Barajuela class of 2013

I discovered during the lockdown that I had managed to squirrel away quite a few bottles of la Barajuela and ever since had been looking for an occasion to crack some open, so when I was invited over to dinner by some friends recently I seized my opportunity.

I am pretty sure I will be invited back, and it isn’t due to the conversation.

These two wines are by now like old friends but I still remember the first time I sat down with a full bottle of the fino – Father’s day 2016. Together with that first palo cortado that set me off in the first place this is the wine that made the strongest first impression on me.

Since then there have been another saca of the fino and two new vintages and more recently an NV and I have had more than my share of all of them – it is no secret that I like them and wherever I go they seem to follow me.

But I will never tire of them either – really outstanding white wines, that simultaneously have a higher and a lower register than most, more body, more complexity, more salinity and all in a beautiful profile. Just beautiful and great to drink them together, that step in power and that hint of oxidation in the oloroso seeming to add an extra dimension.

And I never tire of sharing them with friends. These wines are such great ambassadors for Jerez and the best possible argument in favour of terroir and vintage focussed winemaking in the region.

But not too many friends – the bottles are tiny and only hold 750 mil.

The Didactic Selection, part IV: oxygen strikes back

Part IV of the Cuatrogatos Wine Club Didactic Selection is upon us, bringing with it the oxygen action of oxidation.

One of the things that is so striking about the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar (and indeed a number of other regions around Spain) is the coexistence of three distinct forms of ageing: biological ageing under the flor (Parts II and III), oxidative or “traditional” ageing where there is no flor (today) and not forgetting wine without flor or oxidation (Part I).

Each form of ageing brings about different effects. In biological ageing, the living flor protects the wine from the oxygen in the air and steadily eats away at the alcohol, sugar and glycerine, reducing the volatile acids and leaving behind the hay bale acetaldehydes. The result are wines that are literally “fino”, potent and with bready, nutty, herbal and floral flavours and aromas.

In “traditional” ageing, these gears go into reverse. Residual alcohol, glycerine and sugar all increase as evaporation (the angels taking their share) does its work, and colour and volatile acids increase due to the interaction of the wine with air and barrel. Now the result is oloroso, a fragrant (oloroso literally means “aromatic”), acidic, caramel flavoured wine, or, where the wine has also had biological ageing, an amontillado, which can combine the characteristics of both to make some of the most sought after wines of all. And here we have two such wines, both from the boys at Callejuela.

First up for didactic reasons is El Cerro oloroso. A really beautiful, elegant old oloroso, and a perfect exponent of the qualities that oxidative ageing can bring out. A dark brown in colour as you can see (I love the clear bottle presentation) and on the nose the aromas are all burned sweetness: fruits and nuts singed to an inch of their life. Then on the palate it has that sharpness of acidity and then a big density of flavour, again half burned sugary raisins and walnuts, with a turn to the bitter but not too much. Real solidity to the middle part of the palate and then a remarkably clean finish. No astringency or bitterness as it hangs around the palate. Lovely.

And then that is a nice contrast to an amontillado from la Callejuela, the “Origen Calificada”. Now here maybe the contrast is forced and the comparison between categories isn’t quite fair – el Cerro has a fair bit more age than the Origen and a better comparison would probably have been La Casilla amontillado.

But the point here is to compare the effect of that biological ageing compared to the oxidation and that comes across really nicely in this wine, maybe better than it would in a much older amontillado. On the nose and amongst the roasted almonds and hazelnuts you get church furniture, and the palate is that touch finer and fresher at the start, and almost comes across as grassy fresh at the finish.

And here endeth the Didactic Selection, as they say.

But “what of the “other” category, the “palo cortados”?” you may ask, as you suddenly smell a rat and suspect Sharquillo’s selection is one bottle short. Worry not: it really isn’t so. “Palo cortado” has become a very successful category commercially but really is not a uniquely different category of wine. Without wanting to burst anyone’s bubble the wines available as palo cortados would, in days gone by, have simply been sold as olorosos. In fact, some leading bodegas have even told me that their bottlings of palo cortados are brought about by identifying and selecting the finer butts of their olorosos. This isn’t to knock their quality – a finer oloroso is a wonderful thing. Indeed, on that score, El Cerro could easily pass as a palo cortado if sales ever dip below the tiny production that it has.

