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.

Socaire 2016

There she goes, the third vintage of Chiclana’s finest, and a wine that has in its short history acquired its own cult – socairismo. It is by Primitivo Collantes, a 100% unfortified palomino from the vines on Finca Matalian (I think), fermented and aged for more or less two years in botas that had formerly held Fino Arroyuelo. Not necessarily under flor, bot not necessarily not under flor either: there is definitely a touch of biological on the nose and the palate (although that might be accounted for by the barrel).

Whatever the process, the result is a cracking wine. A clear gold in appearance, has a nose of chalk, ripe apples, nuts and chamomile, then a zingy, tangy palate that is rich with a mineral finish. An exuberant, tasty wine (for connoisseurs, this is much closer to the explosive first vintage in 2014, with a touch less acidity and a touch more shape than the 2015).

Love to see the date proudly displayed on the label too – about time the authorities recognized and encouraged these wines. I had this when I visited Primitivo this summer with some chicharrones and a slice of the excellent local cheese. As I wrote then, the most impressive thing about Primitivo is not just the wine he makes, but the progress he has made against the tide. This wine is almost the embodiment: when he first had the idea he couldn’t convince the company, so paid for and bottled at least the 2014 himself.

Class wine from a class bloke.

Finca Matalian, Pozo Galván, and the man himself: Primitivo Collantes

Down South they sell cars with a special set of gears designed for slowly making your way out to the vineyards. You start in first before changing up to “dawdling”, then smoothly up through “chugging along “, “ambling” “moseying”, and finally “meandering”, reaching a top speed of around 15 miles per hour within fifteen minutes. It is not for the faint of heart … I am of course only kidding. The real reason for the slightly less than rapid progress is not the gearing of the horseless carriage but rather the consideration of the driver, as they navigate beaten up tracks between once great properties out to remote, rustic locations.

And therein lies the first of a number of learnings from a fantastic recent visit to the vineyards of one of my heroes. The drive out to Finca Matalian and Pozo Galvan, the vineyards of Primitivo Collantes (for it is he) takes you out through one of the lowliest neighbourhoods of Chiclana and out along a road (“el carril”) that once lead all the way to Jerez, and was once lined on both sides by famous vineyards, villas, and plantations. But not any more. Now the road has more holes than road, the vineyards are gone, the villas are no longer famous, and you are beseiged on every side by the dead heads of late season sunflowers (unless, of course, you go earlier in the season).

Where once there were 2,400 hectares of vineyards now there are only 137. Only two bodegas still harvest grapes in Chiclana itself: the cooperativo and our man Primitivo, the Asterix of Chiclana winemakers, who almost alone is resisting the sunflower invasion and now accounts for no less than 39 of the 137 hectares that are planted. (And our man Primitivo is doing more than just resist: 6 of his hectares were planted in the last half dozen years, and he is looking to see where he can plant next.)

And god bless him for resisting because his are beautiful little properties. From the top of the hill you can see over to the Bay of Cadiz but the vines are a picture too: Pozo Galvan, 19 hectares of albariza that cross a tongue of lustrillo; and Finca Matalian, a gentle downward sloping sea of albariza, palomino, moscatel, pedro ximenez and uva rey planted east to west, with a secret corner behind the canes called Isla el Topo (on the left of the third picture above, with the rest of Finca Matalian to the right).

Isla el Topo is particularly interesting, a tiny 1,5 hectare section of Finca Matalian at the bottom of the slope and protected from the levante winds by a natural barrier of cane. That protection (the origin of the name of “Socaire”, which literally means shelter from the wind) means that while the rest of the finca is planted east to west, Isla el Topo is planted north to south, bringing its vines side on to the sun. The vines get more sun and the first run of these grapes is distributed to stimulate the natural barrel fermentation of the rest.

And when I say Albariza you can see above – a cross section from a drainage ditch in Finca Matalian and a lump of the same give you an idea of what we are dealing with: the good stuff. The other picture is not in fact Pozo Galvan but is from a nearby vineyard with similar topography and shows how the lustrillo (foreground) gives way to albariza up the slope. Really striking color change and fascinating in terms of wine making possibilities.

