Fino Solera Fina de Maria del Valle, Bodegas Gracia  

Not long ago I was in a favourite restaurant and an enthusiast of the wines of Montilla Moriles asked our host if he had any of the dry wines from that region. The response could have been more diplomatic: “yes indeed, we use it when braising the kidneys”. (I nearly choked on my fino but I think we got away with it.)

No danger of that kind of response these days – the dry wines of Montilla Moriles are gaining traction all the time and seem to attract really enthusiastic enthusiasts – the moment I started this blog I was under siege to include the region in the description. here is no doubt that there are some really superb wines coming from Montilla Moriles, as the four or five keen followers of this blog may have noticed, and I certainly have no problem with enthusiasm in general.

Nevertheless, it does grate at times that the fans of Montilla Moriles seem to dedicate an inordinate amount of their time comparing their wines to those of Jerez, as if to praise one you need necessarily disparage the other, and perhaps without knowing it seem a little chippy about the latter’s greater world reknown. Always strikes me as a little unnecessary. (In fact, it strikes me that the region is well placed to benefit from the resurgence of these traditional wines since in general they are free of association with the mistakes of Jerez’s more recent, less discerning past.)

In any event, this wine, on a label owned by the outstanding Perez Barquero and with a moniker as long as one of my intros,  is certainly well placed to benefit from such interest. It has a lot of my favourite variety of seaside grass on the nose, with nice raw almonds and a dry punchiness to it. Slightly full and greasy in texture, and on the mineral end it is warming and mouthwatering without really sizzling.

A very decent alternative to a fino from you know where …

 

 

Pandorga 2016

One of the highlights of a top class recent shindig organized by the guys at Vinoteca Tierra was the chance to catch up with Ramiro Ibañez and try his new wines: the UBE Maina 2016 and this, the Pandorga of the same vintage.

Like almost everything Ramiro touches this is the latest in a series of ground breaking wines. A single vineyard, vintage specific, pedro ximenez – interesting stuff to there. But more importantly a wine that, rather than attempting to smooth out the differences between vintages, seeks to accentuate them. After a cooler 2014 season, very little asoleo and (naturally) lower temperatures of fermentation, the hotter 2015 growing season accentuated by more asoleo and a (naturally) warmer fermentation. The results were fascinating: the 2014 was apricot jam and the 2015 fresh, ripe apricot juice.

This 2016 is somewhere in between. Unbelievably, I failed to take any note of the alcohol or sugar content, and the subsequent dinner wiped the details from the “soft memory”. Nevertheless, I couldn’t forget the wine itself, and it has all the same characteristics but maybe greater overall balance, superb acidity, lightness and sweetness in a tight profile.

Not sure when it will be released but it is one to save up for.

La Bota de Fino Amontillado 24 – Montilla – 7 years later

Glory be to Angelita Madrid. Yet another absolutely cracking lunch yesterday with some top wines by the glass and a really special one to finish. A rare old wine and a privilege to taste it – there can’t be many of these bottles still in circulation (there were only 2,600 seven years ago). But how had it stood up to the seven years in the bottle? 

I had high hopes given the provenance (originally Perez Barquero) and the quality of the 2013 release, but by comparison to that wine this seemed to have faded. The acetaldehide hay bales had gone and bitter, bottle age notes seemed to have taken over the nose, and while still zingy and potent on the palate it seemed much less interesting in shape – the bitter almond finish taking over all too soon. 

So, a privilege for which I am very grateful but this one is more evidence for the case against excessive bottle ageing. I still have a bottle of the 45 and will get drinking it based on this. 

Soleras cincuentanarias (y una centenaria) de Perez Barquero

Fantastic cata last night at the Union Española de Catadores as José Ruz of Perez Barquero and Paco del Castillo lead us through the wines of this great Montilla bodega. 

As you can see, there were some real heavyweight wines to be tasted, and I for one learned a few interesting things. We started with Fresquito, a sparky vino de tinaja, then moved smoothly through the gears with the Fino en Rama Gran Barquero (Spring 2017), the Amontillado Gran Barquero, an Amontillado Gran Barquero bottled in 1996, the full range of Solera Cincuentenario wines – the Amontillado, the Palo Cortado, the Oloroso, and the Pedro Ximenez – and before that last one the Oloroso Solera Fundacional (Lot B). 

