Do sherries get better in the bottle?

Been an interesting debate here the last few days about the merits or not of bottle ageing for the wines of el marco, brought about by this interesting piece by Jorge Capel in El Pais.

Where do I come out? Well I have been tracking my own experiences with bottle aged wines and while the results have been mixed, and some wines have surprised me very pleasantly, I have never met an old bottle I wouldn’t have like to meet a few years ago. (And I feel a heel for saying this, because I appreciate that the many times I have tried these wines have been due to the enormous kindness of friends.)

Of course when people get into the bottle aged sherries it isn’t always a case of drinking a wine from today that has spent thirty years in the bottle. There are brands that have disappeared in the last few decades, and famous wines from today that forty years ago were still made in batches of tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands. (The two phenomena are of course related but not uniformly.) More importantly, there are wines made from the original, lower production, clones in the olden days (but for that your bottle probably has to be from the 60s or before).

On the other hand, just as some of the wines from olden days were better, some were not better. If you think about it, just as the glory days of production in the region were in the 1950s, the glory days of sales were in the 1970s and 1980s, and if you get yourself a wine that is thirty of forty years in the bottle then supply economics indicate that it is likely to have spent less time in the butt one way or another.

But it isn’t a simple better/worse equation. I have found that whatever the overall quality of the wine how it evolves in the bottle will depend on its characteristics, as a general rule: the finer and more aromatic the wine (or the more given to acetaldehides) the more it is prone, in my experience, to degenerate; and the fatter, or more concentrated, or more acidic, or extreme in general the original wine, the more likely it is to improve. (It made me laugh when someone told me their opinion of a 100 year old amontillado (approx) – “could do with 20 years in the bottle”). The wines that tend to stay truest to themselves, again in my experience, are the Sanlúcar wines, while the wines that can benefit most are the Jerez wines, which is probably due to a combination of the above. More generally there are also things that can be learned from drinking the older wines, whether from Jerez or anywhere else. The best ones get finer, and for all that the signal gets weaker and more tenuous, they show their profiles very clearly. And the bad ones, believe me, just become badder.

But I guess the most important thing of all is that these old bottles bring joy to people. Sure, I like the new ones, but a while ago I witnessed the opening of a bottle of a classic fino from the 1970s and the excitement was fantastic, contagious, and worthy of seeking out for its own sake. Was really fun to share in that moment.

So if you come across any old bottles, the email is at the bottom on the left – I owe a few of the lads a few already!


Oloroso seco Manuel Aragón

You can probably guess where I drank this from the photo. If you need any further clues I can tell you that they have a list of sherries unlike any other in Madrid.

This is an oloroso from Manuel Aragon, who has a bodega called “El Sanitorio” in Chiclana at the Southernmost extent of el marco that is probably best known to readers of this blog for being the source of La Bota 62 de Palo Cortado. but I admit that the first thing that I think of is always the Manifesto 119. I wonder what happened to those wines from gateta?

Anyway, like the famous Equipo Navazos Palo Cortado what struck me about this oloroso was how lively and youthful it was for the depth and definition of its flavours and aromas. As you can see, crystalline, a bright chestnut red colour. Then on the nose it has a beautiful clean whiff of nuts and sawdust, that just follows on through the palate, with a fresh finish to boot.

A really nice spritely oloroso. Can’t quite believe how old it is.

Manzanilla madura Callejuela

The author was in need of refreshment after slogging his way across Madrid to Kulto for a bite to eat recently and this glass of manzanilla madura by the guys at Callejuela ticked the box.

This is the more serious of the two standard manzanillas (as opposed to the En Rama, the Añada and the exceptional Blanquito) and has slightly more weight behind it. As you can see it is a very slightly greenish gold in colour and it has a bit of that greenery on the nose: a little bit grassy and herby with maybe slightly older apples underneath.

On the palate it is sharp and fresh, with a zing of salinity then has some heft, with a slightly bitter apple flavour and leafy notes on top before a fresh, fluid finish.

Amigo Imaginario 2016

Here is a wine that has been eluding me for nearly a year. Unless I am much mistaken I first missed out on trying it at last year’s Cuatrogatos Wine Fest. Subsequently, I acquired a bottle, and even took said bottle to dinner with friends, but it was somehow forgotten and has been occupying space in said friend’s wine cabinet pending a return fixture. I then missed out on trying it at Taberna Palo Cortado when Alejandro and Rocio hosted a tasting there recently. All the while, I heard about it, saw it on twitter and in a clip by the great Colectivo Decantado and was generally haunted by it until, having finally gotten around to acquiring bottle number two, Paki offered me a glass last week in Palo Cortado.

