Lunch with Pepe Blandino and the wines of Bodegas Tradición

A traditional Spanish lunch

Bodegas Tradicion were founded in 1998 but the majority of the superb wines they sell are even older. So old, in fact, that their enologist once told me that they have the opposite problem to many wineries in Jerez. Rather than seeking to make their wines seem ever older more concentrated or extreme, the challenge is to how to keep the wines fresh and balanced.

I can confirm that they achieve exactly that after yet another fantastic lunch featuring their wines in Taberna Palo Cortado earlier this week. We tasted the full range – from a really cracking saca of the fino from last November (just delicious) to a little bottle of incredibly potent very old amontillado and everything in between, and they were just superb from start to finish. (We didn’t have time for the cream or a cigar, but the occasion merited just that kind of finish.)

And of course it was no ordinary lunch. A lot of the credit for the consistent excellence of the wines is due to a fantastic team in the cellar lead by Pepe Blandino, capataz de bodega and one of the top cellermen in the business, so it was both a pleasure and an honour to be able to share a table and taste the wines with the man himself.

Autumn 19 – a superb saca from a long line of top finos

First up was that fino, and it was a belter. A magnum of the autumn saca for 2019 it was singing, with a lovely, only slightly bitter almond nose and a nice rounded palate – zingy on the front and fresh on the finish. Really excellent fino and a high class start.

Palo cortado de añada, 1998

But it was only just the start. Next up was the 1998 palo cortado de añada. A really fine, quite serious bitter almond nose and then an even more pronounced roundedness to the palate. Surprisingly balanced wine – older añada wines can often be quite spirity but here the acidity was in a nice proportion. Very nice, elegant wine.

Vintage and vintager: Olorosos de Añada 1970 and 1975

Then we kicked on in style with two beautiful, contrasting olorosos. The 1970, fine, dry and sharp, with sawdust on the nose and a regal, rapier old palate, and the 1975, with its brighter chestnut colour, juicier, more spirity nose and slightly chunkier oloroso palate. Two absolute beauties and another demonstration of the difference a few years can make (even if we can’t be sure we are comparing the same vineyards).

The full monty, and the fuller monty

After the olorosos, the amontillados. First up, the superb amontillado VORS – one of the best in its class and a gem of a wine, with a zingy start, elegant flavourful profile and a long but fresh finish. Really lovely in its own right, but on this occasion slightly outmuscled by the small bottle to its right – the amontillado viejisimo.

The viejisimo is worthy of all the praise that has been heaped upon its slender shoulders. It is incredibly potent and concentrated while maintaining that balance and elegance that seems to be the bodega’s trademark. Flavours that go all the way from nutty caramel to burnt barrel, chocolate and tobacco and seem to elegantly fade over an eternity. Too good, too special a wine for the likes of me or a lunch like this – the kind of wine that deserves an afternoon to itself.

And after that we tucked into some callos and garbanzos with the quite excellent VORS oloroso and palo cortado, which in any other company might themselves have been the highlight. On this occasion there was a suggestion of after the Lord Mayor’s show – how can you follow an act like the viejisimo – and in fact after that awesome amontillado even the venerable wines on the table tasted a bit like mostos.

And there it came to an end, a fantastic lunch in great company and with a really unbelievable selection of wines. Many many thanks once again to all at Bodegas Tradicion and to our hosts at Taberna Palo Cortado for an inspiring day.

Cuatrogatos Winefest 2020

Roll up roll up and get your tickets for the top wine event of the year – the Cuatrogatos Winefest, on February 15 in Hotel Puerto Sherry, from 11:00 to 20:00.

More indie wine makers than you can poke a stick at and all the top new talents from the sherry region. Get in at cuatrogatoswineclub.com

La Escribana Vino de Pasto 2018 in Angelita Madrid

Your correspondent has been out of the game too long. Probably a good few weeks since I was at the trough in earnest – time enough for at least three new labels to emerge from the hyperactive young dynamos down in Jerez and Sanlucar.

