It has taken a long time to write this post – mainly due to eight weeks or so of shoulder knack and related antiobiotic gah – but also because it was just one of those events that beggar belief and stretch my ability to put words of the same level on the page.
It was, in short, an unforgettable dinner organized in the vineyards of Macharnudo themselves by the irreverent genius behind Tohqa – Edu and Juanito Perez – and headlined by Willy Perez (no relation) – but the full cast read like a sherry version of a Hollywood epic: Luis Perez Sr (Bodegas Luis Perez and famously of Domecq), Eduardo Ojeda (Valdespino and Equipo Navazos), Salvador Real (Fundador), Carlos del Rio (Gonzalez Byass and Finca Corrales), Peter Sisseck (Finca Corrales, Pingus and others), Ramiro Ibañez (with your man Willy, De la Riva) and last but not least the great Juancho Asenjo.
Between them they represented all the bodegas currently making wine on Macharnudo – and some of the great names of the past too – and all in all I feel very lucky to have grabbed a ticket.
We started up at the Castillo de Macharnudo – with a lovely glass of Harvey’s Fino, which I identified blind (one of the great blind tasting successes of recent years, since the only clues were the fact we were stood at their most emblematic vineyard, and I had been handed the glass by the winemaker.) A really nice aromatic fino to start, and from there we span over to the Angel – and Macharnudo’s highest point – for a couple of really special bottles.
We stood at the top of that hill, gazing at the views of flourishing palomino on white soils all around us and none other then Eduardo Ojeda produced a couple of special bottles of Inocente. There was a 2009 and a 2015 and they were a vivid demonstration of the two key facets of that wine – probably Macharnudo’s best known ambassador – one explosively aromatic and the other grooved and mineral. Juices properly flowing now.
From there we meandered down and took a look at some more famous vineyards, before heading out to a Lagar that Edu and Juanito had rigged up as a kind of miraculous temporary Tohqa for the night.
It was time for some of Macharnudo’s more modern ambassadors and they were sensational. La Escribana, Navazos Niepoort, De la Riva and even the new single vineyard fino from Peter Sisseck – with only a couple of years of criadera and solera. After the stately old finos these were fresh, fruitful, and delicious like fruit juices, but if anything the chalk was even more present, drying the mouth and balancing, bedding down the white fruit and mountainside flowers. Really superb chance to drink a few of these wines together.
And of course a chance to discuss and learn from these greats. Willy lead the charge with some quality maps, facts and infographics, charting the history from Macharnudo’s origins as the “bare hill” where nothing would grow to the prices of the great wines down the centuries and to the orientations and characteristics of the famous old vineyards we had visited. It was a superb tribute to a special plot of earth that deserves to be as famous as any in the world of wine.
And while all this took place dishes started appearing from this tiny little shack, with no mains electricity and minimal gear, and such dishes too.
If you know Tohqa in Puerto de Santa Maria you won’t need me to tell you how good it was, but even then you would have been surprised at the high level of technical difficulty in preparation and presentation – your man was working with little more than a lantern and a camping stove! Really superb skills, a set of dishes that worked perfectly together and flavours that perfectly matched the setting and the wines.
And as the courses came and went the wines only became more magnificent, as we dived deep into the oxidative wines considered Macharnudo’s crowning glories – you can see the bottles above but I still can’t quite believe them. Some stellar old wines – famous names and labels that more than lived up to their reputations. I won’t attempt to describe them: I am just not capable.
Overhead, a satellite came crashing down through the atmosphere and lit up the sky like a great shooting star. It felt like a premonition, and soon we too had to head back to earth after a night on the moon and under the stars. Over far too soon but magic doesn’t nearly cover it.
This post has only one connection with the traditional wines of Southern Andalucía: it is about wine, and top class wines at that. Because a couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to taste the 2020 vintage of single vineyard wines of Artadi in Laguardia and they were exceptional, as were the people involved.
It started with a reception at Las Colonias in Laguardia – a superb, imposing building – at which there were more than a few friends, before a round table discussion between four top drawer speakers. First was Carlos Lopez de Lacalle, taking the baton from his illustrious father and setting up the day with a warm welcome and the introduction of a well chosen theme: “Origen: Paisajes y Paisanajes” (Origin, landscapes and “peoplescapes”), a title drawing together two of the dimensions of great wines: the places they are made and the people that make them.
