Night of the mayetos in Sagrario Tradicion

They say better late than never so here is a long overdue write up of a cracking night – all of three months ago during sherry week – when we celebrated one of my favourite projects in one of my favourite places.

The project in question is the “Mayeteria Sanluqueña”: José Manuel “Manu” Harana, Rafael Rodriguez, Antonio Bernal and Daniel Rodriguez, four “mayetos” that make up one of the most intriguing stories in el marco de Jerez.

“Mayeto” is the traditional term in Sanlucar for a small scale grower – of anything really (if you haven’t tried the potatoes from a navazo you haven’t tried real potatoes) – but particularly vitis vinifera. Historically these small producers have played a big role in the wines of Jerez: mayetos have been responsible for a large proportion of production, although at least in recent years their numbers and production have fallen, and have tended to be limited to supplying the cooperatives and larger bodegas.

But now with the inspiration and help of the great viticultor and winemaker Ramiro Ibañez the mayetos of the Mayetería Sanluqueña have started once again to make their own wines. They are unfortified wines from palomino fino sold under the brand “Corta y Raspa” from vineyards in some of the most emblematic and famous “pagos” of Jerez and Sanlúcar: Añina, Atalaya, Charruado, Maína and Miraflores. They make them from their best, oldest vines, with a production of less than 7,000 kg per hectare (a condition of being part of the project, in a region where it is not unusual for yields to be more than 11,000 kg/ha) and using artisanal, traditional winemaking techniques.

And the result is a series of wines that are fresh, drinkable, but which express the characteristics of the vines and vineyards like no other. We are talking honest wines with minimal intervention that let you clearly feel the influence of the altitude, location, climate and type of the famous albarizas.

The only pity is how hard it is to find and enjoy them – here in Madrid or anywhere else for that matter. (Although you can get them from the Cuatrogatos Wine Club). So when I was asked by my good friends at Sagrario Tradicion – a fantastic new restaurant here in the neighbourhood – what they could do for sherry week it didn’t take me long to further my agenda of bringing these wines within reach.

Were it not for the awful year that 2020 has been we would have had the mayetos come and present their wines to a packed house. That was not to be – but we were able to get hold of the few bottles that remained so that Nico and his crew at Sagrario could pair them up with their quality cooking. Specifically we were able to get the Atalaya 2018, “La Charanga” (Maina) 2018 and “La Charanga” (Maina) 2017.

They are wines that come from vines a small distance apart – just 2,8km – but despite being neighbours, the difference in the albarizas, together with the degrees of humidity and freshness in the vines, result in a vegetation of the vine, thickness of the skin of the fruit, concentration, and other possible parameters that give identity and character that make the vineyard recognizable in the wineglass.

In the words of the mayetos themselves:

Atalaya is a pago near Sanlúcar, with “lentejuela” or “antehojuela” albarizas, with a high chalk content, but a looser, less compact structure, allowing an easier development of the roots and vegetation of the top side. It is at about 55 metres above sea level (above the magic 45 metres celebrated in “Cota 45”) and is closer to the sea, with the effects of the fresh, humid winds of the poniente (from the sea). The wine is dry, sapid, saline, and structured without losing freshness and acidity.

Maina is a pago (slightly) further inland, but with more influence from the river and the winds of the “levante”. The poniente winds are weakened by the pago Hornillos (Callejuela), Martin Miguel, and Atalaya that bear their brunt. The altitude is higher, at between 65 and 75 metres. The albariza here is barajuela, the toughest. It is very rich in calcium and structured in layers, making the development of the roots difficult and leading to lesser top vegetation. The wines are very direct, dry and potent, the most sapid of them all. It is the pago richest in content of “diatomeas” (fossils of microscopic organisms) in the marco de Jerez, giving the wine great impact on the palate.

On the other hand, in the case of La Charanga we were able to try the different qualities of two different vintages: the 2017, with a very warm summer which obliged the growers to bring forward the harvest, and the 2018, a year with abundant rain and a very cool summer which obliged them, on the contrary, to delay the harvest to September for the first time in many years.

