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!


Do sherries get better in the bottle?

Been an interesting debate here the last few days about the merits or not of bottle ageing for the wines of el marco, brought about by this interesting piece by Jorge Capel in El Pais.

Where do I come out? Well I have been tracking my own experiences with bottle aged wines and while the results have been mixed, and some wines have surprised me very pleasantly, I have never met an old bottle I wouldn’t have like to meet a few years ago. (And I feel a heel for saying this, because I appreciate that the many times I have tried these wines have been due to the enormous kindness of friends.)

Of course when people get into the bottle aged sherries it isn’t always a case of drinking a wine from today that has spent thirty years in the bottle. There are brands that have disappeared in the last few decades, and famous wines from today that forty years ago were still made in batches of tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands. (The two phenomena are of course related but not uniformly.) More importantly, there are wines made from the original, lower production, clones in the olden days (but for that your bottle probably has to be from the 60s or before).

On the other hand, just as some of the wines from olden days were better, some were not better. If you think about it, just as the glory days of production in the region were in the 1950s, the glory days of sales were in the 1970s and 1980s, and if you get yourself a wine that is thirty of forty years in the bottle then supply economics indicate that it is likely to have spent less time in the butt one way or another.

But it isn’t a simple better/worse equation. I have found that whatever the overall quality of the wine how it evolves in the bottle will depend on its characteristics, as a general rule: the finer and more aromatic the wine (or the more given to acetaldehides) the more it is prone, in my experience, to degenerate; and the fatter, or more concentrated, or more acidic, or extreme in general the original wine, the more likely it is to improve. (It made me laugh when someone told me their opinion of a 100 year old amontillado (approx) – “could do with 20 years in the bottle”). The wines that tend to stay truest to themselves, again in my experience, are the Sanlúcar wines, while the wines that can benefit most are the Jerez wines, which is probably due to a combination of the above. More generally there are also things that can be learned from drinking the older wines, whether from Jerez or anywhere else. The best ones get finer, and for all that the signal gets weaker and more tenuous, they show their profiles very clearly. And the bad ones, believe me, just become badder.

But I guess the most important thing of all is that these old bottles bring joy to people. Sure, I like the new ones, but a while ago I witnessed the opening of a bottle of a classic fino from the 1970s and the excitement was fantastic, contagious, and worthy of seeking out for its own sake. Was really fun to share in that moment.

So if you come across any old bottles, the email is at the bottom on the left – I owe a few of the lads a few already!

Three Kings: The elmundovino wines of the year 2017

The guys at elmundovino unveiled their wines of the year this morning and I am glad to say I have all three (one of them only since this afternoon it must be said).

But I am particularly glad to see that the Oloroso la Barajuela 2013my own wine of the year – has at last received the recognition it deserves.

The appreciation of wines is by definition subjective, but even so I cannot understand the treatment that this wine has received in some other rankings and guides this year. What was most surprising was not so much the absolute level of the scores given – although they were unduly mean in my view – but the comparison with scores given to other wines in Jerez and elsewhere. It would be unfair to pick out any one example but you don’t have to look far to find some relative scoring that is borderline absurd.

So it is heartening that it has at least been recognized by the elmundovino panel, which uniquely amongst the leading sources tastes wines blind and which (maybe not coincidentally) I have generally found to be the most reliable measure of the wines of the region (in 2015 they also nailed it in my view).

And there is more good news – first with the 3 Miradas by Alvear and Envinate scooping white wine of the year (not tried it yet) and, among the runners up, in the guise of Cota 45’s Encrucijado 2014. It is almost as if these small production, convention-defying wines show better when tasted blind …

Elmundovino tastes the new Andalucia 

After a beery summer holiday a fella is out of touch and out of rhythmn in wine terms and I feel like I am struggling to catch up with the ever-accelerating arms race taking place down in Andalucia.

Not so the guys at elmundovino. They are still up with the pace as their latest tasting shows. It includes the latest releases from the Barajuela project (including the long awaited and much coveted Barajuela Oloroso), the Mayeteria Sanluqueña and Equipo Navazos, the Viñas de Callejuela, Nude Tintilla and Pastora, the spanking new “Tres Miradas” project by Alvear, and some new wines from Barbadillo that I confess I hadn’t even heard of (the “Arbolledilla”).

