The Wines of Alba Viticultores in Wine Attack Madrid

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I finally finish writing up my notes of a really fun tasting at the end of June. It was a really good laugh for a number of reasons, but at least in part because these wines seem to have fun embedded in their DNA. Seven bottles in total, four bubbles (two ancestral and two brut, of which one was rosé) and three dry white wines.

First up was the Ancestral Alegrías del Carrascal 2015 – 11,5%, 100% from 50 year old palomino fino vines from the Alegrías vineyard on pago Carrascal (de Sanlúcar).  2015 was a very hot year and the wine was fermented in 1000l stainless steel tanks for 14 days before being bottled at the end of September. No added ingredients here and while we had tasted one with 7 months on the rack last year this one had a further 12 months before disgorging. A curious combination of the most vertical and atlantic of the Sanlúcar pagos in one of the warmest recent years, it was fresh and very amenable, the slight residual sugar making it very appetising, with nice tight bubbles, appley sweetness and fresh grass, a touch of salinity and a slightly bitter finish.

Second came the Ancestral Confitero 2015 – 11,9% vol – from 35 year old vines on the El Confitero vineyard on pago Miraflores (just inland of Carrascal), very near to the legendary “Armijo” of Gaspar Florido. Again ancestral method with only 3 gr/Hl of so2 before pressing and no additives. This one was fermented in plastic containers for 12 days before bottling then spent 17 months on the rack was disgorged by hand and refilled with the same wine. Pretty decent bubbles these – a bit broader in the shoulders flavourwise but didn’t hold together quite as well. A bit more serious, more wine/vine/root-like, not quite as much residual sugar and less of a defined shape.

After the ancestral wines we turned to the methode champenoise wines, starting with the Brut Nature 2014. This comes from palomino fino from different Sanlúcar pagos, is fermented in stainless steel at controlled temperatures, then aged in deposit, initially with a little flor for around 5 months. Then it is put in 16 litre demijons for six months where flor again develops. Then it is bottled and has spent 25 months on the rack. Once again, only 4gr/Hl of so2 before pressing.  The result is a quality bottle of bubbles – tighter, sharper bubbles – with a bit more bite and crispness. Has those same apple and herb aromas and flavours and a compact, elegant profile. Really top class and probably my favourite wine on the day.

That was followed by the Brut Nature Rosado 2014, pink bubbles made from 93% palomino fino and 7% tintilla de rota, all grown on vineyards in Sanlúcar. Fermented in stainless steel and bottled in June 2015, with 25 months on the rack. 3 gr/Hl of so2 added before pressing and then no other additives, disgorged by hand and refilled with the same wine. Again a quality bottle of sparkling wine and full flavoured, with quite brash red fruit flavours and a bit of the heavy metal effect you get from cavas with a lot longer on the rack. Again bags of potential here.

The first of the still wines was the Alba sobre tabla 2014 (Bota 2). 100% palomino fino from different vineyards in Sanlúcar, a white wine fermented in stainless steel and aged there until January 2015, when it was put in a manzanilla butt. For the 2014 vintage there were three butts of Sobre Tabla: Butt III was bottled in August 2015, Butt I was bottled in March 2016 (and was part of last year’s tasting) and Butt II was bottled earlier in 2017. None of the three butts developed flor except this Butt II which saw some develop in the last few months. The wine was excellent and there was general agreement that of the wines tasted it was the wine with most fruit and, at the same time, oxidated “sherry” character. Has a nice tingle of salinity/acidity and ripe apples on the nose and palate and a slightly tingling, mineral finish.

That was followed by Alba Flor 2014, essentially the same wine but whereas the Sobre Tabla was in a butt that was filled to the top this one was placed into a three quarter full butt for four months under flor.  I must admit I found it hard to spot the difference between this and the previous wine. Slightly finer maybe? By a hair’s breadth if anything. Then again it was my sixth wine of a very enjoyable lunch. Still a very fragrant, tasty white wine by any measure.