A tantalising prospect and it turned out to be an absolutely great week by all accounts. I am not sure how many people pitched up – although Sagrario is always busy anyway – but if everyone who sent me a message did then they must have been standing in the aisles. It was fair packed when a group of like minded souls and I rocked up and availed ourselves of the opportunity before the curfew, and neither Sagrario nor the wines disappointed.

From the first I had thought of the two as a perfect match – in Sagrario they like their natural, terroir driven wines for a start, with Nico having been the man behind more than one in his time – but the obsession with tradition and nature isn’t only a wine thing. I will never forget Nico telling me all about where the frogs that generously donated their legs to the cause of his pisto were from and why. But just in general it is a place for simple but imaginative and always nicely carried out preparations of top quality produce and the menu they came up for with the mayetos was no exception.

And the wines, well they were three little beauties – only 2.8km and 12 months in it but three lovely wines that were as different as you could ask for. A perfect demonstration of the potential of the terroir of Sanlucar and Jerez and one of the best wine experiences for a long time.

Palma cortada la Barajuela 2017

One of the new crop of wines from the Barajuela project and another stunning chip off the wonderful block called el Corregidor.

I say a new crop of wines because we are not just talking about a new vintage (although it is a vintage wine – a 2017), we are talking about a new beastie altogether: no fino, or oloroso, but a “palma cortada” (and the other wines released in this batch are the “cortado” and the only slightly more familiar “raya”). What can the reason for this spiffy new moniker be? Well I have purposefully not done any research or asked the man himself (he said as if anyone expected this blog to have actually researched anything) but my guess would be that this “palma cortada” was a wine that was selected for “palma” status (for your reference, the Barajuela Finos used to indicate “una palma” on the back label) but went only slightly off the beaten path and had to be “cortada” (cut off at the knees) before reaching the promised land.

I may be wrong – it may be deliberate – but in any event it is a return to the ancient traditional nomenclature for the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar, a time before industrialization when the mighty white wines of Southern Spain had a fair claim to be considered the world’s best.

It could be considered surprising that in only the fifth vintage of this project what is clearly the “finer” wine with the white label has been rebaptized, contrary to all the norms of brand building and confounding future verticals, but frankly I find that more reassuring than anything. It may be possible to make an unfortified, single vintage fino every year, but the fact that this has been labelled more precisely tells you that the standards being reached for here are genuinely stratospheric, and the transparency involved is, well, a breath of fresh air. And the fact is that in those five vintages we have had only three finos and one oloroso: it is time to recognize that the fruit and the wine do not always conform to such narrow classifications.

And so we step back in time 150 years or so (or more, I have no idea really) and we enjoy our palma cortada. And enjoy is the operative word, because this may not have the word fino on the bottle, but it does have the word “Barajuela”. And even if it didn’t there would be no mistaking its origins or majesty: the flavours are utterly characteristic of the project and vineyard.

It is a beautiful white wine, lovely clarity and old gold colours on the eye, and high register white fruits, concentrated honey-suckle, dried flowers and herbs on the nose (seems sacrilegious to say it but there is chamomile in there). It really looks and smells of ambrosia.

Then you sip it (in whatever quantity you consider a “sip”) and, wow, the acidity and sensation of the wine, that incredibly deep, low to high flavour and tingling, mouth watering finish. The middle of it reminds me of the mellow roasted apples of a really good blanc de blancs with plenty of years of rima and bottle, a touch of oxidation, and the front end also reminds me of champagne with that acidity, but there is a greater umami and herbal depth in the middle part of the palate and the finale is so long, so zingy, it really is sensational.

So don’t be put off by the nomenclature. This is punky by comparison to the quite exceptional 2016 fino but still a superb wine on any register.

