Night of the mayetos in Sagrario Tradicion

They say better late than never so here is a long overdue write up of a cracking night – all of three months ago during sherry week – when we celebrated one of my favourite projects in one of my favourite places.

The project in question is the “Mayeteria Sanluqueña”: José Manuel “Manu” Harana, Rafael Rodriguez, Antonio Bernal and Daniel Rodriguez, four “mayetos” that make up one of the most intriguing stories in el marco de Jerez.

“Mayeto” is the traditional term in Sanlucar for a small scale grower – of anything really (if you haven’t tried the potatoes from a navazo you haven’t tried real potatoes) – but particularly vitis vinifera. Historically these small producers have played a big role in the wines of Jerez: mayetos have been responsible for a large proportion of production, although at least in recent years their numbers and production have fallen, and have tended to be limited to supplying the cooperatives and larger bodegas.

But now with the inspiration and help of the great viticultor and winemaker Ramiro Ibañez the mayetos of the Mayetería Sanluqueña have started once again to make their own wines. They are unfortified wines from palomino fino sold under the brand “Corta y Raspa” from vineyards in some of the most emblematic and famous “pagos” of Jerez and Sanlúcar: Añina, Atalaya, Charruado, Maína and Miraflores. They make them from their best, oldest vines, with a production of less than 7,000 kg per hectare (a condition of being part of the project, in a region where it is not unusual for yields to be more than 11,000 kg/ha) and using artisanal, traditional winemaking techniques.

And the result is a series of wines that are fresh, drinkable, but which express the characteristics of the vines and vineyards like no other. We are talking honest wines with minimal intervention that let you clearly feel the influence of the altitude, location, climate and type of the famous albarizas.

The only pity is how hard it is to find and enjoy them – here in Madrid or anywhere else for that matter. (Although you can get them from the Cuatrogatos Wine Club). So when I was asked by my good friends at Sagrario Tradicion – a fantastic new restaurant here in the neighbourhood – what they could do for sherry week it didn’t take me long to further my agenda of bringing these wines within reach.

Were it not for the awful year that 2020 has been we would have had the mayetos come and present their wines to a packed house. That was not to be – but we were able to get hold of the few bottles that remained so that Nico and his crew at Sagrario could pair them up with their quality cooking. Specifically we were able to get the Atalaya 2018, “La Charanga” (Maina) 2018 and “La Charanga” (Maina) 2017.

They are wines that come from vines a small distance apart – just 2,8km – but despite being neighbours, the difference in the albarizas, together with the degrees of humidity and freshness in the vines, result in a vegetation of the vine, thickness of the skin of the fruit, concentration, and other possible parameters that give identity and character that make the vineyard recognizable in the wineglass.

In the words of the mayetos themselves:

Atalaya is a pago near Sanlúcar, with “lentejuela” or “antehojuela” albarizas, with a high chalk content, but a looser, less compact structure, allowing an easier development of the roots and vegetation of the top side. It is at about 55 metres above sea level (above the magic 45 metres celebrated in “Cota 45”) and is closer to the sea, with the effects of the fresh, humid winds of the poniente (from the sea). The wine is dry, sapid, saline, and structured without losing freshness and acidity.

Maina is a pago (slightly) further inland, but with more influence from the river and the winds of the “levante”. The poniente winds are weakened by the pago Hornillos (Callejuela), Martin Miguel, and Atalaya that bear their brunt. The altitude is higher, at between 65 and 75 metres. The albariza here is barajuela, the toughest. It is very rich in calcium and structured in layers, making the development of the roots difficult and leading to lesser top vegetation. The wines are very direct, dry and potent, the most sapid of them all. It is the pago richest in content of “diatomeas” (fossils of microscopic organisms) in the marco de Jerez, giving the wine great impact on the palate.

On the other hand, in the case of La Charanga we were able to try the different qualities of two different vintages: the 2017, with a very warm summer which obliged the growers to bring forward the harvest, and the 2018, a year with abundant rain and a very cool summer which obliged them, on the contrary, to delay the harvest to September for the first time in many years.

