Undertheflor confined

Been a couple of months now and I still don’t know what to say or where to start.

First there are all the victims. Far far too many people have been taken by this terrible virus. The numbers are unimaginable. Today over a hundred had died in Spain and by comparison that was considered good news. 496 deaths on one day in England only made page 4 of one egregious newspaper. And the totals, even manipulated as they have been by governments more concerned with public opinion than public safety, are staggering. What is worse, every one of those too easily spun numbers is a person, a parent or a grandparent, a husband, wife, brother and sister, son or daughter, and perhaps most tragically doctor, nurse, hospital porter, ambulance driver, policeman, fireman, bus driver or other public servant. It is hard to imagine their suffering or that of their families, and it is just heartbreaking that there are so many.

Second, those front-line workers. Hard to put words to the respect, admiration and gratitude felt for all the workers putting themselves in harm’s way for our sake. One hopes that their contribution will not be forgotten and that they will get their reward at the end of this – it is absolutely clear that they deserve so much more than they get now.

And just behind the doctors and nurses are untold numbers of anonymous heroes: shelf stackers, checkout girls and guys, truck drivers, delivery men and women, bus drivers, police officers and so many others that have not stopped and whose efforts have meant that life could go on even when the world was falling on our heads. In particular I cannot but remember the tech team, the messenger and repro departments, cleaners and security that have kept my own office ticking over and made it possible for me, my own team, and the whole firm to work from home.

But as grateful as I am to those that have kept working my heart also goes out to those that have not been able to, and in particular all those restaurants, taverns, bars of all shapes and sizes, and all their suppliers, the distributors and bodegas. A lot of sectors have been hammered in the last several months and I spend a lot of my time speaking to companies that are fighting daily to hold things together, but I really just don’t know what to say to my many friends in the restaurant and wine businesses.

Possibly closest to my heart are the winemakers and their distributors and there is no over estimating the challenge that they face. It is heartening to see that off-licence sales of wine have increased more rapidly than sales of beer in the period everything has been closed but even if they had tripled, cuadrupled, they would not make up for the loss of sales through restaurants. Forget your plans for a beach body – summer is cancelled this year. Instead, keep buying wine, enjoying wine at dinner and lunch, and breakfast and afternoon tea if necessary – a glass of bubbles with your cucumber sandwiches, Fortnum’s style.

Because for restaurants, well I cannot imagine what it must be like to see a thriving business, that you have spent years building up in the most competitive market possible taken to the cleaners by a natural phenomenon on this scale. I cannot imagine how hard it must be, when you have spent years in the business of making people feel at home, to have to get on your motorbike and take them the food there. And I cannot imagine how it must feel right now to all those friends who have made a career in table service, making a connection with customers and helping create the unforgettable experiences that are the real objective of the restaurant business. It must be simply heartbreaking, and I wish I could offer some kind of solace.

I am lost in admiration for the many businesses that are fighting it out and making huge changes to their lives. My neighbour, Pepe Moran of de la Riva, has been an inspiration, my good friends at Zalamero Taberna sent us a sensational dinner home on their first day back and the other day I ordered a takeaway from Trifiker and, when I went to give the rider a couple of euros tip discovered it was Trifón himself! (And there are many more – I only have one stomach but will get myself sorted with a post soon.)

And the impact on the wine business is also severe. Wine is one of the great ingredients of the great experience of dining out, and one where restaurants, taverns, bars and the rest, and most importantly the sommeliers, waiters and maitres d’ play an outsized role in educating us and encouraging us to find those wines, those pairings that can make a good dinner great, and a lovely evening special.

My enjoyment of wine is so bound up with epic lunches and dinners in the many outstanding restaurants in Madrid that at times I find it hard to distinguish one from the other. This blog would not exist and would not make sense without Madrid’s restaurants, bars, taverns, vinotecas and botellerias, and so many wines – particularly sherry wines – are only accessible in the special venues that feature on these pages.

But way upstream from the urbane sommelier who opens our eyes and wallets are the growers – the people that plant, tend, and harvest the magic bushes of vitis vinifera that are the heart of the whole business. For some of them, the decrease in sales caused by this virus can mean a loss of a year’s, or even a lifetime’s work.

It is vital that we keep drinking, keep buying wine, that we order food (and wine) from our favourite restaurants, and that we do everything in our power to keep these wonderful flames alive. All our lives would be so much the poorer without them.

But more importantly, their lives have already been turned upside down, and obstacles we cannot imagine have been put in the way of people who had already overcome enough barriers for several lifetimes.

I promise that I will do what I can to keep consuming, and to keep encouraging consumption, and I hope that the many friends that have done so much to contribute to my enjoyment and passion over the years know that if I can help in any way – any way at all – they only need to contact me. Stand by me.

Callejuela Manzanillas de Añada 2015 – all three

In current circumstances if you are after a hat trick you could do worse than come to undertheflor.com – a fella is fair punishing the bottlebank lately. And never in a better cause than here, with these three single vineyard (Callejuela, Añina and Macharnudo, respectively) and single vintage manzanillas by two of the bright lights of the “Cherrirevolooshun”: the Blanco Brothers of Viña Callejuela.