Tohqa

There are some posts that are difficult to write for the simple reason that you have too much riding on them. The post about my lunch this summer in Tohqa (pronounced like you are from Cadiz – Tozca) has been one of them. I don’t just say that by way of excuse (although excuses would be in order having spent four months writing it), I say it because it is my only explanation.

My lunch in Tohqa, in Puerto de Santa de Maria, this summer, was one of the great highlights of a great summer that now seems like a distant memory. It was one of the best meals of a year which you know has involved a lot of lovely meals. It involved some of the sublime mouthfuls of a year which involved an awful lot of those. And it was also one of the great sets of pairings in a life that is literally beset with them.

It was not planned. I knew these fellas had opened a new place and dearly wanted to go but we did not have any chance of doing so until an unfortunate cold scuppered an alternate plan with friends. Once we were available we were also on the spot. Bizarrely, I had in fact booked the hotel opposite without knowing which hotel it was (or where Tohqa was either.) So we ended up pitching up not only Mr and Mrs Undertheflor but also the coming generation.

And it was magic from start to finish.

The start couldn’t have been better. They have taken over the location of a restaurant I used to love – El Arriate – but what used to be cosy and curious is now elegant and airy. In August it was full of light and the tosca was golden, and it was full of fun art – as the younger generation confirm. I will always cherish the memories of how it was (and the people there), but loved seeing it in its new form.

And of course these guys are just great. I should warn readers that I have known them for years. And while that fact may put my neutrality in question, the whole reason I wanted to go was because I had seen them in action before. Here the man on the grill is Edu Perez, previously of Cataria and of other top top places, but who has given me to eat some of the finest things to pass down the old Gregory Peck. An utter crack. And the other guy is Angel, who looks young and funky but is wise and deadly serious in the art of pairing wines. Another one of the same. Superbness squared, but also giften children’s entertainers – will just leave that there.

So we got cracking and it was awesome. We started with the grilled sardine to end all grilled sardines, it moved to a beautifully nutty bread, then a combination of dishes that combined superlight, super smooth, and just super.

I will probably never forget the green baby garbanzos (chickpeas, dudes) in a sticky ham sauce, or the sensational spicy ray and beans, and there are just no words for that magnificent big fish whose face and flank we ate but whose name I have forgotten. The girls tucked into grilled fish and asked for repeats …

But probably the best were the prawns. Such a small animal, that you eat so often, and even often in the great places. But when you eat them like Edu can grill them you realize you have never eaten them. The flesh, the flavour, the moisture. Really a different class: a total masterpiece.

You see Edu has a touch with the grill that is pretty close to sorcery. Anyone can grill a steak or a halibut – not always with the same results – bit it feels like Edu could grill a butterfly wing – or prawn, or sea urchin – without overdoing it. He turns things you have tried many times before into something unique and memorable. And then he grills things you have never tried before, and frankly the top ends up coming off your head.

And then there were the pairings. As I said on IG at the time in fewer characters, it was one of the most outstanding sets of pairings I can remember and the fruit of a lot of hard work. Incredible attention to detail really, and an incredible set of wines to work with. You can see above what he gave me – but I later saw the wine list and it is sensational. The wines above are not new to me and, in absolute terms, not the best he had in hand, but the choices were superb. But I cannot emphasize enough how much thought had gone into it – if one wine would not do for a given course you would get two – or even three – and it was great.

No, it was wonderful. The whole thing was fantastic, cracking, and will live long in the memory.

La Bota de Palo Cortado 86 – Bota NO

Yo ho ho and a palo cortado. This is a lovely elegant wine selected by the enterprising gents at Equipo Navazos from Perez Barquero in Montilla Moriles that is so drinkable this little bottle seems to vanish like the morning dew – albeit at night time, because it would be unseemly even for me to be sucking down palo cortado at breakfast time.

Palo cortado is not a traditional designation in Montilla Moriles – but Equipo Navazos have never been afraid to reclassify and neither have the best bodegas. They have chosen the right wine here – this is lighter and finer than an oloroso, while still juicy and without enough biology to make it an amontillado.

