Fino El Aljibe

One of the newer labels in Jerez but an old school wine. A compact, solid fino with a lot of time in the barrel.

It comes from a compact, solid project with 16 hectares of vines on Pago de Añina in three vineyards: San Cristobal, El Aljibe and San José. Under new ownership but with old vines, a lot of varieties and clones in each vineyard but also a lot of new thinking. They have had them in ownership since 2015 and have produced wine since 2016. Those wines are used to rociar acquired soleras with a long history.

The fino is from a solera with four criaderas and the 2500 or so bottles a year have had an average of 8 years under flor.  The result is that compact, solid fino I mentioned earlier. Almond, yeasty dough and haybale aromatics and then a solid palate with a nice zingy start, bitter almond and slightly undercooked bread and then a mineral finish.

And it has a solidity to it that makes you feel like it is one of those unbeatable finos. The spanish have a frankly mystifying word: impepinable. Literally it means “uncucumberable” but after eighteen years in Spain it seems to me that it means you can’t fault it. 

And you really can’t fault it. Uncucumberable.

Taberna Palo Cortado

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 …

La Panesa – January 2020

A brand new bottle of this marvellous wine, the pinnacle of bottle ageing. A full 15 years under the flor (on average, a lot longer in the case of some of its contents) and after six weeks or so in the bottle as fresh as a daisy.

The archetypal fino with a nose full of nuts, yeast and minerals and a superb full, solid palate – like a great opera tenor no woolly vibrato here. Full in flavour but elegant in profile – a really fantastic wine.

And in the background maestro David Villalon selecting cheeses from the unequalled board at Angelita Madrid. Two legends in one lunchtime.

Bodega y Viñedos Balbaínas – Part II

Went to a sensational tasting this week organized by the Union Española de Catadores. Peter Sisseck and his wines, including two vintages from each of Chateau Rocheyron, Flor de Pingus and Pingus itself. And of course, wines from each of his soleras in Jerez (I am not sure how many of us were there for the fino.)

You don’t need me to tell you that these wines are top drawer. The 2009 Pingus in particular is one of those wines that I can still feel on the palate the best part of a week later – superb richness and a solid, elegant structure to it, like a sculpted and polished block of fruit and spice. But the 2015 Pingus was also a beauty – similar elegance, a bit more brooding power and just a little bit less polished. As for the Flor de Pingus and Rocheyrons, well, it is a pretty good tasting where these wines are not the pick of the bunch.

Neither will it be any surprise to you to learn that Peter Sisseck is a winemaker with both a wide field of vision and a very clear idea of what he likes. It was fascinating to hear him on the relevance of ph, the types of soil (he enjoys a bit of calcium down in the rootstock) and the methods of replanting – his thoughts on training vineyards as far afield as Saint-Emilion and Balbaina, and vines as distinct as palomino and merlot.

But what struck me was his vision of the wines of Jerez. Because when he spoke about Jerez he didn’t speak in the same way about the vineyards, where they were, how they were planted and tended. Neither did this winemaker’s winemaker talk about unfortified white wines or fermentation temperatures or deposits. Rather, he spoke with something like veneration about what makes a fino, – and in his words, Spain’s great gift to the world’s wine heritage – the truly unique wine from Jerez. His thoughts were surprisingly classical but with an interesting twist, and resolved for me one of the great recent mysteries.

You see after acquiring a solera making one of the great finos – Camborio – Peter and his colleagues decided not to continue Camborio as such but to make two different wines, and I must admit being puzzled as to why you would buy Camborio if what you wanted to make were new wines (other than the fact that Camborio was for sale and would give you a pretty handy headstart of course).

The answer is the fascinating part, because your man explained that for him the top finos of Jerez gain their unique character and structure from one of the less glamourous sources: las cabezuelas. The dead lipids, the remains of the flor, tiny proteins that having given their all fighting off the oxygen and eating alcohol, sugar and glycerol from the wine but then die and sink to the bottom where they create a bed of madre that, much like lees in a white wine, gives the old finos and manzanilla pasadas a silky, buttery mouthfeel. Camborio and the other botas in the bodega had, in addition to some high class wines, a treasure trove of character and personality settled on the bottom of the barrels that would otherwise take years to accumulate.

