The Didactic Selection, Part III: deeper under

After a wallpapering induced hiatus the Cuatrogatos Wine Club Didactic Selection is back, and after Part I and Part II, it could only be Part III. And Part III is the manzanilla pasada. Because when you have a manzanilla pasada, an amontillado and an oloroso, one of the three wines is not as the others.

The manzanilla “pasada” is a manzanilla subjected to the intense, voracious attention of the “beticus” flor of Sanlucar for quite literally as long as it takes. In fact a true manzanilla pasada is a manzanilla that has reached the point where the flor-feeding nutrients in the wine have been so depleted that the flor, deprived of fuel, is outgunned by more elemental forces, and concentration from evaporation means the wine increases in concentration quicker than the enervated flor can nibble away the alcohol.

But what it is not, most definitely not, is an oxidated wine (ok, there may be a touch at the edges – sometimes the flor needs a holiday). With this imaginative clear glass bottle, that fact is visible at first glance, and on drinking it you will not find any caramel or brandy.

Rather, the result of that process (and here unfortunately I have to warn that not all manzanilla pasadas are indeed such a creature) is a wine that is maybe not as ethereal on the nose as a top manzanilla can be, but on the palate a step up in intensity, concentration and expression, even compared to manzanillas that have been as long in the making and chiselled as Maruja. But there is more to it than that even.

The cultured folks that read this blog will know all about sake. How the rice is milled to take away the coarse outside husk of the grain, and how that grinding allows the brewing to unleash the flavour of the core of the rice. Fruits that you could never imagine in a grain of rice.

I always feel like something similar happens with manzanilla pasadas (and the superannuated finos of Jerez). All that attention from the flor mills the wine down to its inner core and reveals what is in the heart of the wine.

The transformation is not as surprising as the rice into tropical fruit of sake but the resulting wines can be quite outstanding. The unlayering of flavours can reveal so many different kernels: in this case, the Blanquito to me is green apple, but there are manzanilla pasadas that have so much spice and savour, or ripe melony fruit, that you can’t quite believe the word manzanilla on the label.

And of course the flor doesn’t just eat the wine: the cabezuelas feed it from below, enriching it and polishing over the sanded corners. The result is something that is dry and drying but full in body and as elegant a wine as any you will try.

This wine is not a lineal descendant, or even a cousin, of the Maruja, but comes from the Blanco Brothers of Callejuela vinos (the guys behind la Choza, from Part I) and forms part of a quite majestic selection of older sherries that they have – with la Casilla (amontillado) and El Cerro (oloroso). But I thought it would fit well because of the green apple at its core – some of the freshness I sometimes find in the Maruja too – although curiously the Maruja when pasada becomes an altogether more serious beast, and one that is also worth tracking down. In fact this wine is maybe a little bit atypical for a manzanilla pasada in its freshness, but for me all the better.

So here you have it. The expression of biological age and concentration. Next stop, oxidation!

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