Solear en rama Spring 2015 in Corral de la Moreria

After three years in the bottle this little beauty is like a day old child – nothing wrong with this at all.

It was one of several really top wines that the marvellous David Ayuso opened for us at the lunchtime party to celebrate Juan Manuel del Rey’s big prize: Premio Nacional de la Gastronomia for best service (sala). It couldn’t have been more deserved – this is without fail one of the happiest of happy places – and it was a fantastic occasion, with Juan Manuel calling the whole team up on stage to a ringing ovation, superb finger food by the star chef David Garcia, “mucho arte” from Perrete, Bocadillo and the boys and girls, a bravura performance by Juan Andres Maya and a really joyful finale with Blanca del Rey herself. A chance to celebrate wine, food, music and dancing, and all before

Maybe it was the happy occasion, the music or the three earlier glasses but for whatever reason this struck me as as good a manzanilla as I have had in a long time. As aromatic, zingy and juicy as any that I can remember, and very expressive of those salty, peppery bitter salad flavours.

Absolutely top stuff. Congratulations once again to the crew at Corral de la Moreria … and the crew at Barbadillo!

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A’Barra and the wonderful world of Valerio Carrera

If the past is a foreign country, at A’Barra you can travel the world.

I went back last night and yet again was treated to an astonishing line up of historic wines: Valdespino Jerez Seco, Viva la Pepa manzanilla (Romate), Fino Macharnudo (also Romate), a Very Pale (Alvear), JR (Bodegas Montulia), Priorato Dom Juan Forte (De Muller), the 2017 cosecha (Ximenez Spinola), Royal Ambrosiante Palo Cortado (Sandeman) and la Bota 81 de Gin (Equipo Navazos).

To be quite honest it was almost too much to take in at once. I am not a great note taker and even less when having dinner, but there were some vivid contrasts: the salted caramel of the Jerez Seco, the pure elegance of the Viva la Pepa, the refined sapidity of the Fino Macharnudo, the piercing, spirity volatile acidity of the Montulia. There were also some common themes: beautiful clarity, colour, and temperature. They were, in summary, top wines, beautifully presented.

What is clear is that there is a world of wines that I have yet to explore: different names and styles, lost bodegas and brands. It is also clear that if you want to explore that world A’Barra is one of the places you can do so. Before going to A’Barra a couple of weeks ago I probably had only had a dozen really old bottles. Fifteen days later I have lost count …

Many many thanks again and many congratulations to Valerio and the guys – really enjoyed last night and will be back again soon!

A’Barra

A fantastic dinner last night at the “gastronomic bar” of A’Barra, where you can dine at a counter while some friendly chefs whip up a really high quality, high flavour and high fun menu, all the while sipping down an imaginative set of pairings by one of Madrid’s very top sommeliers.

You know it is going to be a good night when you are offered as an aperitivo la Bota 70 de Manzanilla Pasada de Equipo Navazos – an absolutely splendid start that, but only just the start. After aperitivos and safely ensconced at the bar the menu took off with Alvear’s Asunción oloroso – just that hint of sweetness making it a really accesible – then a juicy, herbal Assyrtiko, interloping from across the med, a marvellous Fondillón from Alicante and progressing up the coast, a chunky Aureo Añejo Seco from Tarragona.

By this stage I could contain myself no longer and went off piste because I had been told repeatedly that Valerio Carrera, the sommelier in charge here, was a bit of a legend. But even so I wasn’t prepared for the quality of what happened next, with some absolutely exceptional wines: a 1950s manzanilla Jarana from Lustau, a 1920s bottle of Fino Carta Blanca by Agustin Blázquez, a lovely old Romate oloroso and a really fine, elegant old Pukka medium dry, again by Blázquez.

I am going to give it a go in the coming days but it is not going to be easy to put into words the quality of these wines. And not just the wines, but the service, which was perfection. Opened in advance and handled with exquisite care these wines were crystal clear and had no hint of age, reduction or dustiness on the nose. They were impeccable and ready to sing out their considerable qualities. Absolutely outstanding, magical stuff from a sommelier with a superb collection and even better skills.

And oh yes, there was also a dinner. Which was cracking, from start to finish, in a great atmosphere. The bar is a wonderful setting, allowing you to chat with fellow diners, and the food and the wine beg to be discussed. There were lots of smiles and even a fair bit of laughter. As enjoyable a dinner as I have had in a long time and one that I hope to repeat very soon.

