The book of the wines of Jerez

A guide to understanding some unique wines

It is Saint George’s day in Spain, the patron of the old Kingdom of Aragon, whose day is traditionally celebrated here with the giving of books and roses, and I sincerely hope that some lucky people out there have received a copy of this excellent addition to the library by none other than Cesar Saldaña, President of the Consejo Regulador (and all around good guy).

It was through Cesar that I first became seriously interested in these wines and since then my debt to him has only grown. He is a good friend and a fellow “Generoso”, so I cannot claim that this post is entirely impartial.

But for all that Cesar is a good friend and great company, the man knows as much about Jerez as almost anyone I know and for years, is truly passionate about it in a way that fills casual afficionados like myself with envy, and has been teaching the world of Jerez to sommeliers and wine lovers on the “Sherry Masters” of which he has been a driving force. This book is the fruit of all that knowledge, passion, and communication and as you might expect is full of information, inspiration and insight as a result.

Cesar himself would be far too modest to claim that this is “the” book about the wines of Jerez – at the presentation this week he reckoned that there were about 50 other “essential” books that everyone should read – but I can tell you that this would be a great place to start. And the good news is that it is only available in Spanish, giving all you anglophone types an excellent excuse to learn!

Get your copy direct from the editors here. And Happy Saint George’s Day!


Por debajo de la flor

Me han dicho que eso de escribir un blog sobre vinos que forman parte de la historia, patrimonio y cultura de España esta muy bien, y que se entiende porque lo hago en ingles, pero por otro lado seria un guiño al personal que vive en el antes aludido territorio traducir los posts de forma que se pueden leer en cristiano. (Estoy resumiendo un poco, porque me lo han dicho de una forma muy insistente, con muchos argumentos y no poca persuasion.)

Y la verdad es que tenían razón. No porque me puede traer mas lectores, o porque permitiría mi (muy querida) suegra seguir mis movimientos, sino por respeto a los aficionados españoles de undertheflor.

Mas de la mitad de los lectores accedan al blog desde este maravilloso pais y dentro de poco “celebraremos” el cuarto aniversario del blog, pero en todo este tiempo no he tenido la minima consideración con los castellano-hablantes (por no hablar de la gente de Jerez y Sanlucar).

De hecho, por si escribir en ingles fuera poco, he utilizado en todo momento un verbeaje de lo mas rebuscado, imposibilitando el trabajo del traductor automático mas asiduo. Esparto grass es poco, soy consciente.

Pero, por favor, no me lo tomáis mal. No es que no os quiero. Después de 16 años, 11 meses y 22 dias Madrid ya es la ciudad donde mas tiempo he pasado en mi vida (y los mejores tiempos ademas) y sois muchos los amigos que he hecho a través de este blog.

El mundo del vino, y especialmente del vino de Jerez, es una cosa muy especial, pero sobre todo por la gente que tiene dentro. Muchas gracias a todos por compartir tantas cosas conmigo. No me salen tan fácilmente los chistes en español pero vaya, lo intentaremos de vez en cuando.

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.)


The best of 2017 undertheflor

fe1ee6d3-cff7-4e87-b5d7-fd75e640185cOther blogs may post their “best of” at the end of December or beginning of January but that is not how we do things at this address: January 20 works for me. There is a risk of course that a full three weeks into 2018 people might be less tolerant to my bragging and crowing on about what an awesome year I had last year but frankly I have the post mainly written now so I might as well go ahead.

January: lessons in terroir with the Pitijopos 

The first highlight of the year was the night in January when we took a lesson in the terroir of Sanlúcar with Volume II of the Pitijopos. There is no better demonstration of the relevance of terroir in el marco than these six bottle sets and I firmly believe that it is an issue that is central to the future if el marco is going to be considered a serious wine region. If only all educational experiences were as much fun as this.

February: Wine and fun at the Cuatrogatos Wine Fest

February was all about the he Cuatrogatos Wine Fest an absolutely cracking day and night down in el Puerto de Santa Maria with the genial Federico Ferrer and his band of artisan winemaker friends. Like a salon but in the bowels of a bull ring, with wines that are a lot more interesting than the average, Cadiz-style street food and an awful lot of laughter. This year’s is on February 24 and is a must-attend for anyone seriously into fun and wine (in that order).

March: epic tastings, visitors from the other place and going blind

March was the month of epic tastings. First, we witnessed the full extent of Chiclana Power: with the great, criminally unrecognized Primitivo Collantes in Enoteca Barolo. Then that was followed by the true history of Palo Cortados according to Ramiro Ibañez in, fittingly enough, Taberna Palo Cortado. Two nights when copious notes were taken, notes which in other hands might have been used to write up an interesting post or two. I really learned a lot in those two tastings and if you get the chance to listen to these guys I highly recommend it.

In addition, I also had the pleasure of meeting Erik and Laura Burgess, the couple behind We took a leisurely crawl from Territorio Era to La Malaje, via Angelita and la Venencia (we never made it to La Fisna) and tried a fair few interesting wines along the way: Manu from la Malaje finishing us off with some cracking old Montilla Moriles and even a bottle of Cordobese bubbles!

