Willy Perez in Taberna Palo Cortado

A very special night last night in Taberna Palo Cortado. First, it was the final tasting in the Taberna in its current location, and a chance to say goodbye to a little place that in just two years has been the scene of a lot of really fun nights. (Worry not, they will be back – more news soon.) Second, it was a rare chance to listen to Willy Perez and a very rare chance to taste some of the most exciting and sought after wines in Spain, his Barajuela project.

It wasn’t all about the Barajuelas. One of the things that sets Willy and his family apart is that they are winemakers across the whole spectrum, with a range of reds based around tintilla de rota (include El Triangulo and the classy Tintilla 2013), a new and frankly extremely impressive palomino white wine (el Muelle de Olaso 2016) and even a buzzy, full power modern rosé. We were able to taste all of them and fascinating it was too: particularly the comparison between two tintillas.

But the stars of the show were the Barajuelas. This year’s second saca of the 2013 Fino, a first look at the 2014 Fino, a happy reunion with the absolutely sensational 2013 Oloroso and also a glass of the Raya 2015. Four really top wines and awesome to try them side by side: the comparison between the two finos was stunning and I enjoyed the Raya much more in the company of its brethren. The oloroso in particular showed beautifully – worth the entrance money alone and seeing the glass empty brought a tear to the old eye.

Or rather the star was Willy himself. A really good bloke and obviously highly talented chap whose only faults as far as I can see are his excessive height and unnecessarily luxurious barnet. It was frankly amazing how much knowledge he dropped on us – my notebook is once again full of notes I will never have the time to write up.

All in all a night that will live long in the memory, even if your correspondent, after a brave, silent, night-long battle against the flu, succumbed shortly after midnight and almost certainly missed an even better afterparty …


8a Cata de Vinos by Vinoteca Tierra

Salon season is in full swing in Madrid and one of the best events of the year was last night at the Fundacion Pons. It was the 8th edition of Vinoteca Tierra’s annual tasting of the new catalogue and there were some really cracking wines on show. 

The sherry action was in the courtyard. Most exciting new release for this blog was a sneak preview of the Pandorga 2016 by Cota 45. It was absolute nectar and only one of two new wines by Ramiro Ibañez, who also brought the incredibly horizontal UBE Maina, said to be very nearly ready for bottling, plus bonus bottles of the Carrascal and Miraflores and even an Encrucijado. 

Ramiro was, appropriately enough, sharing a table with his mucker Primitivo Collantes and while Primitivo didn’t bring anything new, with wines like the Arroyuelo Fino En Rama and Fossi neither does he need to. 

To their left was Mario Rovira of Bodegas Akilia. He had a cracking range of earthy but fine natural reds, his Tosca Cerrada and, most interestingly, a buzzy, lively palomino with 16 months in cement. Really good stuff and worth looking out for. 

And on their other side was Fran Asencio of  Bodegas Alonso, with whom I was able to finally catch up after numerous near misses. Worth catching up too because the wines are top drawer – the Velo de Flor I knew all about (which didn’t stop me having some) but it was a great opportunity to try the three oxidated wines. Fascinating to try them together since they couldn’t be more different in character: a smooth and silky palo cortado, an oloroso that is at the same time burnt caramel but light and ethereal and a super fine, super dry amontillado. But most surprising of all – and interesting – was an unfortified palomino with a couple of years in the barrel, on its way to becoming a “Sanlucar vin jaune”. 

And even then there were more sherries: la Bien Pagá and its mother ship Delgado Zuleta, who were showing off a new amontillado. The only disappointment was that Fernando Angulo of Alba Viticultores didn’t make it. 

And there were also some excellent wines from other regions inside – the garnachas from Bodegas Ziries, German Blanco and his ranges from Bierzo, Ribera del Duero and Rioja, Olivier Riviere and Viña Zorzal, to name just four of the producers. I had the chance to catch up with Colet, a traditional cava maker that has successfully teamed up with Equipo Navazos for several years – they didn’t have the Colet Navazos with them but you can’t beat some quality bubbles.

And, finally, there were also some top quality drinkers around: friendly faces all over the salon, a lot of laughter and as the evening wore on even a few smooches. 

Absolutely top bombing – may they celebrate many more! 

Soleras cincuentanarias (y una centenaria) de Perez Barquero

Fantastic cata last night at the Union Española de Catadores as José Ruz of Perez Barquero and Paco del Castillo lead us through the wines of this great Montilla bodega. 

As you can see, there were some real heavyweight wines to be tasted, and I for one learned a few interesting things. We started with Fresquito, a sparky vino de tinaja, then moved smoothly through the gears with the Fino en Rama Gran Barquero (Spring 2017), the Amontillado Gran Barquero, an Amontillado Gran Barquero bottled in 1996, the full range of Solera Cincuentenario wines – the Amontillado, the Palo Cortado, the Oloroso, and the Pedro Ximenez – and before that last one the Oloroso Solera Fundacional (Lot B). 

I am a huge fan of the Amontillado Gran Barquero – an absolutely world class wine – and it would take some persuading for me to choose any of the others over it last night. There was a lot of concentration and a lot of intensity on show, and some rare and expensive wines (sacas of 200 and 500 bottles), which really had very distinct profiles. 

In fact, it was very interesting and quite disarming to hear that the Cincuentenario Palo Cortado – one of the stars of the night – was the result of barrel selection rather than any intentional process. Motivated by the current high fashion status of palo cortados the guys at Perez Barquero had selected from amongst their older olorosoa the wines they felt had that kind of profile – without really knowing why they did. It would not have been due to selection or mostos, because they were all olorosos, but it could have been some biological action in the tinaja before the wines entered the solera. (Perhaps there is some mystery after all.) In any event, and whatever the cause, there was no doubting the difference in character between this and the oloroso. 

