The other place

After a really intense week I am only now getting around to reading this fascinating piece by Paco del Castillo on what he calls Spain’s hidden gem: Montilla Moriles. It follows on from an absolutely stratospheric tasting a week ago where the panel at elmundovino.com gave no fewer than three wines 19/20 and a further five 18.5/20 – and that in a tasting with no Don PX

For my part, I can only agree with the scores of the wines I have tried – the Toro Albala 1951 Amontillado in particular is an absolute delight and, while I only tried them on the fly, the 1955 Solera Cincuentenaria range by Perez Barquero and Abuelo Diego by Alvear also struck me as absolutely excellent. 

In general, I have a feeling that while not quite as expressive as young wines, these px tend to age even more gracefully than their palomino counterparts – maybe it is the higher glycerine content – and really benefit from a bit of additional time. The same applies to the finos even – the Capataz and the Gran Barquero en rama really gain from more solera. That glycerine also mitigates the extreme dryness and acidity that can be there in the real dinosaurs so they win every way up. 

So well done again Elmundovino.com – they may not be the only distinguished critics to pick this up (Don Luis was very keen earlier this year) and indeed none of the top wines in this tasting are being given away, but it is a timely recognition of another corner of excellent Spanish wines. 

Elmundovino on the dry wines of Jerez and Sanlucar

Elmundovino

This blog may appear to be turning into an elmundovino.com appreciation society but it is not the case. I have of course always held them up as an authority but this recent apparent burst of enthusiasm is a symptom of Murphy’s law of periodicity.  It is simply that, like buses in the London rain, you wait a long time for them to do a piece on sherries and then they come along again and again and again.

After a tasting of Equipo Navazos by Victor de la Serna last week they published the results of a tasting of finos, manzanillas and some bigger beasts by Victor de la Serna, Juancho Asenjo and Alberto Pérez Marín and then today they have published a further tasting by Victor de la Serna, Alberto Pérez Marín, and Jens Riis.

Really top class tastings all of them: in the first tasting all the latest Equipo Navazos releases; in the second tasting, the Palmas series by Gonzalez Byass and leading en ramas of the likes of Solear, Pastora, Fernando de Castilla, and la Guita (and a glimpse of the Callejuela Manzanilla de Añada 2012 2/11) and in the third some more of the latest releases by Equipo Navazos, some classics from Valdespino, a series of sacas of the great Tradición Fino, the wines of Juan Piñero and the Williams & Humbert añadas (which Victor de la Serna actually tasted with the author last week).

Overall the scoring is very high (which is no more than you would expect), and looking through both notes and scores I am proud to say these experts and I seem to be of a mind in most things. It was in particular an honour to taste the Williams & Humbert wines with Victor and I fully agree with his notes and scores – was in the process of writing up my own and will clearly have to work harder.

Only two differences that I can detect: they didn’t seem to have enjoyed the wines from el Puerto (other than the excellent 3 en Rama) as much as I do, while I may need to  revisit the Valdespino classics. (I also need to get my hands on more of the Piñero wines – while I love the Maruja the others have somehow evaded me to this point.)  Interestingly, in the second tasting they compared the Solear en Rama summer 2016 (aka the Teal) with its 2015 counterpart (the Rednecked Nightjar) and found that the year in bottle had given the 2015 an extra dimension. So much so that the tasting was accompanied by an op ed questioning the apparently still commonly held notion that en rama wines are for immediate consumption. I for one fully endorse that view (and the good news is that I have been able to get some more of the Nightjar). Then in the third tasting, on the other hand, they had at least one en rama manzanilla with a couple of years in the bottle that they didn’t rate as highly as I did when it was fresh. Clearly, time in the bottle giveth but also taketh away.

Overall, a really excellent trio of tastings, a good snapshot of some of the more important series of wines around and great to see that I am not alone in thinking these wines are all top quality.

 

Equipo Navazos old and new by Victor de la Serna

If you want to know what is what when it comes to the latest Equipo Navazos releases then look no further than these cracking notes of a blind tasting by Victor de la Serna. Normally these elmundovino tastings are by a panel but this one looks like a solo effort and what an effort it is: 13 wines, some of them pretty potent, and a whisky, rum and brandy. It is the sort of tasting where you might not start blind but you will almost certainly finish that way.

