The best of 2017 undertheflor

fe1ee6d3-cff7-4e87-b5d7-fd75e640185cOther blogs may post their “best of” at the end of December or beginning of January but that is not how we do things at this address: January 20 works for me. There is a risk of course that a full three weeks into 2018 people might be less tolerant to my bragging and crowing on about what an awesome year I had last year but frankly I have the post mainly written now so I might as well go ahead.

January: lessons in terroir with the Pitijopos 

The first highlight of the year was the night in January when we took a lesson in the terroir of Sanlúcar with Volume II of the Pitijopos. There is no better demonstration of the relevance of terroir in el marco than these six bottle sets and I firmly believe that it is an issue that is central to the future if el marco is going to be considered a serious wine region. If only all educational experiences were as much fun as this.

February: Wine and fun at the Cuatrogatos Wine Fest

February was all about the he Cuatrogatos Wine Fest an absolutely cracking day and night down in el Puerto de Santa Maria with the genial Federico Ferrer and his band of artisan winemaker friends. Like a salon but in the bowels of a bull ring, with wines that are a lot more interesting than the average, Cadiz-style street food and an awful lot of laughter. This year’s is on February 24 and is a must-attend for anyone seriously into fun and wine (in that order).

March: epic tastings, visitors from the other place and going blind

March was the month of epic tastings. First, we witnessed the full extent of Chiclana Power: with the great, criminally unrecognized Primitivo Collantes in Enoteca Barolo. Then that was followed by the true history of Palo Cortados according to Ramiro Ibañez in, fittingly enough, Taberna Palo Cortado. Two nights when copious notes were taken, notes which in other hands might have been used to write up an interesting post or two. I really learned a lot in those two tastings and if you get the chance to listen to these guys I highly recommend it.

In addition, I also had the pleasure of meeting Erik and Laura Burgess, the couple behind Montillamorileswines.com. We took a leisurely crawl from Territorio Era to La Malaje, via Angelita and la Venencia (we never made it to La Fisna) and tried a fair few interesting wines along the way: Manu from la Malaje finishing us off with some cracking old Montilla Moriles and even a bottle of Cordobese bubbles!

And as if that wasn’t enough, the month ended on a high with a cracking day at the Cata por Parejas by Vila Viniteca. I really need to drink more 2002 Salon, no doubt, but in general it really brought home how much fun blind tasting can be. I can’t make it this year but will probably train anyway!

April: the big three and the big one

April was again all about tastings but this time the three really big beasts among current enologists: a sensational dinner with Eduardo Ojeda of Valdespino/La Guita/Estevez (and Equipo Navazos) in Lavinia; getting to meet Jose Maria Quirós of Bodegas Tradición (and the legendary Agustin Blázquez) in Taberna Palo Cortado and, finally, Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass with his array of Palos Cortados de Añada. An honour to meet any one of them and to meet all three in one month was almost too much to take in.

And then the month ended with an all too brief visit from another of my blogging heroes: Ruben of SherryNotes featuring a signature cracking lunch at Territorio Era and what was shaping to be a pretty handy bar crawl until Mrs Undertheflor intervened and called me home!

May the force be with you

No big ticket events in May but there was one of those little moments that make the blog – indeed life – worthwhile. On a trip with friends and our families (imagine a scene involving double digits of small kids) a fella was allowed a few minutes to escape from the Guggenheim Museum for some delicious tidbits and a refreshing glass or two of the good stuff courtesy of the very kind folk in Nerua Bilbao, which may just about have the perfect wine list. Forever in their debt!

June: Alvear, bubbles and Bez

June began with a quite exceptional lunch with Alvear at which we tried their range of spectacular wines – some of the best wines tasted all year – and at the end of the month we had a cracking tasting of the natural wines of Alba Viticultores in Wine Attack, Madrid’s leading natural wine specialists, including key discussions and demonstration of mancunian poetry in motion from the early 1990s and a lot of laughs. (There is another link here.)

July: Mucho, mucho arte

In July probably the highlight of the whole year was an almost unbelievable night in Corral de la Morería. Not just because of the wines that we had – although they were absolutely epic – but the dinner, the incredible show, the atmosphere. It will live long in the memory and I am almost afraid to go back.