And as if that wasn’t enough, the month ended on a high with a cracking day at the Cata por Parejas by Vila Viniteca. I really need to drink more 2002 Salon, no doubt, but in general it really brought home how much fun blind tasting can be. I can’t make it this year but will probably train anyway!

April: the big three and the big one

April was again all about tastings but this time the three really big beasts among current enologists: a sensational dinner with Eduardo Ojeda of Valdespino/La Guita/Estevez (and Equipo Navazos) in Lavinia; getting to meet Jose Maria Quirós of Bodegas Tradición (and the legendary Agustin Blázquez) in Taberna Palo Cortado and, finally, Antonio Flores of Gonzalez Byass with his array of Palos Cortados de Añada. An honour to meet any one of them and to meet all three in one month was almost too much to take in.

And then the month ended with an all too brief visit from another of my blogging heroes: Ruben of SherryNotes featuring a signature cracking lunch at Territorio Era and what was shaping to be a pretty handy bar crawl until Mrs Undertheflor intervened and called me home!

May the force be with you

No big ticket events in May but there was one of those little moments that make the blog – indeed life – worthwhile. On a trip with friends and our families (imagine a scene involving double digits of small kids) a fella was allowed a few minutes to escape from the Guggenheim Museum for some delicious tidbits and a refreshing glass or two of the good stuff courtesy of the very kind folk in Nerua Bilbao, which may just about have the perfect wine list. Forever in their debt!

June: Alvear, bubbles and Bez

June began with a quite exceptional lunch with Alvear at which we tried their range of spectacular wines – some of the best wines tasted all year – and at the end of the month we had a cracking tasting of the natural wines of Alba Viticultores in Wine Attack, Madrid’s leading natural wine specialists, including key discussions and demonstration of mancunian poetry in motion from the early 1990s and a lot of laughs. (There is another link here.)

July: Mucho, mucho arte

In July probably the highlight of the whole year was an almost unbelievable night in Corral de la Morería. Not just because of the wines that we had – although they were absolutely epic – but the dinner, the incredible show, the atmosphere. It will live long in the memory and I am almost afraid to go back.

September: soleras cincuentanarias

In September the UEC hosted a great tasting of wines from one of the other big guns of the “other place”, the Soleras Cincuentenarias (and one Centenaria) by Perez Barquero. Again the wines were outstanding but for me the most memorable moment was the description of where the “palo cortados” come from: “we select the botas of oloroso that have the right profile”. All very mysterious.

October: Barajuelismo

The highlight of October was the night of the Barajuelas with Willy Perez in Palo Cortado. Truly exceptional wines – the long awaited Oloroso la Barajuela 2013 and a sneak preview of what promises to be an epic Fino la Barajuela 2014 – and a fascinating explanation given by the man himself, including a moving account of his “noches de fuego” that has Oscar winning movie clip written all over it.

November: Florpower and the Weight of History

November was enlivened considerably by an impromptu Florpower Friday lunch, at which we tried the famous series by Equipo Navazos and a few other things and had a blast, but the highlight was probably a cracking dinner with Vila Viniteca and friends to celebrate the 10th anniversary of an earlier anniversary or something. Always great to hear from winemakers, but Telmo Rodriguez’s thoughts on Spanish wine’s “historic places” had me realizing that they had forgotten the most important of them all …

December: Paola Medina in Taberna Palo Cortado

An early moment of joy in December was a lunch in Lakasa with la Barajuela. If you know Lakasa at all you will imagine how well we ate that day, and when you add a bottle (and a half) of Fino La Barajuela and a good friend well, there was singing and all sorts. (Apart from anything else it was a pleasure to see the reaction of a good friend from outside my little world of sherry nerds really enthusing about that special wine.)

But the highlight of the month was a tasting by Paola Medina in the new Taberna Palo Cortado at which we heard about and more importantly tasted more from her awesome colección añadas, alongside some very nice wines from the Don Zoilo range. (And hats off to Taberna Palo Cortado, who in the course of one year hosted tastings by all the top stars of the “new Jerez”: Ramiro, Willy, Primi and Paola.)

Bloody hell what a year that was!

120 up

120 up

The part of the wordpress app I love best is the map above showing the countries from which the blog has been accessed, and it is a thrill any time I see a flag I don’t recognize in the daily visits. Today, Laos joined the mighty commonwealth of undertheflor visiting nations and we welcome them with open arms.

And to all you countries that still appear as blanks above: come, friends!

Two years under the flor


March 27 around already and another year has flown by. An appropriate moment perhaps to take stock and reflect. The old blog has had a few hits: 49,800 in total now (meaning 33,200 since this time last year) from 17,100 daily visitors in 105 different countries around the world (not including Iceland or Uruguay). It really is rather humbling, and all I can say is many thanks to everyone for your clicks, retweets, comments, likes and messages.  There has been a fair bit to look at too: 326 posts this year, not including this one, or the page updates with lists of restaurants and the like, and just shy of 5,200 tweets, plus all the facebooking etc. Makes me wonder where I find the time.

