A couple of years ago they passed me a draft of a first section of a book intended to tell the true history of the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar. It was pretty dense: knowledge and enthusiasm per square inch off the chart, and a story that I had never heard before.
And they started with an explanation of how these wines used to be called. Palma, Raya, and everything in between. It was pretty nerdy – wine names you had never seen and a narrative coming from a whole new direction. But it rang true. Every wine lover and wine maker – even this wine bluffer – knew it to be true the moment that they read it. At that time it read like a theory in need of practice. But now you can experience the practice, and you can really appreciate the power in the theory.
This wine is the successor to a wine called oloroso. My guess is that it no longer can be called oloroso, because it was, like its sibling the palma cortada, cut off in its prime.
If it cannot be called an oloroso it is a mistake, because it might not be as aromatic as some but it is an almost divine representation of the effect of oxidation. The first time that I tried Oloroso la Barajuela, a few years ago now, I was mystified – I have had more oxidated burgundies (quite often). But then I was looking for more oxidation, more concentration, and I overlooked the wonderful way the palomino frame carries the oxidation.
And just as the flor can be cynically used to produce effects rather than wines, – carve wines too fine, produce too much haybale and too much sea air at the expense of too much fruit – oxidation can be thought of as just a tool for producing caramel, toffee, black toffee and burnt toffee, when in reality it can be a way of turning white fruit, quite literally, gold.
I mean it stands to reason that olorosos didn’t just start leaping from the barrel at 12 years old. There must have been a moment when people started noticing how nice these wines were with a bit of oxygen – before we all started overdoing it.
And that is what we have here, in this white wine from the greatest vineyard in Jerez. And it is what we are beginning to see too in its counterpart from Sanlucar, Agostado. Both of them are white wines so solid on their frame that that oxidation is not a defect but a burnish, a polish.
And those words – palma, raya, cortado – they are on bottle labels, wine lists and, hopefully, in publications, and blog posts, and rankings. And the word will spread.
And who knows? We may one day see the second section of the book even …
In the 1980s a young undertheflor would watch a program on the TV called “The Day the Universe Changed”. In it, the great James Burke tells the story of the advancement of human knowledge and the humans that advanced it. Nerdy as it may be, it was absolutely outstanding, a celebration of achievement and knowledge, and nearly 40 years on I still remember some of the episodes. (There were none involving wine, although brandy and barrels get a look in in a couple.)
In the story of the advancement of my wine knowledge there have been a few days when the universe changed. One was the day I tasted Episode I of the Pitijopos, one was when I was given a tour of Emilio Hidalgo by the great Juanma, another when I visited the pagos and vineyards of Jerez and Sanlucar with Ramiro Ibañez. Even single wines have done it. I will never forget my first bottle of la Barajuela Fino or of Toneles Moscatel. And one of those days was the day I tried the wines from Pata de Gallina the first time, in the guise of La Bota de Palo Cortado 34, by the great Equipo Navazos.
I went and found it in Enoteca Barolo after getting the tip from Victor de la Serna that I should look for “La Bota”. But when I took it home I really had no idea what to expect and it just blew my mind. I will never forget the moment. I sent an email to a mate of mine about it – I wish I could find that!
It wasn’t just shock value, it was a really outstanding wine, No 34. I loved it deeply and dearly, buying up every bottle I could in Spain and even reimporting a case from the UK (to the amusement of the sellers involved). I think I still have a bottle at the back of the minibar there. The ones I have had recently have faded a little, but back then it had a bit of everything, complexity in handfuls, and a balance and a lightness that very few wines share. Eight years later and probably 800 different sherry wines (and similar) later it is still right up there.
And this, its most recent reincarnation, is a lovely reminder of it. It is not the same wine – I am convinced that the more recent releases have become sharper, finer, with less fullness of bone and more definition, and I frankly miss that puppy fat. But this is still one of the very best examples of what this style of finer oloroso is supposed to be about. Flavourful but sharp – cheeky and complex. And when I say sharp I mean rapier sharp, without renouncing the full palate and a bundle of flavours and sensations that take minutes to unpack as you hold it on the tongue, warming your gums and the inside of the cheeks with its acid and salinity. Burnt wood, burnt caramel, sweetness, bitterness, citrus, sawdust – but without being overbearing in any direction really.
A lovely, balanced wine yet again, and I always wonder if the 34 was better or if I was worse, or am I worse now? I suppose in end it doesn’t matter. But I hope this wine will change a few universes as its predecessor did mine.
Amazing to think that I started hoarding these little bottles seven years ago and even more amazing to crack them open and find the wine is still sensational, maybe even better than it was.
Was nostalgic to see this bottle still had the “manzanilla” with no pasada on the label and the agglomerate cork instead of the natural cork in the recent bottles, and it has been fun trying to recall what I was up to in 2014 when I first opened this. I didn’t have the blog yet and I hadn’t even been to Jerez in those days. I wasn’t on instagram yet even – what in the world did I use to do with my time? (Yes I know there aren’t many posts these days so same difference I suppose.)
But some things haven’t changed. Back then I loved these little bottles and I still do. I suppose the question is whether I loved them more or not and that is an interesting one. In general of course these wines no longer have the impact they did on that more impressionable young fella, but this has withstood the test of time as well as any.
And this specific wine has certainly taken the passing years in its stride. It is still intense, full of zingy saline heat, and full of juice too: real concentration of flavour. The colour is that touch darker, and the flavours have gone down a notch in register – but this is just as full a palate as I remember, and with time open a sweetness comes through on the finish that just rounds it off.
I would swear it was better for seven years in this tiny bottle – wish I had bought a couple of magnums and had a couple of decades …
No jokey posts this time or corny lines, serious business tonight with a serious wine. This is the original UBE, one of the first really serious unfortified palomino wines I ever tried and with each passing vintage I am more convinced that it is one of the very best.
It is from the las Vegas vineyard in El Carrascal de Sanlucar, a plot with old, ungrafted vines of some of the original palomino varieties, palomino fino, palomino de jerez, and pelúson (aka big hairy palomino) growing on the loose, antehojuela albarizas of Carrascal de Sanlucar, one the most Atlantic influenced pagos of Sanlucar and el marco. It is fermented in bota and then spends another 20 months there – without flor – growing into this beast of a white wine. Since then it has been a good year and a bit in the bottle already although I think it is fairly recently released.
All that time in the making: a vine that had been slaving away for over 100 years, fruit that spent 2017 making itself, 20 months in the barrel and a year and half in the bottle. And after all that he bottle disappeared in the blink of an eye. One moment it was there. The next moment, it was no longer there.
But what a moment there was in between. This is not only an excellent example of what unfortified palomino is all about it is a truly lovely wine on any terms. In colour (slightly dark gold), aroma (citrus, herbs and sea breeze) and above all on the palate, where it has incredible range and even more extraordinary finesse, it is just a remarkable sup. That range goes all the way from white flowers to stewy herbs, passing through white fruits, jammy fruits, and sweet herbs on the way. And it does it with understated power and an elegance and clarity that is really quite remarkable.
Yes I enjoyed it. What often happens when I open one of these is that three go down in quick succession but that is not happening this time. Iron discipline is at work, but so is the shortage of supply. I am going to quickly sort out the latter, and we will see about the former.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.