First to speak to the topic was Aitor Arregui of Elkano. I have written before on here about the restaurants this man is behind (Elkano and Cataria) their exceptional understanding – and communication – of the terroir of the sea, and how much that knowledge and communication contributed to what were two of the best meals of a life featuring quite a few good ones. Well on Monday there was more of the same – simply and clearly communicated, and with an emotion that set the tone for the day. There was also a first glimpse of the bonds of friendship and family that are one of the other abiding memories of the day. A superb start.
His key point was that landscape and time defined the produce of Getaria, near the southernmost extent of the bay of Biscay, but the way that that produce had been interpreted by the local population had defined a cuisine and culture – we fish it, we grill it – (sounds simple but try it) that in turn attuned the population to the patterns of the currents and life cycles of the animals. By stripping away all artifice the culture is one that demands an understanding of the culinary qualities and seasons of the animals in a kind of virtuous spiral, redefining what can be done with a grill one splash of “Lourdes water” at a time.
He was followed by Ramiro Ibañez, beloved of this parish, who picked up the same theme and took it in a different direction from the opposite end of the Peninsula. Ramiro spoke to how the differences in terrain and wine making possibilities of Sanlucar and Jerez had over the centuries shaped first the wines, then the population and their tastes, spurring further specialization not only in wine but in cuisine and again a virtuous circle that had created great diversity in a small area. He also picked up on the social and industrial changes that threatened to break that virtuous circle, as industrialization and 18th century globalization offered winemakers markets and wine drinkers choices, and lead to a blurring and forgetting of that diversity. (In fact he actually started there – even if I remembered it in reverse.)
Ramiro in turn was followed by Rodrigo Gonzalez, director of wine for the Dani Garcia group who picked up what looked like a nasty hospital pass and to be fair he ran on with aplomb. He recognized too the same issues of globalization and industrialization that Ramiro had picked up but rather than denying the market he took their themes of people and places and tied them to the stories of wine that resonate with customers in restaurants and stores. When the client can come from anywhere in a shifting world, and can get their DRC on almost anywhere they go, a wine shaped by a place and a people is an anchor – and a wine and a cuisine borne of the same culture is an anchor upon anchor, a link between the ephemeral pleasure of a glass of wine, a dish. and the centuries, millenia, and more. It was a beautiful way to tie up one of the best round tables I have witnessed at a wine event.
That round table gave way to a debate about the same concerns – how changes in society were challenging the succession of traditional family businesses and prising the most precious real estate from their historic owners, in Rioja and elsewhere. Pretty gloomy stuff, but probably the same debate has been repeated for the last 100 years and the world has not come to an end just yet. More optimistically, the very presence of Ramiro was a reminder that however far a wine region can fall from its tree, consumers will seek out wines that reflect the place and the culture when possible.
Fascinating stuff but the time tends to drag on when you have four empty wine glasses in front of you. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait much longer for the bride and groom and before we knew it the glasses were no longer empty. After a few words on the – pretty challenging – climate conditions and evolution of the vineyards during the 2019-20 growing season it was time to taste the 2020 single vineyard wines.
The tasting had a neat structure because we tasted the wines, more or less, in order of the depth of navigable soil in the vineyards, as captured by a set of “calicatas” – from 60cm to over 2m tall. (You like terroir? Look at those tubes!) This frankly is right up my street – an attempt to understand the wines in the context of the soils, and opens up a dimension I look forward to exploring further. And neither was it excessively nerdy – Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacalle disarmingly recognized that they were exploring and trying to understand the “what” but still didn’t know “why”.
First up were Cuerdamayor and Santa Cecilia – two old vineyards, planted in the 20s and 30s but with only 55 and 60 cm of topsoil. Surface feeding old vines you might call them. And the contrasts started right away: while Cuerdamayor had a bright, floral and fruity nose and a zesty, lively acidity, Santa Cecilia was altogether more mineral, more serious, a touch of the skin of barbecued peppers. Both extremely drinkable but with distinct personalities.