A tantalising prospect and it turned out to be an absolutely great week by all accounts. I am not sure how many people pitched up – although Sagrario is always busy anyway – but if everyone who sent me a message did then they must have been standing in the aisles. It was fair packed when a group of like minded souls and I rocked up and availed ourselves of the opportunity before the curfew, and neither Sagrario nor the wines disappointed.

From the first I had thought of the two as a perfect match – in Sagrario they like their natural, terroir driven wines for a start, with Nico having been the man behind more than one in his time – but the obsession with tradition and nature isn’t only a wine thing. I will never forget Nico telling me all about where the frogs that generously donated their legs to the cause of his pisto were from and why. But just in general it is a place for simple but imaginative and always nicely carried out preparations of top quality produce and the menu they came up for with the mayetos was no exception.

And the wines, well they were three little beauties – only 2.8km and 12 months in it but three lovely wines that were as different as you could ask for. A perfect demonstration of the potential of the terroir of Sanlucar and Jerez and one of the best wine experiences for a long time.

Palma cortada la Barajuela 2017

One of the new crop of wines from the Barajuela project and another stunning chip off the wonderful block called el Corregidor.

I say a new crop of wines because we are not just talking about a new vintage (although it is a vintage wine – a 2017), we are talking about a new beastie altogether: no fino, or oloroso, but a “palma cortada” (and the other wines released in this batch are the “cortado” and the only slightly more familiar “raya”). What can the reason for this spiffy new moniker be? Well I have purposefully not done any research or asked the man himself (he said as if anyone expected this blog to have actually researched anything) but my guess would be that this “palma cortada” was a wine that was selected for “palma” status (for your reference, the Barajuela Finos used to indicate “una palma” on the back label) but went only slightly off the beaten path and had to be “cortada” (cut off at the knees) before reaching the promised land.

I may be wrong – it may be deliberate – but in any event it is a return to the ancient traditional nomenclature for the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar, a time before industrialization when the mighty white wines of Southern Spain had a fair claim to be considered the world’s best.

It could be considered surprising that in only the fifth vintage of this project what is clearly the “finer” wine with the white label has been rebaptized, contrary to all the norms of brand building and confounding future verticals, but frankly I find that more reassuring than anything. It may be possible to make an unfortified, single vintage fino every year, but the fact that this has been labelled more precisely tells you that the standards being reached for here are genuinely stratospheric, and the transparency involved is, well, a breath of fresh air. And the fact is that in those five vintages we have had only three finos and one oloroso: it is time to recognize that the fruit and the wine do not always conform to such narrow classifications.

And so we step back in time 150 years or so (or more, I have no idea really) and we enjoy our palma cortada. And enjoy is the operative word, because this may not have the word fino on the bottle, but it does have the word “Barajuela”. And even if it didn’t there would be no mistaking its origins or majesty: the flavours are utterly characteristic of the project and vineyard.

It is a beautiful white wine, lovely clarity and old gold colours on the eye, and high register white fruits, concentrated honey-suckle, dried flowers and herbs on the nose (seems sacrilegious to say it but there is chamomile in there). It really looks and smells of ambrosia.

Then you sip it (in whatever quantity you consider a “sip”) and, wow, the acidity and sensation of the wine, that incredibly deep, low to high flavour and tingling, mouth watering finish. The middle of it reminds me of the mellow roasted apples of a really good blanc de blancs with plenty of years of rima and bottle, a touch of oxidation, and the front end also reminds me of champagne with that acidity, but there is a greater umami and herbal depth in the middle part of the palate and the finale is so long, so zingy, it really is sensational.

So don’t be put off by the nomenclature. This is punky by comparison to the quite exceptional 2016 fino but still a superb wine on any register.

Manzanilla de añada 2012 – 4 and 5 of 11 – in Sagrario Tradición

Special wines these two – wines from the 4th and 5th botas of a series of 11 that together make up a unique and historic project.

