This summer I had one of the top pairings of this cracking pedro ximenez by Cota 45 – with a roasted and caramelized peach in Bagá, Jaen. It was sensational, with the apricot flavours and sweetness of the pedro ximenez combining and contrasting superbly with the similar but higher register sweetness of the peach.
But this one above wasn’t far behind either – a completely different pairing, with a creamy, salty roquefort balancing the acidity and sweetness of the wine, and the two sharing a wonderfully rich texture. You don’t want crackers here – a nice soft white bread, good butter and a do not disturb sign.
Unquestionably the wine of a pretty good summer. In fact Mrs Undertheflor even asked me earlier this evening, knowing we had bagged a few unicorns over the course of the vacations, and it was gratifying that there was at least some interest in my opinion on this occasion so I thought I might share it more widely.
You see I knew Socaire Oxidativo 2015 was excellent but last week I had one of those rare opportunities to explore the wine from every angle – and it was one of those even rarer moments when a wine thus explored got better the more I explored.
I was fortunate enough to be in Chiclana for my holidays – beautiful beaches and climate, some really top class restaurants -, even more fortunate in that Primitivo Collantes himself was kind enough to show myself and some good friends around his vineyards and bodega, and even even more fortunate that he was generous enough to let us taste the oxidativos from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015 (and of course the other Socaire, the Arroyuelo en Rama and the Fossi, not to mention the new sensation, “Tivo”).
Now Primitivo Collantes SA is one of the few bodegas I have actually visited, and probably a principal cause of my recommendation to anyone really interested in a wine to go and visit the makers. It is a special organization lead by a special individual. It is the only bodega in Chiclana – aside from the coop – to grow and harvest grapes in Chiclana and make its own wine, and the last survivor of a once very proud tradition in these parts. And it plays its part in that tradition too, withe some venerable wines and styles: Arroyuelo is a great fino, Fossi a superb amontillado.
But its great wines, for me, are those that go by name of Socaire. The first Socaire was revolutionary in its day – a barrel fermented, bota aged unfortified palomino from the sheer white soils of Finca Matalian that blazed with zest and expression in its first vintage, and subsequently has shown with power, complexity, elegance and every combination thereof year after year. Really one of the great modern wines from the region.
And now this. The difference between the two is one of age – this is what happens when Socaire gets more than two years of bota age, and starts to show its fondness for the oxygen that surrounds us.
And what a transformation that time brings. The 2019 was a refined mosto – fuzzy and rampant, for all that it had nearly 11 months in the bota. The 2018 was finer, a real wine now, but still spiky and up for it. 2017 was finer and more elegant, losing those spikes and almost holding itself in. And then 2016 had grown again: aromatic, full of flavour and character, a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. In terms of barrel tasting (well, not really, 2016 was going into the bottle already) it was as good as I have experienced – a real anatomy of the creation of a wine. And then of course we tasted it next to the 2015, with its year in the bottle and its polish.
It was an outstanding introduction to the wine, and was soon followed by the horizontal dimension, as we tasted it next to the other wines from the same exceptional vineyard (Finca Matalian, now you ask), including the upstart “Tivo” from the traditional Chiclana Uva Rey. If the vertical gave us an anatomy of a wine in the making the horizontal gave us its geography – it was like looking at old family portraits of a dear friend and spotting all the familiar features of sisters and brothers.
And those features are the features of an outstanding white wine. Lower in register than some of those appearing further North, this is mountain flowers and sweet herbs on the nose, aromatic and rich, then a lovely elegant profile delivering those same flavours on a steely frame of salinity, which leaves your mouth watering as you finish.
An outstanding wine from an excellent producer, a beautiful place and thoroughly good family. My wine of the summer 2020 is Socaire Oxidativo!
One of the fine wines of an exciting new era. Chateau Matalian Grand Cru, a lovely white-fruit flavoured white wine
And when I say flavour I really mean it because when you become accustomed to the range of flavours in these white wines from Andalucia you miss half of the graph when you step outside the bubble. Not just the salinity but stewy, vegetable and herb flavours.
This, as you can see, is the 2017 – these latest vintages have the year on the label as our man Primitivo chips away at the wall of resistance that is the Consejo Regulador with two powerful arguments: quality and sales.
This wine is an argument in itself. Not as ferocious as the first vintage I tried and maybe not as spicey as last year’s, this is ripe and elegant and frankly excellent. In fact to me this wine shows just how the Socaire wines have matured: no longer a curiosity or an experiment in a sherry barrel, but a high quality white wine in its own right.
I love it and I strongly recommend that you find some, buy it and enjoy it, or if you prefer, keep it a few years – it will almost certainly improve (for some reason the bottles in my cellar keep disappearing).
A little while ago a colleague mentioned that he was keen to learn a little bit more about the wines of Jerez and wondered if I could recommend anything. As it happens, I could indeed, and thanks to the good offices of Federico Ferrer and his association of wine loving felines just days later my colleague had been furnished with the first edition of the Undertheflor/Cuatrogatos Wine Club Didactic Selection (trademark pending).