And here is one. The latest from Willy Perez, this appears to be an unfortified white wine – the label says from Macharnudo on tosca de Barajuelas soil. “Only” 13 and a half degrees and I don’t know much about it but would guess we have a bit of asoleo or a relatively late harvest. (Vino de pasto translates more or less as table wine so no clues there.)

It is another cracker from the young Wise King of Jerez. Concentrated white fruit – almost pineapple upfront, and bitter pineapple marmalade at the back. It is mineral for a white wine – real zing and warmth around the mouth – but tasty and jammy rather than fresh and slippy on the finish. As its name indicates, it is a table wine – this would stand up and be counted in almost any company.

Another one please barman!

The 7 i(T) Gastrolab

A couple of weeks ago I had one of the very best meals I can remember in the intriguingly monikered 7 i(T) Gastrolab .

The Gastrolab is the creation of two of the brightest lights of the Madrid restaurant scene: Narciso Bermejo and Xabi Guitart, and the evolution of their project of the last two years, the 7 Islands Craft Bar.

The driving force behind it is Narciso Bermejo, one of the most impressive, most original individuals around. Trained as a chef but a genius with a cocktail shaker (or stirrer, or any other implement) and almost more importantly one of the most uncompromisingly thoughtful and innovative guys you could hope to meet, an unstoppable force striving to bring balance to the insane business of bars and restaurants. In only a few years he has been behind several top class, highly original projects, including Macera, the 7 Islands Craft Bar, Nada365 and now the Gastrolab.

For his part, Xabi Guitart is a phenomenally talented young chef who despite his tender years has experience in kitchens of the stature of Lera, Kabuki, and Diverxo and now, with nearly two years of his own creations under his belt, has really come into his own. It sounds like a cliché but there was a real maturity to the menu he gave us the other night, with dishes that were superbly executed and in equal parts delicious and surprising, and a clear leap forward even from the high standards of the last two years.

I will not discuss the individual dishes because the guys want the menus to be surprising, but I can tell you it is a really nicely constructed menu with the dishes bound together with arguments that were consistent and appealing – again no spoilers but this was no rag tag or allsorts. There are in fact two menus: a short menu at €45 and a long one at €75, and both are outstanding value, as good as anything you will find in Madrid for a ticket way below the average.

It wouldn’t be fair not to mention the third member of the team. Luis, another young chef, with experience in Copenhagen’s Geranium and until recently Xabi’s right hand man in the kitchen, but working here in the front of house as sommelier and maitre, with an engaging, friendly enthusiasm and a pretty handy wine list at his disposal. The wine list has a cracking variety of wines and some really nice stuff on it (some quality sherries as you can see, but also some top class bubbles and some lovely wines from all over Europe). It resolves one of the only weaknesses of the 7 Islas Craft Bar, and allows them to offer some nice, original pairings, which were excellent on the night.

There is no doubt that the 7i(T) Gastrolab is a phenomenon, but sadly it is only a temporary one: until the end of this month in fact. After that, Narciso at least will be striking out for a new project, although I believe that Xabi and Luis hope to stay on at the 7 Islas in one guise or another and, who knows, if enough of us get in there in the next couple of weeks …

So it is time to bring and end to dry January, veganuary, or any other atonement you may be planning for your festive excesses. Please take my advice and get yourselves a table before the chance has gone. You will not regret it.

 

 

 

Bodega y Viñedos Balbaínas – Part II

Went to a sensational tasting this week organized by the Union Española de Catadores. Peter Sisseck and his wines, including two vintages from each of Chateau Rocheyron, Flor de Pingus and Pingus itself. And of course, wines from each of his soleras in Jerez (I am not sure how many of us were there for the fino.)

You don’t need me to tell you that these wines are top drawer. The 2009 Pingus in particular is one of those wines that I can still feel on the palate the best part of a week later – superb richness and a solid, elegant structure to it, like a sculpted and polished block of fruit and spice. But the 2015 Pingus was also a beauty – similar elegance, a bit more brooding power and just a little bit less polished. As for the Flor de Pingus and Rocheyrons, well, it is a pretty good tasting where these wines are not the pick of the bunch.

