Vendimia 2017 de Faustino Gonzalez

So here is a new addition to the growing variety of “blanco de albariza” on offer from the small producer behind the Cruz Vieja fino and others.

These guys have some serious real estate – the fino shares its roots with some of the great wines of Jerez’s past, so I was interested to try this in Taberna Verdejo recently.

As you can see, it is a beautiful old gold colour, crystal clear (apologies for the condensation), then a nose and palate of beefy herbs and grapey fruit. On the palate there is that tingle of salinity up front, those flavours and then a finish that is part jammy, part mineral and part fresh.

A cracking tipple – albariza in glass.

La Panesa

Taking it to the next level

More from my mixed case of Emilio Hidalgo wines aka bodega party pack. The Hidalgo Fino is a serious little Jerez-style fino in its own right but when I have one open more often than not it gets to share some glass time side by side with its big brother, and that is not a comparison that many wines can live with.

La Panesa is an awesome fino and one that means a lot to me for a number of reasons. It was one of the first very serious wines from Jerez that lead me down this path, and the great Juanma from Emilio Hidalgo probably did as much as anyone to show me the way down the road. First an outstanding tasting at Enoteca Barolo, then an unforgettable visit to the bodega, and if that wasn’t enough, it was at Juanma’s cracking event “Vinos de España, una pasión” that the idea for this blog was born.

Since then there have been many other great times with Juanma – some uproarious dinners with the “Table 7 Club” here in Madrid and a great night at last year’s feria – but above all I keep coming back to the quality of these wines. Because however much I may have reneged from the vision of Jerez where vineyards are forgotten and the flor is king, there is no doubting that these guys are artists in the bodega. The man himself puts it nicely: they make the classical music of Jerez.

What else is there to say about this wine? It is a zingy but beautifully elegant, marble compact, buttery, bundle of almond and yeast, turning to bitter-almond at the long fresh finish. An absolute belter – one of the few finos you can drink before dinner, during dinner, after dinner, or as dinner.

Great memories and great wine.

Coalla Gourmet, Madrid

Coalla Gourmet is an institution up in the north and has long been a friend of this blog. An outstanding selection of sherries (and wines of all kinds), coupled with a superbly efficient web and logistics add up to an awful lot of boxes for my daughters to play with, while the contents of those boxes account for a goodish percentage of the posts on this blog.

There have been some outstanding wines over the years, and although I don’t get up to Gijon as often as I would like, when I do I make a point to stop in at the counter of their cracking space in Cimadevilla for a glass or two of something dry with a sliver or two of top quality ham, or a wedge of first class cheese, or maybe some sardines … and the list could go on and on as they produced hams, cheeses, jars, cans and bottles of quality rations from every corner.

So I was delighted to learn they were opening a store in Madrid, and I am even more delighted now that I have seen it. It is a fantastic space – 350 square meters on two floors – with lots of bar space and plenty of bottles open and cooling – and just like the mother ship in Gijon it is crammed to the rafters with the kind of bib and tucker that makes life worth living.

It opened last Saturday to massive crowds and unanimous applause from every side and has been packing them in ever since. If you haven’t been yet there really isn’t any excuse (unless you don’t like wine, fine food, or fun of course) and there is no doubt that it is a great addition to the Madrid scene – not least for wine lovers. The entire top floor is given over to wines and you can see the muscle of a major distributor here – an absolutely awesome selection of wines from all over Spain and the world, and what is more you can literally take any bottle off the shelf and tuck in, with a very generous corkage policy (free for bottles of €18 or more, bottles below €18 cost €18 in total).

And best of all, it is no more than a 5 minute walk from my home – so I will be able to make regular checks on the wellbeing of Don Ramon and his merry crew.

Welcome to the neighbourhood guys!

The Didactic Selection, part IV: oxygen strikes back

Part IV of the Cuatrogatos Wine Club Didactic Selection is upon us, bringing with it the oxygen action of oxidation.

