The wines of Emilio Hidalgo in Taberna Verdejo

Absolutely top class dinner last night in Taberna Verdejo featuring a lot of laughter some first class cooking and above all three absolutely classic wines from Emilio Hidalgo.

First, with mussels and rubio (sea robin) in escabeche (and in fact even before the food arrived) we started with La Panesa, which is just a class fino. So much power and body, a really buttery mouthful and a no vibrato purity and solidity of flavours. These bottles were from 2016 and the almond and roast almond flavours just had that suggestion of bitterness before the long long finish.

Then another escabeche, this time a rabbit (another of Verdejo’s strengths, small game) and, having exhausted the supply of La Panesa we moved on to the Amontillado Fino Tresillo. And my goodness what an impact this wine makes – such sharpness and elegance, finer in feel than the fino and a touch of dry honey to the almond flavours – almost hazelnut-, all with that sizzling salinity, which comes across much more clearly in this finer profiled wine. Really lovely, really drinkable wine.

And then with the sweetbreads (oh, the sweetbreads) and rabo de toro (stewed bull’s tail) a glass (or two) of the Gobernador oloroso. Another beautifully made wine – packed with acidity and flavor but with excellent crispness and balance. In fact I was struck by the freshness of it – really clean lines.

All three wines were individually superb but also great company for the solid matter, but the less said about the Rives Special Gin from El Puerto that followed the better …

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Manzanilla Entusiástica in Zalamero Taberna

Just look at the colour of that manzanilla – en rama and a year or so in the bottle and it is a lovely dark straw colour. Rich and mulchy on the nose too and a nice sweet/savoury character to it on the palate: hints of juicy sweetness at the start, then zing and savory, bready flavours in the middle and a salty fresh finish.

This is a really interesting wine – the first ecological manzanilla and as such a brand new solera when the wines were first released in 2016. If I am reading the codes right this wine appears to have been bottled at the end of 2016 and it has really gained from that time in the bottle. Maybe lost some floral notes but has broadened out on the palate (almost like a palomino white wine) and all the better for it.

Nice one.

La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 60 – Bota Punta

Not much of this left now (they have half a glass here in Media Ración) and we will miss it once its gone. Every time I come back to it it seems chalkier, more savoury and more mineral – with a warming, mouth watering, salt and pepper finish.

Maybe it is the time in the bottle, the time the bottle has been open, or maybe just my imagination (or the alignment of the stars) but seems to have a shade less of the almost fruit-like toffee that I remember when it first came out. Looking back at old notes I definitely enjoyed it more last year and the year before.

Still a superstar wine though – drink up it you can find it.

Amontillado VORS Piñero

The end of a very enjoyable lunch – one of those where you rock up to have lunch by yourself and end up finding a friend at the bar, then between laughter and more laughter you fill up with the superb cooking and wines that Taberna Verdejo are famous for.

By the end we felt like the occasion deserved a special wine and it occurred to us to go big with this.

And it is a special wine: a Sanlucar dagger of sawdust and salinity, a fierce wine with rough edges for all its age. Lovely light chestnut colour and a piercing, vinegary sawdust nose. Then that sharp salinity and a palate that matches the nose before a sandpaper dry finish.

A memorable end to a brilliant lunch.

A lunchtime of legends in Maitea Taberna

Two weeks have gone by since an all too brief lunch at Bar Maitea with a barely believable line-up of legendary wines old and new. In fact I still can’t quite believe it.

It all started with a glass of the Manzanilla Madura by Callejuela – a really flavourful manzanilla, from a river-influence pago and with a little bit more time in the bota, it has a bit more breadth on the beam and heft than you might expect but still has that crisp, appetite opening salinity you need to set yourself up for lunch.

That bright start became a really promising beginning when a bottle of the legendary Fino Carta Blanca, by Agustin Blázquez, appeared in front of me on the bar. This is a cult wine, a high class wine from a legendary macharnudo pago and maker, and a clear riposte to those who doubt the longevity of sherries in the bottle (me amongst them, I suppose). I had a 1990s edition in Madrid that just blew my socks off not long ago and this one, apparently from the 1970s, was in that league. Although scarily dark brown in the glass it was nevertheless absolutely intact and compact, a hint of reduction on the nose at first but soon opening up with citrus, bitter almond and old dry straw aromas and a palate that slices its way in with salinity and citrus before hitting you with weighty, salty bitter almond flavours. Really serious stuff and if the juices hadn’t already been flowing they certainly were now.