He is certainly onto something. There is no question in my mind that those old solera finos have a fatness, solidity and clarity of profile that the single vintage wines, without those years of accumulation, lack. (In fact I was struck later by his comments on the importance of ph in his merlot and tempranillo because, as I understood it, he was thinking on the same lines – the importance for mouth feel and the sensations that the wines could give you.)

And the wines are good too. The Balbaina is a haybale heavy fino, plenty of aromatics and benefits from that age it has – the Macharnudo wine is also aromatic but raw by comparison – if the Balbaina is a swimming pool the Macharnudo had a touch of incontinent feline about it. But both are seriously interesting finos already with that structure to them. I cannot wait for next year’s first release.

But those Pingus, good grief …

Fino Inocente in Zalamero Taberna

With all the new wines, labels and makers emerging in Jerez sometimes it is easy to forget the classics – the mountains in the background of the painting.

This fino is just such a classic. Possibly the most traditional, old school fino on the market and one that nevertheless ticks modern boxes: single pago and fermented in oak, it may be from one of the big producers but it is the antithesis of industrial.

And if you are going to be single pago, this is the one to be: Macharnudo. The most famous real estate in Jerez, and the fount of some of the best wines ever made in el marco. Of which, let’s be honest this is one.

Because it has everything you could ask of a fino. An aromatic nose of sea breeze, fresh baked bread and almond, then a palate of all those things but edged around with zingy salinity and a long, fresh, sea breeze and mineral finish.

Really top class.

Tio Pepe en rama 2019

The tenth edition of Gonzalez Byass’s en rama bottling of the legendary fino and that moment of every year when a fella has to stop and salute the behemoth that is Gonzalez Byass.

They don’t get much airtime on this blog for a few reasons – one being that the kind of restaurants and winebars I go to don’t, with a few exceptions, seem to have them on their wine list. Even their very high end wines – the Palmas – cannot easily be found, and I sometimes wonder why.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am the number one fan of all the little bodegas, the new kids on the block, the guys that are subverting the norms of which Tio Pepe is a symbol. Neither am I a fan of making wines in the millions of barrels (I just don’t see how it is possible to be honest) and in Jerez in particular there is a special kind of opprobrium attached to any suggestion of industrialization.

But I can’t find it in my heart to blame Tio Pepe for all the world’s ills. They may make a lot of wine, but there is plenty on the plus side of the ledger. They may not have been the first, but these en ramas, the Palmas, and the promotional weight they throw behind them have also played their part in the “sherry revolution” we all embrace. They also do their bit at the very top end with their superb olorosos and palo cortados de añada.

And even before that, by having their wines on the shelves all over the world and all the time they did as much as anyone to keep the flame alive. I may not go looking for their wines but I don’t know how many times I have been happy to see a little green bottle on a supermarket shelf, in a fridge, in an exotic wine bar, in a barrow full of beach refreshments. I remember being almost overcome with emotion when a steward on an airline was able to find not just a bottle of Tio Pepe but also a bottle of Alfonso oloroso.

As a result, the almonds in this wine are one of the most familiar flavours I, and probably the majority of the world’s sherry drinkers, associate with the dry ones. I well remember doing a blind tasting of Tio Pepe in its standard and en rama versions and I was able to spot them mainly because the good old Tio Pepe was so unmistakable (and lighter in color, let’s be honest).

And here is that flavour, baked almonds, and zing, and mouthwatering freshness. More juice, more herbs here, with umami depth. Like grelos in a rich Galician stew, this is delicious and familiar.

Big isn’t bad, not bad at all.

 

Fino Arroyuelo

Back at the place where this blog was born (the Malaga coast) and a nice surprise to find this visitor from Cadiz on the supermarket shelf. Chiclana’s finest – the Arroyuelo fino by Primitivo Collantes and his fields of albariza.

This one seems to have been in the bottle a little while – this is not an en rama wine but showing a nice blush of color. Superb on the nose – lovely haybales, chamomile and almonds -, really fragrant and aromatic. And then the full monty on the palate: sharp, zingy start, then flavours that go from fresh to nutty to herby, and a fiery, mouth watering saline finish. Was really cracking with an espeto of sardines I can tell you.

Not as famous as some of the bodega’s wines but all the hallmarks of a class fino.