De Jereces y marquistas: polisemia vinosa

Had to share the link to this cracking piece by Carmen Martinez de Artola (and not just because she refers to me in it as “el Guerrero”) of the tasting I was lucky enough to take part in this summer at Der Guerrita.

Really top summary of the (better) wines we drank on the day (or in my case, spat out, unfortunately) but above all I love the introduction – why worry what we call them if the wines are good?

Nice piece – in Spanish and another good reason to learn the language kids!

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Marquistas: de marca blanca a Equipo Navazos

Was an honour to participate this summer in a tasting lead by Armando Guerra as part of the series of summer tastings at Taberna Der Guerrita.

A really interesting, ambitious tasting too, aiming to cover the phenomenon of the “marquistas”: the practice of selling someone else’s wine under your own brand. In fact in this case even more ambitious all the way across the spectrum from the “white label” of the supermarkets all the way up to Equipo Navazos.

Armando invited me on the strength of some musings of mine back in February on this subject and I was delighted to accept even if it is a bit of a hospital pass: for some reason people get very offended if you suggest they may be a marquista.

The scope was too ambitious for me – I am very far from an expert in white label wines and that business strikes me as absolutely distinct, in terms of the volumes, characteristics and role from the business of the “bota hunters” I am more familiar with. (In fact one interesting point to come out of the cata was the discovery of a third category in a kind of middle ground – the own-label exporters.)

That broad scope may also have prevented us from getting as in-depth into the phenomenon as we might have liked. Not that there wasn’t debate: it was a pretty lively group in the room too and there were some pretty frank exchanges of views. But for all that we didn’t really advance very far.

There really wasn’t much discussion of the supermarket level, but on the “bota hunters” and exporters there was broad speaking agreement as to their useful role: marketing and explaining the wines, providing novelty, different vision. Some in the room firmly believed that the special selections were better than the standard wines from the bodega (I tend to find the law of averages persuasive). There was also general agreement that the marquistas do most good – and least harm – when they identify the source of their wines.

But Armando made an interesting comment that rang true, which is that the “bota hunters” face an increasingly uphill task. Put simply, with the upturn in interest in these wines there are not as many special old botas lying around to be discovered, it is getting harder to find something different to say to better educated consumers and the bodegas too are getting more sophisticated in terms of their own approach, squeezing the space the marquistas used to have to themselves. Another challenge is carving out a unique message in an increasingly crowded space: new pretenders cannot simply take for their own the “magic numbers” of Equipo Navazos and you find some increasingly novel ways of describing the uniqueness of the wines.

And when you think about it it is interesting to witness the evolution of Equipo Navazos, for me the number one marquistas and one of the undisputed stars of the sherry story in recent years. You certainly can’t fault them for standing still: they may have started as bota hunters, but it is noticeable that the wines increasingly come from tried and trusted sources or from far and wide, that they increasingly make their own wines and have even diversified into rum, whisky, and even gin.

While all this was going on there was of course a lot of wine going down: or in my case, being spat out (I had to drive back). A really top lineup in fact, with everything from supermarket fino via Sacristia AB, and Equipo Navazos to the legendary “Teran Salvaje”. In fact at least one wine was wrongly included: the De la Riva oloroso in the final flight. De la Riva is a new project but certainly not a marquista. Ramiro Ibañez and Willy Perez, beloved of this parish, actually bought the solera involved (“with wood” as they say around here) and have acquired wine to refresh the solera on an on-going basis. Noone is making or bottling wine for these guys and the brand is registered in their name. (Having said all that, what an epic, flavorful oloroso – no complaints with having a glass of that.)

It was a fascinating and fun discussion albeit one that tended to confirm my beliefs rather than challenge them. I for one think that Equipo Navazos and others like them have done a fantastic service to the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar by bringing them to the attention of a wider public, and by showing how special they can be. And marquistas are always going to be around: the best marquistas have deservedly strong brands and even if they didn’t in some places it will always be easier to sell a new, exclusive label than a traditional brand.

But the marquistas are no more the future of the region than own label brands. You can see the future in fact in what Equipo Navazos (and many others) are doing – making and experimenting with new (or old) ways of making wines and focussing on vintages and terroir. In fact the real future is probably neither the marquista or the bodega, but the vineyard.

La Bota de Gin 81 – “Bota NO”

A while go there was speculation that sherry might be the “new gin and tonic” on the back of slightly optimistic hopes that people would start ordering bottles of fino instead of the currently fashionable goldfish bowls full of gin, tonic, and assorted fruits, nuts, berries, seeds, gumdrops etc. The region would certainly have taken the sales figures and let’s be honest, can there be an easier way to make money in the drinks business? Of course it proved to be hype: summer came and the goldfish bowls continued to dominate the tabletops.

If you can’t beat them you might as well join them, a number of the big groups already have gins in their portfolios and more recently we are even starting to see high end efforts where in addition to selling the gins the boys from Jerez are also leaving their mark. Just a few weeks ago I was supping on a martini made of fino sherry and Salcombe “Finisterre” gin aged in fino barrels by Bodegas Tradición, and now this, by Equipo Navazos.