September: soleras cincuentanarias

In September the UEC hosted a great tasting of wines from one of the other big guns of the “other place”, the Soleras Cincuentenarias (and one Centenaria) by Perez Barquero. Again the wines were outstanding but for me the most memorable moment was the description of where the “palo cortados” come from: “we select the botas of oloroso that have the right profile”. All very mysterious.

October: Barajuelismo

The highlight of October was the night of the Barajuelas with Willy Perez in Palo Cortado. Truly exceptional wines – the long awaited Oloroso la Barajuela 2013 and a sneak preview of what promises to be an epic Fino la Barajuela 2014 – and a fascinating explanation given by the man himself, including a moving account of his “noches de fuego” that has Oscar winning movie clip written all over it.

November: Florpower and the Weight of History

November was enlivened considerably by an impromptu Florpower Friday lunch, at which we tried the famous series by Equipo Navazos and a few other things and had a blast, but the highlight was probably a cracking dinner with Vila Viniteca and friends to celebrate the 10th anniversary of an earlier anniversary or something. Always great to hear from winemakers, but Telmo Rodriguez’s thoughts on Spanish wine’s “historic places” had me realizing that they had forgotten the most important of them all …

December: Paola Medina in Taberna Palo Cortado

An early moment of joy in December was a lunch in Lakasa with la Barajuela. If you know Lakasa at all you will imagine how well we ate that day, and when you add a bottle (and a half) of Fino La Barajuela and a good friend well, there was singing and all sorts. (Apart from anything else it was a pleasure to see the reaction of a good friend from outside my little world of sherry nerds really enthusing about that special wine.)

But the highlight of the month was a tasting by Paola Medina in the new Taberna Palo Cortado at which we heard about and more importantly tasted more from her awesome colección añadas, alongside some very nice wines from the Don Zoilo range. (And hats off to Taberna Palo Cortado, who in the course of one year hosted tastings by all the top stars of the “new Jerez”: Ramiro, Willy, Primi and Paola.)

Bloody hell what a year that was!

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Huevos, Urta and amontillados finos in Surtopia

Have been living it up a bit in these first couple of weeks of the year but in amongst the new discoveries I couldn’t wait to get back to Madrid’s original temple to all things Sanlucar, Surtopia, whose bar I duly propped up on the first day it reopened.

I have been many times over the years and have posted a fair few times on this blog, but it is always worth visiting again. The wine list is in continual evolution – quite aside from the outstanding list of sherries, manzanillas and white and red wines from the region they now also have a brilliantly priced list of grower champagnes. And the cooking seems just to get better and better too: it is now up there with the very best in Madrid.

On this visit there was no messing around: a bloody sherry, creamed eggs with tuna and a beautiful piece of Urta (the supreme fish of the Cadiz coast), washed down with two superb amontillado finos, El Fossi and El Tresillo.

Wonderful stuff and well worth a(nother) visit!

Raya la Barajuela 2015

The third of the wines – all from the very top drawer – of a really memorable lunch at Alabaster recently this is something unique and special indeed.

The name “raya” refers to the old categories given to wine – whereas the finest wines were “palmas” destined to become finos, the rayas were heavier wines, over rich, that would be sent down a different path. This one is not a raya by chance: it is from fruit that was harvested from the el Corregidor vineyard in the very last of their many passes. A late harvest palomino, you might say.

The first time I tried it I must admit I struggled to understand it – the nose is sweet and rich, really in the style of a Riesling almost, while the palate is solid, dry and grapefruit bitter. In isolation I found it a strange combination.

The next time I had it was not in isolation: a fantastic tasting of the Barajuela project wines in Taberna Palo Cortado. On that occasion, coming hot on the heels of the epic oloroso, the richness and extremes of this wine seemed to make much more sense.

This time the context was provided by some fantastic pairings: a terrific red scorpionfish and a meaty, flavorful horse mackerel. The two dishes really complemented the wine, or vice versa: the sweetness of the nose with the scorpionfish and the bitterness and salinity with the horse mackerel.

A couple of things were very noticeable: first that the bitterness here was the grapefruit, baked orange bitterness of the fruit, not the burnt almond, woody bitterness I associate with process. The other was the utter contrast in profile with the fino. While the fino’s zing and salinity lets it slip in and out without a ripple, here the flavours are massive from the first sip to the long, long tail. On that finish the salinity is there but so is that over-ripe fruit – a long, long, long finish of fruit rather than just salt and spices.

