Jesus Barquin: Fortification vs asoleo

Wanted to make sure I posted the link to this cracking piece by Jesus Barquin on elmundovino.

In it he analyzes the reason why finos and manzanillas in Jerez and Sanlucar are generally fortified to 15%, describes the alternative methods of getting to that level, and in particular asoleo (leaving the grapes in the sun as is common in Montilla Moriles) and explains his view that modest fortification is preferable to asoleo in terms of preserving the fine character and qualities of finos and, by allowing fruit to be harvested at the perfect ripeness, the expression of terroir.

To say it has kicked off a debate is an understatement, the author has some choice words for many in the twittersphere but it is fair to say there is disagreement even between the real experts in the sector.

My own thoughts? The suggestion that the best way of allowing the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar to express terroir is by adding alcohol is counterintuitive to say the least. Nevertheless, to be honest I think I am a Barquinista, at least until proved otherwise.

  • First, there is no question at all that mostos express terroir and fruit characteristics. I refer here to the Pitijopos and numerous other examples. No doubt.
  • Neither do I have any doubt that finos and manzanillas express terroir and fruit characteristics. The biological process makes dramatic changes to the wine, but there is no mistaking the features and character of the underlying mosto (when visiting any bodega I would always recommend tasting the mosto whenever possible).
  • From my own limited experience he is also dead right to say that the pedro ximenez dry sherries from Montilla Moriles have a chunkier, woollier structure than their counterparts further South and tend, in my experience, to be just slightly less expressive. We are talking fine margins here, these are excellent wines but I feel they just don’t develop the same range of flavours. (Now is that a product of the asoleo or the different fruit involved? I am not expert enough to know.)
  • As for the effect of adding alcohol, I have been looking back through my notes and I have only found a handful of instances where I found the alcohol became noticeable – and generally in olorosos or palos: almost never in a fino or manzanilla of any quality.

In summary, my view would be that the fortified finos have a fine, expressive quality that is just slightly out of the reach of their cousins in Montilla Moriles, that the characteristics being expressed reflect, at least in part, terroir, and that the fortification with alcohol does not seem to interfere with the profile of the wines.

On the other hand, I am very thankful that I don’t have to make these wines because the more I learn about them the more I realize how little I know. As Jesus Barquin points out, we will soon have a chance to find out if he is right, since certain small producers (frequent readers of this blog can probably guess who) are exploring asoleo in Jerez and Sanlucar at this very moment.

In the meantime, it is fascinating stuff to follow (I am technically incapable of linking to the twitter discussion but if you look on @undertheflor you will find a couple of interesting retweets allowing you to follow streams up or down).

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