It is a 100% palomino that has been made “like a red wine” and, amongst other things, has spent eight months in an old oloroso butt. No time under flor or oxidation involved – just contact with the oloroso impregnated wood. There is no doubt a lot more to it but I missed the official tasting and in any event I am glad to say that after such a long build up the final product didn’t disappoint in the slightest.

It is yet another example of the aromas, structure and flavour that palomino can produce in the right hands. This glass started off relatively quiet but grew in aromatics, with hints of sawdust and other woody aromas mixed in with the blossoms and white fruit. Then on the palate its savoury salinity and sapidity it comes across as more solid and potent than its 12,9º would have you expect. The salinity gives it a nice shape, contoured rather than smooth but piercing at both ends, and refreshing despite the weight in the middle.

Excellent on its own, and like many other palominos it is a fantastic wine with food – the freshness of the salinity and savoury flavours perfect with almost anything.

Whose wine is it anyway?

A lot of nice sherries around these days: the sherry lists in restaurants are getting longer and longer and it sometimes feels as if there is a never ending supply line of new labels and brands. Some of them are from smaller bodegas and almacenistas that have decided, given the increased interest of the public, to sell their own wine rather than sell it to bigger houses. But others are, quite literally, old wines in new bottles.

It all started, of course, with Equipo Navazos, who in just over 12 years since December 2005 have released no less than 80 such wines. Since then though the marketplace for this kind of “marquista” wine (wine from one origin and sold under a different brand, or “marca”) has become crowded indeed. Names that spring to mind include Antonio Barbadillo’s Sacristia AB, Roberto Amillo’s Selección, the wines bottled by Alexander Jules, and most recently Las Botas.

And those are just the “marquistas”. There are more and more “selections” in general and the latest trend is for restaurants: Lustau and Aponiente have teamed up to release wines under the “Yodo” brand, Albert Adría and Gonzalez Byass have come up with “la Cala” while I was told on a recent trip up North that Nerua and Mugaritz also have their very own manzanillas, finos and all sorts. A recent high point was when I tried a manzanilla in Madrid that had been barrel selected for a wine bar … in San Sebastian!

Some of these guys – Equipo Navazos in particular – have done a grand job selling these wines around the world and educating critics and collectors in the English speaking world in particular. It is no surprise that they are highly thought of: they have quite literally created a market, and in my view have been instrumental in reviving international interest in the wines of the region. Neither do I see any problem in principle with using successful brands – be it Mugaritz or Aponiente, or Essencia or whoever, to boost the sales and awareness of these wines.

There are some drawbacks with the sheer number of selections you find around the place. It makes things tricky for the critics, who have been known to score the “marquista” selections higher than the original wines (by as many as three points in the familiar 80-100 scale) to widespread chagrin, incredulity, and elevation of eyebrows. More worryingly, the marquista wines may be crowding out the “real wines” when it comes to international recognition or even at those same tastings (I recently saw a lineup of a tasting that had been organized where no fewer than four of the eight wines were marquistas). Also on the negative side, these special selection wines tend to be candidates for the more “imaginative” kind of marketing and can feed into a “stamp collecting” mindset.

And maybe the glory years of the marquistas are over to an extent: with the pick up in interest for these wines there are not as many forgotten botas or bodegas that don’t have their own route to market. But neither are they going away any time soon, and if the bodegas don’t want to live permanently in their shadow maybe the solution is to learn from them.

Most fundamentally, it may be time to recognize that not all the botas in the solera are the same, and for the bodegas to take advantage of that fact for themselves. I have often said that one of the secrets to the Equipo Navazos success story is the limited edition nature of their wines, and you can see now how different bodegas are trying to emulate that, with “single cask” and special “bota NO” releases. Also, the marquistas, and again Equipo Navazos are the leading example, are often better at explaining what makes their wines special than the bodegas are and that too can be learned from.

But neither is it true that these special selections are always better than the original. I am the sort of contrary soul that orders the selection and the standard side by side and can tell you that the standard often wins. And let’s not forget that there would be nothing to select, and bottle, and explain, and market around the world if it weren’t for the bodegas. The bodegas are the true keepers of the flame, they are the ones making the wines and the people that, ultimately, are paying for the party with their massive investment in the productive “assets” that are their soleras and cellars.

So enjoy the special selections by all means, but never forget where they came from.



Amontillado fino el Tresillo

Second of two amontillado finos at lunch in Surtopia and one of the all time classic amontillados.

The first waft of this across the nose was divine – hazelnuts in honey. A closer inspection and the salty minerals are more prominent but there is no missing the sweet caramel notes and nuttiness.

Then on the palate well, it is all there – zingy, salty buzz to the tongue, and then super dry and intense but with flavours that suggest sweetness: caramel, nuts and even orange marmalade. Lovely long finish that seems to actually get better.

Brilliant wine for a brilliant lunch.