According to their typically excellent ficha it is a London dry gin that has spent no less than four years in a fino cask. I am no expert on gins by any means but this certainly has an air of fino about it: nice almonds and sea breeze on the nose. On the palate I am not going to pretend I can pick much out, but once mixed with a tonic you again get the benefit of those aromatics: very pleasant stuff (if you like that sort of thing).

It is a logical step if you think about it: it is getting hard to find a wine region where they aren’t ageing the wine in an old sherry bota (including in Jerez itself of course), they have been ageing whiskies and brandies this way for years and recently you have started to see rums and the like. Also, while the flavours and aromas of gin and sherries may appear to be polar opposites, they are both dry and have that bite of saline bitterness. Apparently Equipo Navazos filled a few other casks too – including casks used to house all manner of sherries and brandies – so this may only be the first of a number of “numbers” dedicated to the ruin.

Great stuff and made for a nice gin and tonic at the end of a brilliant dinner in A’Barra. Even so, on balance I probably still prefer the bota’s original contents …

 

Los dos ma’res again

Another crack at these, this time at the bar of Angelita. They are two wines sourced from the same solera (none other than the Solear en Rama) but at opposite ends of the building (the famous Arboledilla bodega), the idea being to demonstrate the effects on the wine of the microclimates within the building itself due to the different prevailing winds (poniente the sea breeze, levante the land breeze). (By the way the “two ma’res” reference is to a cracking joke by Primitivo Collantes which would take so long to explain it would lose its spontaneity.)

Big difference in colour, open a little while and the difference between the two seems to have yawned wider. The Poniente finer and sleeker, the Levante more boisterous. I bitterly regret not trying to find a contemporaneous saca of the Solear en Rama itself to complete the comparisons.

Nevertheless it is a fantastic little bottling and fascinating for any self respecting sherry nerd (and if you are reading this, well I suppose there is no guarantee of self respect but …). Brilliant stuff and a recent prize for Barbadillo as “most innovative bodega” is well earned imho.

 

Salcombe Gin “Finisterre”

If you are going to have lunch with some top finos you need something really dry as an aperitif and here you go. A dry martini made up of a gin made by Salcombe in Devon and aged in a former fino bota shipped over by Bodegas Tradicion and a decent splash of fino from the same chaps.

When it comes to dry martinis I have very classic tastes but this fragrant, woody and saline version is very suppable indeed. Great stuff.

Legends in Taberna Maitea

There is an English expression intended to belittle achievements: “a legend in his own lunchtime”. It is a comment on ephemeral glories. The phrase feels completely inadequate in the face of my own lunchtime today.

Today in Taberna Maitea I came face to face with such legends and so quickly that it hardly seemed real: Carta Blanca, Fino Caribe, Manzanilla Pochola, PX Viña 25, and the legendary Amontillado la Botaina. Dinosaurs that once ruled the earth and even in fossilized form are like a jeep ride through jurassic park. In addition there was the Callejuela manzanilla madura, the Viejo C P palo cortado and a mystery 2016 from Miraflores, all of them ourstanding, but still …

I should say right away that this was not an everyday lunch at the bar (although they have a great list these wines are not generally available). All I can do now is express my sincere thanks to Nico for such an outstanding lunch (the food was also brilliant – just see below) – notes of the wines will follow when I come down from the clouds.

Three years under the flor – a birthday wish

Back on the Costa where this blog was born three years ago now and it has been another fun year. More than 900 posts , thousands of hits and visitors and the rest (from over 120 countries, not including Iceland), some enjoyable lunches, sneaky glasses, fascinating tastings and riotous dinners, but most importantly, a few pennies are starting to drop and I am beginning to think I am getting a handle on what is what where these wines are concerned.

The first thing I learned is the incredible range of wines that can be achieved in the cellar: whether through concentration, oxidation, reduction and barrel and biological aging, blending with sweet wines and in soleras at variable speeds, all with the benefit of timescales that shame other regions, there is a sense of possibility that is quite amazing.

But the second thing you discover is that those possibilities bring great responsibilities, and mean great discipline is needed. With so many dimensions it is all too easy for your wine to end up unbalanced and misshapen, and if you get it just slightly wrong for thirty years you will finish up quite a long way off the path.

And the third thing you learn is that the biggest mistake that has been made is one of the most common, and it has been made for a lot longer than thirty years. Simply, that many bodegas have forgotten that underneath all those effects there should be a wine, a wine with a personality given it by vine, vineyard, and vintage. Too many of the wines in the region are being made with high yield, low concentration, low personality palomino clones that could and indeed are sourced from anywhere across the region. They are often still delicious – crisp, mineral, punchy and full of yeasty or caramel goodness – but they could be so much more.

Because once you have discovered the unique personality that palomino can have when produced with low yields, in different vineyards and in different vintages it is impossible to forget and difficult to go back. The resulting wines not only have added dimensions, they are unique. However majestic the bodega, however great the skill of the capataz, bigger bodegas can be built and techniques can be copied, but vines, vineyards and vintages cannot be replicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I never say no to a glass from one of the great soleras (and the Solear above was absolutely delicious at sundown yesterday), but if this blog gets a birthday wish it would be for the region as a whole to rediscover the miracles of its vines, vineyards and vintages. (And if I were allowed a second wish, it would be for the great “gurus” of terroir and vine to finally give el marco de Jerez the credit it deserves.)