One of the things that is so striking about the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar (and indeed a number of other regions around Spain) is the coexistence of three distinct forms of ageing: biological ageing under the flor (Parts II and III), oxidative or “traditional” ageing where there is no flor (today) and not forgetting wine without flor or oxidation (Part I).

Each form of ageing brings about different effects. In biological ageing, the living flor protects the wine from the oxygen in the air and steadily eats away at the alcohol, sugar and glycerine, reducing the volatile acids and leaving behind the hay bale acetaldehydes. The result are wines that are literally “fino”, potent and with bready, nutty, herbal and floral flavours and aromas.

In “traditional” ageing, these gears go into reverse. Residual alcohol, glycerine and sugar all increase as evaporation (the angels taking their share) does its work, and colour and volatile acids increase due to the interaction of the wine with air and barrel. Now the result is oloroso, a fragrant (oloroso literally means “aromatic”), acidic, caramel flavoured wine, or, where the wine has also had biological ageing, an amontillado, which can combine the characteristics of both to make some of the most sought after wines of all. And here we have two such wines, both from the boys at Callejuela.

First up for didactic reasons is El Cerro oloroso. A really beautiful, elegant old oloroso, and a perfect exponent of the qualities that oxidative ageing can bring out. A dark brown in colour as you can see (I love the clear bottle presentation) and on the nose the aromas are all burned sweetness: fruits and nuts singed to an inch of their life. Then on the palate it has that sharpness of acidity and then a big density of flavour, again half burned sugary raisins and walnuts, with a turn to the bitter but not too much. Real solidity to the middle part of the palate and then a remarkably clean finish. No astringency or bitterness as it hangs around the palate. Lovely.

And then that is a nice contrast to an amontillado from la Callejuela, the “Origen Calificada”. Now here maybe the contrast is forced and the comparison between categories isn’t quite fair – el Cerro has a fair bit more age than the Origen and a better comparison would probably have been La Casilla amontillado.

But the point here is to compare the effect of that biological ageing compared to the oxidation and that comes across really nicely in this wine, maybe better than it would in a much older amontillado. On the nose and amongst the roasted almonds and hazelnuts you get church furniture, and the palate is that touch finer and fresher at the start, and almost comes across as grassy fresh at the finish.

And here endeth the Didactic Selection, as they say.

But “what of the “other” category, the “palo cortados”?” you may ask, as you suddenly smell a rat and suspect Sharquillo’s selection is one bottle short. Worry not: it really isn’t so. “Palo cortado” has become a very successful category commercially but really is not a uniquely different category of wine. Without wanting to burst anyone’s bubble the wines available as palo cortados would, in days gone by, have simply been sold as olorosos. In fact, some leading bodegas have even told me that their bottlings of palo cortados are brought about by identifying and selecting the finer butts of their olorosos. This isn’t to knock their quality – a finer oloroso is a wonderful thing. Indeed, on that score, El Cerro could easily pass as a palo cortado if sales ever dip below the tiny production that it has.

And besides, there is a limit to the number of bottles you can fit in a case, and once you have started there could be no stopping. I hope these few posts are just the start of a long voyage for someone, and I would encourage anyone who has got this far to thing far outside and beyond this box, and to search out all the many, many styles and makers and explore the wines of Jerez. I did and I have never looked back.

Pandorga 2016 and roquefort

This summer I had one of the top pairings of this cracking pedro ximenez by Cota 45 – with a roasted and caramelized peach in Bagá, Jaen. It was sensational, with the apricot flavours and sweetness of the pedro ximenez combining and contrasting superbly with the similar but higher register sweetness of the peach.

But this one above wasn’t far behind either – a completely different pairing, with a creamy, salty roquefort balancing the acidity and sweetness of the wine, and the two sharing a wonderfully rich texture. You don’t want crackers here – a nice soft white bread, good butter and a do not disturb sign.