I say the first because since then some further colleagues have joined in and at one stage there were even hopes that we would get ourselves organized for an online tasting. Unfortunately it was not to be – irreconcilable agendas and differing levels of self control tore up any such plans, and instead the guys asked me where they could read about the wines instead.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where you can read about them. The boxed set includes seven wines whose characteristics and stories show off all that is best about the wines of the region and what is going on down there: La Charanga, La Choza, La Maruja, Camborio, Blanquito, Origen and El Cerro. But unfortunately far too little is written about these wines – there certainly aren’t many books that will explain them to you in anything like adequate detail, so I thought I would give it a go.
If I were a recipient of one of these boxes I have no doubt where I would start: La Charanga, by Corta y Raspa (the brandname of the Mayeteria Sanluqueña) and La Choza, by Bodegas Callejuela. These two are white wines from the named palomino vineyards – la Charanga in Pago Maina in Sanlucar and La Choza from the famous Pago Macharnudo in Jerez.
The idea here is to appreciate how expressive palomino can be when treated well, by no means the neutral vessel you may have been made to believe. I would recommend having these open a while and observing how they grow in aroma and flavor as the minutes tick by – they may even be better the day after if you can exercise more self control than I am.
Beautiful colour – a touch more copper in La Charanga – and aromatic on the nose, with that white fruit and chamomile – a touch sweeter in La Choza – they are truly appetizing. Then on the palate there is that salinity and savoury, peppery range – perhaps the defining feature of albariza wines.
And of course the reason for opening them both at once is to get an appreciation of the second dimension of what these wines are expressing: the “terroir”, or neighborhood where they come from. In this respect these wines are lineal descendants of one of the most important projects in winemaking in recent years – the Pitijopos, two sets of mostos from selected vineyards across the sherry region which made the argument for terroir in the most persuasive way possible.
Here we have a wine from Maina in Sanlucar, known for producing sapid, aromatic and “horizontal” profiled wines. In fact if my only goal had been terroir I could arguably have chosen a wine that is more characteristic of Sanlucar – your more famous Miraflores and its freshness and “verticality” but personally I love the expressive, aromatic nature of the wines from Maina, where the albariza soils are rich in diatoms and mineral variety.
On the other hand I couldn’t have chosen a more characteristic pago to represent Jerez. Macharnudo is unarguably the most well known of all the pagos, made famous by the legendary wines of Domecq, a flame that is kept alive by Valdespino and its famous single vintage fino, Inocente. Here you have a very high calcium content in the famous albariza and it gives you wines with a lot more structure – a really boxy, mineral wine that is so punchy and pungent. La Choza is, frankly, a bit of a beast.
But another reason for this choice of wines is their fourth dimension – aside from the vintage, variety and terroir one of the things that makes these wines special are the people that are behind them (and the people behind the people behind them). La Choza is by Antonio Bernal Ortega, a fourth generation mayeto and member of the “Mayeteria Sanluqueña”.
Mayeto is the traditional name given to a small scale grower in the Jerez region, and typically these guys tend a vineyard but do not make wine – they sell their harvest to the cooperative or the big bodegas around the region. But the Mayeteria Sanluqueña do not: under a shared brand “Corta y Raspa”, these guys (there are at least four of them that I know of) are instead keeping part of their harvest and making their own wines. It is a fantastic project and a chance to pick up artisan wines from different vineyards across Sanlucar and Jerez that are nicely made and cheap as chips – this La Charanga is, in particular, a beauty, but it would be even better to get a few of them together and go on a voyage.
La Choza, too, is the creation of mayetos, but on a much bigger scale. It is from Bodegas Callejuela which is run by the Blanco brothers, who I can tell you are a couple of big old lads and good ones too. You could not meet a friendlier, more congenial pair of blokes, and in recent years they have created one of the most interesting bodegas anywhere in Spain, producing a range of imaginative wines and some really ground breaking projects. This la Choza was one such – a few years ago now they started releasing single vineyard white wines and since then they have developed the project, also making single vineyard manzanillas – which really adds up to an unbeatable opportunity to observe the effect of fortification and biological ageing on a wine. They may be big, friendly blokes but the fellas know what they are doing alright.
And the people behind the people? One of the most important names in the recent history not just of Jerez and Sanlucar but in winemaking in Spain, and probably the most important single figure in the rebirth of this historic winemaking region: Ramiro Ibañez. He was the author of the Pitijopos, is the unifying, guiding force behind the Mayeteria Sanluqueña, and has also played an outsize role in helping the Blanco brothers develop their fantastic projects. He is by no means the only hero, but no one has done more, and at least in part these first two wines are a tribute to him.
But more importantly an excellent place to start to explore the wines of La Mayeteria, Bodegas Callejuela, and el Marco de Jerez …
In current circumstances if you are after a hat trick you could do worse than come to undertheflor.com – a fella is fair punishing the bottlebank lately. And never in a better cause than here, with these three single vineyard (Callejuela, Añina and Macharnudo, respectively) and single vintage manzanillas by two of the bright lights of the “Cherrirevolooshun”: the Blanco Brothers of Viña Callejuela.