I am a huge fan of the Amontillado Gran Barquero – an absolutely world class wine – and it would take some persuading for me to choose any of the others over it last night. There was a lot of concentration and a lot of intensity on show, and some rare and expensive wines (sacas of 200 and 500 bottles), which really had very distinct profiles. 

In fact, it was very interesting and quite disarming to hear that the Cincuentenario Palo Cortado – one of the stars of the night – was the result of barrel selection rather than any intentional process. Motivated by the current high fashion status of palo cortados the guys at Perez Barquero had selected from amongst their older olorosoa the wines they felt had that kind of profile – without really knowing why they did. It would not have been due to selection or mostos, because they were all olorosos, but it could have been some biological action in the tinaja before the wines entered the solera. (Perhaps there is some mystery after all.) In any event, and whatever the cause, there was no doubting the difference in character between this and the oloroso. 

It wasn’t the only star either. The Oloroso Solera Fundacional was an absolute beast – brandy, salinity, burnt Christmas cake and a finish like the after dinner cigar (and nearly as long). One of those wines that you consume with extreme care. 

I could and will write a note on all the wines because the standard was exceptionally high across the board, but the one I could drink gallons of is the current Amontillado Gran Barquero. It is the standout in terms of elegance, profile and all round flawlessness – a marvellous wine that only gained in comparison to the bigger beasts. 

And a word of thanks and congratulations to José and Perez Barquero, the UEC and Paco del Castillo for a fantastic tasting – really top class. 

(The song of) El Cid 

Now here is a wine you don’t see every day. I am often criticized for reviewing wines that are marketed in minute quantities. Wines, as a famous Spanish winemaker, student and philosopher puts it, of which there are more photos on twitter than bottles in circulation. Well this one isn’t marketed at all – it is in theory only distributed witin the family and shareholders of Osborne – so booyah to the haters. 

That being the case you may wonder how I got my hands on the liquid photographed above and the answer is simple: Territorio Era. It really is the number one spot to taste the rarer examples of these wines – and even by the glass. This one caused a bit of a splash on the social networks when its arrival was announced so after a short but enjoyable lunch we tucked into a glass. 

It is a fish of a similar kidney to the Solera BC 200 from the same house (and also of a very limited distribution) and is another absolute dream wine. I don’t know the full details but I would guess it was a very, very old but very fine amontillado with a small and very nicely judged, perfectly integrated percentage of pedro ximenez. 

As you can see, it has that dark, more intense colour that the pedro ximenez can impart. On the nose it was quiet but there was a lot in there: sweet figs, roasted nuts, bready Christmas cake. Then on the palate it was like a sort of nectar on steroids. The sweetness of the pedro ximenez lifting it and making it absurdly easy to absorb, but not hiding the fact that there was a lot of wine in there. A rapier, cool acidity first up then very intense flavours of those figs and walnuts, slightly burnt cake and just tending to sawdust before an eternally long and pleasantly sweet nut and fig finish. And no edges or joins anywhere in sight – like one of those baths carved from a single piece of wood this is all curves and smooth surfaces. 

Absolutely fantastic. 

Don PX Convento Selección 1946

This was one of three absolute showstopper wines that I had at the end of an epic evening at Corral de la Moreria recently – and while I am lucky enough to have had the Privilegio and the Toneles before, this was my first crack at this so I took special notice.

Pure pedro ximenez harvested in 1946 and in bota until it was bottled in 2011, this wine gained great fame when it was granted 100 points a couple of years ago, so when I saw the date on the bottle my curiosity was piqued to say the least.

I wasn’t in a position to examine the colour very closely – in the dark of the theatre it looked pretty black and dirtied up the sides of the glass but couldn’t tell you much more. It didn’t seem sweet or rich in nose or on the palate. In fact on the palate there was raisin sweetness but also everything from pencil lead to tangy citrus, plenty of liquorice bitterness and even peppery herbs, and the overall effect was quite a rollercoaster.

A serious, complex old wine. Amazing stuff.

Dulce de Añada 2014

The last wine from a spectacular lunch with Bodegas Alvear a couple of weeks ago was this fantastic sweet wine. 

It is a dulce de añada, a sweet wine made from pedro ximenez from the 2014 vintage. Grapes that have spent 7-14 days on the pasera, been pressed through capazos and then aged in tinajas. 

It is really top class. A rich hazelnut in colour, clear as a bell and extremely appetising, it has a nose that in addition to sultana fruit has smokey aromas and even cigarrette tobacco.

