Only recently I mentioned on this blog that I had never tried the Bota de Palo Cortado 41 by Equipo Navazos and providence, in the form of an agile wine merchant, has provided. A bottle of said beverage is now on its way to me – and this is not, it must be said, purely an act of altruistic generosity on the part of the merchant involved: a largeish amount of coinage has already travelled in the opposite direction.
I must admit to certain misgivings. First, this number 41 is a “brother” or “cousin” of Botas 47, 48 and 51, wines of which I have had mixed experiences. Second, I have a growing worry that this blog may be turning into an Equipo Navazos fan page (albeit written by a grumpy, demanding fanboy). There are a lot of sherries out there, why do I keep spending my hard earned wodge on these?
There are of course a number of reasons. All their wines are high quality and some are amongst the best I have ever tasted. They cover a wide range of styles too. Since I started this blog I have cracked open palo cortados, manzanillas, a manzanilla pasada, a fino, a white wine and two amontillados that I can remember, before that I have had olorosos of every stripe, I have a PX in the fridge as we speak and indeed they even have created some new categories – “fino que va para amontillado” and “florpower”. They are also cleverly marketed by genuine enthusiasts – they come with a story behind them which lends them interest and piques your curiosity.
But most of all, there is the magic of the numbers. All of the Equipo Navazos releases are given a number (e.g., the palo cortados mentioned above – releases number 41, 47, 48 and 51) and are strictly limited editions. They may in future release another palo cortado from the same bota, but it will be a different wine with different characteristics, and will get a different number accordingly (witness the manzanilla pasadas – at least the 30 and 40 are from the same bota and the 40 is in a class of its own).
These numbers give the wine something that many of the superb wines from Jerez and around do not have – uniqueness and scarcity. In my view (and this is an area where I know many of my friends in Jerez disagree) that uniqueness is something that all makers should try to achieve. Maybe not by numbering releases necessarily – but by dating the releases, identifying the vineyards and even the special botas involved.
First, because as I mentioned before, you pique the curiosity: sherry fans will want to try every one of your releases to compare them. Even the guys in Jerez that disagree with the idea of identifiable releases will admit that their wines differ from saca to saca, and even if they didn’t, it is fun to check it for yourself and to compare how the same wine evolves over time, for instance.
Second, because a certain kind of wine lover will want to collect them. I am not in this camp with the Equipo Navazos – I try them all and only attempt to stockpile my favourites, but there is one wine I have started collecting every release of – the brilliant Solear en ramas with birds on the labels (I am also a bad birdwatcher, which may explain that).
Third, by differentiating your releases you get a little of the buzz that accompanies the vintages of the wines of other regions – the guys at Gonzalez Byass in particular are very adept at generating buzz around their en rama releases each year, and it is noticeable that they are also leading the field with the single vintage palo cortados (albeit in a slightly more diffuse way – I reckon they could do more with a more disciplined, focussed approach).
Fourth, and this is an important point, you give wine writers and reviewers a reason to regularly review and write about your wines – give them new scores every year (scores which generally drift upwards naturally, it has always seemed to me) – and you give the new generations of writers and reviewers a reason to write about you. Every high score adds to your prestige and generates buzz, and the low scores are soon forgiven or forgotten – the more horses you enter, the better your chances of winning the race.
Of course there is a downside: when I started to hunt around for the last few bottles of my personal favourite, the Bota de Palo Cortado 34, I found that a wine I had first acquired for €36 a bottle might now cost me several multiples (fear not, I hunted around and obtained a reasonable stock for limited damage). I also feel this can be overdone: a specific release is fair enough, but I am not sure it is worth individually numbered bottles and botas.
I also recognize that people who are far, far, more entitled to an opinion than I disagree with me on this entirely. (I wish I could explain to you their reasoning but I generally only get to discuss it after quite a quantity of quaffing.) It is easy to see that this approach would significantly complicate the business of selling sherry – and that a large amount of the added value may end up in the hands of retailers.
On the whole though, I am in favour of limited and dated releases, of identifiable vintages and vineyards, and of doing anything at all that might help the bodegas of jerez make truly unique wines or, at the very least, bring the superb wines they do make back to the front of the mind of the world’s wine writers and drinkers.