Next up was Fino Caribe by Bodegas Sancho, again an example from the 1970s and another wine with a serious pedigree. Bodegas Sancho, which like Agustin Blazquez were later acquired by Domecq, were located in el Puerto but sourced this wine from the famous “El Caribe” vineyard in Pago Añina and that combination (and its forty odd year wait to be released from the bottle) created a wine with a really unique character. Clear as a bell and an attractive chestnut colour the nose was extraordinary – like a flat ginger beer, musty but all bitterness gone, and with that rockpool aroma that is so distinctive in el Puerto. Then on the palate the oxidation was noticeable too, sweetness on the start and flavours of praline and soft nougat giving way to an intense bitterness – my notes say “white campari” which almost certainly doesn’t exist but I think you get my drift. (They also say “amarrrrrrgo”.) Long salty finish reminds you again of the rock pool. What an absolutely extraordinary wine.

As the kokotxas arrive for yet another legend, and yet another unique old wine, appears on the bar: Manzanilla Pochola by Domecq. Again a dark chestnut in colour but as clear as a bell, and once it opened up (these bottles were being opened before my very eyes and were a little closed early doors) an aromatic thoroughbred, bitterly floral and herbal. An amazing palate, slipping in with a zing of Sanlúcar salinity but then the breadth and characteristics of pago macharnudo. A “manzanilla de Jerez” if ever there was one.

At this stage the genius behind the bar apparently observed your correspondent struggling to keep up with the historic wines and decided to go with an absolutely beautiful dish of pigs trotters give him a little bit of a breather in the form of the modern/traditional Palo Cortado Viejo C P (Calle Ponce) by Valdespino. In fact it allowed a fascinating comparison of the slightly oxidated macharnudo manzanilla from before with an elegant modern macharnudo palo cortado. Bright, clean and clear amber/chestnut colour and an elegant, quiet nose with buttery notes, nicely integrated salinity and roasted to bitter almonds on the palate fading to burnt caramel flavours. Much deeper and more consistent in its oxidation than those that have earned it in the bottle and tighter in profile. One of the most elegant of the modern palo cortados and a class wine in its own way.

And in case that wasn’t modern enough I was at the same time given a glass of a mysterious whit wine labelled only “FP” (a probable “florpower” prototype) that in the company of all these venerable old legends was like a burst of sunshine on a cloudy day: a nose that was all fresh sweetness and a crisp youthful palate. A really nice fresh wine and one to look forward to!

But then with a fantastic cuajada dressed with honey and pine kernels your man produced another striking old beast and all thoughts of freshness were banished from my mind. The Pedro Ximenez Viña 25 seemed to epitomize for me what an old Jerez pedro ximenez should be all about, its sweetness tempered by a nose of pine forests, a a palate of black coffee/dark chocolate bitterness and an incredibly light, fresh feel to it. Really fine texture and piercing flavour and another excellent match with the sticky, sweet honey of the cuajada.

And just when I thought I was going to make my train with relative ease the final, exceptional treat: a little, very old bottle of Domecq’s Amontillado Botaina. A little cracker that was amber gold in colour – much lighter in colour than the finos – and in absolutely perfect condition, with hay bales and vinegary toffee in the nose and a superb combination of zing, acidity and sapidity on the palate. Absolutely superb, and there were tears in my eyes as I swigged it down and headed out, dazed and a little awed, in search of a taxi.

As I said on the day, one of those lunches I will always remember and never be able to repay. An honour and a privilege.

Fino Capataz Solera de la Casa in Taberna Verdejo

There have been a heap of Montilla Moriles events the last couple of weeks in Madrid – or so it seems from my twitter timeline – and I have managed to miss all of them, so it felt only right to try and make up a bit of missed time at the bar of one my of top happy places in Madrid.

This really is a magnificent, nutty old fino. Gorgeous colour and a nose that is pungent with almonds and haybales. Then a zingy, zippy finish, roasted almonds on the palate turning to bitter almonds and then lasting a looooooong time as the salinity comes back to water the tongue.

Absolutely first class and makes a chap sorry to have missed out on all the fun.

Solear en rama winter 2017- the Marsh Harrier

Has warmed up in Madrid of late and out for a stroll I found myself in need of a pit stop. As luck would have it, I was in the vicinity of Surtopia, a spot which is never short of the good stuff.

And this is very good stuff: the seasonal saca of the legendary Solear. This edition has all the characteristics of the legendary series. Gorgeous old gold colour, intense aromatics and powerful zing and flavours. The definition of an intense wine and for me the definition of an inland manzanilla (or manzanilla pasada if you must).

Superb stuff – I picked up two more to take home from a local retailer.