I clearly have some significant ground to make up, and this is only part I. (And some drinking to do looking at those scores.)

The Enoarquia on Albariza

Signing off for a few weeks of family vacation but before I go I couldn’t not post links to two quite fantastic long form pieces on albariza – the white, calcium rich soil that characterizes the pagos of Jerez, Sanlucar, Chiclana and Montilla Moriles. You can find them (in Spanish) here and here

They really are excellent: required reading for anyone who really wants to understand the wines of the region. It is typical of the author – Carlos wrote for me the best backgrounder on the velo de flor (also in English) and in general the writing on is top drawer. 

So get studying chaps. If you need an excuse to learn Spanish this is it! 

The temples of Jerez in Madrid


Felt I had to share this post by Paz Ivison with a list of drinking holes of all shapes and sizes in Madrid where you can feed your sherry addiction. Was lucky enough to meet Paz recently (in fact two ladies called Paz – the first of which was a bit bemused when I told her I was a big fan and had read all her posts about Jerez) and she is not only a proper journalist but also a good egg and maybe even a good laugh.

Being hyper critical there are a few places on here that for my money would need to work a bit harder to get on my own list, but the key point – how easy it is to get hold of the true, the blushful hypocrene – is the right one. Madrid is where it is happening in sherry terms, no doubt about it.

Champagne & Jerez –


I wanted to share this cracking post on (for me the top site on champagnes in Spain) about the points in common between these two great regions, the challenges they face and the prospects for the future. It is a really thoughtful summary (in Spanish) of the parallels between these two regions – something that I have always thought to be true – and it is excellent to read a confirmation from the point of view of someone who is not only a “sherry” fan.

I also happen to agree whole-heartedly with the sentiments expressed, and in particular:

  • The importance of the vine and viticulture;
  • In turn, the importance of the soil – the craie and the albariza – and the complexity of the wines they make possible;
  • The bravery of the small producers that are making the case for viticulture and terroir;
  • The shared characteristics of the wines, and in particular the influence of the yeasts involved;
  • The potential for bottle ageing of the wines; and
  • The versatility of the wines in gastronomy and as pairings.

It really is a cracking post and I recommend reading it in full. Alvaro also suggests meeting up in Segovia to discuss with a few bottles on the table and lest there be any doubt I am available for that particular seminar if selected.

The search for the lost butt of wine


I am pretty sure the title of this nice piece (in Spanish) in Metropoli is a reference to the great series of novels by Marcel Proust (which I always associated more closely with little cakes and involuntary siestas) but you never know it may be a literal reference to people searching for “forgotten” butts of wine. In any event the article certainly covers a phenomenon in the wines of Jerez which has always struck me as fascinating: the guys that go hunting in other people’s bodegas to find special barrels for release to the public.

The usual suspects are here: Equipo Navazos, who have probably been operating longest and have released an ever wider variety of wines, some of which are really extreme and exotic; and Antonio Barbadillo’s Sacristia AB, also long established but more focussed, you would say, on classic styles and profiles. But the article also references some of the fresher faces on the block: Alexander Jules, the collaboration between Lustau and Juan Ruiz Henestrosa of Aponiente (which reminds me that I still haven’t tried that wine) and Federico Ferrer’s Cuatrogatos Wine Club.

I really think these limited bottlings help to generate interest in the wines of the region as a whole and the concept of the “lost bota” is definitely a good one in marketing terms. But if I were to criticize the piece at all it would be that they in fact don’t give enough credit to some of th winemakers involved. The Equipo Navazos “Florpower” white wines and Socaire and Golpe Maestro involved far more than finding old disregarded botas. Rather, these are top class wines being made in innovative ways. Indeed, Sacristia AB and Alexander Jules also do a bit more than just snaffle up botas that they find: as Alexander Jules’ excellent website explains, their wines are often from intermediate criaderas, specific sections of soleras and bodegas.

Nevertheless, bravo to all concerned, and in particular Metropoli!