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. This is what oxidation is trying to achieve.
And it is also a nice contrast to the “Origen Calificada” amontillado from la Callejuela. Now here maybe the contrast is forced and the comparison between categories isn’t quite fair – el Cerro is for me one of the very best olorosos around, while this amontillado is a more modest, gluggable beverage. It is high class but younger and maybe not quite as distinguished as it’s much older oloroso cousin. (Had I looked for a fair comparison it would probably have been La Casilla amontillado, a wine with a similar age at least.)
But life isn’t fair and neither am I, least of all when I am in a didactic frame of mind. Because when you are drinking these two wines, in addition to the contrast between the pure oxidation of the oloroso and the combination of flor and air in the amontillado, you will also get an idea about what a decade or so of oxidation does to a wine. (Intriguingly, and in a pleasing symmetry, ten years to the open air will do something very similar to what a decade under flor does: it sharpens the wine and fills out its body. In this case, not with salinity and cabezuelas, but with acidity and glycerol (although the salinity is still there).)
But more importantly, the “Origen” maybe allows you to appreciate more clearly the effect of the flor on the wine. Many amontillados will have a few years under flor before a much longer time exposed to the elements, and af1ter 25 years of oxidation, amontillados can sometimes be hard to distinguish from a palo cortado or fine oloroso (in particular since many allegedly “pure” oxidative wines are actually subjected to some time under flor in their early stages). But not this amontillado. In fact this wine is, for the first time in this didactic selection, a direct lineal descendant of another, because it is from wine taken from the Blanquito solera. You quite literally cannot get more time under flor than this has had.
And the combination of that intensity and salinity from 12 years of flor treatment and the caramel from a goodish decade of oxidation (I am guessing) makes for a really outstanding, complex wine. It retains the elegance and compact profile, and maybe a little of the aromatic timidity of the Blanquito, and whereas the el Cerro is a deep, rich, burnt fruit and church-furniture toffee here you have a much finer, drier palate of nuttier, salty caramel.
And here, dear friends, endeth the Cuatrogatos Wine Club Didactic Selection and, with it, my modest introduction to the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar. Seven wines that are an excellent introduction to the most important categories and themes of one of the most exciting wine regions anywhere in the world.
I hope they are only the first seven of many hundreds. But first, just enjoy these two absolute belters.