The second flight were three classy wines: La Laguna, San Lazaro, and Quintanilla. Vineyards planted in 1920, 1956 and 1951, respectively, with 105, 145 and 175 cm of topsoil available. Again this flight showed personalities that were different between each other and from the earlier flight. La Laguna was all blackcurrant fruit gums and even a touch of honey on the nose, and then a surprisingly saline and savoury palate. San Lazaro, by contrast was like a punnet of fresh black fruit, or even a blackberry bush on the nose, and had that same freshness and a leafy acidity on the palate. Quintanilla was a further step in that direction, with blackberry jam on the nose and then a palate with soft tannins and a hint of apple seed, nice profile that was full of flavour and compact.
These, by the way, are from my notes, but I wish I had taken better note of what had been said by Juan Carlos and Carlos as they presented the wines because their thoughts and angles on the art of wine tasting and description were fascinating. I tend to think of wines in shapes and textures, but Juan Carlos seems to see them like a combination of architectural blue prints and poetry (and don’t worry, no poetry was recited). Carlos, on the other hand had a more direct-to-the-emotion approach, comparing wines to the feeling of a surfboard on a wave amongst other things.
Anyway the third flight had four wines: Terreras (1960, 1970 and 1990 – up to 2m), La Hoya (1965, 105 cm), la Poza de Ballesteros (1960, 115cm) and San Martin (Laguardia, 1930, 185cm). As you have probably guessed by now, four distict personalities. Terreras is deep ribena on the nose and on the palate, black fruit from start to finish, long, acidic, and with a lovely fine shape to it – fruit all the way to the end, but with tannins that give it a graphite, mineral quality. La Hoya by comparison was light and vivacious, with structure but spark. This was a wine where Juan Carlos’s comment really struck home – he described it as having “living” room, space between lines – and I can understand it – the lightness, brightness of the edge of the profile and the softness of the centre. Very nice. That was followed by la Poza de Ballesteros, again a delightful combination of lightness and meatiness, quieter than La Hoya but meatier too, a very nice balance to it, and then by San Martin, which for me was something else, with a funkier nose, and a richness of palate and texture, chocolatey complexity that I loved. At the time San Martin was my wine of the day, with just an extra dimension that the others did not have – can’t wait to see it all grown up in a couple of years.
The final flight was lead out by Valdegines (Laguardia, 1989 and 1992, 2m), then El Carretil, (Lagurdia, 1930, 1975 and 1988, 2m) and, finally, El Pison, the family vineyard, planted in 1945 on a site in Laguardia with soils of at least 1,50 (and possibly endless). Yet more contrasts. Valdegines was aptly described as a creature of an inhabited mountainside, fruit and leaf but hints or malted barley and stew on the palate and fruit on the finish, with perhaps an outermost covering of charcoal tannins. For a wine from such young vines a real cracker. El Carretil is really a little gem. On the nose it is burgundy-like, has that tension like the strings of a tennis racquet and red fruit, even liquorice. Then on the palate you get a lovely tight profile with those same red fruit flavours, beautiful wine. And el Pisón is a big gem, a massive cucumber as the boys round here would say. Less brightness and tension on the nose than El Carretil and fruit that is darker, but a profile that could have been carved by Bernini, silky and elegant, and not jammy but full – fruit in every atom, and there, long and soft all the way through a long finish.
A really outstanding tasting, superb wines and an unforgettable opportunity to taste 12 wines from different vines together on an equal footing. The sort of tasting that makes me painfully aware of my shortcomings as a taster and writer, even when I take notes and they survive the day.
And there was plenty left for them to survive because the festival didn’t finish there. After a brief stretch of the legs in the sunshine we were back for lunch at the hands of Aitor and his crew from Elkano and it was, again, thrillingly memorable, with antxoa, txitxarro, lobstr, kokotxas (on the grill and pil pil), potxa a lo pelayo, the world famous rodaballo (turbot) and a dessert that, if it isn’t famous yet, really ought to be.