After a bumper harvest in 2012 the guys at Callejuela out aside 11 botas and every year since 2015 have been releasing wines from selected botas. As a project it has everything – it allows you to understand the effect of flor, oxidation, bottle time – and it proved to be the first of many by the enterprising guys at Callejuela. And although the wines are from a single añada they show off the fine, expressive character of an añada wine.

This is not the first time I have tried four or five (we are now on six) but the year or two in the bottle have served them well and if anything the differences seem even clearer. Four is a freshly sharpened manzanilla – dry, punchy and all that chamomile, and while five is still zingy and punchy it has just a touch of roasted apple and, by comparison, is a richer wine.

Lovely stuff and I just can’t wait for six and seven.

Añina 2016 in Taberna Palo Cortado

In sherry terms Madrid is one of the places to be, if not the place to be, with restaurants and winebars with incredible lists of sherries seemingly in every neighbourhood. But the final destination for the discerning drinker in want of some of the really good stuff, and in particular the really hard to get stuff, is Taberna Palo Cortado.

In Taberna Palo Cortado there is a wine list of over 300 sherries (and other traditional Andalucian wines), all available by the glass. A list exceeding my over exercised imagination. But even that list is not the end of the story. If you dig a little deeper you will soon find yourself being offered wines off the menu that are even more special.

One such is this Anina 2016 by the great Willy Perez. It is of course 100% palomino fino, from old vines on a vineyard called “El Caribe” in the historic pago de Añina in Jerez. It ticks two of my boxes: terroir and (as its name suggests) vintage, putting it right up my street, and it is another example of this new style of concentrated, unfortified white wines that Willy is quickly becoming associated with.

All the hallmarks are there – it is ripe and honeylike on the nose, loads of fruit and only the faintest hint of a distant haybale, has good acidity and weight on the palate and again a lovely mouthful of fruit flavours. Maybe a hint of oxidation up front – certainly not much suggestion of anything biological – but nice mineral and herbal notes in amongst it all. Not quite as saline or savoury as its cousins from Carrascal de Jerez, but excellent, no question.

The only problems with this wine are (a) the small size of the bottle and (b) the small number of them. Not that that stops Taberna Palo Cortado!

Sherry Week 2020 – in Madrid and worldwide

Sherry Week 2020 is upon us and, while understandably restrained this year, it is still a great excuse/opportunity to try a glass of one of the world’s great wines. If you’d like to find an event – whether a tapas and sherry offer or a full blown tasting menu – there is a cracking searchable map on the Sherry Wines Website.

In Madrid as always we are well looked after. In Madrid every week is Sherry Week – whether in its Sherry Temples, Palo Cortado, Surtopia, Corral de Moreria or A’Barra, or its wine temples, lead by Angelita Madrid and la Fisna, or the restaurants and taverns with outstanding lists of sherries like Zalamero, Taberna Verdejo, la Canibal, Lakasa, la Taberna de Pedro, La Malaje, Media Ración, Kulto, Triciclo, la Antoja, the “new” Venencia … there are many and I am bound to forget some for which I apologize in advance (luckily I can edit this post later).

But this week there are 29 different locations listed in Madrid, including in the aforementioned Canibal, Pazo de Lugo, Kulto, Distinto, la Antoja, and many others – the full list is on the website – but at the risk of upsetting some very good friends, one event stands out to me: “La Mayeteria Sanluqueña in Sagrario Tradicion”.

La Mayeteria Sanluqueña is one of the greatest things in the new landscape of Jerez (in this case Sanlucar) and the event – a menu paired with wines from two of the mayetos from two pagos that are close by but express different stories, and two vintages – 2017 and 2018 – that express very different times. In fact I should declare an involvement here – Nico asked me for a suggestion of how to take part in sherry week and that was all the excuse I needed to further my agenda on all fronts. I love the traditional wines of Andalucia in all their forms, but palomino, vintage and terroir are my bag in a big way, and if you throw in artisans and tradition, and if the wine is as good as these are …

So get down to your local sherry event, and if you can find them, check out the mayeteria!

