Pagos, albarizas, palomino, and the wines they can produce

Am trying to put my thoughts into some kind of logical order after my visit to Jerez and Sanlucar with Ramiro Ibañez of Cota 45 and Federico Ferrer of Cuatrogatos Wine Club.

As I mentioned yesterday our trip through the pagos had taken us on a zig zag route from one extreme to another, from el Corregidor in the Jerez pago of Carrascal to Los Cuadrados in Balbaina, then from Martin Miguel to Miraflores and the Atlantic influence of Sanlucar. In the process we had stood on, driven past, sniffed, and attempted to crumble in our fingers all of the major soil types – and in particular the three major types of albariza: barajuela (layered, like a deck or “baraja” of cards), antehojuela (slightly crumbly, some wormholes and other signs of life), and tosca cerrada (solid, cement like). (Pictured here in the albariza cabinet at Ramiro’s albarizatorio – antehojuela at the top, barajuela in the middle and tosca cerrada on the third shelf.)

 

It was fascinating to see the vineyards and examine samples of albariza, but the only way to really make any sense of it was to taste the wines themselves. Indeed, it became obvious that from the surface it is very hard to make any sense at all of the vineyards, since the all important albariza is under the ground. So we were incredibly fortunate in being able to taste some palomino from each of these three types of albariza. It has been pointed out to me that at this stage I became deadly serious and frankly, I was.

The wines were raw and unfinished but even taking that into account (or maybe as a result) the differences in personality were extremely vivid: Ramiro pointed out the structure and “verticality” of the antehojuela  wine and there was no denying it – particularly in comparison to the barajuela – which had “horizontal muscle” in his phrase – but even compared to the tosca cerrada (not that the Tosca was short of muscle). By contrast the antehojuela wine had a sharper entry and the barajuela a longer finish, and the tosca cerrada was definitely more rounded than both. This was one of the most rewarding tasting experiences I can remember in fact – the life and power in the wines made the differences vivid and the differences were very revealing.

 

There followed a fascinating debate about how these elemental qualities of the wine, impressed on them by the fruit, and in turn a product of the terroir, can affect the decision of when to harvest (and the different traditions of Jerez and Sanlucar), the destination of the wines, the crianza process, the strains of flor that will form, the techniques that can be used and the effects that can be achieved (there was a brilliant discussion of solera processes, especially a dual speed process, and its effect for the development of acetaldehides). We also got into the discussion of mouth geometry and tactile sensations of the wine, although I have to admit I am at the beginning of the curve there.

Even better than that, in the course of the afternoon and evening we were able to taste some fully finished, and absolutely first class, wines from the pagos we had visited like the Pitijopos (Volume I – a great opportunity to go back to those (again they had been open a few days) and the palominos from Macharnudo, Añina, Miraflores and others), Las 30 del Cuadrado (from El Cuadrado), La Charanga by Alba (from Pago Mahina, at the muscular, river influenced end of Sanlucar), the latest Viña Matalian (we hadn’t made it all the way down there but good to taste the innox vs the bota fermented Pitijopo 6 and a new oak aged wine from the same pago) and the Manzanilla de Añada (from El Hornillo, which we hadn’t visited, but was just as good as I remembered). In every case it felt like tasting them with both eyes open – looking for effects and characteristics that before I had taken as read, which really added to the experience.

The stars of the show for me were two wines we had (amongst others, it must be said) with lunch: the Barajuelo fino and oloroso from el Corregidor (Bodegas Luis Perez). Maybe it is because I have been waiting so long to try them, maybe it was just the narrative of the day, but I was impressed by the structure, muscle and intensity on display. It gives you a sense of tremendous potential: a massive wine that could be sculpted into something really special. The fino was maybe the easiest of the two to appreciate, slightly smoother on the edges, but it was intense and potent and full of character and it was also fascinating to taste it next to its three year old oloroso twin. As one of the guys pointed out, there are white burgs with more obvious oxidation, but the different effects of the oxygen or flor on the wines was incredibly distinctive (and attractive).

Almost too many sensations, and too much information, to take in all the detail, but the overall impressions were so vivid – and so solid – that it felt like my views on terroir were converted from faith based on theory (and the Pitijopos) to a conviction based on fact.

There is no way I will ever be able to adequately repay Ramiro and Federico for the insights gained (or the friends from Madrid and Brussels that came along and with their questions and laughter helped make the day so enjoyable) so I did the only thing I could think of and bought lunch.  Hopefully the first of many – I certainly don’t mind paying if it is.

 

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