Wanted to write something about one of the more interesting projects to have come out of the sherry triangle in recent years – something that was apparently almost accidental in its conception but I believe may prove to be historically important for the sector.
The Callejuela manzanilla de “añada”, or vintage manzanilla, comes from old vine palomino fino in a vineyard called “El Hornillo”. The soil is albariza of the “tosca cerrada” variety – the classic and most widely found soil type and the pago is to the North of Sanlucar along the Guadalquivir, on Pago “Callejuela”, from which the bodega takes its name, and as such you would say it has a “continental” influence. It is not one of the most highly rated pagos historically – I think in the classifications from the 19th Century they would have had it a notch or two below the top pagos – but recently the wines from this unthought of corner of the world have been raising eyebrows.
This 2012 vintage was top class and the harvest was even better. As such, the Blanco brothers, the genial owners of Callejuela, and Ramiro Ibañez, the genius who works as technical director, decided that 11 butts were good enough to be bottled as vintage manzanillas. Those 11 butts have been set aside and are being “statically aged” – ie under flor but not in a solera, which is why we can talk about a “vintage” in the true sense. Also, there is no mixing, even between these 11 butts (unlike, for example, the vintage wines from Montilla Moriles).
What is really fun about the project is that each year Ramiro and the Blanco brothers select one of the butts for bottling: the first bottling, in 2015, was Butt 1/11 of 2012, a manzanilla with three years under flor, while 2/11, bottled in 2016 had four years under flor and future years will clearly be different, with more biological ageing in the first few years and the effects of the death of the flor and resulting oxidation later (although time will tell). The last butt will be bottled, if all goes well, in 2025. There isn’t a lot of it on the market as you can guess – less than 800 bottles each year.
Most importantly, the first two wines have been absolutely cracking. The first time I tried Bota 1/11 I loved it, and even accounting for my enthusiasm going in there is a lot to love about this wine. In general I really like biological wines with a little less time under flor – there is more influence from the fruit and a little more body to the wine – I found the same with the vintage Williams Fino from 2012 and the vintage Barajuela Fino 2013 (although there is even more to like about that one). The second time I opened a bottle it came across even better and even got a spontaneous round of applause from the guys I shared it with. Really a special wine and I am having to resist hard to preserve the couple of bottles I have left.
A year later the second wine (the 2/11) seemed to have taken a clear step forward in terms of biological ageing – it seemed that bit sharper and more saline, more vertical and direct. Absolutely brilliant though (and as I drank it it even seemed to make the golf better, as Mickelson and Stenson slugged it out in the most amazing final round at the Open). Then coming to another bottle a little while ago I got more fruit again, in fact it really came across as a brilliant little wine in its own right.
I realize even as I write this that by giving airtime to the joy of these tiny releases I may be shooting myself in the foot in terms of acquiring later releases but this is one of those projects that, to my mind, deserves to be rewarded, and I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about what is possible for the wines of Sanlucar to get interested. I know of three places where it can be acquired – from Federico of the Cuatrogatos Wine Club, from Armando Guerra at Der Guerrita, and from Ezequiel of Reserva y Cata in Madrid. Hopefully they will save me a couple of bottles!