Perfect. I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

A lunchtime of legends in Maitea Taberna

Two weeks have gone by since an all too brief lunch at Bar Maitea with a barely believable line-up of legendary wines old and new. In fact I still can’t quite believe it.

It all started with a glass of the Manzanilla Madura by Callejuela – a really flavourful manzanilla, from a river-influence pago and with a little bit more time in the bota, it has a bit more breadth on the beam and heft than you might expect but still has that crisp, appetite opening salinity you need to set yourself up for lunch.

That bright start became a really promising beginning when a bottle of the legendary Fino Carta Blanca, by Agustin Blázquez, appeared in front of me on the bar. This is a cult wine, a high class wine from a legendary macharnudo pago and maker, and a clear riposte to those who doubt the longevity of sherries in the bottle (me amongst them, I suppose). I had a 1990s edition in Madrid that just blew my socks off not long ago and this one, apparently from the 1970s, was in that league. Although scarily dark brown in the glass it was nevertheless absolutely intact and compact, a hint of reduction on the nose at first but soon opening up with citrus, bitter almond and old dry straw aromas and a palate that slices its way in with salinity and citrus before hitting you with weighty, salty bitter almond flavours. Really serious stuff and if the juices hadn’t already been flowing they certainly were now.

Next up was Fino Caribe by Bodegas Sancho, again an example from the 1970s and another wine with a serious pedigree. Bodegas Sancho, which like Agustin Blazquez were later acquired by Domecq, were located in el Puerto but sourced this wine from the famous “El Caribe” vineyard in Pago Añina and that combination (and its forty odd year wait to be released from the bottle) created a wine with a really unique character. Clear as a bell and an attractive chestnut colour the nose was extraordinary – like a flat ginger beer, musty but all bitterness gone, and with that rockpool aroma that is so distinctive in el Puerto. Then on the palate the oxidation was noticeable too, sweetness on the start and flavours of praline and soft nougat giving way to an intense bitterness – my notes say “white campari” which almost certainly doesn’t exist but I think you get my drift. (They also say “amarrrrrrgo”.) Long salty finish reminds you again of the rock pool. What an absolutely extraordinary wine.

As the kokotxas arrive for yet another legend, and yet another unique old wine, appears on the bar: Manzanilla Pochola by Domecq. Again a dark chestnut in colour but as clear as a bell, and once it opened up (these bottles were being opened before my very eyes and were a little closed early doors) an aromatic thoroughbred, bitterly floral and herbal. An amazing palate, slipping in with a zing of Sanlúcar salinity but then the breadth and characteristics of pago macharnudo. A “manzanilla de Jerez” if ever there was one.

At this stage the genius behind the bar apparently observed your correspondent struggling to keep up with the historic wines and decided to go with an absolutely beautiful dish of pigs trotters give him a little bit of a breather in the form of the modern/traditional Palo Cortado Viejo C P (Calle Ponce) by Valdespino. In fact it allowed a fascinating comparison of the slightly oxidated macharnudo manzanilla from before with an elegant modern macharnudo palo cortado. Bright, clean and clear amber/chestnut colour and an elegant, quiet nose with buttery notes, nicely integrated salinity and roasted to bitter almonds on the palate fading to burnt caramel flavours. Much deeper and more consistent in its oxidation than those that have earned it in the bottle and tighter in profile. One of the most elegant of the modern palo cortados and a class wine in its own way.

And in case that wasn’t modern enough I was at the same time given a glass of a mysterious whit wine labelled only “FP” (a probable “florpower” prototype) that in the company of all these venerable old legends was like a burst of sunshine on a cloudy day: a nose that was all fresh sweetness and a crisp youthful palate. A really nice fresh wine and one to look forward to!

But then with a fantastic cuajada dressed with honey and pine kernels your man produced another striking old beast and all thoughts of freshness were banished from my mind. The Pedro Ximenez Viña 25 seemed to epitomize for me what an old Jerez pedro ximenez should be all about, its sweetness tempered by a nose of pine forests, a a palate of black coffee/dark chocolate bitterness and an incredibly light, fresh feel to it. Really fine texture and piercing flavour and another excellent match with the sticky, sweet honey of the cuajada.