It is evident in the colour, and on the nose it is light and a bit of brandy. And then on the palate the juice is there – it has juice in every molecule, one of the most pleasurable palo cortados I have tried in terms of mouthfeel. Velvety is a word I don’t use enough in fact.

And it may not be an eye watering bottle of potent concentration but it has all the features of a top palo cortado – in nice proportions too. Fresh, acid, sweet, nutty, savoury, barrely – then salty sweet and three times as long as the average post on here. Then at the end has a nice smokiness on the aftertaste.

Really top class as long as it lasts …

Manzanilla de añada 2012 – 4 and 5 of 11 – in Sagrario Tradición

Special wines these two – wines from the 4th and 5th botas of a series of 11 that together make up a unique and historic project.

After a bumper harvest in 2012 the guys at Callejuela out aside 11 botas and every year since 2015 have been releasing wines from selected botas. As a project it has everything – it allows you to understand the effect of flor, oxidation, bottle time – and it proved to be the first of many by the enterprising guys at Callejuela. And although the wines are from a single añada they show off the fine, expressive character of an añada wine.

This is not the first time I have tried four or five (we are now on six) but the year or two in the bottle have served them well and if anything the differences seem even clearer. Four is a freshly sharpened manzanilla – dry, punchy and all that chamomile, and while five is still zingy and punchy it has just a touch of roasted apple and, by comparison, is a richer wine.

Lovely stuff and I just can’t wait for six and seven.

Pastora Manzanilla Pasada in Angelita Madrid

There is a lot of enthusiasm for old bottles these days. I don’t share it in general – I rarely meet one without wishing I had met it years ago. But there are exceptions and exceptional places. In Corral de la Moreria, Abarra and, lately, Angelita.

In the last few weeks I have been spoiled in Angelita with a couple of old bottles that were really exceptional – a Gitana most recently but most memorably this Pastora. It was absolutely sensational.

The older wines become finer and more fragile in profile – it only takes the slightest imperfection to throw the silhouette. But these two were great and the Pastora out of this world. Still zingy, but rapier fine, and flavours that had gone from spice to incense. But even better it was still all joined up – the shape was there, not too bitter and remarkably pleasing.

But probably the best thing that I can say about it is that the friend I shared it with loved it – and I don’t think they had had a new manzanilla pasada before that, let alone one that was fifty years old.

You didn’t need to be a fan or a “sherrylover” to love this, it was lovely wine.

Añina 2016 in Taberna Palo Cortado

In sherry terms Madrid is one of the places to be, if not the place to be, with restaurants and winebars with incredible lists of sherries seemingly in every neighbourhood. But the final destination for the discerning drinker in want of some of the really good stuff, and in particular the really hard to get stuff, is Taberna Palo Cortado.

In Taberna Palo Cortado there is a wine list of over 300 sherries (and other traditional Andalucian wines), all available by the glass. A list exceeding my over exercised imagination. But even that list is not the end of the story. If you dig a little deeper you will soon find yourself being offered wines off the menu that are even more special.

One such is this Anina 2016 by the great Willy Perez. It is of course 100% palomino fino, from old vines on a vineyard called “El Caribe” in the historic pago de Añina in Jerez. It ticks two of my boxes: terroir and (as its name suggests) vintage, putting it right up my street, and it is another example of this new style of concentrated, unfortified white wines that Willy is quickly becoming associated with.

All the hallmarks are there – it is ripe and honeylike on the nose, loads of fruit and only the faintest hint of a distant haybale, has good acidity and weight on the palate and again a lovely mouthful of fruit flavours. Maybe a hint of oxidation up front – certainly not much suggestion of anything biological – but nice mineral and herbal notes in amongst it all. Not quite as saline or savoury as its cousins from Carrascal de Jerez, but excellent, no question.

The only problems with this wine are (a) the small size of the bottle and (b) the small number of them. Not that that stops Taberna Palo Cortado!