And I don’t say that lightly – the half dozen occasional readers of this blog may have observed seen the name Callejuela associated with the very first single vintage manzanilla that hoved into view, the now legendary 2012. That one was from the Callejuela vineyard itself but a seed was planted. It was followed by the manzanilla en rama from the same vineyard – a bigger boned cracker – and then by the single vineyard wines from Callejuela, Añina and Macharnudo – also three little beauties.

But these are probably the best of the lot so far. Zippy manzanillas – and there is no doubting their profile wherever the grapes come from – with the added elegance of single vintage wines and just enough fruit still in them to lift them above your standard manzanilla profile.

They were harvested in 2015 and bottled in May, 2019, which would put them in the ballpark of Volume II of the 2012 manzanilla in terms of development in bota, but in addition they have the added dimension of the different vineyards.

Because they couldn’t be more different. Since I have been working on these three bottles I have changed my mind half a dozen times as to which is my favourite – although almost certainly between the Callejuela and the Añina.

Callejuela is Sanlúcar of course and is stylistically the most familiar manzanilla – but this version is just about as good as it gets -zingy, concentrated chamomile. Añina is a Jerez pago, but one of the favoured pagos of the manzanilla men, and while it doesn’t seem as compact as the Callejuela it is more floral and has that little bit of hazelnut deliciousness. The Macharnudo was my favourite of the white wines and there is no doubt it has a bit of beast about it, with a really piercing aroma and zingy back end – but maybe doesn’t quite hold up in the middle like the other two.

So Callejuela it is, or maybe Añina. Frankly, you should get all three because the only thing wrong with them is that the bottle is too small.

La Bota de Fino 91 – Saca of February 2019

Never has there been a better argument for smellovision than these cracking finos by Equipo Navazos.

The latest iteration of a wine that previously gave us Botas number 2, 32, 54 and 68, this is right up there with the most spectacular finos on the market. The wine here was originally sourced from probably the most important fino solera around – Inocente by Valdespino – but has been in the capable hands of Messrs Ojeda and Barquin a goodly time by now.

It really has a fantastic nose. I find these Equipo Navazos finos even more explosive when new released but even after a year in the bottle this is one of the most fragrant wines on the market – loads of hay bales and verging towards chamomile and herbs.

But it isn’t just the nose – has a lovely full body to it – whichever bota they liberated had a good bed of cabezuelas – and almost as much expression on the palate, with nuts in there but also sweet herbs and bakery.

Superb stuff from start to finish. But I am not going to finish it just yet …

Ube Carrascal 2015

I only have two bottles of this (vintage) left but couldn’t resist it.

I don’t know what it is about Ube but every time I have a bottle another one soon follows, and after that, well, one thing generally leads to another.

It is a class old vine palomino from a typically vertical, Atlantic Sanlucar, and this one from a warm year has a touch more fruit heft to balance the savoury, stewy herbs.

Superb – really world class white wine.

Fino El Aljibe

One of the newer labels in Jerez but an old school wine. A compact, solid fino with a lot of time in the barrel.

It comes from a compact, solid project with 16 hectares of vines on Pago de Añina in three vineyards: San Cristobal, El Aljibe and San José. Under new ownership but with old vines, a lot of varieties and clones in each vineyard but also a lot of new thinking. They have had them in ownership since 2015 and have produced wine since 2016. Those wines are used to rociar acquired soleras with a long history.

The fino is from a solera with four criaderas and the 2500 or so bottles a year have had an average of 8 years under flor.  The result is that compact, solid fino I mentioned earlier. Almond, yeasty dough and haybale aromatics and then a solid palate with a nice zingy start, bitter almond and slightly undercooked bread and then a mineral finish.

And it has a solidity to it that makes you feel like it is one of those unbeatable finos. The spanish have a frankly mystifying word: impepinable. Literally it means “uncucumberable” but after eighteen years in Spain it seems to me that it means you can’t fault it. 

And you really can’t fault it. Uncucumberable.

Solear en Rama Summer 2016 – the Marbled Teal

Difficult to top this, one of my favourite sacas of one of the best manzanillas around, in a magnum, and thanks to social distancing, none of those annoying close range socializers wanting to share it.

When reviewing my flock of Solear en Rama for repeats it struck me that I had seen this marbled teal somewhere before and indeed I have another. Faced with the decision of whether to drink the magnum or half bottle well, I thought about it for nearly a quarter of a second …

Almost too good to drink. Now a manzanilla pasada, but more manzanilla than pasada. It is not as fruity oxidized or as heavy as many, really fresh with a wonderful piercing nose and just a solid slab of manzanilla flavour: flavours of sea air and spicey, peppery rocket salad with a fresh finish.

There is a saying here that a good salad should be well salted (una buena ensalada sera bien salada) and this is certainly that. The biological is there at start and finish – zing to begin and swish to end – and in between you have those oily, peppery sensations on bready flavours – cobs of bread you use to mop up the dressing.  

A living legend. And by living, I mean the solera, because you won’t be seeing this bottle no more.

Ube Carrascal 2015

We are all locked in, but I don’t have anywhere better to go. This is an exceptional, world class white wine.

It shows all the qualities of its variety, time and place. The white fruit and herbs of the best palominos, the concentration of an (even) hotter season and the salinity and verticality of its birthplace in Carrascal de Sanlucar.

That combination of concentrated fruit, herbs, salinity and freshness make for an incredibly complex white wine, which was perfect with dinner but is even better on its own.

Uberrima indeed. Superb.