Contratiempo y Desvelao: moscateles de albariza

I was unable to make it to this year’s Cuatrogatos Wine Fest – the best yet by all accounts – and in particular as described by Carmen Artola in this great piece from this week. But I didn’t miss out altogether. A fortuitous alignment of the planets allowed me to slip away from Madrid for the traditional pre-winefest dinner with the winemakers in El Arriate.

And it was a cracking dinner too. The most important ingredient of any dinner is the company and in that regard these cats are of the highest quality. There wasn’t all that much technical discussion on this occasion but it was great to catch up and hear the news of a group of people who are not only fun to be around, and utterly admirable, but complete nutters to a man, woman and child. They are and it was a blast.

The second key ingredient – and apologies here to the crew at El Arriate but I hope they will forgive me – is the wine, and there again the night was worth any number of hours in Renfe’s cold, unloving embrace. The assembled artisans produced bottle after bottle of evidence of their artistry – some really lovely stuff too (and there were some bottles from little known regions overseas such as champagne and saumur champigny that didn’t let anyone down either).

But for me the two bottles of wine I found most enjoyable were the two above. Contratiempo and Desvelao are two unfortified table wines from moscatel grown in the same vineyard on albariza by a really charming group of young lady winemakers. It wasn’t the first time I had tried them – in fact I had had them at the previous year’s winefest – but it was the first time I had the chance to try them at dinner and let them sit in the glass, and I found them very enjoyable.

Albariza is all the rage these days for palomino, but traditionally moscatel would be planted on sandy soils, and I had even had the impression that moscatel wouldn’t normally survive and thrive on albariza. But this one certainly has, and the resulting wine has all the sapidity and intense, savoury flavour you would expect from one of the new palominos, with what seemed to me to be just a touch more acidity up front and a really nice fruit/savoury finish.

But almost as interesting as that flavour profile is the contrast between the two wines: Contratiempo big, beefy and “horizontal” – full of flavour and growing in aroma in the glass – and Desvelao, from the same vineyard and vintage but with some time under a veil of flor was finer, fresher and sharper.

I gather there are only very small amounts of this available (if it is available at all), which strikes me as a shame. I for one wish there was more, and if you do get the chance to try them I would recommend you give them a proper go, with a nice dinner and good company. Bravo to Cuatro Ojos Wines and more, please!

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Macharnudo Blanco 2016, M Ant de la Riva

This wine was brought to dinner last night by a true gent and new friend and what a treat to have another crack at this, maybe the classiest of all unfortified palominos.

It is class in every respect. From an old, famous name, the bottle and label are an elegant, respectful homage to that tradition and are frankly pretty damn smart looking. The other name on the bottle also has some lineage as the most famous of all the pagos: macharnudo.

More importantly the wine just oozes class. It is a beautiful rich gold in colour – it just looks delicious, so inviting. Then you have gorgeous nose that seems like a blend of honey suckle and apple blossom and wild herbs on a mountainside, and the palate is maybe the classiest of all: a floral, white fruit start with just a hint of mineral bite to it, that grows with sweet, savoury, aromatic herbs in the middle and shapes away to floral fresh sweetness at the end.

Really superb stuff – an iron fist in the silkiest of velvet gloves.

Fino la Barajuela 2014 en Lakasa

Here we go again with one of my very favourite wines (of which I recently enjoyed a glass in one of my very favourite places).

Fino la Barajuela is, depending on your point of view, the white wine of finos, or the fino of white wines. The semantics should be irrelevant, because what matters is the liquid genius of it: big and powerful with a lovely aromatic profile, mineral sharpness up front and salinity in the finish to keep it fresh despite the weight in between. And that in between is quite something: a big mouthful heavy in texture (a natural, unenhanced 15% + here) and a flavour profile from honeysuckle to honey and citrus to savoury stewed herbs that fill out the throat.

It all makes for a wine that is a massive, massive legend but light on its feet and easy to drink, and for all that it is at the cutting edge in terms of the new Jerez, it is immediately recognizable to wine drinkers from across the spectrum. In fact, perhaps ironically, it is almost more widely accepted outside the sherry world than it is within. In the sherry world you get the feeling it is seen as an awkward upstart that doesn’t fit in any of the established categories, – an ugly duckling -, whereas like the eponymous juvenile aquatic bird, the reality is quite magnificent.

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!

Pitijopos Volume II, Part 4 – La Atalaya

Three years now since the first night of the Pitijopos (Volume I) – for me one of the most memorable and educational nights as a wine drinker.

For the uninitiated, the Pitijopos are sets of six “mostos” from 100% palomino grown in six specific sites – in Volume I from across the sherry region and in Volume II from around Sanlucar, fermented without temperature controls in bota at Cota 45, and released as boxed sets with the aim of demonstrating the different terroirs and the characteristics they can imprint on the wines of the region.

Volume II – which a few colleagues and I tasted together back in January last year – is all about Sanlucar and sets up a contrast between the vineyards near the Atlantic and those inland, influenced by the Guadalquivir river – and this is one of the wines from that particular box (which if you are interested are currently on sale in single file at Reserva y Cata).

Specifically, it is the wine from a pago called La Atalaya, said to be a fascinating “hybrid” pago halfway between the river and atlantic pagos, 10,75km from the sea and characterized by albariza antehojuela which makes for direct, fresh wines, albeit tempered by the inland location and climate.

When first released it had a very aromatic nose of lemon and seaside air, a fresh start, nice juicy volume and a long, mouthwatering saline, seafood shell finish (or so I wrote at the time at least).

A year and ten months later it is still aromatic and fresh but seems much more complex. The citrus nose now has a strong air of bicycle inner tube and a hint of diesel, and you have that same mineral complexity on a palate that is still juicy and jammy, with salinity that is really only noticeable in that fresh finish. I really like it in fact – would even say it has improved in those two years (as these palominos tend to do imho).

Long live the Pitijopos and bring on Volume III!

Manzanilla de Añada 2012 – 4/11

It is amazing to think how the world has changed in only a few years. In 2012 when the Blanco brothers and Ramiro Ibañez decided to put aside 11 botas of palomino after a bumper harvest at Callejuela there were very few “añada” wines knocking around – at least of this kind – and very few vineyard specific wines too. In fact I can still remember the excitement of waiting for that first bota to be bottled.

Nowadays there are a few more añada wines, and little by little you see more mentions of vineyards on labels, to the point where this little series has to share the limelight.

But the beauty of these wines is that they are not just from a specific vintage and place: they are eleven botas from a vintage and place that emerge year by year and show perfectly what that time in the bota can do.

This, the 4th bota to be bottled, has had nearly six years of static ageing and is an absolute beauty of a manzanilla. A rich nose of haybales and a hint of old apples, a sharp saline start, raw almonds with a suggestion of fruity oxidation on the palate and then that fresh, mouth-watering finish.

An absolute gem and I wish I had more of it. Roll on number 5!

Pandorga 2014

The first vintage of a mould breaking pedro ximenez: the 2014 Pandorga by Ramiro Ibañez’s Cota 45.

No raisin juice here – this is all fruit. Pedro ximenez from Carrascal de Jerez, harvested late, given a few days of sun, then fermented and given a year in bota. The result is a wine that is sweet but sharp and fresh.

It is a honey-like amber in colour – not unlike a ripe apricot – and syrupy clear. On the nose it is apricot jam with a hint of grapefruit, then on the palate sweet and sugary, with nice acidity and then that apricot jam and grapefruit again. The finish is sweet without being sticky, fine apricot and grapefruit flavours.

A modern classic and a wine that might change the way you think about pedro ximenez.