On the palate at first it seems all fruit with beautiful clarity and freshness – the harvest conserved in alcohol as they say. But then you notice the nice acidity and the sharp mineral freshness to it. Then at the finish it is salty and white pepper spicey. Makes it light and fresh over all – you would never guess that this was 16% or had 400 grammes of sugar per liter. 

A fantastic end to a fantastic lunch. One of the best sweet wines I have ever tried. 

Palo Cortado Abuelo Diego 

I could be accused of dragging this out a little but here we go with wine number six of an outrageously good lunch with Bodegas Alvear. And again what a wine it is – an absolutely outstanding, very very old palo cortado. Named, if I am not mistaken, for “Grandad” Diego Alvear, founder of the bodega. 

And it really was outstanding. As you can see above it was crystal clear and a lovely reddish hazelnut in colour, almost ruby. The nose was also extraordinary, with nuts and hazelnuts and even figgy, Christmas cake like aromas. 

And then the palate was everything you had been lead to expect. As full of flavours as the nose and as bright and clean as its aspect. Nuts and cake, and specifically the sweet, burnt raisins of Christmas cake. But above all it had none of the defects that some of the really old wines can bring: the eye watering acid, astringency or wood of excessive concentration. Hard to argue with the classification of this as a palo cortado. It had a beautifully defined structure to it (my notes are rather more prosaic – I wrote it was “chunkier” than the amontillado-) but elegant for all that.

Another exceptional wine, out of the very top drawer. It seems almost sacriligious to have tried so many together (it is hard work etc …)

Amontillado Solera Fundacional 

To my mind this was the clear star of my recent lunch with Bodegas Alvear and one of the finest amontillados I have come across to date. 

I agree with the protagonists of Edgar Allan Poe’s great story. For me you cannot beat the amontillado style for flavourful elegance – manzanilla pasadas and older finos can be as elegant and complex but when the amontillado is good it can be exceptional. Experts tell me that back in the day the wines considered top of the pops were the amontillados and I believe them. And from what I have seen there is no doubt how they get their name: the amontillados from Montilla Moriles are as good as any you will find. (The Jerez propaganda about the style being named for the “ruined” wine that arrived by donkey from Montilla can be archived in the (overflowing) blarney file.) 

This Amontillado Solera Fundacion is one of the very best. It is taken, as its name maybe gives away, from the foundational solera and must be of a ripe old age, but wears its years with incredible grace. I may have been softened up a bit by the four top wines that preceeded it, but my notes are extremely, er, enthusiastic. 

It is very easy on the eye, crystal clear and a rich, hazelnut/amber in tone, and has just an outstanding nose. Concentrated, rich, compact nose with a lot of sides to it, like one of those 20 sided dice mathematicians love, with everything from caramel through nuts and leather to just the slightest hint of the darkest chocolate. (With the glass empty it was all sweet pine sawdust.)

On the palate it is the archetypal best of both worlds – elegant, silky and fine in profile but rich in flavour and expression. A sharp acid start, a controlled explosion in the middle involving a spectrum of flavours from nuts and caramel through cigar box and leather to dark chocolate and even coffee, then a smooth salinefinish with no astringency. 

Really fantastic. A touch of magic to this wine. 

Criadera /A

Am going with the short version of the name here. This was wine number four of an outstanding lunch with Bodegas Alvear last week and had a tough gig, wedged as it was between an outstanding fino (the Fino Capataz Solera de la Familia) and a quite sensational amontillado (Amontillado Solera Fundacional). 

Said to have an average age of around 13/14 years (compared to 10/12 for the fino) this is the “fino que va para amontillado” – the biological wine headed for the amontillado solera. It has had more oxidation than the fino – the flor starting to disappear for seasons from around eight years onwards – but hasn’t really had the full roast of oxidation of an amontillado. 

It is only slightly richer in colour than the fino, a lovely rich amber. On the nose it is less aromatic – you really notice the reduced exposure to flor – and although there is a touch more hazelnut in the nose there is less of the sweet wet hay aroma, making it seems less sweet overall. 

On the palate it is a similar story, a tighter, slightly less expressive wine compared to the fino, with a touch more intensity and a sharper profile. Punchy, acidic start and a fresh finish gives it a nice elegant profile. (Curiously once the glass is empty the aromas are much more lively – sweetness and haybales.)

Another very fine wine, elegance and intensity.