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!

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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.

Ube Carrascal 2015

We are all locked in, but I don’t have anywhere better to go. This is an exceptional, world class white wine.

It shows all the qualities of its variety, time and place. The white fruit and herbs of the best palominos, the concentration of an (even) hotter season and the salinity and verticality of its birthplace in Carrascal de Sanlucar.

That combination of concentrated fruit, herbs, salinity and freshness make for an incredibly complex white wine, which was perfect with dinner but is even better on its own.

Uberrima indeed. Superb.

Atlántida Blanco 2016

Your correspondent had this for the first time a while ago now (a year?) at a cracking lunch in Zalamero Taberna and another fun lunch with the same person inspired me to have a second dip.

It is a wine by Compañias de Vino del Atlantico, your man Alberto Orte, who has by now built up a bit of an empire spanning the Spanish peninsula but is beloved of this parish for his wines in the region of Jerez.

He has a nice little tintilla that goes by the name of vara y pulgar – a nice reference to pruning for the gardener’s world crowd – and some really top class finos and upwards, but this is a Vijariego blanco.

Yes indeed, one of your good old Vijariegos – one of the 119 varieties around in Jerez pre-phyloxera and apparently resuscitated to good effect here. It has had 12 months or more in oak and it is a bomb of flavour alright – the extra year in the bottle has brought it on even more compared to my first meeting with it.

They compared it to white burgundy and it has that feel of a broad on the beam chardonnay but with more sharp edges to it – real devil in there, almost as if it was one of these volcanic Canary wines. And of course none of the lime cordial of a chardonnay – here you have an altogether more grapefruity undertow.

Full flavour and full on. Would be fascinating to see how this develops over the years.

La Escribana Vino de Pasto 2018 in Angelita Madrid

Your correspondent has been out of the game too long. Probably a good few weeks since I was at the trough in earnest – time enough for at least three new labels to emerge from the hyperactive young dynamos down in Jerez and Sanlucar.

And here is one. The latest from Willy Perez, this appears to be an unfortified white wine – the label says from Macharnudo on tosca de Barajuelas soil. “Only” 13 and a half degrees and I don’t know much about it but would guess we have a bit of asoleo or a relatively late harvest. (Vino de pasto translates more or less as table wine so no clues there.)

It is another cracker from the young Wise King of Jerez. Concentrated white fruit – almost pineapple upfront, and bitter pineapple marmalade at the back. It is mineral for a white wine – real zing and warmth around the mouth – but tasty and jammy rather than fresh and slippy on the finish. As its name indicates, it is a table wine – this would stand up and be counted in almost any company.

Another one please barman!

Socaire 2017

One of the great Cadiz wines, this, a palomino with a touch of class about it, with as much silk as steel and as much flavour as aromatics. Coming back to it once again after a while without (probably last seen at Easter) what strikes me is how balanced it is – how the fruit, bota effects and saline sizzle combine so nicely that you can hardly make out the gaps. A top class wine, no question.

La Fleur 2015 in Zalamero Taberna

It has been a very intense time at work in recent weeks and the first casualties of the tight deadlines are the restaurants that are farthest from the office. As a result I haven’t been to Zalamero nearly as much as I would like. Good food, good wine, good people, nice hatstand, it is one of my very favourite spots.

So it was a double pleasure to get there for a Sunday supper a couple of weekends ago with my esteemed colleague Ruben of SherryNotes (and WhiskyNotes). We had a really cracking dinner, featuring really excellent roast chicken croquettes, mackerel, squid and lamb chops. And we had a really cracking wine too.

La Fleur is a 100% palomino from the folks (Rocio and Alejandro) at Forlong – a young couple of proper winemakers that make a full range of subtly different palominos (and the occasional interloper), all of them class wines and all of them showing off the many qualities of this tragically overlooked grape.

La Fleur is a case in point – has just a touch of flor, and maybe as a result seems a little more floral and sweeter on the nose than many palominos – in some ways bringing it closer to the wines from Jura. Like any palomino it is fresh and juicy on the palate, but again the fruits you find there are more exotic than you might expect – I really associate this wine with sweet apple pies and pastries, and those aromas were still there in this bottle, but over time notes of pineapple came through. And then the back end has plenty of oomph, with a saline finish – a kind of reverse mullet that is party at the front and business at the back.

A lovely wine and perfect for a lovely dinner and occasion.

UBE Paganilla 2018 in Angelita

Here is a sharp, fresh, fruitful palomino for the doubters if there are any left. The latest UBE, and one of the latest new creations of Ramiro Ibañez is a chip off the old block.

As you can see from the label, it is from a vineyard in the pago Paganilla where the soil is a mix of barajuelas and tosca cerrada, and it may be the power of suggestion but to me those barajuelas come through in the form of white fruit on the nose, more intense, concentrated roast pineapple on the way in and just a hint of grapefruit on the finish.

Excellent stuff and I can feel another outbreak of UBE coming on …