Sagrario Tradicion

I may not write as often as I used to but there is no doubt that I research the occasional posts more thoroughly. In Kaleja recently I had every item on the menu, my recent post on the Barajuelas was the result of about 20 liters of the stuff over the years and this long-overdue post is the product of no less than six visits to my new high class neighbourhood neotaberna.

The first visit was a sober affair with a good friend but despite not opening a single bottle of wine we saw enough to see we were in the right place – from the tomatoes to the croquettes to the quail, the turbot in pil pil and the flan in amontillado. Absolutely cracking stuff – worth coming back here.

Second visit was for callos, mellow and aromatic callos, with a fascinating 2006 airen, some lovely natural style burgundy, the pluma in a bun and flan again. More top trucking.

Third visit was a long and genial dinner with some good friends and the boss here, Nico – a real character and really good bloke who knows his wine and is generous with his brandy. And he knows his cold cuts too – the shaved aged steak with shavings of foie was bonkers, the others not far behind and as for the torreznos and frogs legs …

Well suffice it to say that I came back for the frogs legs. Big healthy frogs from the North of Spain, in a pisto with a big fried egg on it. The perfect symbol of this place – haute cuisine in down home style. And with it cocido “stuffing” – superb – a glass of Fresquito and then a stunning late albariño – O Rebusco – well worth going back and searching for.

But of course when I went back there was none left, so I made do with a cracking little cod salad, a kind of high end ploughmans, followed by the biggest leg of rabbit I have ever seen washed down with more of the good stuff, including a truly special Vin Jaune.

And then a quick lunch today with some beautiful smokey roasted peppers from Benavente and a pepitoria made with a rooster that could, by its bones, have been mistaken for a dinosaur. And this with a lovely glass of the Williams & Humbert 2012 fino – which is just beautiful stuff – and another lovely natural wine.

This is not your average neighbourhood restaurant. For a start it is well, well above average, and most importantly, it is in my neighbourhood.

Barajuela class of 2013

I discovered during the lockdown that I had managed to squirrel away quite a few bottles of la Barajuela and ever since had been looking for an occasion to crack some open, so when I was invited over to dinner by some friends recently I seized my opportunity.

I am pretty sure I will be invited back, and it isn’t due to the conversation.

These two wines are by now like old friends but I still remember the first time I sat down with a full bottle of the fino – Father’s day 2016. Together with that first palo cortado that set me off in the first place this is the wine that made the strongest first impression on me.

Since then there have been another saca of the fino and two new vintages and more recently an NV and I have had more than my share of all of them – it is no secret that I like them and wherever I go they seem to follow me.

But I will never tire of them either – really outstanding white wines, that simultaneously have a higher and a lower register than most, more body, more complexity, more salinity and all in a beautiful profile. Just beautiful and great to drink them together, that step in power and that hint of oxidation in the oloroso seeming to add an extra dimension.

And I never tire of sharing them with friends. These wines are such great ambassadors for Jerez and the best possible argument in favour of terroir and vintage focussed winemaking in the region.

But not too many friends – the bottles are tiny and only hold 750 mil.

Agostado 2016

The artistry formerly known as Encrucijado.

A clash in trading names means a change of moniker for this historic wine and it is a real shame. Historic because it is made using varieties that had long fallen out of favour, and because it was one of the first “new wines” from el marco. It was certainly the first that I tried, what seems a long time ago now in September 2015. That was the 2012 – the MMXII – and this is the 2016.

Over the years the wine has wound its neck in a bit. Back then there were five or six varieties involved, as the idea was to try and replicate the almost random selection of the pre-phylloxeric vineyards. But it was never meant to be an experiment, it was meant to be a wine, and as a wine it has grown and grown in stature even as the varieties dwindled. Now it has just three varieties: palomino fino, uva rey and perruno. (Still two more than your average blanco de albariza.)

From the start it was a lovely wine, but it just seems to get better and this strikes me as good as any that I have tried. It has that bit of extra girth of flavour, more buttery, more melon, but this one also has a lovely elegant profile and fresh finish. And from memory it seems to have improved a lot with a year in the bottle too.

One worth hunting out and savouring – the history of the wines and varieties of Jerez, and a lovely wine while you are at it.

Kaleja Part II

It is not often that words fail me but I am struggling, and have been struggling for several weeks, to find the terminology to describe my second visit to Kaleja.

If my first visit was almost furtive, ensconced at the bar with my head down, this time it was an occasion and, oh boy, what an occasion it turned out to be. I had what could be termed the extra long menu – one of everything – and it lead to a couple of hours of proving the fallacy of the good time/long time dichotomy.

The pictures here tell at least some of the story, of dish after outstanding dish, but you would need more than a 1000 words to adequately describe some of these.

Looking at them it is hard to know where to start. Maybe the dish that had the biggest impact on me was the huevas con fetta – a little flavour bomb of fishy and cheesy salinity and freshness. The dish I would have repeated over and over the squid in butter, or maybe the beans in ham, or the foie in salpicon, or the gamba, or the green beans …

The list could go on and on – and I could have too. While some menus can seem a long struggle, this one never got heavy. A fantastic combination of flavours, textures and ingredients, and all that stewing and roasting making for a lunch that was as digestible as it was enjoyable.

You get the idea – it was an absolute feast for the senses.

And a liquid feast too, as Juan “Juanito” Perez weaved a merry thread of superb wines through proceedings, including some absolute crackers beloved of this parish. The Camborio en Rama, Saca de Floracion, La Fleur by Forlong, UBE Miraflores, the Antique Oloroso, the Maria del Valle fino, the Amontillado by Bodegas Tradicion and a sensational Palo Cortado by Antonio Barbadillo.

Superb wines all but also brilliantly matched to the cooking – harmonies and complements, flavours that reinforced each other. Really excellent work.

A really outstanding lunch in fact, one that will live long in the memory. I can’t wait to get back down to Malaga for Round Three.

Solear en rama – Spring 2015 – the Oropéndola

There is still a feeling of sacrilege when I open these little bottles that have been stashed away these last few years but the regret doesn’t outlast the first mouthfull.

What an astonishingly nice wine – it really is the archetypal dry sherry. Beautiful gold colour, lovely haybales and yeast on the nose, zingy salinity and fresh yeasty juice on the palate, and the mouth just sallivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

This bottle is from when it was still bottled as a mere “manzanilla” but it really is a manzanilla pasada – you can feel it in the concentration and the intensity of the flavours.

Wonderful stuff.

Navazos Niepoort 2018 in Coalla Madrid

Aperitivo o’clock in a bustling Coalla Madrid and nothing better to wash down your berberechos than a glug or two of this white wine from pago Macharnudo.

One of the first unfortified white wines from Jerez – the first vintage was back in 2008 – this project by Equipo Navazos with one of the story of Jerez’s unsung heroes, Dirk Niepoort aims at recreating the wines of Jerez in centuries past. From 100% palomino fino from the famous albariza of macharnudo, fermented in bota and no fortification, with only a few months of spontaneous flor.

It is delicious stuff – fresh, saline and aromatic, with a suggestion of white fruit and a touch of the old esparto grass. Fruit, mineral, herb in a lovely balance, and very elegant. The berberechos were also top class it must be said and a better pairing I cannot think of.

Marvellous – with wines like this by the glass no wonder Don Ramon is enjoying Madrid!

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.