Ube las Vegas el Carrascal 2017

Ube: The original

No jokey posts this time or corny lines, serious business tonight with a serious wine. This is the original UBE, one of the first really serious unfortified palomino wines I ever tried and with each passing vintage I am more convinced that it is one of the very best.

It is from the las Vegas vineyard in El Carrascal de Sanlucar, a plot with old, ungrafted vines of some of the original palomino varieties, palomino fino, palomino de jerez, and pelúson (aka big hairy palomino) growing on the loose, antehojuela albarizas of Carrascal de Sanlucar, one the most Atlantic influenced pagos of Sanlucar and el marco. It is fermented in bota and then spends another 20 months there – without flor – growing into this beast of a white wine. Since then it has been a good year and a bit in the bottle already although I think it is fairly recently released.

All that time in the making: a vine that had been slaving away for over 100 years, fruit that spent 2017 making itself, 20 months in the barrel and a year and half in the bottle. And after all that he bottle disappeared in the blink of an eye. One moment it was there. The next moment, it was no longer there.

But what a moment there was in between. This is not only an excellent example of what unfortified palomino is all about it is a truly lovely wine on any terms. In colour (slightly dark gold), aroma (citrus, herbs and sea breeze) and above all on the palate, where it has incredible range and even more extraordinary finesse, it is just a remarkable sup. That range goes all the way from white flowers to stewy herbs, passing through white fruits, jammy fruits, and sweet herbs on the way. And it does it with understated power and an elegance and clarity that is really quite remarkable.

Yes I enjoyed it. What often happens when I open one of these is that three go down in quick succession but that is not happening this time. Iron discipline is at work, but so is the shortage of supply. I am going to quickly sort out the latter, and we will see about the former.

Night of the mayetos in Sagrario Tradicion

They say better late than never so here is a long overdue write up of a cracking night – all of three months ago during sherry week – when we celebrated one of my favourite projects in one of my favourite places.

The project in question is the “Mayeteria Sanluqueña”: José Manuel “Manu” Harana, Rafael Rodriguez, Antonio Bernal and Daniel Rodriguez, four “mayetos” that make up one of the most intriguing stories in el marco de Jerez.

“Mayeto” is the traditional term in Sanlucar for a small scale grower – of anything really (if you haven’t tried the potatoes from a navazo you haven’t tried real potatoes) – but particularly vitis vinifera. Historically these small producers have played a big role in the wines of Jerez: mayetos have been responsible for a large proportion of production, although at least in recent years their numbers and production have fallen, and have tended to be limited to supplying the cooperatives and larger bodegas.

But now with the inspiration and help of the great viticultor and winemaker Ramiro Ibañez the mayetos of the Mayetería Sanluqueña have started once again to make their own wines. They are unfortified wines from palomino fino sold under the brand “Corta y Raspa” from vineyards in some of the most emblematic and famous “pagos” of Jerez and Sanlúcar: Añina, Atalaya, Charruado, Maína and Miraflores. They make them from their best, oldest vines, with a production of less than 7,000 kg per hectare (a condition of being part of the project, in a region where it is not unusual for yields to be more than 11,000 kg/ha) and using artisanal, traditional winemaking techniques.

And the result is a series of wines that are fresh, drinkable, but which express the characteristics of the vines and vineyards like no other. We are talking honest wines with minimal intervention that let you clearly feel the influence of the altitude, location, climate and type of the famous albarizas.

The only pity is how hard it is to find and enjoy them – here in Madrid or anywhere else for that matter. (Although you can get them from the Cuatrogatos Wine Club). So when I was asked by my good friends at Sagrario Tradicion – a fantastic new restaurant here in the neighbourhood – what they could do for sherry week it didn’t take me long to further my agenda of bringing these wines within reach.

Were it not for the awful year that 2020 has been we would have had the mayetos come and present their wines to a packed house. That was not to be – but we were able to get hold of the few bottles that remained so that Nico and his crew at Sagrario could pair them up with their quality cooking. Specifically we were able to get the Atalaya 2018, “La Charanga” (Maina) 2018 and “La Charanga” (Maina) 2017.