It was a lunch that on another day would have been the highlight of the year, and again it was washed down with more outstanding Artadi wines: Izar Leku 2017, the fourth generation of their really excellent sparkling txacoli, a superb Viñas de Gain Blanco 2014 that stands comparison with many much more famous Rioja whites, and then four reds that were a happy reminder of what the years would bring the wines of the morning: Viñas de Gain 2011, La Poza de Ballesteros 2012, Grandes Añadas 2000, and El Pisón 2004. You don’t need me to tell you that those last three, in particular, are absolutely world class, but by this stage of proceedings my note taking had dwindled from note taking to non-existent, and as the afternoon wore on and bottles came and went, the dancing and singing started and my memory becomes increasingly cloudy.
Not enough to obscure the memory of a wonderful, unforgettable day, and it would be incomplete and unfair too to sign off without mentioning the warmth and fun of the company from start to pretty late finish. The bonds of friendship and family were evident throughout the day and it was a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of it.
Larga vida y muchas gracias a Artadi, Elkano, sus paisajes y paisanajes!
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 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!
Taberna Palo Cortado is an unreal place where unlikely, even impossible things are within reach. Took some colleagues there for dinner and, given free rein to show off the best of el Marco and beyond, it turned into one of those memorable dinners.
We started with champagne – not pictured – and maybe it is less well known what a nice little selection of champers is available here. This bottle was just for refreshing between courses but over the years I have had some serious and high quality bubbles. But it wasn’t long before we got stuck into the superb Andalucian wines for which Palo Cortado is famous.
We kicked off with the De la Riva Fino from Balbaina Alta – with that deep colour, deep haybale and hazelnut and fresh background – like a nut store floating on a mountain stream.
But, as I said, I was given free rein, and next up was la Barajuela Fino – 2016 – and it was the star of the night. What an awesome wine – the fruit and top register, the depth and compactness. Everyone loved it – they always do.
Tragically, it soon ran out and so we tapped an altogether more classic fino – a Panesa from October 2019 – which never let’s you down. Just class, sculpted palomino, with all its nuts in butter.
I then picked a wine slightly out of order – Encrucijado 2015 – the proto palo cortado (by now I was fully warmed up and well into an explanation of the situation pre-phyloxera), should really have come earlier. Butterscotch loveliness but so much finer and more subtle in profile than the heavy old Jerez finos.
By now we are tucking into some world class escabeches – pularda and presa ibérica – and the chosen accompaniment was the VORS Amontillado by Bodegas Tradicion. What a class wine – fine, fragrant, flavourful and elegant. One of the very best in its category.
And then callos, garbanzos, and the absolutely epic oloroso De La Riva. Not a lot to say about this absolutely sensational oloroso, except that it struck me as wonderfully elegant for all its rusty nail and acidity.
By this stage of dinner the intellectual discourse has become fragmented and there is a sense that the battle is won. I cannot remember what we had for dessert, but we accompanied it with a regal old 1955 pedro ximenez from Toro Albala, before a glass of the top class Tradicion brandy to cap off the night.
A fantastic dinner with a fair bit of laughter and a range of wines you can only find in one place in Madrid. Many thanks to Paqui and the team and the less said about Thursday morning the better …
This blog often gets pelters for focussing on small production wines that are unavailable to 99% of readers, but to celebrate this year’s sherry week I am branching out into publishing events that you won’t be able to participate in either.
It is a pity because it is a cracking event, aimed at introducing the wines of Jerez to a wider audience, featuring a really nice selection of the different styles provided by the producers and Consejo Regulador, each of which will be spoken to by one of the Generosos, a club dedicated to drinking and the exaltation of drinking sherry wines of which I am proud to be a member, and in the convivial surroundings of La Canibal.
Such a good event, in fact, that it was already full (50+ signups) even before we had the poster ready. If by any chance you have already signed up I look forward to seeing you there!
Once I posed a rhetorical question about why it didn’t go more often to a class spot in Madrid and got the laconic response, from a laconic source, that it was because I had “family and a job”. And indeed I do. And I have been exceptionally fortunate lately. I have the same amount of family, but ever more work, which is good news except that it means that the spare moments dedicated to this blog are few and far between.
So the Corral de la Moreria has been a particular boon to me these last few months. They have had a lot to celebrate – a National Gastronomy Prize for best service and a Michelin Star, no less – and they have the charming habit of celebrating at lunchtime, notoriously the one time in my calendar that I can make it out and about without complaints from colleagues or kin.
