A fantastic evening last Monday tasting six unique and exceptional wines in the company of Jose María Quiros, winemaker at Bodegas Tradicion, amongst friends in Taberna Palo Cortado. The wines included a month old fino, freshly drawn from one of the two original botas of fino that later inspired their current soleras, a “forgotten” palo cortado from the Sacristia, a quite exceptional 1975 vintage oloroso, a bottle of the Battle of Trafalgar bicentenary oloroso, an ancient but fruitful pedro ximenez and one of the most flavourful and complex brandies I have come across in a long time.
Fino de Solera “El Origin”, Saca de Abril 2017. The fino came from botas were apparently originally acquired in 2006 together with other wines used to refresh the exceptional amontillado solera. At that time, the owner of the bodega’s declared intention was to focus on grand old wines rather than finos, but Jose Maria tucked two botas away in a corner and, after some time static ageing, started drawing and bottling them in 2009. The wines were such that he convinced the owners to invest in fino production and the rest is history: they now have 280 botas devoted to fino production, and the solera is still growing towards a target of 480 botas. These original botas haven’t been in a corner in the intervening years, however – they have been part of that solera, although Jose Maria reckoned they still had a particular character, and had drawn wine from both original botas before selecting one of the two.
The wine itself was a typically compact, elegant and fresh fino, despite its venerable age. Compared to the recent springtime sacas it didn’t seem to have the same degree of saline incisiveness but what it might have lacked in penetration it certainly made up for in aroma and flavour: had lovely bakery and apple flavours on the nose, like apple tarts, and even a little chamomile. Then on the palate it had a really fine zingyness to it – like a saline outline to the profile – and again nice flavours, again bakery, more baked apple and tending to bitter almonds. Top drawer, and the 2017 springtime saca when it comes looks like being a goody.
Solera Palo Cortado “Bota de la Sacristia”. This was wine that had originally been part of the palo cortado solera but which had been set aside in 2003 in half botas of 250 l botas and quite literally forgotten about – not refreshed, moved, or even touched since then. After those 14 years alone in close proximity with the american oak of the half bota the colour was deep and the nose was woody: lots of church furnitire, cigar box and even cigar tobacco, maybe some chocolate or coffee in the background. On the palate it was even more intense – intensely dry and acidic first up, those same woody caramel, very bitter dark chocolate and tobacco flavours and an equally sharp finish. Super intense: you can imagine this getting a heap of points in a cata, but maybe just a bit over the top.
Oloroso Tradición de Añada 1975. Of the wines, this with the fino was the highlight for me. It had a nose that was super fine and aromatic, a lot of of volatile, but if there was lacquer here it was laced with sweet spices and ginger and fine fresh sawdust. On the palate too there was that incisive freshness from the volatile, zingy salinity and crispness and flavours of sweet spices and rich caramel, fading to a really lovely long, sweetly spiced finish. After the super intense Palo Cortado this was super drinkable and elegant – maybe it was favoured by the contrast but even so.
Oloroso “Bicentenario Trafalgar”, Saca 2007. This was the only wine I had had before, a solera oloroso that had had 10 years in the bottle. Unfortunately, while the other bottle I tried had a thrilling, brandy-like aromatic nose, this one was really closed up and had a pungent air of reduction about it: one of the risks you take if you don’t drink these up I guess. On the palate it was still full of vigour, good acidity and salinity and slightly bitter almond caramel, cigar box and tobacco flavours, before a slightly sour finish that seemed accentuated by the bitterness on the nose.
Pedro Ximenez Tradición VORS (one of 400 bottles). Now this was a regal old wine: age guessed to be around 50 years, and it had all the qualities of a real old Jerez pedro ximenez. Dark as midnight, thick and coating the glass, with nose full of caramel, roasted nuts, peppery spices but, above all and despite the age, raisiny fruit. On the palate too, enough acidity, bitter dark chocolate and spice to balance and freshen the wine, but plenty of soft currant fruit character, fading to a long finish with the burnt caramel bitterness of the nose. Really fantastic stuff in fact.
Brandy Solera Anticuario. Last but not least came a brandy from a solera originally created by the legendary Agustin Blazquez, one of Jose María’s former employers. That brandy had been housed in pedro ximenez botas which were not acquired by Tradición, the brandy instead being housed in oloroso botas. The solera is now used to blend into Tradición’s own exceptional brandy, but this bottle was drawn from the original source and was as full of flavour a brandy as I can remember. Had that burnt wood colour, vanilla and noble wood nose, but a nice nutty sweetness – nutmeg was suggested and was dead on- and then the palate was exceptionally smooth for all the alcohol (48º) and concentration (over an estimated 40 years). Amazing also to see the tubidity of it: the effect of evaporation of alcohol that had literally absorbed particles from the barrel. A very, very dangerous liquid indeed, and it wasn’t even nine pm.
Jose María Quiros. The highlight, however was the opportunity to hear the thoughts of Jose María Quiros, one of the top winemakers in the region and a guy with the responsibility for some of its finest old wines. He spoke with considerable technical expertise but also a tangible passion and enthusiasm for the wines and an understanding of them as such, had a good sense of humour and I have to say I thought he was an absolutely top bloke.
It was fascinating to hear him discuss the kinds of wine they were trying to make, the reasons why and the methods used to achieve them, and in particular, his views on the challenges of making vintage wines. For instance, his focus on finding a balanced acidity and concentration in the wine and for avoiding excess, whether in those aspects or in the acetaldehides that can make finos so aromatic but can also make them less stable and more prone to evolution in the bottle. On that subject, I found his thoughts struck a chord with my own observation of how high acetaldehide wines tended not to age as well – or at least showed themselves more prone to evolution – and about the transformation of those acetaldehides into bitter and metallic notes over time. It made me reflect on a memorable vertical of the Tradición finos and how well they appeared to hold up over time (not that they get the time to evolve in this house).
It was also immensely cheering to hear that some 2015s have been set aside for ageing as vintage wines (remind me in 20 years or so) and of the increasing importance being placed on pago and terroir. I got the sense that in this case there wasn’t a lot of conviction that single pago wines were necessarily better than the carefully selected wines they currently sourced, but they did seem convinced of the marketing benefit of being able to name the pago, which is good news in itself.
And after all that, while not sure I have extracted full value from my notes, I certainly extracted full value from an exceptional tasting with one of the real experts. I also had a ball amongst a lot of good friends, and there can be no better surroundings than Taberna Palo Cortado, particularly when the delicious tapas start to appear as if by magic. Many thanks again to Jose María, Lorenzo and Miguel from Tradicion for a memorable evening and to Pakui at Palo Cortado for hosting us on her night off. Bravo all round!