They are wines that come from vines a small distance apart – just 2,8km – but despite being neighbours, the difference in the albarizas, together with the degrees of humidity and freshness in the vines, result in a vegetation of the vine, thickness of the skin of the fruit, concentration, and other possible parameters that give identity and character that make the vineyard recognizable in the wineglass.

In the words of the mayetos themselves:

Atalaya is a pago near Sanlúcar, with “lentejuela” or “antehojuela” albarizas, with a high chalk content, but a looser, less compact structure, allowing an easier development of the roots and vegetation of the top side. It is at about 55 metres above sea level (above the magic 45 metres celebrated in “Cota 45”) and is closer to the sea, with the effects of the fresh, humid winds of the poniente (from the sea). The wine is dry, sapid, saline, and structured without losing freshness and acidity.

Maina is a pago (slightly) further inland, but with more influence from the river and the winds of the “levante”. The poniente winds are weakened by the pago Hornillos (Callejuela), Martin Miguel, and Atalaya that bear their brunt. The altitude is higher, at between 65 and 75 metres. The albariza here is barajuela, the toughest. It is very rich in calcium and structured in layers, making the development of the roots difficult and leading to lesser top vegetation. The wines are very direct, dry and potent, the most sapid of them all. It is the pago richest in content of “diatomeas” (fossils of microscopic organisms) in the marco de Jerez, giving the wine great impact on the palate.

On the other hand, in the case of La Charanga we were able to try the different qualities of two different vintages: the 2017, with a very warm summer which obliged the growers to bring forward the harvest, and the 2018, a year with abundant rain and a very cool summer which obliged them, on the contrary, to delay the harvest to September for the first time in many years.

A tantalising prospect and it turned out to be an absolutely great week by all accounts. I am not sure how many people pitched up – although Sagrario is always busy anyway – but if everyone who sent me a message did then they must have been standing in the aisles. It was fair packed when a group of like minded souls and I rocked up and availed ourselves of the opportunity before the curfew, and neither Sagrario nor the wines disappointed.

From the first I had thought of the two as a perfect match – in Sagrario they like their natural, terroir driven wines for a start, with Nico having been the man behind more than one in his time – but the obsession with tradition and nature isn’t only a wine thing. I will never forget Nico telling me all about where the frogs that generously donated their legs to the cause of his pisto were from and why. But just in general it is a place for simple but imaginative and always nicely carried out preparations of top quality produce and the menu they came up for with the mayetos was no exception.

And the wines, well they were three little beauties – only 2.8km and 12 months in it but three lovely wines that were as different as you could ask for. A perfect demonstration of the potential of the terroir of Sanlucar and Jerez and one of the best wine experiences for a long time.

Sherry Week 2020 – in Madrid and worldwide

Sherry Week 2020 is upon us and, while understandably restrained this year, it is still a great excuse/opportunity to try a glass of one of the world’s great wines. If you’d like to find an event – whether a tapas and sherry offer or a full blown tasting menu – there is a cracking searchable map on the Sherry Wines Website.

In Madrid as always we are well looked after. In Madrid every week is Sherry Week – whether in its Sherry Temples, Palo Cortado, Surtopia, Corral de Moreria or A’Barra, or its wine temples, lead by Angelita Madrid and la Fisna, or the restaurants and taverns with outstanding lists of sherries like Zalamero, Taberna Verdejo, la Canibal, Lakasa, la Taberna de Pedro, La Malaje, Media Ración, Kulto, Triciclo, la Antoja, the “new” Venencia … there are many and I am bound to forget some for which I apologize in advance (luckily I can edit this post later).

But this week there are 29 different locations listed in Madrid, including in the aforementioned Canibal, Pazo de Lugo, Kulto, Distinto, la Antoja, and many others – the full list is on the website – but at the risk of upsetting some very good friends, one event stands out to me: “La Mayeteria Sanluqueña in Sagrario Tradicion”.