It wasn’t the only star either. The Oloroso Solera Fundacional was an absolute beast – brandy, salinity, burnt Christmas cake and a finish like the after dinner cigar (and nearly as long). One of those wines that you consume with extreme care. 

I could and will write a note on all the wines because the standard was exceptionally high across the board, but the one I could drink gallons of is the current Amontillado Gran Barquero. It is the standout in terms of elegance, profile and all round flawlessness – a marvellous wine that only gained in comparison to the bigger beasts. 

And a word of thanks and congratulations to José and Perez Barquero, the UEC and Paco del Castillo for a fantastic tasting – really top class. 

Sanchez Ayala at Distribuciones Navarro 

It is Salon season in Madrid and there are few events on the horizon. Today I was lucky enough to be invited to the presentation of the new catalogue by Distribuciones Navarro and it was an absolutely top class event: held at the NH Collection Eurobuilding in one of the nicest salons I have seen. Top, top wines too, and although I only had time for a flying visit, it was enough for a couple of cheeky glasses of champagne and a chat with a bodega I have wanted to catch up with for a while – Sanchez Ayala.

Sanchez Ayala is an old name (the family ran the bodega through most of the 20th Century with an even older bodega (dating back at least as far as 1798) and has also been the source of some fantastic wines under other people’s labels: a couple have achieved near legendary status under the Equipo Navazos label and Antonio Barbadillo’s first Sacristia ABs were from the same source. More recently, the bodega have been distributing wine under their own label more widely after years of serving the local market.

And impeccable wines they are too. Both the Gabriella manzanilla and its en rama, selected big sister the Gabriella Oro go through 9/10 classes and are top class manzanillas, with a characteristic apple, salt and hay bale profile.  Oloroso el Galeon is a lovely little saline, elegant and tasty oloroso, and the 45 year old Amontillado Don Paco (seen here in the background and due to be released in the coming year) is as sharp and as saline as any Sanlucar VORS. 

And you always learn something new when you have an opportunity to chat to these guys. Amazingly, the wines are apparently all sourced from a single vineyard – las Cañas, on Balbaina Alta (and in the right kind of neighbourhood too, bang opposite El Cuadrado). Fantastic stuff. 


The Wines of Alba Viticultores Revisited 

A fantastic lunchtime tasting yesterday with a few good friends at Wine Attack. The subjects were the wines of Alba Viticultores and to an extent the occasion was a return to a similar tasting a year or so ago.

There were of course differences. That first tasting was the first time I and my colleagues really got to grips with these wines, and there was a sense of freshness and discovery that it would be impossible to repeat. But there were also similarities: some of the wines we tasted yesterday were in fact the same wines with more time in rima, and others were only subtly different to the wines we had tasted before.

There was also a return to one of the big topics of conversation around the wines of Alba Viticultores: their price. These tend to be, by the standards of the sherry region, relatively expensive (roughly €15-€40). However, it strikes me as curious what a big issue this seems to be for those who have been involved in the two tastings (particularly since I paid for the wines on both occasions). First, they are hand made, largely natural, small production wines. Second, if the wines sell then I am not going to argue with the prices (and they certainly seem to, – it is certainly not easy to get them). In fact, to me it is almost preferable that the wines are scarce and that the bubbles have similar price points to grower producer champagnes, for example.

More importantly, the tasting was a confirmation of the quality of the wines. The seven wines were generally excellent, a couple of them were really excellent, they prove that with the right care you can indeed make sparkling and unfortified white – and even rosé – wines with palomino, and all down the list there was a demonstration of palomino fino’s ability to express terroir and vintage.

And it was also a lot of fun. The food and snacks laid on by Antonio, Carlos and the team at Wine Attack were first class, the surroundings could not have been more congenial – sitting around a big kitchen table in the back room – and there was even more laughter than wine. Despite the detailed discussion of Manchester music and dancing greats down the ages I even managed to take a few notes, which I will write up shortly, but for the time being, many thanks to everyone for coming along and my compliments once again to Alba Viticultores for some cracking stuff.


Lunch with Bodegas Alvear 

The most magnificent lunch today at Lúa with Bodegas Alvear and a chance to try a “vertical” of the full range of their fantastic new releases. As always I will need some time to write up my notes but it was a class occasion: seven very different bottles, some of them pure magic. The differences were fascinating in fact. 100% pedro ximenez all the way but wines of every style and flavours and aromas of every kind. 

The food wasn’t half bad either – we let the sommelier pick the food and everything from the ensaladilla to pulpo, to mollejas, to merluza and on to canutillos was perfect with the wines (I am forgetting at least one thing too). Highly enjoyable and a real effort to go back to work afterwards.

Ramiro Ibañez in Surtopia – 2017

Surtopia 2017

With apologies for the late notice, this is a shout out to anyone in the Madrid area: today and tomorrow Ramiro Ibañez will be putting in a shift as sommelier in the little corner of Madrid that most resembles his hometown Sanlucar, Surtopia.

Aside from the chance to meet the man himself, a special menu has been arranged to be paired with five wines brought by Ramiro and all for the modest sum of €60.

Last year’s edition was top drawer – see posts here, here and here – and although I have no idea if the plan is similar it is a great opportunity, or excuse, to get out and have some interesting wines. So see you there later!