Gets no less fascinating as you close in on the vines either. I was intrigued by the uva rey – you don’t see much of it around after all – and just look at the difference between the grapes on the vine (uva rey on the left, palomino on the right) and in my palm (confusingly the other way around). The uva rey has some coat on it I can tell you: real crunch on this grape and an acidity and pungency from the skin that lifts it apart from the palomino (and the moscatel, and the pedro ximenez). Or maybe I should say palominos: Primitivo has a few different clones, although mostly palomino de jerez, recognizable by its rough stem (also pictured – of course I didn’t picture the others …).

All of this is harvested by 32 hands (ok, 64 hands, but no machines anyway) in a single “pass” over fifteen days in September (generally the latest harvest in el marco). The grapes are sorted by hand, the wines are naturally fermented in the barrel and go on to become some favourites of this blog: the fresh and gluggable Viña Matalian, the superb, punchy, barrel aged Socaire, the searing Fino Arroyuelo en Rama and the joyous Amontillado Fossi, amongst others. (And there is more to come: the day before I pitched up Primitivo and Ramiro Ibañez had apparently been sketching out some zones of the vineyard in which they hope to produce even more expressive wines: sign me up for a box etc.)

Having seen the vineyards (and since we had forgotten to bring the picnic) we repaired to the bodega for some refreshment. Or rather one of the Bodegas: the Bodega in the “high part” of town, a regal old building home to an uncommon friendly population of bats and a lot of even friendlier looking butts of wine. Once there we headed to the “Sacristia” (above on the right, with the main man included) where we supped the uva rey and 2016 Socaire with chicharones and a cracking local cheese.

And it was at the bodega that I really began to appreciate quite how far Primitivo Collantes has come. I couldn’t believe how small the Fossi solera was: until recently only 500 bottles were filled a year. More importantly, I realized for the first time that this is a bodega with a long history (110 years in the same family) but which until recently was dedicated almost exclusively to the local, bulk market. Primitivo told me that only six years ago they only had distribution in Cadiz province, whereas now you can get their wines throughout Spain (and I frankly am disappointed at the outside world for not getting a piece of the action too).

It is fantastic news. This guy makes proper wines, wines that deserve to be enjoyed and recognized all over: in fact I think he is consistently the most underrated winemaker in el Marco de Jerez. But for me what makes it even better news is the way that it has been done. It has not been done by rediscovering lost barrels or marketing special numbered editions (although there have been a couple and they have been top class). On the contrary what has taken the bodega to the far corners of Spain and caused Primitivo to spend so much time planting is the quality of the unfortified white wines: Matalian and Socaire. Wines that have always expressed their time and place – I will never forget my first encounter with Pitijopo number 6 and the obsession with Finca Matalian that it brought about – and that nowadays have dates and places on the labels (it took a couple of years to convince the powers that be). They could not be better ambassadors for Chiclana or el Marco de Jerez, and in my view their success could not be better news for the region.

And what Primitivo has done has not been easy. I, and dare I say all the half dozen readers of this blog, are fortunate to live in a bubble in which it is obvious that terroir and vintage specific wines are the way forward. But that bubble only contains the entire world of wine outside el Marco de Jerez. I am always shocked on the few occasions that I go down there to hear of the frontal opposition to basic winemaking beliefs (shocked but not surprised, since so few of the big houses have their own vineyards) and it was disheartening to say the least to hear of the obstacles Primitivo has had to fight his way through.

Or rather it was disheartening at first but ultimately uplifting, because he fought his way through those obstacles and he is winning the argument. He is planting more hectares, making better wines, selling them all around Spain (come on the rest of the world, what are you waiting for?), and shows no sign of stopping.

I will never forget my visit to Finca Matalian and the Bodega this summer, I was inspired by what I saw there, and I would like to express my thanks and admiration for the great Primitivo Collantes. Primi, you are the man.

Viña Matalian 2017

Viña Matalian 2017, seen here just South of its natural habitat in Chiclana but not in its natural vessel.

The simplest of the wines from Primitivo Collantes‘ Finca Matalian in Chiclana de la Frontera (see this link for a not very up to date summary of the full range (it is missing Socaire for a start)), this has always been a favourite of mine for summer drinking. It is as cheap, as they say, as chips, but is fresh, unassuming and beautifully gluggable.

This vintage seems to me to have a bit more fruit and concentration, which you notice more as you get into the bottle, but even so it is far too easy to drink, even from a rental property egg cup like this one!