And these lunchtimes are not your standard lunchtime (unless your standard lunchtime involves Michelin star food, outstanding sherry, and really top class flamenco dancing (thought not)).
So when they invited me to attend their tasting at Enofusion – Madrid’s gastronomic festival – I couldn’t turn it down, even if it involved half an hour each way on the metro due to the taxi strike.
In the end it was an operation carried out with surgical precision. I strolled in off the metro and through the door at 14:59 and was on my way to the station again at 16:00 sharp. And if that seems impressive the real miracle was what took place in between.
It will be no surprise to the half-dozen readers of this blog that there were some cracking wines involved. In fact, this being a tasting organized by Juan Manuel del Rey, in which he was even billed as the “jeweller of Jerez” you won’t be surprised to read that is was a succession of beautifully presented wines that have spent longer in the bottle than one of those mexican lizards.
As an aside and with apologies to the many poetic minds involved I personally don’t agree with the idea of comparing these wines with jewellery. Jewellery is static – a load of pretty looking minerals – whereas these are living things. Vegetable with a small v and perishable, kept alive so long only when well made and perfectly kept. So for me Juan Manuel isn’t just a jeweller, there is much more skill involved here.
Be that as it may, first up was a Manzanilla la cigarrerra that the years has refined and maybe dimmed but was fresh and full of old grass and iodine – lovely mouthwatering stuff.
That was followed by a rarity. A “Maruja” manzanilla fina olorosa – 58 años in the bottle no less and a style that has disappeared. For me the aromatics were refined an chamomile rather than explosive but and incense but it was still flavourful on the palate.
Then out came a Terry Fino la Ina from the 1970s that was really incredible – just superbly sharp, clean and focussed, for its forty odd years – unlike some we could mention.
From this stage onwards my notes become more and more poetic, perhaps influenced by the frequent interjections of amazement by some distinguished attendees.
It is also possible that the wines called for it. Certainly the next one, Carta Blanca amontillado fino – which was paired with a “Soleá – was pure macharnudo class, calling to mind not just salinity and almonds but vanilla and white chocolate.
That was followed by more of Forrest Gump’s chocolate box. This time the Dos cortados, which was all salty, zingy peanut butter like a kind of alcoholic Reeses cup.
Then the wine I might have expected to be a bombon, the 1976 bottle of Rio Viejo – was superbly serious. Again macharnudo but this time all diesel power, a deep groove of salinity but delicate and ethereal on the palate. Really superb – reminded me of an earlier musing about bottle ageing: if the way to make a million making wine is to start with ten million, the way to make a lovely fine old wine is to start with a chunky new one. Whatever the reason, it was rarified stuff, really exceptional.
And that was followed by the bonus ball, a wine from Gonzalez Byass and brought to the tasting by Antonio Flores himself: no less than a 1908 bottle of Matusalem. Amazing to think of all that time, and this was fascinating stuff. A lot of pinewood, eucalyptus and ginger, light and liquid in the body with flavours of ginger and sawdust.
The liquids were not alone, because when you have lunch with El Corral you are fed by a top, top gun, David Garcia. Here he only had the chance to give us a few bites, on the road in the midst of a trade show, and he noticeably even spoke about them from the sidelines, perhaps recognizing that we had come for the wine. But the guy is a genius, he loves his sherry and it shines through. In those few bites he showed what sherry pairings are all about in terms of echoes and harmonies – absolutely perfect.
But even up to there you might say nothing new here: this blog is after all the chronicling of lunchtimes that are frequently characterized by heavy use of stemware and by no means averse to the occasional Michelin star.
And you would be crushingly wrong, because when you have lunch with Corral de la Moreria, there is art, there is poetry, music and dancing. This time provided by Eduardo Guerrero. Here his stage was only a little bit bigger than a bar stool but even so – class – and if it is said that writing about wine is like tap dancing about architecture then imagine how well I write about flamenco …
Been a cracking couple of days down in Jerez in and around the Feria de Jerez and I didn’t want to let it go by without a word or two about the wines we drank there.