And the potency – I was dragging this out but was still amazed at the intensity that made the tiniest sip enough.

It is probably my third favourite of the wines from this awesome little plot, but it is still a brilliant wine in its own right and fantastic with a strongly flavoured meat or fish dish like these.

Fino Williams Coleccion Añadas 2009, Febrero 2017

A bit of a backlog forming here for the editorial team at undertheflor.com – this was the second wine of an absolutely cracking lunch at Alabaster ten days ago, and there have been several lunches since.

Luckily this one is an easy write up – this wine is class. It is part of the Williams Coleccion Añadas, a single vintage, statically aged fino from añina and carrascal, and one of the most distinctive finos around. It has an evolved, dark straw colour and a pronounced hazelnut aroma and juiciness and that make it very approachable indeed.

I have been exceptionally lucky and have been able to try three sacas, from February 2016, February 2017 and April 2017, and the evolution of the three, from fino to arguably a fino amontillado, was fascinating. (Indeed, I gather the 2009 fino is no more – future sacas will be of a 2009 amontillado.) Moreover, the joy of the Coleccion Añadas is that you can try the 2009 fino alongside the oloroso of the same vintage, or even a box of six, and now you can try the 2010, which is a fish of an altogether different kidney.

A lovely wine if you can get hold of it.

Kulto

What passes for a light lunch in the land of undertheflor. If it is any consolation, I walked all the way there and all the way back. And it was well worth it – top bombing. Will write up soon but cheers lads!

Dorado Carrasviñas

Was given this blind by Fran, the sommelier at Alabaster, at the beginning of what turned into one of the all-time great lunches, and didn’t get anywhere near identifying it. To be fair, while I had read about “Dorados” from Rueda, until now hadn’t had my hands on one. (The nearest was probably For this is the verdejo and palomino answer to the solera aged wines of the South and it was very interesting indeed.

You can find a ficha here in Spanish and as you will see that it is an unfortified blend of palomino and verdejo (proportion not revealed but order of varietals suggests more verdejo) that have been separately fermented in inox before coupage. Then it is stored in 16L glass demijuanas for 18 months and subjected to the extremes of the Castilian summer – which leads to the oxidation – before being finished in oak barrels. (Although it all sounds like a single vintage process I couldn’t find a date on the label or bottle.)

The resulting wine is pretty interesting. As you can see it has a deep old straw color to it, which in my mental processes it had me heading manzanilla pasada or old fino. Then the nose had fruit – much more like a manzanilla pasada than fino, but even more fruit than that, very bright nose. On the palate it had quite an acidic start, which on top of all the fruit had the alarm bells ringing, and then that fruit, then a turn to sour fruit bitterness and a deepish groove of salinity. Quite a long, fiery and mouthwatering finish.

I might get pelters for this from the guys down in el marco but I really enjoyed it – tasty and complex, and a reminder of how much fun it is to taste wines blind. May have been a bit of the element of surprise involved but will have to see if I can get some to try against the real thing at my leisure. Nice one Fran!

Taberna Palo Cortado

The answers you seek are in these pages: 13 pages with 212 wines by the glass or the bottle. And then the first one they gave me wasn’t on the list! In fact Paki told me she had just over 300 of what could in general be called “sherries”, not including the unfortified wines from the region, or the champagnes, red wines and the like from all over. There is no doubt that Taberna Palo Cortado (now at Espronceda 18, Madrid) is the finest selection of wines from Jerez, Sanlúcar, Chiclana, Trebujena, Pajarete, Montilla or Moriles anywhere in Madrid, and one of the best anywhere.

And then you add all the magnificent catas: in the last twelve months alone they have had Ramiro Ibañez, Jose Maria QuirosWilly Perez, Primitivo Collantesthe Blanco Brothers and Paola Medina, before that there were memorable nights with Toro Albala and Lustau, and next week they have the guys from Forlong.

And on top of that today I had an absolutely belting lunch: intended just to have a bowl of (delicious) stewed lentils but was tempted into a cheeky half portion of calamares and a small serving of Paki’s fantastic callos and garbanzos, washed down with a small matter of, ahem, five glasses (which when you think about it is less than 2% of the list, so in the circumstances seems only reasonable).

Honestly we are not worthy of such an establishment – I certainly am not – we should get in there before they realize!