And besides, there is a limit to the number of bottles you can fit in a case, and once you have started there could be no stopping. I hope these few posts are just the start of a long voyage for someone, and I would encourage anyone who has got this far to thing far outside and beyond this box, and to search out all the many, many styles and makers and explore the wines of Jerez. I did and I have never looked back.

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 …

Oloroso Solera de su Majestad

A lovely wine this. It was given to me blind by Hector of La Corte de Pelayo and it was an inspired choice. First, I had never tried it – and it is not often I get the chance to try something as old as this that is new to me. Second, because it is cracking.

Blind I had it as a fine, youngish Sanlucar oloroso in the mould of el Cerro – and it shared the delightful balance of flavour and edges without astringency that I associate with that wine. And when the bottle was produced my amazement only increased.

This is one of the mighty wines by Valdespino from a solera founded in the 19th Century and fed from their vineyards in macharnudo alto – about as far from Sanlucar as you can conceptually imagine – but it had a lightness and vitality that I would never have expected from such an old wine or having tasted the epic Coliseo and Niños (they are majestic wines too, but you wouldn’t call them light).

Really delicious, elegant wine and a perfect way to finish a really fine light lunch (… of fabada and cachopo). Many thanks again!

Vinos de la feria

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.

Oloroso la Barajuela 2013

I was at dinner with some friends who allowed me to choose the wine and inevitably ended up trying Fino la Barajuela. They liked it very much – so much in fact that I promised them I would open a bottle of oloroso with them. But don’t worry, I can find more friends.

This wine is not everyone’s cup of tea: controversial, mould breaking, maverick even, and one of the poster wines for the “new Jerez”. It needed at least two tries for it to be accepted as an oloroso for the tasters of the Consejo Regulador and when you drink it you can see why: it is quite unlike your standard oloroso.

First, there is no fortification here: just the pure natural power of a low-yielding vine in a unique vineyard, harvested late and maybe given a bit of sun. The resulting wine is a natural 17 degrees and climbs higher than that in bota (but not solera – this is the wine of a single vintage).

Second, it has less time in the bota than even the younger olorosos you will have tried. I lose track a bit but I think this had four and a half years on release.

And the unique origin and winemaking adds up to a wine that is equally special. On the slightly spirity nose and the palate this wine has no dusty old barrel, rusty nail or church furniture: it is all delicious richness, an elegant combination of fruit, nuts and salty caramel, with a nice acidity on top and fine mineral salinity on the bottom. An incredibly big, opulent white wine with a sensational range of flavours and a mouthwatering freshness and balance.

There is no doubt that this wine is a wine that deserves to be shared, which is why I have chosen to share it with me, myself and I. Cheers!

Oloroso M Antonio de la Riva

From the reborn De la Riva label this is nevertheless a very old wine – said to be over 70 years old – from a solera that Ramiro Ibañez and Willy Perez have acquired and brought back to life with wine from Balbaina Baja.

The first impression is of the beautiful old school packaging – the vintage label and dinky bottle – and it still looks good in the glass. The one above looks too cold (only cellar temperature but in any event it soon warmed up) but even so you can see the rich red chestnut colour, which was clear as a bell.

Even more than how it looks, this wine just smells sensational. The most amazing aromatic profile – a sweet brandy nose with volatile acidity lifting and nuts and caramel in the background. Absolutely delicious, enticing aromas.

Then on the palate it is as sharp and potent as any oloroso I have had. Sharp acidity and salinity then a lot of concentrated flavours emerging like flavored layers of a gobstopper.  I saw Luis Gutierrez describe this as having rusty nail and that is bang on – there is rustiness at the beginning and end, with a big robust nutty caramel to burn caramel in the middle and a slightly dusty, astringent, biting finish.

