The issue of vintages has been on my mind a great deal lately. First, a couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to take part in a brilliant tasting of vintage port organized by Vila Viniteca here in Madrid – including four examples of the fantastic 1994 vintage and a wonderful Niepoort from 1970 (thanks David). After that tasting, a few of us went for dinner which we washed down with a couple of vintage champagnes (what else would you drink after port?), including an amazing Pascual Doquet 1995 (thanks Guille). After all those vintages from those two splendid regions, this blogger was left musing on why he so rarely saw vintage sherries.
Not that there are none. The half dozen or so avid readers of this blog will recall brushes with vintage wines by Cota 45 (the Encrucijado MMXII, and again), Willams & Humbert (2006 fino en rama), Lustau (1997 Oloroso), la Callejuela 2012 Manzanilla de Añada (not once but twice), Ximenez Spinola (2014 Pedro Ximenez) and, most recently, Cota 45 again(the 2014 Pandorga), and although not blogged I have been lucky enough to imbibe several vintage palo cortados (the 1974, 1983 and 1987) by the great Gonzalez Byass (my favourite, the 1974, I haven’t seen around much).
Nevertheless, in percentage terms we are not talking a great deal of wine – eight posts of a total of 287 to date – which is surprising. I bet if you looked at a blog specialized in Port or Champagne it would be a different story and it is a situation I have lamented in the past.
I am not saying do away with soleras – you certainly should maintain miraculous creations like La Panesa, Inocente and others. I also appreciate that soleras do more than merely blend wines: the wines of different average ages contain different nutrients that interact with the different strains of flor and produce different effects (which is why it is frustrating that more producers don’t specify how many criaderas they use).
But it would be great to see how much can be achieved by the fruit of an individual year’s harvest. Anyone involved in cultivation will tell you that harvests can vary widely from year to year – I remember a cracking chat in a cider bar in Gijon where the lads were worrying about that year’s apples – and while it is mathematically impossible for every year to be above average, the same laws tell us that quite a few of them will be.
Indeed, although at this level anecdotal and not very scientific, I once carried out a comparison of vintage vs solera (the 2006 Fino en Rama and the Fino Tradicion may 2015). On that occasion, although the wines were different to start with, they would have been of approximately the same age at the time of consumption and the benefit of the solera was clear – the lovely umami fullness from the action of the flor – but so was the individuality of the vintage wine (which I slightly preferred).
This is why I am increasingly of the mind that a sytem similar to the one used in the Douro – where at the sobretablas stage, say, makers and Consejo Regulador determine whether to declare a vintage or not – would be an excellent way forward. (Particularly if allied with a bit of self restraint by the makers, say 2 or 3 vintages a decade like the best Port houses.) At the same time, they could of course continue solera production.
So it is great to see stuff like the piece this week by Paz Ivison in elmundovino (which has also been transcribed into English by the excellent sherrynotes) and even more exciting to see the first sections of the book being written by Ramiro Ibañez and Willy Perez (“Las Añadas en el marco de Jerez” or “Vintages in the Jerez Region”).
I really hope that it is just the beginning. I believe vintages are more interesting and provide scope for greater expression and differentiation and must be worth exploring further. In fact, winemakers: I promise that if you make them, I will buy them.