Vinos de la feria

Been a cracking couple of days down in Jerez in and around the Feria de Jerez and I didn’t want to let it go by without a word or two about the wines we drank there.

I must admit to a bit of trepidation at the title of the post, because “vino de feria” is not the most complimentary way to describe one of the wines from Jerez by any means. This is not a wine fair, nor a wine tourist destination. You are not going to find many unique wines or experimenta of any kind. It is a massive event, of mass consumption and not a lot of earnest appreciation (a significant proportion of the fino that gets drunk is mixed with lemonade if that gives you an idea). In fact, almost every serious wine tasting with a bodega from the region in Madrid used start with a “these are not vinos de feria” or similar.

Having said that, what else can you call a post about the wines you drank at the feria?

First up, the one wine you are guaranteed to have a drink of at the Feria is Tio Pepe. Ironically it is pretty scarce in Madrid – even in its en rama version – but it is massive worldwide and a hegemon in Jerez. A mate was telling me it was available in 90% of the casetas at the feria and I believe them. Not that there is anything wrong with that, or with the wine. Just saline enough, nutty enough and juicy enough, served cold in little bottles, it is a perfect little freshener and cracking foil for the ham and tapas on offer from every side. Gonzalez Byass also have one of the essential casetas to visit – really top drawer.

The champion caseta of this year’s feria, however, was the sensational “Trasiego”, complete with shades made from sarmiento and a glass bar filled with 600kg of albariza. Really top class decor and top wines from Bodegas Lustau: we had fino la Ina and amontillado Botaina (they had run out of Papirusa, to the disappointment of our crew which was heavily stacked with Sanluqueños).

While I was at the “cachivaches” with my kids in the “calle del infierno” (the funfair – really not that bad!) the same crew found the bargain of the feria: Amontillado de Harveys in the caseta of Bodegas Fundador for only €15 a bottle. I hope they enjoyed it. Really. (The churros and chocolate were excellent anyway.)

The class act of my feria was to be found later that evening – a glass or two of Gobernador in the caseta of my good friend Juanma Martin Hidalgo, of Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo. Delicious wine just begging for a dish of callos as an accompaniment.

Overall no complaints from me on the liquid refreshments. The feria is not your venue for high end or cutting edge wines but there is nothing wrong with these wines (I have been in a few supermarkets where they would have been a very welcome sight indeed) and there is something joyous in the absolute ubiquity of fino (and in seeing everybody swig it down). More than anything, there is a real sense that this is a fino’s natural habitat, and it is much fun hunting them in the wild.

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La Feria de Jerez

Back from a few fantastic days in and around the Feria de Jerez and although I will write up the wines I found there I didn’t want to leave it too long to express my gratitude to all those down there that made the last few days so memorable.

The Feria is absolutely spectacular, for the horses and carriages by day, the breathtaking illumination by night, and of course the ladies in their gorgeous dresses (the chaps also brush up but not by comparison). It is also absolutely chock full of life in all its dimensions. Masses of people, loud music – from flamenco to reggaeton and everything in between -, drinking, dining, dancing, parading, conversations shouted over the music, high heels hop stepping over the biological residue of the horses – deafening for all the senses. (And that is before you get to the “fairground” known as the Calle del Infierno.)

But, while not wanting to overdo the cliche, what really makes it special is the people. I am fortunate to have quite a few friends down in Jerez and was able to catch up with a goodish proportion of them at the Feria (and it would have been more had it not been for hangovers themselves acquired at the Feria). In fact I was struck by just how incredibly social it was – big lunches, casual encounters with people I hadn’t seen in years, more than once I was introduced to entire families … however big an event it is (and the scale is large), it really seemed to maintain the ambience of a kind of massive communal wedding feast, with everybody getting together, glad rags on, and ready to have a good time. And have a good time they did – from before lunch to just before breakfast.

The people certainly made our trip – I really have not experienced sustained kindness like it. People were so generous with their time during a week that must be absolutely hectic – we simultaneously felt guilty for monopolizing their attention and for not staying with them longer – and so generous in every other sense too. So many warm welcomes and big smiles, so many glasses of sherry, so many little plates, so much joy in our company – it was wonderful to be there.

I cannot name everyone who made it such a special few days – the list would be too long for a post like this – but in particular want to thank Cesar Saldaña of the Consejo Regulador. Cesar not only invited us down but made it impossible to refuse, and he and his lovely wife Carla did so much to make it a wonderful trip for my family and I. I will be forever in their debt, and in Cesar’s case not for the first time – my interest in sherry, this blog, I owe them both to Cesar. I suppose there is no chance of repaying something like that, but I fully intend to try!