Neither will it be any surprise to you to learn that Peter Sisseck is a winemaker with both a wide field of vision and a very clear idea of what he likes. It was fascinating to hear him on the relevance of ph, the types of soil (he enjoys a bit of calcium down in the rootstock) and the methods of replanting – his thoughts on training vineyards as far afield as Saint-Emilion and Balbaina, and vines as distinct as palomino and merlot.

But what struck me was his vision of the wines of Jerez. Because when he spoke about Jerez he didn’t speak in the same way about the vineyards, where they were, how they were planted and tended. Neither did this winemaker’s winemaker talk about unfortified white wines or fermentation temperatures or deposits. Rather, he spoke with something like veneration about what makes a fino, – and in his words, Spain’s great gift to the world’s wine heritage – the truly unique wine from Jerez. His thoughts were surprisingly classical but with an interesting twist, and resolved for me one of the great recent mysteries.

You see after acquiring a solera making one of the great finos – Camborio – Peter and his colleagues decided not to continue Camborio as such but to make two different wines, and I must admit being puzzled as to why you would buy Camborio if what you wanted to make were new wines (other than the fact that Camborio was for sale and would give you a pretty handy headstart of course).

The answer is the fascinating part, because your man explained that for him the top finos of Jerez gain their unique character and structure from one of the less glamourous sources: las cabezuelas. The dead lipids, the remains of the flor, tiny proteins that having given their all fighting off the oxygen and eating alcohol, sugar and glycerol from the wine but then die and sink to the bottom where they create a bed of madre that, much like lees in a white wine, gives the old finos and manzanilla pasadas a silky, buttery mouthfeel. Camborio and the other botas in the bodega had, in addition to some high class wines, a treasure trove of character and personality settled on the bottom of the barrels that would otherwise take years to accumulate.

He is certainly onto something. There is no question in my mind that those old solera finos have a fatness, solidity and clarity of profile that the single vintage wines, without those years of accumulation, lack. (In fact I was struck later by his comments on the importance of ph in his merlot and tempranillo because, as I understood it, he was thinking on the same lines – the importance for mouth feel and the sensations that the wines could give you.)

And the wines are good too. The Balbaina is a haybale heavy fino, plenty of aromatics and benefits from that age it has – the Macharnudo wine is also aromatic but raw by comparison – if the Balbaina is a swimming pool the Macharnudo had a touch of incontinent feline about it. But both are seriously interesting finos already with that structure to them. I cannot wait for next year’s first release.

But those Pingus, good grief …

Fino Inocente in Zalamero Taberna

With all the new wines, labels and makers emerging in Jerez sometimes it is easy to forget the classics – the mountains in the background of the painting.

This fino is just such a classic. Possibly the most traditional, old school fino on the market and one that nevertheless ticks modern boxes: single pago and fermented in oak, it may be from one of the big producers but it is the antithesis of industrial.

And if you are going to be single pago, this is the one to be: Macharnudo. The most famous real estate in Jerez, and the fount of some of the best wines ever made in el marco. Of which, let’s be honest this is one.

Because it has everything you could ask of a fino. An aromatic nose of sea breeze, fresh baked bread and almond, then a palate of all those things but edged around with zingy salinity and a long, fresh, sea breeze and mineral finish.

Really top class.

Santa Ana Pedro Ximenez 1861

Lunch today featured a really outstanding finale – this quite superb, fruitful, elegant and compact old wine.

It is the oldest wine of probably the finest cellarmen around – Emilio Hidalgo. Makers of the killer Panesa fino and the finest amontillados, olorosos and palo cortados in Jerez, these guys have a touch of genius when it comes to caring for the wines in their butts.

This wine is probably the starkest example. When they are as old as this pedro ximenez wines can get twisted into all sorts of shapes but for whatever reason this maintains perfect form. It has the flavours and aromas of the inside of a raisin fruit but with a sharp acidity and a freshness that make it feel as light as a feather.

Almost too easy to drink, when you should really imbibe it drop by tiny drop.