Fino, Emilio Hidalgo

The Fino from Emilio Hidalgo is not a wine you see around – not released widely by the bodega and only available in a handful of places, I was able to pick one up as part of a mixed case.

Although obviously overshadowed by La Panesa (which wine wouldn’t be?) it is a cracking fino, pungent and mineral on the nose, fresh and solid on the palate with slightly bitter almonds. A very traditional “Jerez” style of Fino – not excessively aromatic and slightly fat and serious in the mouth.

Worth trying if you can find it – and in particular fascinating to taste alongside it’s more famous sibling.

 

Solear en rama, saca de invierno 2013

As I have occasionally published, a fellow has accumulated a pretty large collection of these little bottles over the years but, no more. They may or may not improve in the bottle, but the only way to enjoy them is once they are out of it. Plus I have a famously small vinoteca and these little bottles are annoyingly fiddly to store. When you add to the equation the fact that the wines inside them are right up my alley, their life expectancy is in the basement with no takers.

First to go to the block is my oldest – this effort from winter 2013, the aguja colinegra or black tailed godwit.

Nearly seven years later it is lovely stuff, and proof of one of my deep held beliefs on the bottle ageing debate: the better the wine, the better it will stand the passing of the years. Lovely and rich in colour and on the nose, still zingy first up and full of juice on the palate, with just a hint of that incense bitterness that can develop in older manzanillas before a buzzy, mouthwatering saline finish.

None of this is doing any good for the chances of survival of the others it must be said …

Socaire Oxidativo 2015

Unquestionably the wine of a pretty good summer. In fact Mrs Undertheflor even asked me earlier this evening, knowing we had bagged a few unicorns over the course of the vacations, and it was gratifying that there was at least some interest in my opinion on this occasion so I thought I might share it more widely.

You see I knew Socaire Oxidativo 2015 was excellent but last week I had one of those rare opportunities to explore the wine from every angle – and it was one of those even rarer moments when a wine thus explored got better the more I explored.

I was fortunate enough to be in Chiclana for my holidays – beautiful beaches and climate, some really top class restaurants -, even more fortunate in that Primitivo Collantes himself was kind enough to show myself and some good friends around his vineyards and bodega, and even even more fortunate that he was generous enough to let us taste the oxidativos from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015 (and of course the other Socaire, the Arroyuelo en Rama and the Fossi, not to mention the new sensation, “Tivo”).

Now Primitivo Collantes SA is one of the few bodegas I have actually visited, and probably a principal cause of my recommendation to anyone really interested in a wine to go and visit the makers. It is a special organization lead by a special individual. It is the only bodega in Chiclana – aside from the coop – to grow and harvest grapes in Chiclana and make its own wine, and the last survivor of a once very proud tradition in these parts. And it plays its part in that tradition too, withe some venerable wines and styles: Arroyuelo is a great fino, Fossi a superb amontillado.

But its great wines, for me, are those that go by name of Socaire. The first Socaire was revolutionary in its day – a barrel fermented, bota aged unfortified palomino from the sheer white soils of Finca Matalian that blazed with zest and expression in its first vintage, and subsequently has shown with power, complexity, elegance and every combination thereof year after year. Really one of the great modern wines from the region.

And now this. The difference between the two is one of age – this is what happens when Socaire gets more than two years of bota age, and starts to show its fondness for the oxygen that surrounds us.

And what a transformation that time brings. The 2019 was a refined mosto – fuzzy and rampant, for all that it had nearly 11 months in the bota. The 2018 was finer, a real wine now, but still spiky and up for it. 2017 was finer and more elegant, losing those spikes and almost holding itself in. And then 2016 had grown again: aromatic, full of flavour and character, a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. In terms of barrel tasting (well, not really, 2016 was going into the bottle already) it was as good as I have experienced – a real anatomy of the creation of a wine. And then of course we tasted it next to the 2015, with its year in the bottle and its polish.