It also once again gives an impression of the amazingly varied output of Equipo Navazos – wines and spirits of every feather and fur. I have only tasted a few of these wines, and it seems I am a bit behind the curve with the recent releases in particular, but the notes of the ones I have tried certainly ring true. I am just disappointed to read that the Bottle of Number 6 I have been hoarding all these years may have been better pre hoarding …

Ramiro Ibañez and Willy Perez

Since he will be coming to Madrid soon I thought I would revisit and update this post from last October about Ramiro Ibañez and (although Willy is not coming to Madrid as far as I know) give some recognition to his Jerez based partner in crime while I am at it.

Last October I shared a cracking piece by Spanish Wine Lover about Ramiro Ibañez, the maverick winemaker behind exciting projects such as EncrucijadoPitijopos, PandorgaUBE, and Manzanilla de Añada, as well as many other more traditional, but top class wines (including, in particular, El Cerro and La Maruja). In the eight months since then though he and Willy Perez have been up to all sorts.

First, they have been writing. The so called Sobrinos de Haurie are writing a new history of the wines of the region, of which the first section is already available. Churchill once famously said that history was going to treat him kindly because he was going to “write it himself” (and he did) but these guys are driven by higher motives. In fact it is one of the things that most impresses about them: maverick as they may appear, they are not just experimenting for the sake of it. Rather, they evidently venerate the history of the region, feel the responsibility of continuing its traditions and want to restore the region’s past greatness.

Second, they have been revitalizing the local tourist industry. I was fortunate enough to be invited down for a visit by Ramiro and Willy in March and it was quite remarkable. Not just the visit to the pagos and the explanation of the ideas but the demonstration of how those pagos and those ideas translate into wines. Different class. And I was not alone: they seem to have spent most of their weekends this spring putting their case to bloggers and writers of every fur and feather – including proper writers such as Victor de la Serna and Andrew Jefford, amongst others. They are also happy to share their knowledge and photos with bloggers (thanks guys), spend days commenting on articles at all hours of day and night and frankly do whatever is necessary to get the message out.

Third, they have been involved in some pretty interesting debates and initiatives – including high profile catas at Vinoble and elsewhere, and the lower profile but even more interesting Manifesto 119, aimed at encouraging local winemakers to recover forgotten varieties.

Most importantly, they continue to win their arguments the best way possible: by banging out cracking wines. The next volume of the Pitijopos could well be the most important lesson you could learn about terroir in Sanlucar – breath is bated. Volume II of the Manzanilla de Añada was announced ready today, UBE 2014 was as good as expected, and Willy’s Fino la Barajuela 2013 exceeded even my fanboy expectations.

Technical excellence, respect for tradition, hard work, generosity, imagination and energy, and top class wines. If these guys didn’t exist, we would have to invent them.

 

El marco de Jerez and the change that is possible

I came across this great article by Armando Guerra on the Vila Viniteca blog as a result of a tweet by the UEC the other day and what a nice piece it is. 

I don’t know Armando well but he comes across as a really nice chap – friendly, seemingly always laughing and disarmingly modest – the kind of guy who wears his knowledge, and his achievements, lightly. This article is a great example, and is probably the most measured piece on the “resurrection/ revolution/ reboot/ rebirth” that I have read. 

The highlights for me are two lists: one of  some of the people responsible for the change in trend, as he puts it; and one of the paths forward for the future. 

The first list is brilliant – all the usual suspects are there (Ramiro, Willy, Williams, Alba, Fernando de Castilla – you can see the whole list in the piece) but there is also recognition for the role played by giants such as Barbadillo and Gonzalez Byass. Later in the piece he also shouts out to the writers, historians and journalists who kept the flame alive: “Girón, Asenjo, Bellver, Luis Gutiérrez, Ivison, Oldemburg, Pepe Ferrer, Liem, Jancis Robinson, Roca, and de la Serna”.  

The second list is even better: a really helpful systematic list of ways forward – almost a to do list for the sector: 

White wines with a small amount of ageing under flor.

White wines aged without flor from terroir or vineyards of special interest.

Sparkling wines of traditional varieties – exclusively or not – and planted on albariza soils.

Biological ageing as a quality product, recognized by special sacas or indicating the date of bottling.

Biological or traditional ageing without fortification.

Biological or traditional ageing of vintage specific wines.

The recovery of historic varieties.

Red tintilla de rota wines

Repositioning of the old wines of Jerez.

Extracting value from the countryside and bodegas as a quality wine destination (contribution to the conservation of historic buildings and  landscapes).

(I would probably add a couple of points if it were my list but it isnt so I wont.)