La Bota de Amontillado 37 – “Navazos”

This is really quite superb. It is one of the wines from the time when I really started to pay close attention to the outstanding wines of Jerez. Hot on the heels of the outstanding Bota de Palo Cortado 34 – Pata de Gallina, this may have been the very first amontillado I drank in awe and wonder.

Can’t believe it was over six years ago, because drinking this it seems like yesterday. A gorgeous colour, more amber than the chestnut of the palo cortado, and what a nose – sea air of iodine and salt and freshness – almost pine needles. Then on the palate it is acid fine, stingingly saline and with flavours of bitter, burnt nuts and unbaked dough – those tight knots of unbaked dough you find in underbaked buns. Slightly astringent on the finish – tobacco that dries the mouth even as the salinity waters it. That astringency is the only bum note for me but it certainly adds to the complexity.

It is a true thoroughbred too. As the Equipo Navazos ficha explains, from the third criadera marked “M. Pda” (“Manzanilla Pasada”) in the bodega of Rainera P. Marin, legendary source of La Guita.

I still have some bottles of the 34 (reimported from the UK, amusingly enough) but this was my last 37 and I am sorry to see it go (because now it is open, go it will). What an outstanding wine. More, please!

El Tresillo (November 2018)

The bar of Angelita Part II and more pure quality. Emilio Hidalgo’s world class amontillado fino.

Intrigued to see the back label – it used to be that to work out the saca you had to decipher the lot number but now the month and year are proudly displayed – November 2018 in this case. I for one think it is the right move – more transparent, more information for us nerds, and a recognition of the fact that the wine changes both in barrel and bottle – even an amontillado like this one.

Not that this wine seems to change. Consistently one of the most elegant wines from Jerez, it has a silky feel and beautifully fine profile with layers of granary bread, nut and hazelnut aromas and flavours.

A timeless classic, dated.

Fino 2010, Williams & Humbert

Williams & Humbert were kind enough to invite me to a cracking little party to celebrate the launch of their new añadas but amidst all the dancing, music, gossip and posing and after a few glasses my ability to appreciate the wines in detail was lightly impaired.

Luckily I caught up with this fino in the nearest thing we have to laboratory conditions – the bar of Angelita – and have had a proper run at it. One of the Colección Añadas and a fascinating contrast to its predecessor, the 2009.

The two wines are from the same vineyard in consecutive years, have been cellared in the same cellar by the same hand but they are as different as two sisters can possibly be. Whereas the 2009 was all lush gentleness, full of juice and hazelnut, this is sharp, zingy, with bitter liquorice flavours and heat from a salty, peppery finish.

Moody but magnificent – wish I had paid more attention the first time!

Maruja manzanilla pasada (at the bar of Media Ración)

This is a wine that I just like more and more. As a style manzanilla pasada ticks a lot of boxes – that combination of biological sharpness, rich, buttery body and rounded, roast-pepper savoury-sweet flavours. But this is a particularly fine example, with a sizzling sharpness, spicey finish and broad palette beautiful stewey rich flavours – everything from the sweet carrot to the potent bitterness of the bay leaf.

It would be the perfect wine for many dishes, but with the superb bacalao ajoarriero at Media Ración – probably the perfect combination of green and red peppers, tomato, onion and garlic – it is an absolute dream. Superb stuff.

 

Manzanilla Olorosa Velo Flor

Have come across this a few times around Madrid in recent weeks – including with the man himself – but have just not had time to put thumbs to screen and bash out a post.

This is the “manzanilla olorosa” by Bodegas Alonso. An old style no longer officially recognized by the Consejo, it seems to fit in somewhere between manzanilla and manzanilla pasada. A more fragrant manzanilla, with a little oloroso character, which can be achieved in a variety of ways (as is so often the case in Jerez). In this wine it is achieved by giving the manzanilla eight months in an old oloroso butt. And it is certainly tasty stuff.

The first thing you notice about the wine is the bottle. If the standard velo flor bottle is tricky to rack, this magnum format looks even more of a wine storage headache. On the plus side, it would be hard to knock this bottle over in a breeze, and it looks pretty cool.

It’s a nice old gold colour in the glass, clear as a Madrid sky without quite shining. Then on the nose there is sea breeze, yeast and just that hint of baked apple, aromas that are backed up as it hits the tongue and back of the mouth.

A tasty, enjoyable manzanilla no doubt, and all the better for that brief stay in an old barrel.