Yesterday I had a nice little manzanilla Orleans Borbon and was delighted to see a reference on the label to Pago Balbaina. There has recently been something of a reawakening in interest in terroir in el Marco de Jerez, but it is still relatively rare to see the Pagos (and even less the vineyards) identified on the labels of the wines.
With one exception: Macharnudo and, particularly, Macharnudo Alto. That particular Pago has built a mystique and brand to the point where I have seen it referred to as the “DRC” of Jerez. It owes that mystique in large part to the wines: Inocente, Coliseo and the other Valdespino wines, the Macharnudo Alto finos from Equipo Navazos, and at the other end of the scale, Pitijopo Number 5. And those are just the recent wines: the fame of the pago is not a recent phenomenon. It owes a lot to historic brands like Agustin Blazquez and de la Riva and, most of all, the legendary Domecq.
Neither is it a coincidence that some of the finest wine makers in the history of the region chose to acquire vineyards in Macharnudo Alto. Indeed, Macharnudo looks absolutely splendid from a distance – hills of pure white albariza – and in fact if you go and spend time in Jerez with the guys that are keen on terroir and ask them where they would like to have a vineyard there is a good chance they will tell you Macharnudo. There is every indication that it really is top class real estate and an ideal place to make wine.
But there is another issue at play here, which is that Macharnudo has become famous not just because the finest winemakers had vineyards there, or because they made very famous wines there, but because they also put the name of the pago on the labels of those very fine wines. Nothing controversial about that: because the wines from the pago were good, the name of the pago was used to market the wines. What strikes me, though, is the number of great wines from Jerez that don’t make any attempt to capitalize in the same way.
The Solear en rama series are an example that springs to mind: these outstanding wines come from Santa Lucia and Gibalbin, but it doesn’t say so on the label. Those particular vineyards are not in a fashionable neighbourhood – they are far inland – indeed they are not even on the map of the famous pagos (like the champagnes of Cote de l’Aube or the burgundies from up around Auxerre) but they are the source of some of the most distinctive wines in the region, with perhaps the spikey Mirabras as the clearest exponent of the qualities of the terroir. They are also, I am told, interesting properties due to the location and their positioning between hills and marshland.
There are of course a number of issues related to the structure and recent history of the region, the fact that many bodegas do not own their own vineyards or have changed hands, and the compounding difficulty of the solera system (with many soleras having been refreshed, over the years, with wines from a number of sources) that mean many bodegas cannot guarantee that their wines are sourced from a single pago. (On the other hand, even if a bodegas has always sourced from a particular pago, if they don’t own that land they may be wary of becoming hostage to the names on their labels.)
Nevertheless, where it is possible to do so, as in the case of Solear and some others, it strikes me as a great shame – and a missed opportunity – not to give the vineyards the recognition they deserve.