The final wine was La Charanga 2014, from the eponymous vineyard in pago Mahina. This wine is from the oldest and best palomino fino vines tended by legendary mayeto “el Bolli”, on a vineyard that faces West to the breezes from Doñana. The wine was fermented in an oloroso butt and was aged for a year in a manzanilla butt. I had placed this wine last in the order on the basis of it’s being from the beefiest of the Sanlúcar pagos and a memory of it having a fair structure to it but on the day it came across as lighter and more floral than I expected. Nice slightly sweet floral/herb flavours and a long elegant finish.

Seven quality, imaginative and well made wines, a lot of fun and yet again a demonstration of the value of what can be achieved by working the vintage and the vineyard.

 

 

 

El Muelle de Olaso 2016

A dry white palomino wine from the Corregidor vineyard on Pago Carrascal.

Corregidor is the source of the two most exciting wines from Jerez at the moment – the Barajuela Fino and Oloroso – and this wine is the little brother of those two giants. It is made 80% from grapes collected/discarded while “clearing” the vines in the months prior to harvest and 20% from the mosto used for the Barajuela itself. And even better, there is a lot more of it: whereas the Fino and Oloroso are about as common as singing unicorns there are no fewer than 10,000 bottles of this. It is fermented in Bota de Jerez and then spends six months in stainless steel.

Curiously, despite coming from prime Jerez real estate the name of the wine is a reference to a landmark not of Jerez but of Sanlucar: el Muelle de Olaso, or Olaso dock. A pier built from concrete between 1911-22 on Bajo de Guia and used for many years by the shipping lines before being demolished in 2005. A symbol of Sanlucar’s past importance in exports for the region.

I have only had this in convivial occasions and it contributed significantly to each – a really fun wine. What strikes me is the relatively sparky acidity and the richness of the fruit on the palate. It is quite a lively lemon yellow color and has a really nice nose with almost tropical fruit like pineapple, then it is a big juicy mouthful but still fresh thanks to that sparkiness up front and a faintly mineral finish.

Very drinkable indeed – in fact maybe even better than that because this is a serious wine, and while I don’t often talk about prices on this blog this is cheap as chips – less than a tenner. No excuse for not getting stuck into this this summer people.

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. 

Manzanilla de Añada 2012, 3/11 

Another day, another vintage wine from el Marco. If only it were so. In fact the wines from el Marco that are differentiated by vintage tend to be the exception and this, in particular, is absolutely exceptional.

I have written about this project often – here is a bit of a compilation – and have been looking to this third bota keenly. The difference between botas one and two was marked – the additional year of flor turning a wine that was still fresh and fruity into something noticeably sharper – and while not as dramatic, the step up here is also noticeable.

Unless it is my imagination (or the light, or my eyes, or the warmup drinks) but the colour seems to have lost the touch of green that the first bota had and the gold has become just a touch older. Then on the nose it has definitely gained some sea air – a saltier presence there, which is backed up on the palate, where it has gained volume and backbone from the salinity.

Most importantly though it still has that lushness of fruit – has maybe retained a little bit of glycerol and the flavours are towards old golden delicious apples (the ones that have lost their green and turned yellow). The flavour has also gained something in intensity.

I appreciate that not many people get the chance to try this and it is a real pity – it is fascinating to see the difference that each year in bota makes (granted that the botas will evolve slightly differently). I only hope my notes give an idea of the process. In any event, three down now, only eight to go (to the vertical in 2025).

 

 

The Wines of Alba Viticultores Revisited 

A fantastic lunchtime tasting yesterday with a few good friends at Wine Attack. The subjects were the wines of Alba Viticultores and to an extent the occasion was a return to a similar tasting a year or so ago.

There were of course differences. That first tasting was the first time I and my colleagues really got to grips with these wines, and there was a sense of freshness and discovery that it would be impossible to repeat. But there were also similarities: some of the wines we tasted yesterday were in fact the same wines with more time in rima, and others were only subtly different to the wines we had tasted before.

There was also a return to one of the big topics of conversation around the wines of Alba Viticultores: their price. These tend to be, by the standards of the sherry region, relatively expensive (roughly €15-€40). However, it strikes me as curious what a big issue this seems to be for those who have been involved in the two tastings (particularly since I paid for the wines on both occasions). First, they are hand made, largely natural, small production wines. Second, if the wines sell then I am not going to argue with the prices (and they certainly seem to, – it is certainly not easy to get them). In fact, to me it is almost preferable that the wines are scarce and that the bubbles have similar price points to grower producer champagnes, for example.

