation.
Dulce Pasa: A pale sweet wine made from late picked sunned Palomino grapes where the must is added to butts containing alcohol. As little or no fermentation or ageing takes place it is quite fruity. It has replaced Dulce Apagado.
Dulce Apagado: Similar to Dulce Pasa but made from a variety of grapes, and as it usually came from outside the Jerez area it is no longer allowed.
Dulce de Almíbar: Once used for sweetening pale wines, it is made from a mix of glucose and fructose (both found in grapes) and Fino. The mix was then briefly aged. It was banned by the EU.
Pajarete: Named after the old Moorish tower of that name, this was an intensely sweet wine made, usually from PX, and not unlike a Brown Sherry where intensity of sweetness and colour was the object. It was this that attracted distillers who wished to "improve" their product.
Rectified Concentrated Must (RCM) This is a more modern, ingredient, and  is simply grape juice which has been concentrated by other means than heating, which darkens the wine and intensifies the flavour. Colour can, of course, be removed by activated charcoal filtration, but concentration can also be achieved by vacuum distillation, which involves just a little heating, or reverse osmosis which doesn't. The resultant sweet viscous liquid is blended with Fino to produce Pale Cream. It is a bit of a juggling act as obviously the RCM will dilute the Fino so it needs a bit more alcohol. The result can be a little crude, and a better alternative is to blend in young Moscatel.

Nowadays blending is much simpler and less common, due largely to the steep decline of this kind of wine and the growth of the real thing. So the moral of the story is that this wonderful wine is best in its natural state, sold for what it is rather than what people think it is.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Brandy 1850 Solera Reserva 38%, Valdespino

Bright chestnut to mahogany with coppery highlights fading to amber.
Clean and expressive with hints of aguardiente amongst the aromas of holandas, as one would expect. It seems quite dry without any added sweetness and there are gentle wood notes with hints of toasted nuts and Oloroso.
The palate is a bit more generous with a gentle and probably natural sweetness, traces of caramel, nuts and Sherry with an attractive spicy hint balanced by a touch of dried fruit. Long.
Since I can't find much information about this brandy, I'm assuming it comes from a solera which dates back to 1850. It is certainly possible. It is obviously a fairly young brandy, and is at the entry level, at least by Valdespino's high standards, and a very decent brandy it is too. It used to be sold with an average age of 10 years solera age but probably has an average of around 3 to 5 years now.
14,90 euros, De Albariza