Sherry Week 2020 – in Madrid and worldwide

Sherry Week 2020 is upon us and, while understandably restrained this year, it is still a great excuse/opportunity to try a glass of one of the world’s great wines. If you’d like to find an event – whether a tapas and sherry offer or a full blown tasting menu – there is a cracking searchable map on the Sherry Wines Website.

In Madrid as always we are well looked after. In Madrid every week is Sherry Week – whether in its Sherry Temples, Palo Cortado, Surtopia, Corral de Moreria or A’Barra, or its wine temples, lead by Angelita Madrid and la Fisna, or the restaurants and taverns with outstanding lists of sherries like Zalamero, Taberna Verdejo, la Canibal, Lakasa, la Taberna de Pedro, La Malaje, Media Ración, Kulto, Triciclo, la Antoja, the “new” Venencia … there are many and I am bound to forget some for which I apologize in advance (luckily I can edit this post later).

But this week there are 29 different locations listed in Madrid, including in the aforementioned Canibal, Pazo de Lugo, Kulto, Distinto, la Antoja, and many others – the full list is on the website – but at the risk of upsetting some very good friends, one event stands out to me: “La Mayeteria Sanluqueña in Sagrario Tradicion”.

La Mayeteria Sanluqueña is one of the greatest things in the new landscape of Jerez (in this case Sanlucar) and the event – a menu paired with wines from two of the mayetos from two pagos that are close by but express different stories, and two vintages – 2017 and 2018 – that express very different times. In fact I should declare an involvement here – Nico asked me for a suggestion of how to take part in sherry week and that was all the excuse I needed to further my agenda on all fronts. I love the traditional wines of Andalucia in all their forms, but palomino, vintage and terroir are my bag in a big way, and if you throw in artisans and tradition, and if the wine is as good as these are …

So get down to your local sherry event, and if you can find them, check out the mayeteria!

El Tresillo and la Panesa

One thing lead to another. These wines are a long time in the bodega and then survive a laughably short time once within arms reach.

They are two sensational wines each in their own way.

The Panesa is magnificent in its breadth, volume and solidity, lovely in the mouth and during a long finish, a wine you can drink at any time of day and night. Has a full aroma and flavour with no vibrato – Juanma Martin Hidalgo compares these to the classical music of Jerez and if so this is the pavarotti, a big lunged, vibrato free beast.

At its side the Tresillo is beguilingly fine and more complex on the nose and palate, with a touch of polish in more ways than one and more noticeable sea air. Then a touch of hazelnut to La Panesa’s almonds. This would be the other chap – more of a crowd pleaser and a more complex character maybe but not that same force of personality.

Frankly, this is why people say comparisons are odious – what a pair of absolute belters.

UBE Carrascal 2015 – in Taberna Palo Cortado

This was the original UBE and still my favourite overall. From Carrascal de Sanlucar, the freshest and most vertical of the great pagos in el marco, but from old vines and a low yielding vineyard that produces wines of relative potency and concentration.

It is of course 100% palomino (although with Ramiro other options are available), from three different clones – palomino fino, palomino de jerez and palomino pelusón (which intriguingly translates as big hairy palomino). It is fermented in bota and then spends another 20 months there, without flor, after which this one has been another three and a half years in the bottle.

That period in the bottle has really brought it on – as I so often find with palomino white wines – and the result is a highly enjoyable, fresh but flavourful white wine.

As you can see, it has taken on a very attractive old gold colour, clearly darker in shade than I remember it, and it has a very distinctive nose, chalky interlaced with lemon but with a hint of stewy herbs in the background. In fact those herbs come through more and more as the wine opens up. Really interesting balance of mineral, fruit and savoury. Then on the palate more of the same, the effect of the chalk, the fresh start and a nice, generous mouthful of citrus and herbal fruit before slipping away in a long fresh finish.

Plenty to enjoy here, a really excellent wine, and that savoury character makes it a great wine for one of the cheeky lunches I have missed so much …