La Mayeteria Sanluqueña is one of the greatest things in the new landscape of Jerez (in this case Sanlucar) and the event – a menu paired with wines from two of the mayetos from two pagos that are close by but express different stories, and two vintages – 2017 and 2018 – that express very different times. In fact I should declare an involvement here – Nico asked me for a suggestion of how to take part in sherry week and that was all the excuse I needed to further my agenda on all fronts. I love the traditional wines of Andalucia in all their forms, but palomino, vintage and terroir are my bag in a big way, and if you throw in artisans and tradition, and if the wine is as good as these are …

So get down to your local sherry event, and if you can find them, check out the mayeteria!

UBE Carrascal 2015 – in Taberna Palo Cortado

This was the original UBE and still my favourite overall. From Carrascal de Sanlucar, the freshest and most vertical of the great pagos in el marco, but from old vines and a low yielding vineyard that produces wines of relative potency and concentration.

It is of course 100% palomino (although with Ramiro other options are available), from three different clones – palomino fino, palomino de jerez and palomino pelusón (which intriguingly translates as big hairy palomino). It is fermented in bota and then spends another 20 months there, without flor, after which this one has been another three and a half years in the bottle.

That period in the bottle has really brought it on – as I so often find with palomino white wines – and the result is a highly enjoyable, fresh but flavourful white wine.

As you can see, it has taken on a very attractive old gold colour, clearly darker in shade than I remember it, and it has a very distinctive nose, chalky interlaced with lemon but with a hint of stewy herbs in the background. In fact those herbs come through more and more as the wine opens up. Really interesting balance of mineral, fruit and savoury. Then on the palate more of the same, the effect of the chalk, the fresh start and a nice, generous mouthful of citrus and herbal fruit before slipping away in a long fresh finish.

Plenty to enjoy here, a really excellent wine, and that savoury character makes it a great wine for one of the cheeky lunches I have missed so much …

Navazos Niepoort 2018 in Coalla Madrid

Aperitivo o’clock in a bustling Coalla Madrid and nothing better to wash down your berberechos than a glug or two of this white wine from pago Macharnudo.

One of the first unfortified white wines from Jerez – the first vintage was back in 2008 – this project by Equipo Navazos with one of the story of Jerez’s unsung heroes, Dirk Niepoort aims at recreating the wines of Jerez in centuries past. From 100% palomino fino from the famous albariza of macharnudo, fermented in bota and no fortification, with only a few months of spontaneous flor.

It is delicious stuff – fresh, saline and aromatic, with a suggestion of white fruit and a touch of the old esparto grass. Fruit, mineral, herb in a lovely balance, and very elegant. The berberechos were also top class it must be said and a better pairing I cannot think of.

Marvellous – with wines like this by the glass no wonder Don Ramon is enjoying Madrid!

Vendimia 2017 de Faustino Gonzalez

So here is a new addition to the growing variety of “blanco de albariza” on offer from the small producer behind the Cruz Vieja fino and others.

These guys have some serious real estate – the fino shares its roots with some of the great wines of Jerez’s past, so I was interested to try this in Taberna Verdejo recently.

As you can see, it is a beautiful old gold colour, crystal clear (apologies for the condensation), then a nose and palate of beefy herbs and grapey fruit. On the palate there is that tingle of salinity up front, those flavours and then a finish that is part jammy, part mineral and part fresh.

A cracking tipple – albariza in glass.

Socaire Oxidativo 2015

Unquestionably the wine of a pretty good summer. In fact Mrs Undertheflor even asked me earlier this evening, knowing we had bagged a few unicorns over the course of the vacations, and it was gratifying that there was at least some interest in my opinion on this occasion so I thought I might share it more widely.

You see I knew Socaire Oxidativo 2015 was excellent but last week I had one of those rare opportunities to explore the wine from every angle – and it was one of those even rarer moments when a wine thus explored got better the more I explored.