More importantly, the tasting was a confirmation of the quality of the wines. The seven wines were generally excellent, a couple of them were really excellent, they prove that with the right care you can indeed make sparkling and unfortified white – and even rosé – wines with palomino, and all down the list there was a demonstration of palomino fino’s ability to express terroir and vintage.

And it was also a lot of fun. The food and snacks laid on by Antonio, Carlos and the team at Wine Attack were first class, the surroundings could not have been more congenial – sitting around a big kitchen table in the back room – and there was even more laughter than wine. Despite the detailed discussion of Manchester music and dancing greats down the ages I even managed to take a few notes, which I will write up shortly, but for the time being, many thanks to everyone for coming along and my compliments once again to Alba Viticultores for some cracking stuff.

 

Las viñas de Callejuela 

Lunch with new friends couldn’t have started better. “What kind of wine do you like?” I ask, and “Something different, terroir-driven and expressive” comes back the reply. Bingo, as they say. 

And it was a nice day for it too, because the lads at Territorio Era had just taken delivery of three wines with exactly those characteristics: the new vineyard specific wines from Callejuela. Three examples of 100% palomino fino from three different vineyards, located on three different pagos. 

Specifically, the wines in question are:

  • Hacienda de Doña Francisca, a vineyard at an altitude of 62m on pago Callejuela (Sanlucar) – which must be one of the higher altitude Sanlucar vineyards, located to the North East of the town in an area influenced by the river;
  • Las Mercedes, a vineyard at 83m on Pago Añina (Jerez), one of the more Atlantic-influenced Jerez pagos;  and 
  • La Choza, a vineyard at 74m on the famous inland pago Macharnudo (Jerez). 

Just as they did the first time I tried them back in February, the three wines really did express their roots. The Callejuela wine, despite being a more river influenced pago and its altitude, was vertical and fresh, the Añina wine had more structure and body, and the Macharnudo had a really full flavoured profile. They are also very good in their own right. Young wines, but finer and more refined than a mere mosto and with nice acidity and salinity, which gives them a nice shape in general.

I also have to say that for a project aimed at educating in relation to terroir, the packaging is perfect: the labels are modern and informative, with the name of the vineyard, a profile of the slope (is it the actual profile? Seems steep), the altitude and even a photo of the vineyard. 

Good things come in threes indeed. Worth trying and I would recommend these to anyone wanting to learn about the wines of the region. 

UBE Miraflores 2016

UBE (de Uberrima) is the white wine brand of Ramiro Ibañez’s Cota 45 and he now boasts not one but two wines, shortly to be three.

The first wine is now known as the Carrascal – after the pago in Sanlucar from whence it comes. It is wine from a specific vineyard of old vines and three kinds of palomino. This second wine is from neighbouring Miraflores, like Carrascal an atlantic pago (and probably the most famous of the Sanlucar pagos) and specifically from a combination of five selected vines in Miraflores Alto and Miraflores Bajo. (The third wine, due to be released in September, and is from palomino grown on Pago Mahina, a river influence pago with a huge concentration of diatoms.)

What they have in common, and this is no surprise coming from the creator of the Pitijopos and the manzanilla de añada, amongst others, is their focus on expressing vintage and terroir. Unfortunately they also have in common the fact that production is tiny: 1,000 bottles of each of the Carrascal and Mahina, 3,000 of this Miraflores.

The wine itself starts off as austere with minerals and then grows with herbal, vegetable characteristics. As you can see it is a pale, slightly greenish straw in colour. The nose is austere and mineral first with some savoury stewy herbs in the background like a kitchen far away. On the palate it is fine in texture, nice acidity first up and after that fresh start rather than fruit there is a herbal, almost meaty (in flavour) sapidity to it, fading to a fine finish with lots of minerals.

By comparison to the Carrascal 2015 (a different vintage and pago and a year longer in the barrel) it maybe has a touch less mineral edge, but even so it is a serious, mineral wine and no shortage of flavour.