He signs off with a reference to the tragic death of Chanquete – not a mere Transparent Goby but rather the much loved wise old fisherman from an iconic children’s TV series, Verano Azul. He says Chanquete’s death may have been inevitable but fortunately Jerez’s was not, or summat. It is a timely reminder of how much I have yet to learn about Spanish culture: I have no idea what he is on about. 

For me the roll calls of honour are missing at least one big name, though: Armando Guerra. His role has probably been bigger than you think – and is certainly bigger than he would ever admit. 

Visions of Jerez and Sanlucar: L Gutierrez and A Mindundi

El Corregidor

As he did in 2013 and 2014, Luis Gutierrez has written an important article on Jerez and Sanlucar for this latest edition of the Wine Advocate. I think they are three of the best things written in English on the wines of the Marco – I don’t link to them because I guess the majority do not subscribe, but if you do you should go and take a look (August 2013 – which also has a fantastic backgrounder – and December 2014).

The latest edition is once again, excellent. In it Luis covers a lot of ground: the terroir of the bodega; the opportunities presented by escaping from the established categories of fino, manzanilla etc; the success (and importance) of white wines like those released by Navazos Niepoort and Equipo Navazos; that bottle ageing is no worse for sherries than any other wine; the growth in interest for biologically aged wines from Jerez and other areas; the red wines of the region; the revitalization of creams and mediums as styles; the bag-in-box issue (and underlying problem with excess production); most hopefully, the work of Ramiro Ibañez and Willy Perez and others and the rebirth of interest in terroir; and the excellent work of Equipo Navazos. He also dedicates time to Montilla Moriles and the action there, explaining the differences and relationship between the two zones and talking about two major producers in particular: Toro Albalá and Perez Barquero. (He then gets on to the local food and flamenco.)

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There are some provocative thoughts in the article (and the notes of the wines that underpin it) and I agree with the vast majority of them, with really only two or three “philosophical” exceptions.

One minor question is that Luis doubts whether it is worth him tasting multiple sacas of the same wine from the same year (he doesn’t seem to think so). He makes a valid point about this being inconvenient from the point of view of databases (i.e., the way the industry does business) and, to be fair, he doesn’t really conclude that he shouldn´t. In fact he also mentions the possibility of treating sacas as you would do vintages of wines for other regions: I think most would settle for that. Nevertheless, I am convinced there are differences between sacas, in particular for those wines where the sacas do not necessarily come from the same botas and I personally vote for more reviews, not less.

The second, and more important, is really a feeling that comes across – from both the article and the tasting notes and scores – rather than a point that he makes expressly. One of the things I particularly like about the article and the way Luis tastes these wines is that he sees them in the wider context of other wines (and not just the other biologically and oxidatively aged wines he references). However what also comes across is that what Luis looks for in these wines is what sets them apart from the wines of other regions: the extreme age, concentration, complexity, the flavours of the bota, the odd colours of the fossils, the different aromas and flavours.

In this latter regard, it seems to me that we may have a different vision (which may of course just be the vision of an authentic expert versus that of an uncertified mindundi and self declared fanboy). Specifically, it seems to me that Luis looks to these wines for something different, something unique and extreme that will thrill the “niche”, the enthusiasts that aren’t looking for “trendy” wines. On the other hand, I really believe that the best wines are those that can go toe to toe with wines from other regions on the dinner table and be accessible to wine lovers of all tastes. I even hope that one day, maybe these wines can be trendy.

To do that, though, the focus cannot be on 80 year old monsters (which could not possibly be sustainable) it has to be on terroir and its expression in the fruit and biological ageing. And there I think an opportunity has been missed.

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Of course I am intrigued by a lot of the scores, agree with some and disagree with others. I have written before about how staggeringly difficult tasting all the wines of this region must be. Just look at the variety of wines in this tasting: red, white, still, sparkling, fortified, unfortified, biologically and oxidatively aged, 11 degrees and 22 degrees, young, old, very old, even older than that. (Equipo Navazos alone submitted 20 odd different wines.) It just doesn’t seem possible to compare two and three year old wines with 90 year old, 22 degree monsters.

Anyway, I haven’t tried as many of the wines at the top of the leaderboard as I would like: there are a lot of very rare, expensive wines up there (and five of the top ten come from Montilla Moriles). However of the wines that are very highly rated that I have tried some are gems while for others I don’t see the same quality: a lot of barrel and astringency in some, not a lot of definition or expression in some. I was also surprised by the outcome head to head of some of the wines I have tried together: the sample size may be anecdotal but I kind of get the impression that Luis is keen on what I think of as the barrel effects whereas I tend to the umami, fruit (or illusion thereof) and delicacy. Overall though the tasting notes are excellent and ring true and it is great to see recognition for some of the smaller producers.

