Tasting the Great Gran Barqueros 

As trailed in my last post, last night I was lucky enough to attend a tasting of Gran Barquero wines given by José Ruz of Perez Barquero at Reserva y Cata, with the added bonus of the presence of Paco del Castillo.

There were four wines, all from the Gran Barquero range: the Fino en rama (a saca from October 20, 2016); a wine taken from the second criadera of the Amontillado Gran Barquero; a 2016 saca of Amontillado Gran Barquero and a 1996 bottling of the same wine. It made for a really instructive tasting which demonstrated the effects of oxidative ageing over time and, interestingly, of bottle ageing.

We started, of course, with the Fino en rama, which is from unfortified, 100% pedro ximenez and has spent 8-10 years under flor in a solera with three criaderas. It is an excellent fino en rama – intensely yeasty, flavourful (slightly bitter almonds) and mineral, and one of the things that always strike me about these Gran Barquero wines is how very fine they are in texture – the sense of how the glycerine and body you might expect from the pedro ximenez has been reduced by the flor over those years. (Interestingly, I was able to sneak a glug of a second bottle of the same wine and it had a quite different green apple and popcorn nose.) It was bottled only 8 days earlier but seemed to have  stood up to the bottling – will have to try and get some to see how it tastes in a few weeks.

We then moved on to the wine taken from the second criadera of the amontillado solera, which is refreshed from the solera of the fino en rama and also has three criaderas. Again there has been no fortification (we were told they hadn’t fortified for ten years or more) and the finished wine bottled as Amontillado Gran Barquero will have had an average of 15-20 years oxidative ageing on top of the 8-10 of biological ageing of the fino. It wasn’t fully clear to me what the average age of this wine from the second criadera was but I guess we are talking 8-10 plus 8-10 or similar. I found it a very enjoyable amontillado indeed – lovely straw and hazelnut nose, and even a little bit of raw yeast and juicy hazelnuts on the palate. Not powerfully acidic but a nice bite to it and good, mouthwatering salinity. Elegant and compact but full of fun.

Next came the finished Gran Barquero amontillado (from a bottling in September 2016) and to me it was a little step up in class and refinement. On the nose the sweet touches of the second criadera had gone but there was a richer yeastiness to it. On that little bit of extra acidity and salinity give it an even sharper entry and finish and the hazelnut flavours of the second criadera have intensified into roasted – borderline burnt – nuts and lead to a long, umami rich finish. It it a classic wine.

Finally, we were able to try a Gran Barquero amontillado bottled in 1996, giving us the chance to appreciate the effects of those 20 years of bottle ageing. As a caveat, it would not have been quite the same wine in 1996 – with a total age of closer to 15-20 years than 25-30. Moreover, I gather that these specific bottles have not exactly had a restful 20 years either: they had been shipped to and from the Canary Islands, no less, and with no guarantees as to the storage conditions.

Nevertheless, these bottle aged wines are all the go now so I was intrigued to see the differences – and surprised by the differences that were there, to be honest. First, and maybe least surprisingly, it looked its age: much darker in colour, not quite crystalline and with crumbs of sediment (see above). The most striking difference was on the nose – whereas the previous wine was all yeast, straw and herbs, this had an aroma of dusty old leather bound books – but also on the palate for me it had lost a little bit of the spring in its step, getting a touch dryer and with more bitterness, and even in terms of definition, again with a slightly dusty sensation to it. Really interesting to have tasted because the differences I noticed were things that in other wines in the past I had attributed to the length of the time in the barrel, but not quite my cup of tea as you can probably guess.

Overall though four top quality wines and an excellent structure to the tasting. When you throw in the knowledgeable commentary and explanations of José and Paco before during and afterwards it was an excellent night all round during which I learned a great deal. My sincere thanks to Ezequiel at Reserva y Cata, José and his colleagues at Perez Barquero and Paco de Castillo – brilliant stuff.






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