A little while ago a colleague mentioned that he was keen to learn a little bit more about the wines of Jerez and wondered if I could recommend anything. As it happens, I could indeed, and thanks to the good offices of Federico Ferrer and his association of wine loving felines just days later my colleague had been furnished with the first edition of the Undertheflor/Cuatrogatos Wine Club Didactic Selection (trademark pending).
I say the first because since then some further colleagues have joined in and at one stage there were even hopes that we would get ourselves organized for an online tasting. Unfortunately it was not to be – irreconcilable agendas and differing levels of self control tore up any such plans, and instead the guys asked me where they could read about the wines instead.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where you can read about them. The boxed set includes seven wines whose characteristics and stories show off all that is best about the wines of the region and what is going on down there: La Charanga, La Choza, La Maruja, Camborio, Blanquito, Origen and El Cerro. But unfortunately far too little is written about these wines – there certainly aren’t many books that will explain them to you in anything like adequate detail, so I thought I would give it a go.
If I were a recipient of one of these boxes I have no doubt where I would start: La Charanga, by Corta y Raspa (the brandname of the Mayeteria Sanluqueña) and La Choza, by Bodegas Callejuela. These two are white wines from the named palomino vineyards – la Charanga in Pago Maina in Sanlucar and La Choza from the famous Pago Macharnudo in Jerez.
The idea here is to appreciate how expressive palomino can be when treated well, by no means the neutral vessel you may have been made to believe. I would recommend having these open a while and observing how they grow in aroma and flavor as the minutes tick by – they may even be better the day after if you can exercise more self control than I am.
Beautiful colour – a touch more copper in La Charanga – and aromatic on the nose, with that white fruit and chamomile – a touch sweeter in La Choza – they are truly appetizing. Then on the palate there is that salinity and savoury, peppery range – perhaps the defining feature of albariza wines.
And of course the reason for opening them both at once is to get an appreciation of the second dimension of what these wines are expressing: the “terroir”, or neighborhood where they come from. In this respect these wines are lineal descendants of one of the most important projects in winemaking in recent years – the Pitijopos, two sets of mostos from selected vineyards across the sherry region which made the argument for terroir in the most persuasive way possible.
Here we have a wine from Maina in Sanlucar, known for producing sapid, aromatic and “horizontal” profiled wines. In fact if my only goal had been terroir I could arguably have chosen a wine that is more characteristic of Sanlucar – your more famous Miraflores and its freshness and “verticality” but personally I love the expressive, aromatic nature of the wines from Maina, where the albariza soils are rich in diatoms and mineral variety.
On the other hand I couldn’t have chosen a more characteristic pago to represent Jerez. Macharnudo is unarguably the most well known of all the pagos, made famous by the legendary wines of Domecq, a flame that is kept alive by Valdespino and its famous single vintage fino, Inocente. Here you have a very high calcium content in the famous albariza and it gives you wines with a lot more structure – a really boxy, mineral wine that is so punchy and pungent. La Choza is, frankly, a bit of a beast.
But another reason for this choice of wines is their fourth dimension – aside from the vintage, variety and terroir one of the things that makes these wines special are the people that are behind them (and the people behind the people behind them). La Choza is by Antonio Bernal Ortega, a fourth generation mayeto and member of the “Mayeteria Sanluqueña”.
Mayeto is the traditional name given to a small scale grower in the Jerez region, and typically these guys tend a vineyard but do not make wine – they sell their harvest to the cooperative or the big bodegas around the region. But the Mayeteria Sanluqueña do not: under a shared brand “Corta y Raspa”, these guys (there are at least four of them that I know of) are instead keeping part of their harvest and making their own wines. It is a fantastic project and a chance to pick up artisan wines from different vineyards across Sanlucar and Jerez that are nicely made and cheap as chips – this La Charanga is, in particular, a beauty, but it would be even better to get a few of them together and go on a voyage.
La Choza, too, is the creation of mayetos, but on a much bigger scale. It is from Bodegas Callejuela which is run by the Blanco brothers, who I can tell you are a couple of big old lads and good ones too. You could not meet a friendlier, more congenial pair of blokes, and in recent years they have created one of the most interesting bodegas anywhere in Spain, producing a range of imaginative wines and some really ground breaking projects. This la Choza was one such – a few years ago now they started releasing single vineyard white wines and since then they have developed the project, also making single vineyard manzanillas – which really adds up to an unbeatable opportunity to observe the effect of fortification and biological ageing on a wine. They may be big, friendly blokes but the fellas know what they are doing alright.
And the people behind the people? One of the most important names in the recent history not just of Jerez and Sanlucar but in winemaking in Spain, and probably the most important single figure in the rebirth of this historic winemaking region: Ramiro Ibañez. He was the author of the Pitijopos, is the unifying, guiding force behind the Mayeteria Sanluqueña, and has also played an outsize role in helping the Blanco brothers develop their fantastic projects. He is by no means the only hero, but no one has done more, and at least in part these first two wines are a tribute to him.
But more importantly an excellent place to start to explore the wines of La Mayeteria, Bodegas Callejuela, and el Marco de Jerez …