It was an outstanding introduction to the wine, and was soon followed by the horizontal dimension, as we tasted it next to the other wines from the same exceptional vineyard (Finca Matalian, now you ask), including the upstart “Tivo” from the traditional Chiclana Uva Rey. If the vertical gave us an anatomy of a wine in the making the horizontal gave us its geography – it was like looking at old family portraits of a dear friend and spotting all the familiar features of sisters and brothers.

And those features are the features of an outstanding white wine. Lower in register than some of those appearing further North, this is mountain flowers and sweet herbs on the nose, aromatic and rich, then a lovely elegant profile delivering those same flavours on a steely frame of salinity, which leaves your mouth watering as you finish.

An outstanding wine from an excellent producer, a beautiful place and thoroughly good family. My wine of the summer 2020 is Socaire Oxidativo!

Bagá, Jaén

Social networks are so often antisocial but when they actually do the job it is a real treat. This was one such case – I met David, one of the chefs at Bagá a couple of years ago and through the miracle of the above mentioned networks managed to stay in touch. But the miracle didn’t end there: when I posted about a cracking dinner in Madrid recently David posed the excellent question: “when are you coming to Bagá?”. From there it was just a question of getting organized to get the nosebag on.

Now Bagá is in Jaén, capital of the least famous of Andalucia’s six provinces, which has its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantages are those of Jaén, which was a really pleasant surprise, with its castle, cathedral and moorish baths, and above all its utter devotion to the green gold of olive oil. The disadvantage is really only one – the distance from Madrid, but even the Michelin guide recognize that Bagá is a detour (**) and to be honest it is probably worth the trip.

It is a terrific little restaurant – and I mean really little, with only 9 seats in use on the day we had dinner: a bar for three and three tables of two. I gather that pre-covid the capacity was larger: you could probably get a full football team in as long as you didn’t have substitutes. The space is very homey too – in all I reckon it is no more than 50 square metres, and aside from that bar there is no barrier between the guests and the kitchen. The result gives you the impression you are having dinner at a friend’s house, and a friendly friend too. The atmosphere couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming.

It is also absolutely terrific. Dish after superb dish, some of them truly memorable: the quisquillas de Motril, the ajoblanco, the huevas, the pigeon sausage and the roasted peach, to name just the top five. Some really delightful creations and combinations, and like Jaén itself lots to discover and enjoy.

And of course all those solids need washing down and there were no worries on that score either. A really nice selection of champagnes and white wines, including some classy and classic wines from Jerez, Sanlucar and Montilla Moriles, expertly paired to the tastiest morsels. The standout wine on the night was probably Pandorga, perfect with both deserts and in particular the roast peach.

And all too soon it was over and we were off on our merry way, with Jaén and its friendly locals (three pictured above) in our rear view mirror. But not for long – Bagá is worth a detour, may well be worth the trip, and is certainly worth a second dinner!

Socaire 2017

One of the fine wines of an exciting new era. Chateau Matalian Grand Cru, a lovely white-fruit flavoured white wine

And when I say flavour I really mean it because when you become accustomed to the range of flavours in these white wines from Andalucia you miss half of the graph when you step outside the bubble. Not just the salinity but stewy, vegetable and herb flavours.

This, as you can see, is the 2017 – these latest vintages have the year on the label as our man Primitivo chips away at the wall of resistance that is the Consejo Regulador with two powerful arguments: quality and sales.

This wine is an argument in itself. Not as ferocious as the first vintage I tried and maybe not as spicey as last year’s, this is ripe and elegant and frankly excellent. In fact to me this wine shows just how the Socaire wines have matured: no longer a curiosity or an experiment in a sherry barrel, but a high quality white wine in its own right.

I love it and I strongly recommend that you find some, buy it and enjoy it, or if you prefer, keep it a few years – it will almost certainly improve (for some reason the bottles in my cellar keep disappearing).