A cracking little bottle of wine (and excellent accompaniment to a couple of frames of snooker).

The Williams 2009s in El Escaparate de Vallehermoso

It’s nice to discover new places and it’s nice to run into old friends, so you can’t argue with running into old friends in new places. These two wines – which I was able to enjoy yesterday at El Escaparate – are definitely old friends.

I first came across the 2016 sacas of these released as part of the Colección Añadas – in fact they were among the first añada (vintage specific) wines that I had tried.

The two have a lot in common: from the same palomino in the same vineyards in Añina and Carrascal (Jerez), aged for the same eight years in botas of american oak of 500 and 600L before the saca in April this year. The difference is that the fino was fortified to 15º after fermentation, allowing it to develop flor, whereas the oloroso was fortified to 18º and allowed to age “traditionally”. It makes for a great opportunity to compare and contrast the effects of the biological and oxidative ageing.

It is also really interesting to contrast the various sacas. The first saca was in february 2016 and there have been two or three before this one in April 2017, and it has been interesting to see how the fino, in particular, has changed over time.

It was always a rich, juicy fino with a touch of oxidation, but this one for me has gone over the top from fino to amontillado, with slightly less sharpness and caramel complementing the hazelnuts that, foe me, characterized this vintage. Just look at the colour of it for a start: it is barely distinguishable from the oloroso.

The oloroso too has changed: it always had a spirity, volatile heavy hazelnut nose but this one seems a little quieter by comparison – but maybe the bottle had been open a while, or maybe it was just the change in the fino that made them closer in character.

Two lovely wines, and absolutely perfect with the various delicious meats on offer at El Escaparate (they certainly did the job with Higinio’s finest breasts of Barbary duck and wood pigeon).

Oloroso de añada 1975 in Taberna Palo Cortado

Long overdue write up of a fantastic wine I had a good while ago in Taberna Palo Cortado – the Oloroso de Añada 1975 from Bodegas Tradición.

Bodegas Tradición are rightly famous for their VORS solera wines and I will always remember the tasting – also in Palo Cortado – when their enologist, Jose Maria Quiros, explaining how their biggest challenge was to keep the old wines tasting balanced and youthful. On that day this wine was one of the stars, and tasting it again nearly a year later it is still an exceptional wine.

The nose is very fine and brandy like, sweetness and spices in there with the furniture polish, and on the palate it is beautifully clean. I must admit that whenever I taste one of these vintage olorosos I am expecting so much acidity and concentration that they often come across as fresh and balanced but this really was. Again a nice acidity on the attack and then rich, gingery, spicey caramel flavours that grow in volume before fading away elegantly, and for a long time.

Really top class, and if you hurry they may still have some (they did last week).

The wines of Emilio Hidalgo in Taberna Verdejo

Absolutely top class dinner last night in Taberna Verdejo featuring a lot of laughter some first class cooking and above all three absolutely classic wines from Emilio Hidalgo.

First, with mussels and rubio (sea robin) in escabeche (and in fact even before the food arrived) we started with La Panesa, which is just a class fino. So much power and body, a really buttery mouthful and a no vibrato purity and solidity of flavours. These bottles were from 2016 and the almond and roast almond flavours just had that suggestion of bitterness before the long long finish.

Then another escabeche, this time a rabbit (another of Verdejo’s strengths, small game) and, having exhausted the supply of La Panesa we moved on to the Amontillado Fino Tresillo. And my goodness what an impact this wine makes – such sharpness and elegance, finer in feel than the fino and a touch of dry honey to the almond flavours – almost hazelnut-, all with that sizzling salinity, which comes across much more clearly in this finer profiled wine. Really lovely, really drinkable wine.

And then with the sweetbreads (oh, the sweetbreads) and rabo de toro (stewed bull’s tail) a glass (or two) of the Gobernador oloroso. Another beautifully made wine – packed with acidity and flavor but with excellent crispness and balance. In fact I was struck by the freshness of it – really clean lines.

All three wines were individually superb but also great company for the solid matter, but the less said about the Rives Special Gin from El Puerto that followed the better …