Most importantly, it is great news that a guy like Luis is sharing his enthusiasm for these wines in such detail, in such numbers, and with such regularity in a publication as influential as the Wine Advocate. It is all too easy to underestimate the importance of things like his unveiling of a new 100 pointer in this category (even if it is from the other place on this occasion). If one message needs to get out there it is this one: these are great wines, and if you want to call yourself a wine enthusiast, you should be drinking them.

 

(Photos are of El Corregidor courtesy of Willy Perez, Ramiro Ibañez’s cracking little winery Cota 45, and Der Guerrita, where Luis tasted a lot of the wines (and, thankfully, left quite a bit behind).)

 

 

El velo de flor

sherrywines-jerez-flor

This blog takes its title from the “veil of flor”, the formation of yeast on the surface of (some of) the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar that is central to the process of biological ageing. It is a fascinating phenomenon and one I have been trying to get to grips with for a while.

Now, and by the miracle of twitter, this morning I came across this superb post, on Enoarquía.com (whose site more than repays a visit, as I have said before). The original is actually from November last year in Spanish, but it has now been translated into English. In whatever language, it is the clearest description and explanation I have read to date and I highly recommend having a read (also gives me an excuse to use the fantastic picture above, which they credit to sherry.org).

In fact since then I have come across a second excellent piece on flor by Jamie Goode, the Wine Anorak himself in a guest post for Sherry.wine. Amusingly he also uses the above stock picture, which appears to be de rigueur (it is certainly a cracking shot), but if you are into seeing pictures of flor (and albariza, and winemaking in general) the place to go is this man’s tweet stream.

Jerez, la resurrección del vino

Paola

After last week’s Coming of Jesus, and just to prove that Spanish editors are equally partial to borderline blasphemous Easter-related headlines this week’s El Pais Semanal, the Sunday supplement of one of Spain’s biggest newspapers, had an 8 page reportage on Jerez under the title “Jerez, the resurrection of the wine“.

And a pretty good one it is too. They managed to interview most of the movers and shakers: Armando Guerra (Der Guerrita), Willy Perez (Bodegas Luis Perez and Studio 54), Ramiro Ibañez (Cota 45), Paola Medina (Williams & Humbert), Antonio Flores (Gonzalez Byass), Eduardo Ojeda (Estevez and Equipo Navazos), Jesus Barquin (Equipo Navazos), Juan Carlos and Carmen Gutierrez Colosia (Gutierrez Colosia), and Rocio Ruiz (Urium). It even references the legendary Cuatrogatos wine club.

[May 1: There is now an abridged translation in English on the Sherry.wine site – enjoy.]

The article manage to cram in a lot of the history and describes a lot of the promising green shoots that have lead to so many “sherry revolution” pieces lately: the interest of critics like Luis G, the support by top class restaurants like Can Roca and Aponiente, and the sherry bars popping up all over the place. Best of all, it does a good job of capturing the convivial enthusiasm and invention of the young winemakers that are shaking things up.

If I were to have one criticism it would be that there isn’t all that much discussion of the wines themselves – or the new ideas that have helped bring them back (such as the Magic Numbers and the rebirth of interest in vintages and terroir). It is fantastic that a widely read publication like this is celebrating the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar , but it would have been even better if the piece could have explained just why they should be celebrated. (If they intend to translate this for the international edition I would also recommend removing the reference to Sir Francis Drake being a “pirate”.)

Still, it is really great to see a lot of people I admire getting at least some of the recognition they deserve. I duly bought the newspaper for the first time in ages and hopefully will look back at a faded copy of this a few years from now when these ladies and gentlemen are all household names. (In fact maybe I should try and get it autographed now …)

 

 

Jefford on Sherry again: The coming of Jesus

Coming of JesusAndrew Jefford wrote for me one of the great books about French wine and it is thus incredibly heartening to see him coming round to the one true faith.

Following on from his piece on Jerez and the terroir challenge a few weeks ago he has now penned a really nice piece on Equipo Navazos (they of the Magic Numbers and equally Magic Wines) and, in particular, Jesus Barquin, with the topical Easter monday title: “The Coming of Jesus”. (I know some of the guys down there may bridle at the use of the word “saviour” in this context but anyway.) Fantastic stuff.