This blog post by Alvaro Giron Sierra on the Vila Viniteca blog is probably the most interesting that I have ever read in relation to the wines of Jerez. It is a real piece of scholarship, littered with contemporary evidence and even historic photographs, is mercifully free from the blarney and anecdote that plagues most writing about Jerez, offers some superb insights about the history of the wines and wine making in the region and finishes with a shrewd suggestion of what must be the way forward for the future.
The central theme is that it is a great error to project onto the past: the wines made in Jerez were not, in the past, the wines we know today. He makes a great counterpoint with the most fashionable debate in modern times – about whether palo cortados are “made” or “born” (“se hace o se nace”). As the author points out, in fact for most of history almost all wines in Jerez were “born”: it is only in recent times that wine makers in Jerez have had the knowledge and technology needed to “predictively” make the wines they intended, rather than reacting to and managing the evolution of wines that refused to be governed. (This is in fact something I find fascinating in relation to a lot of wine regions that have been famous for centuries: the evolution or even the wholesale revolution in the wines made there.)
There are some superb insights in the piece: the historic existence of numerous grape varieties with different strengths and characters; the huge variations in the wines fermented in “botas” and the massive resulting wine-making possibilities; the importance of the solera as a means of averaging not just vertically but horizontally; the ignorance until relatively recently of the crucial importance of the flor; and maybe most importantly for the future, the differences in quality attributable to the soil and demonstrated by single vineyard wines. There are many more, but I don’t intend to repeat them all – you should really read the piece itself.
It is a fascinating read and the conclusions the author makes sound absolutely right to me. A single grape, the solera process, a rudimentary classification and scant attention to terroir may have been an excellent way of making a very good wine sold by the barrel in the 19th Century, but Jerez today needs to seek to make possible the unique, outstanding wines being produced in other wine making regions. It is revolutionary – superficially a call to care less for tradition and more for the pursuit of excellence – but on closer examination it is a call to respect the traditions that made singular wines possible in the pre-industrial age, to cast off the limitations assumed and look again at all the possibilities.
The revolution may have already begun: the author himself is at the forefront of a project – Equipo Navazos – that is arguably leading the charge, having evolved from pickers of forgotten, prize botas to makers of interesting, singular wines, but they are far from being alone. Excellent, singular wines are being made and all we can do is seek them out, ask for them, buy them, try them and, if we like them, praise them. I fully intend to do my part at least.