I was fortunate enough to be in Chiclana for my holidays – beautiful beaches and climate, some really top class restaurants -, even more fortunate in that Primitivo Collantes himself was kind enough to show myself and some good friends around his vineyards and bodega, and even even more fortunate that he was generous enough to let us taste the oxidativos from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015 (and of course the other Socaire, the Arroyuelo en Rama and the Fossi, not to mention the new sensation, “Tivo”).

Now Primitivo Collantes SA is one of the few bodegas I have actually visited, and probably a principal cause of my recommendation to anyone really interested in a wine to go and visit the makers. It is a special organization lead by a special individual. It is the only bodega in Chiclana – aside from the coop – to grow and harvest grapes in Chiclana and make its own wine, and the last survivor of a once very proud tradition in these parts. And it plays its part in that tradition too, withe some venerable wines and styles: Arroyuelo is a great fino, Fossi a superb amontillado.

But its great wines, for me, are those that go by name of Socaire. The first Socaire was revolutionary in its day – a barrel fermented, bota aged unfortified palomino from the sheer white soils of Finca Matalian that blazed with zest and expression in its first vintage, and subsequently has shown with power, complexity, elegance and every combination thereof year after year. Really one of the great modern wines from the region.

And now this. The difference between the two is one of age – this is what happens when Socaire gets more than two years of bota age, and starts to show its fondness for the oxygen that surrounds us.

And what a transformation that time brings. The 2019 was a refined mosto – fuzzy and rampant, for all that it had nearly 11 months in the bota. The 2018 was finer, a real wine now, but still spiky and up for it. 2017 was finer and more elegant, losing those spikes and almost holding itself in. And then 2016 had grown again: aromatic, full of flavour and character, a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. In terms of barrel tasting (well, not really, 2016 was going into the bottle already) it was as good as I have experienced – a real anatomy of the creation of a wine. And then of course we tasted it next to the 2015, with its year in the bottle and its polish.

It was an outstanding introduction to the wine, and was soon followed by the horizontal dimension, as we tasted it next to the other wines from the same exceptional vineyard (Finca Matalian, now you ask), including the upstart “Tivo” from the traditional Chiclana Uva Rey. If the vertical gave us an anatomy of a wine in the making the horizontal gave us its geography – it was like looking at old family portraits of a dear friend and spotting all the familiar features of sisters and brothers.

And those features are the features of an outstanding white wine. Lower in register than some of those appearing further North, this is mountain flowers and sweet herbs on the nose, aromatic and rich, then a lovely elegant profile delivering those same flavours on a steely frame of salinity, which leaves your mouth watering as you finish.

An outstanding wine from an excellent producer, a beautiful place and thoroughly good family. My wine of the summer 2020 is Socaire Oxidativo!

Socaire 2017

One of the fine wines of an exciting new era. Chateau Matalian Grand Cru, a lovely white-fruit flavoured white wine

And when I say flavour I really mean it because when you become accustomed to the range of flavours in these white wines from Andalucia you miss half of the graph when you step outside the bubble. Not just the salinity but stewy, vegetable and herb flavours.

This, as you can see, is the 2017 – these latest vintages have the year on the label as our man Primitivo chips away at the wall of resistance that is the Consejo Regulador with two powerful arguments: quality and sales.

This wine is an argument in itself. Not as ferocious as the first vintage I tried and maybe not as spicey as last year’s, this is ripe and elegant and frankly excellent. In fact to me this wine shows just how the Socaire wines have matured: no longer a curiosity or an experiment in a sherry barrel, but a high quality white wine in its own right.

I love it and I strongly recommend that you find some, buy it and enjoy it, or if you prefer, keep it a few years – it will almost certainly improve (for some reason the bottles in my cellar keep disappearing).

The Didactic Selection, Part I – blancos de albariza


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 …

Ube Carrascal 2015

I only have two bottles of this (vintage) left but couldn’t resist it.

I don’t know what it is about Ube but every time I have a bottle another one soon follows, and after that, well, one thing generally leads to another.

It is a class old vine palomino from a typically vertical, Atlantic Sanlucar, and this one from a warm year has a touch more fruit heft to balance the savoury, stewy herbs.

Superb – really world class white wine.