UBE Carrascal 2015 – in Taberna Palo Cortado

This was the original UBE and still my favourite overall. From Carrascal de Sanlucar, the freshest and most vertical of the great pagos in el marco, but from old vines and a low yielding vineyard that produces wines of relative potency and concentration.

It is of course 100% palomino (although with Ramiro other options are available), from three different clones – palomino fino, palomino de jerez and palomino pelusón (which intriguingly translates as big hairy palomino). It is fermented in bota and then spends another 20 months there, without flor, after which this one has been another three and a half years in the bottle.

That period in the bottle has really brought it on – as I so often find with palomino white wines – and the result is a highly enjoyable, fresh but flavourful white wine.

As you can see, it has taken on a very attractive old gold colour, clearly darker in shade than I remember it, and it has a very distinctive nose, chalky interlaced with lemon but with a hint of stewy herbs in the background. In fact those herbs come through more and more as the wine opens up. Really interesting balance of mineral, fruit and savoury. Then on the palate more of the same, the effect of the chalk, the fresh start and a nice, generous mouthful of citrus and herbal fruit before slipping away in a long fresh finish.

Plenty to enjoy here, a really excellent wine, and that savoury character makes it a great wine for one of the cheeky lunches I have missed so much …

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.

Agostado 2016

The artistry formerly known as Encrucijado.

A clash in trading names means a change of moniker for this historic wine and it is a real shame. Historic because it is made using varieties that had long fallen out of favour, and because it was one of the first “new wines” from el marco. It was certainly the first that I tried, what seems a long time ago now in September 2015. That was the 2012 – the MMXII – and this is the 2016.

Over the years the wine has wound its neck in a bit. Back then there were five or six varieties involved, as the idea was to try and replicate the almost random selection of the pre-phylloxeric vineyards. But it was never meant to be an experiment, it was meant to be a wine, and as a wine it has grown and grown in stature even as the varieties dwindled. Now it has just three varieties: palomino fino, uva rey and perruno. (Still two more than your average blanco de albariza.)

From the start it was a lovely wine, but it just seems to get better and this strikes me as good as any that I have tried. It has that bit of extra girth of flavour, more buttery, more melon, but this one also has a lovely elegant profile and fresh finish. And from memory it seems to have improved a lot with a year in the bottle too.

One worth hunting out and savouring – the history of the wines and varieties of Jerez, and a lovely wine while you are at it.

Navazos Niepoort 2018 in Coalla Madrid

Aperitivo o’clock in a bustling Coalla Madrid and nothing better to wash down your berberechos than a glug or two of this white wine from pago Macharnudo.

One of the first unfortified white wines from Jerez – the first vintage was back in 2008 – this project by Equipo Navazos with one of the story of Jerez’s unsung heroes, Dirk Niepoort aims at recreating the wines of Jerez in centuries past. From 100% palomino fino from the famous albariza of macharnudo, fermented in bota and no fortification, with only a few months of spontaneous flor.

It is delicious stuff – fresh, saline and aromatic, with a suggestion of white fruit and a touch of the old esparto grass. Fruit, mineral, herb in a lovely balance, and very elegant. The berberechos were also top class it must be said and a better pairing I cannot think of.

Marvellous – with wines like this by the glass no wonder Don Ramon is enjoying Madrid!

Vendimia 2017 de Faustino Gonzalez

So here is a new addition to the growing variety of “blanco de albariza” on offer from the small producer behind the Cruz Vieja fino and others.

These guys have some serious real estate – the fino shares its roots with some of the great wines of Jerez’s past, so I was interested to try this in Taberna Verdejo recently.

As you can see, it is a beautiful old gold colour, crystal clear (apologies for the condensation), then a nose and palate of beefy herbs and grapey fruit. On the palate there is that tingle of salinity up front, those flavours and then a finish that is part jammy, part mineral and part fresh.

A cracking tipple – albariza in glass.