I am not much cop at deciphering the stats so can’t really tell you with great precision which have been the most visited pages and posts of the year, but I am happy to say that by far the most used page on the blog is the Where To Drink It section, with its list of restaurants of every kind where you can drink the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar, and after that most of the interest appears to be directed at the (proper) Authorities and at the learned writings on topics such as Terroir.

After that, I am also very pleased to say that the wines that arouse most interest are some that are very near to my heart: the Fino la Barajuela 2013, UBE, Encrucijado, the Pitijopos, the Mayeteria Sanluqueña and the Wines of Alba Viticultores. I am convinced that these wines don’t get nearly the attention or respect that they deserve and make no apologies for my numerous posts on them. I only wish that they were more widely available – I have received more than one grumble about my blogging on wines that are made in less than 1,000 bottle batches and I can understand that frustration.

There have once again been a fair few highlights (since March 27 last year):

  • Without question the top day was a visit with Willy Perez and a tasting of the wines of the Barajuela Project down in his cracking bodega in Jerez. I really think these are fantastic, exciting wines and the chance to sit down and taste them altogether was really a treat.
  • The Cuatrogatos Wine Fest, in Puerto de Santa Maria this February, was an absolute blast, with top wines, top people and a lot of laughter in general and in particular a first look at the Mayeteria Sanluqueña.
  • Ramiro Ibañez was involved in many of the highlights of the year, and in particular (and aside from his wines) his two day residency as guest sommelier at Surtopia (Day 1 and Day 2) and an absolutely top drawer masterclass on Palo Cortados in the eponymous taberna (which I am still writing up).
  • Primitivo Collantes gave one of the best tastings of the year, and one of the most disarmingly convincing advertisements for terroir focussed winemaking I have seen, a few weeks ago in Enoteca Barolo, restoring my faith in moscatel in the process.
  • And indeed there were a lot of good tastings, including the Lustau Almacenistas (in Taberna Palo Cortado), the Wines of Alba Viticultores (in La Buena Vida), Toro Albala (in Taberna Palo Cortado again), Mons Urium (in Taberna Palo Cortado again), the Williams Colección Añadas (in Taberna Verdejo), the great Gran Barqueros (in Reserva y Cata) and a fascinating “vertical” of the Tradición Finos (also in Reserva y Cata).

Regrets, as they say, we have had a few, but only a few. The lowlight of the year was the end of an era in one of my erstwhile favourite watering holes some six months ago (although I am told that good news is around the corner), and there were a few tastings, and wines, that to be quite honest were a bit of a let down. More generally, older and, maybe wiser, maybe just grumpier, I find myself getting more irritated these days with wines, and blarney of all kinds (and the acceptance of them by some sommeliers, who ought to know better), that I might have found charming a couple of years ago, and the “everything is awesome” tone of the blog is getting harder to maintain.

Finally, though, I couldn’t write about this last year without talking about Territorio Era. It is without doubt my favourite bar or restaurant in Madrid at the moment and it should be yours too. All available space that is not dedicated to Diego’s fantastic cooking is given over to storing hundreds of wines of every kind, of which over a hundred are available by the glass. I have lost count of the fantastic lunches and dinners, swift and cheeky glasses of wine and general emergency stops that have taken place in there.

So onwards to year three. There is still a long way to go for the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar so time to push on. Many thanks once again to everybody for all your support up to here and I look forward to the next twelve months.








El Colectivo Decantado

Colectivo Decantado

High time I dedicated a few words to my good mate the Decanted Collective, one of the most dedicated and amusing drinkers of the good stuff on the Madrid (and Brussels) wine scene. His greatest works are his video “instacatas” (“instatastings”) in which he launches an array of wine and pop culture knowledge at his audience from behind a big glass of well chosen wine. They are pretty funny and if you reckon you can speak Spanish  you should have a look (unless you are “winelover” or a “jipster”, in which case you might want to save yourself the aggravation).

This week it was Fino Imperial (and Ninja Turtles) but I recommend looking back at all of them – some really good wines and some half decent jokes on display, including the following sherries (aka katanas) and other wines you may have read about on here:

Your man knows his onions – last year he and Jimmy Bubbles (who co stars in some instacatas) picked up a big cheque at the Vila Viniteca cata por parejas – and clearly enjoys the occasional dip into the wines from El Marco. Colectivo Decantado, we salute you!


Gueuze – Brussels champagne, or Brussels sherry?

Am allowing myself to post a picture of a glass of gueuze on this site because I reckon it is the sherry of beers. 

It undergoes second fermentation in the bottle and is sold in champers bottles, and is sometimes referred to as “Brussels champagne”. To be honest I can’t argue with that, but it also strikes me that there are parallels with sherry. 

First, because like sherry it is delicious and complex in flavour and texture (and I love it). Second, because of the role of natural yeasts in the fermentation of the lambic beers of which it is made. Third, because it is a blend of beers of different age – younger and older lambics. And finally, because it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle and spends a good time on the lees (cabezuelas) as a result. 

To be honest, looking at that list I can see the champagne comparison – but in any event it is complex and delicious. If you haven’t tried it I recommend getting stuck in.