Minerality, history, terroir, and winemaking: Angulo, Giron, Perez and Ibañez

I included a link to this exchange a couple of weeks ago as part of a general post on writings about Terroir and the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar but having had time to read it in full I really think it deserves a post to itself. (In fact it deserves to be widely read in full, but all I can do is encourage etc.).

The original post sets out a conversation reflecting on the probable causes of the minerality that many perceive in manzanillas between Fernando Angulo (of Champagne Sherry and Alba Viticultores) and Alvaro Giron Sierra (well known to readers of this blog and the source for the link).

The conversation was from 2010 but was posted in December 2013. In it, Fernando Angulo sets the ball rolling attributing the minerality of the manzanillas to the observable characteristics of the terroir (in both senses – land and bodega), the sea air and mineral soils, themselves the relic of the jurassic past, and their impact on the vine, the fruit and, even more importantly, the flor. In response, Alvaro Giron points out the lack of scientific evidence and the conventional theory that the perception of salinity is a result of the flor having consumed the glycerine from the wine, leaving the mineral element “naked” to the tastebuds, and warns against the difficulty of comparing given the use of palominos from jerez in the production of manzanilla.

What follows, however, is an absolutely enthralling below the line debate between the two authors, Willy Perez and Ramiro Ibañez which ranges far wider than the title suggests. The debate takes place over 5 days and 23 hours, and the exchanges are of a very high quality indeed – well reasoned and dense with facts and technical detail – and when you look at the times of the posts, you can see that the guys were consumed by it for a few days there (some of the posts are comfortably past midnight). There are 43 comments in total over 30+ pages and even if you look just at the more substantive entries there are no fewer than 21 – four by Fernando Angulo, eight by Alvaro Giron, five by Willy Perez and four by Ramiro Ibañez.

You quite literally get everything you could ask for, including (from memory and not necesarrily in order):

  • Descriptions of the chemistry and its effects on perceptions of flavour
  • Changes in the structure of the industry in Sanlucar through history
  • The former use of blends of fruit grown on albariza and clay (clay and sandy clay)
  • The tactile sensations produced by the wines
  • The topography and geology of the region, characteristics of different pagos, relevance of altitude
  • Impact of the disappearance of the “navazos”(the coastal gardens and meadows, not the winemakers who have taken that name)
  • Strains of palomino
  • The average ages of the vines
  • Fermentation in bota vs inox
  • Fermentation in lagares vs bodegas
  • Relevance of foliage and pruning
  • The historic relevance of and views regarding fortification
  • Willy Perez’s 16.3º mosto and unfortified fino
  • Relevance of the “aserpio”
  • The relative merits of terroir, fruit, solera and maker
  • Strains of flor and their effects on biological ageing
  • The impact of the acetaldehides for the flavour and aroma profiles of the wines
  • Comparisons with burgundy and other regions, particularly the great manzanillas of the 50s
  • Biodynamics
  • The harikiri of the progressive loss of genetic stock
  • The experience of the champagne region
  • The wisdom of el Bolli, el “Seneca de la viña”

It makes for a fascinating and entertaining read, largely due to the different perspective that each of the authors brings: Alvaro Giron’s knowledge of the region’s history and his inquisitive, scientific approach; Fernando Angulo’s interest in comparison with wines from regions worldwide; and Willy Perez and Ramiro Ibañez from the point of view of winemakers with a common enthusiasm but some intriguingly different perspectives.

For this reader, the absolute highlights are the posts by the winemakers: the technical knowledge and passion that shines in those posts is brilliant, and in their interventions you can see some of the thinking behind some of the most exciting projects going on in Jerez and Sanlucar today. (It is also frankly encouraging to see how much thought is involved.)

Really one of the best collections of thoughts I have read to date and one I can see myself re-reading many times.

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