And just when I thought I was going to make my train with relative ease the final, exceptional treat: a little, very old bottle of Domecq’s Amontillado Botaina. A little cracker that was amber gold in colour – much lighter in colour than the finos – and in absolutely perfect condition, with hay bales and vinegary toffee in the nose and a superb combination of zing, acidity and sapidity on the palate. Absolutely superb, and there were tears in my eyes as I swigged it down and headed out, dazed and a little awed, in search of a taxi.

As I said on the day, one of those lunches I will always remember and never be able to repay. An honour and a privilege.

Fino Alexander Jules 22/85 – May 2013

Yes, the table in the background is at Angelita, but this wine is not on their list. It was a special treat brought to Madrid by the great Federico Ferrer of the Cuatrogatos Wine Club and generously shared over lunch this week.

I am a huge fan of Alexander Jules. I wrote a piece a little while ago about marquistas that some people took as being critical, but it wasn’t at all my intention to write off all bottle selectors. When done right, I think they bring a lot of value and Alexander Jules is one of the guys that definitely gets it right. Specifically, he selects cracking wines, he tells you where the wine comes from (right on the label), what makes it special and what to look for, and then he goes out and sells of them in places (mainly the United States) that they otherwise might not reach.

The first fino of his that I tried was a selection from the Camborio solera and although it was noticeably distinct from the Camborio I knew it was so good it made me look at Camborio in a different light. This one is not from Camborio, but from another of my favourite soleras: the Fino Perdido by Sanchez Romate. And again, it will probably make me look at that wine in a different way.

Like the wine I know it is beautifully aromatic, with all the apple pie aromas – I love the mention of cinnamon on his ficha, we are definitely in the same ball park. Then on the palate it is just spectacular, sharp around the edges but broad in flavours, like a broad arrowhead. And the breadth of flavour is there too: stewed apple with peppery rocket flavours and a salt and pepper finish. And despite spending going on five years in the bottle , unlike some of the more aromatic finos it is still as compact and as fresh as a daisy. A really good sign.

So many many thanks Fede and many congratulations again Alex, a cracker!

 

Amontillado Williams Coleccion Añadas, 2003

When we discuss bottle ageing we tend to be talking about the effects of between a few and a good few years in the bottle: legendary finos from the 1950s that have held it together miraculously and brutal old amontillados that have mellowed over decades. I probably don’t have enough patience (or storage) to really study on those kinds of timeframes but I think it is equally interesting at times to see the effects of even a short time – a few weeks or a year or so – in the bottle. The impact on some wines – especially the more aromatic biological ones – can be significant,

Here is a good example, the 2003 Amontillado from the Williams Colección Añadas, which I enjoyed during a cracking lunch at Taberna Verdejo. At least from my memory of it at previous tastings, this has sharpened up, on the nose and the palate, after just 18 months in the bottle and 12 months since I first tasted it (admittedly, that was the february saca).

I remember it being a spirity nosed, rounded and mellow wine, and maybe that is why I am surprized today by how zingy, sharp and acidic it is. The hazelnut that I associate with the Williams Colección Añadas is there on the nose but also there are notes of alcohol like a sweet, nutty vinegar. There is not a lot of haybale (or esparto grass) in evidence and it is not as spirity as it was. On the palate too there is nice acidity upfront and salinity at the back, and altogether it seems more vertical than this time last year.

More defined and even more elegant, but maybe a little less wild than it was last year.

 

Manzanilla pasada La Guita (1970s)

This was a second very special wine brought to lunch by Juancho Asenjo – the man is a legend – in Territorio Era recently.

It had some tough competition on the day – a quite outstanding 20 year old Fino Carta Blanca – and has a tough act to follow in the form of its own descendants. You see it is a manzanilla pasada La Guita from (I think – memory is a bit hazy for some reason) the 1970s and would be a lineal ancestor of the outstanding “noughty”‘manzanilla pasadas released in more recent times by Equipo Navazo, which are among the very finest wines I have tried from the region.

And this was a fascinating wine. Was a rich old amber in colour and was pretty clear, maybe just a hint of cloudiness. On the nose it was still there – a bit of old apple and straw – although not as punchy as it might once have been, and on the palate it was extraordinary. Not so much the flavours, which were still there and were enjoyable if a little muted, but a quite amazing chalky, almost chalk dust texture.

The most mineral wine I have ever tasted without question – extraordinary stuff.