And I don’t say that lightly – the half dozen occasional readers of this blog may have observed seen the name Callejuela associated with the very first single vintage manzanilla that hoved into view, the now legendary 2012. That one was from the Callejuela vineyard itself but a seed was planted. It was followed by the manzanilla en rama from the same vineyard – a bigger boned cracker – and then by the single vineyard wines from Callejuela, Añina and Macharnudo – also three little beauties.
But these are probably the best of the lot so far. Zippy manzanillas – and there is no doubting their profile wherever the grapes come from – with the added elegance of single vintage wines and just enough fruit still in them to lift them above your standard manzanilla profile.
They were harvested in 2015 and bottled in May, 2019, which would put them in the ballpark of Volume II of the 2012 manzanilla in terms of development in bota, but in addition they have the added dimension of the different vineyards.
Because they couldn’t be more different. Since I have been working on these three bottles I have changed my mind half a dozen times as to which is my favourite – although almost certainly between the Callejuela and the Añina.
Callejuela is Sanlúcar of course and is stylistically the most familiar manzanilla – but this version is just about as good as it gets -zingy, concentrated chamomile. Añina is a Jerez pago, but one of the favoured pagos of the manzanilla men, and while it doesn’t seem as compact as the Callejuela it is more floral and has that little bit of hazelnut deliciousness. The Macharnudo was my favourite of the white wines and there is no doubt it has a bit of beast about it, with a really piercing aroma and zingy back end – but maybe doesn’t quite hold up in the middle like the other two.
So Callejuela it is, or maybe Añina. Frankly, you should get all three because the only thing wrong with them is that the bottle is too small.
We are all locked in, but I don’t have anywhere better to go. This is an exceptional, world class white wine.
It shows all the qualities of its variety, time and place. The white fruit and herbs of the best palominos, the concentration of an (even) hotter season and the salinity and verticality of its birthplace in Carrascal de Sanlucar.
That combination of concentrated fruit, herbs, salinity and freshness make for an incredibly complex white wine, which was perfect with dinner but is even better on its own.
The 2012 manzanilla de añada was one of the very first wines to really open my eyes to what is possible down in Jerez and Sanlucar. 11 botas set aside from a single vineyard and añada, left to age statically under flor (as long as it lasts).
The wines are a vivid expression of the effects of static biological and barrel ageing on a manzanilla. The first was a protomanzanilla, more wine than manzanilla, but since then the wines have become finer, with a deeper mineral groove. Over time the flor is losing its vigour, the cabezuelas are beginning to gather, and the wines are becoming richer and fatter. In time future releases will begin to lose that veil and will take on the toasted rust of amontillados. By then the wines will also be a vivid expression of the effects of bottle ageing (at least the ones I have managed to stash away will be).
For the time being this latest chip off the historic block is a beast of a full flavoured manzanilla. Lovely dark hay colour, a lot of haybales about and a big spikey, zingy mouthful, with bakery favours of toasted almonds and roast apple in there before a long old finish.
Cracking manzanilla in its own terms but part of something that is so much bigger. If all history tasted as good as this we would be repeating it more than twice.
Your correspondent has been out of the game too long. Probably a good few weeks since I was at the trough in earnest – time enough for at least three new labels to emerge from the hyperactive young dynamos down in Jerez and Sanlucar.
And here is one. The latest from Willy Perez, this appears to be an unfortified white wine – the label says from Macharnudo on tosca de Barajuelas soil. “Only” 13 and a half degrees and I don’t know much about it but would guess we have a bit of asoleo or a relatively late harvest. (Vino de pasto translates more or less as table wine so no clues there.)
It is another cracker from the young Wise King of Jerez. Concentrated white fruit – almost pineapple upfront, and bitter pineapple marmalade at the back. It is mineral for a white wine – real zing and warmth around the mouth – but tasty and jammy rather than fresh and slippy on the finish. As its name indicates, it is a table wine – this would stand up and be counted in almost any company.
Apricots on the nose, bright acidity and a palate of pure apricot jam with a rich, sugary finish.
Pandorga, by Cota 45, is a single vineyard, vintage 100% pedro ximenez from Jerez that is unlike most pedro ximenez you may have tasted. Young and fresh, the grapes have had some sun-drying but not to the point of becoming raisins and the resulting wine is more opulent in fruit on the one hand and (slightly) less loaded with sugar on the other.
And like many of the wines from Cota 45 there is some fascinating wine making going on beneath the surface. Whereas many pedro ximenez wines are made in a way that minimizes the difference between vintages (more sun-drying in cooler vintages, less in warm ones), this wine is prepared in a “procyclical” way. As such, the relatively cool 2014 was given less sub drying, the much warmer 2015 much more, and this something in between. As a result you get three very different wines: just as an indication the 2014 had 12 degrees of alcohol, the 2015 had so little -5% – it couldn’t legally be called a wine, and this one has 11,5%.
Wines that express the varietal and shout out the vintage. And superb wines too!