I must admit to a bit of trepidation at the title of the post, because “vino de feria” is not the most complimentary way to describe one of the wines from Jerez by any means. This is not a wine fair, nor a wine tourist destination. You are not going to find many unique wines or experimenta of any kind. It is a massive event, of mass consumption and not a lot of earnest appreciation (a significant proportion of the fino that gets drunk is mixed with lemonade if that gives you an idea). In fact, almost every serious wine tasting with a bodega from the region in Madrid used start with a “these are not vinos de feria” or similar.
Having said that, what else can you call a post about the wines you drank at the feria?
First up, the one wine you are guaranteed to have a drink of at the Feria is Tio Pepe. Ironically it is pretty scarce in Madrid – even in its en rama version – but it is massive worldwide and a hegemon in Jerez. A mate was telling me it was available in 90% of the casetas at the feria and I believe them. Not that there is anything wrong with that, or with the wine. Just saline enough, nutty enough and juicy enough, served cold in little bottles, it is a perfect little freshener and cracking foil for the ham and tapas on offer from every side. Gonzalez Byass also have one of the essential casetas to visit – really top drawer.
The champion caseta of this year’s feria, however, was the sensational “Trasiego”, complete with shades made from sarmiento and a glass bar filled with 600kg of albariza. Really top class decor and top wines from Bodegas Lustau: we had fino la Ina and amontillado Botaina (they had run out of Papirusa, to the disappointment of our crew which was heavily stacked with Sanluqueños).
While I was at the “cachivaches” with my kids in the “calle del infierno” (the funfair – really not that bad!) the same crew found the bargain of the feria: Amontillado de Harveys in the caseta of Bodegas Fundador for only €15 a bottle. I hope they enjoyed it. Really. (The churros and chocolate were excellent anyway.)
The class act of my feria was to be found later that evening – a glass or two of Gobernador in the caseta of my good friend Juanma Martin Hidalgo, of Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo. Delicious wine just begging for a dish of callos as an accompaniment.
Overall no complaints from me on the liquid refreshments. The feria is not your venue for high end or cutting edge wines but there is nothing wrong with these wines (I have been in a few supermarkets where they would have been a very welcome sight indeed) and there is something joyous in the absolute ubiquity of fino (and in seeing everybody swig it down). More than anything, there is a real sense that this is a fino’s natural habitat, and it is much fun hunting them in the wild.
Back from a few fantastic days in and around the Feria de Jerez and although I will write up the wines I found there I didn’t want to leave it too long to express my gratitude to all those down there that made the last few days so memorable.
The Feria is absolutely spectacular, for the horses and carriages by day, the breathtaking illumination by night, and of course the ladies in their gorgeous dresses (the chaps also brush up but not by comparison). It is also absolutely chock full of life in all its dimensions. Masses of people, loud music – from flamenco to reggaeton and everything in between -, drinking, dining, dancing, parading, conversations shouted over the music, high heels hop stepping over the biological residue of the horses – deafening for all the senses. (And that is before you get to the “fairground” known as the Calle del Infierno.)
But, while not wanting to overdo the cliche, what really makes it special is the people. I am fortunate to have quite a few friends down in Jerez and was able to catch up with a goodish proportion of them at the Feria (and it would have been more had it not been for hangovers themselves acquired at the Feria). In fact I was struck by just how incredibly social it was – big lunches, casual encounters with people I hadn’t seen in years, more than once I was introduced to entire families … however big an event it is (and the scale is large), it really seemed to maintain the ambience of a kind of massive communal wedding feast, with everybody getting together, glad rags on, and ready to have a good time. And have a good time they did – from before lunch to just before breakfast.
The people certainly made our trip – I really have not experienced sustained kindness like it. People were so generous with their time during a week that must be absolutely hectic – we simultaneously felt guilty for monopolizing their attention and for not staying with them longer – and so generous in every other sense too. So many warm welcomes and big smiles, so many glasses of sherry, so many little plates, so much joy in our company – it was wonderful to be there.
I cannot name everyone who made it such a special few days – the list would be too long for a post like this – but in particular want to thank Cesar Saldaña of the Consejo Regulador. Cesar not only invited us down but made it impossible to refuse, and he and his lovely wife Carla did so much to make it a wonderful trip for my family and I. I will be forever in their debt, and in Cesar’s case not for the first time – my interest in sherry, this blog, I owe them both to Cesar. I suppose there is no chance of repaying something like that, but I fully intend to try!