Alvear Fino en Rama 2012 in Zalamero Taberna

The way I bang on about the new vintage finos coming out of Jerez you would think they were the pioneers but in fact it is not the case. Looking into this wine I discover that up at Alvear they have been producing single vintage finos since 1998 (a good few years before Williams & Humbert’s finos – at least as far as I know). In fact given the vocal supporters of Montilla Moriles I am surprised this hasn’t been pointed out to me before.

Anyway, you can see I am out of practice because I totally failed to note how long it had been in the bottle. It is obviously not long – five years or less and I would guess no more than four.

A beautiful The youthfulness is there in a bit of citrussy, grapey juiciness, but even so it has an almond nuttiness to it (I often find the almond more marked in px finos), and with the time in bottle (which I am guessing at two years) toasted notes. It is not as zingy as its big brother the Capataz, and in comparison big in the beam rather than fine and slippy, but still a fino in every respect and a fine one too.

So hail to the other place once again, and long live vintage wines!

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La Panesa

A lot of stuff on this blog hasn’t aged well – when I started writing it only just over three years ago I was a little bit of a wide eyed novice. Everything was awesome, it was fun to be part of the team and I may not always have been the most discerning.

But there are a few things that have stood the test of time. A thousand or so posts later I can confirm I was dead right about La Panesa. It is pure class and absolutely superb. Savoury and toasty nose, sharply defined and elegant in profile, full in body and rich in flavours, from butter, nuts, curry and spices, with a mouthwatering finish.

A beautiful wine. Fashions come and go, class is permanent.

Marquistas: de marca blanca a Equipo Navazos

Was an honour to participate this summer in a tasting lead by Armando Guerra as part of the series of summer tastings at Taberna Der Guerrita.

A really interesting, ambitious tasting too, aiming to cover the phenomenon of the “marquistas”: the practice of selling someone else’s wine under your own brand. In fact in this case even more ambitious all the way across the spectrum from the “white label” of the supermarkets all the way up to Equipo Navazos.

Armando invited me on the strength of some musings of mine back in February on this subject and I was delighted to accept even if it is a bit of a hospital pass: for some reason people get very offended if you suggest they may be a marquista.

The scope was too ambitious for me – I am very far from an expert in white label wines and that business strikes me as absolutely distinct, in terms of the volumes, characteristics and role from the business of the “bota hunters” I am more familiar with. (In fact one interesting point to come out of the cata was the discovery of a third category in a kind of middle ground – the own-label exporters.)

That broad scope may also have prevented us from getting as in-depth into the phenomenon as we might have liked. Not that there wasn’t debate: it was a pretty lively group in the room too and there were some pretty frank exchanges of views. But for all that we didn’t really advance very far.

There really wasn’t much discussion of the supermarket level, but on the “bota hunters” and exporters there was broad speaking agreement as to their useful role: marketing and explaining the wines, providing novelty, different vision. Some in the room firmly believed that the special selections were better than the standard wines from the bodega (I tend to find the law of averages persuasive). There was also general agreement that the marquistas do most good – and least harm – when they identify the source of their wines.

But Armando made an interesting comment that rang true, which is that the “bota hunters” face an increasingly uphill task. Put simply, with the upturn in interest in these wines there are not as many special old botas lying around to be discovered, it is getting harder to find something different to say to better educated consumers and the bodegas too are getting more sophisticated in terms of their own approach, squeezing the space the marquistas used to have to themselves. Another challenge is carving out a unique message in an increasingly crowded space: new pretenders cannot simply take for their own the “magic numbers” of Equipo Navazos and you find some increasingly novel ways of describing the uniqueness of the wines.

And when you think about it it is interesting to witness the evolution of Equipo Navazos, for me the number one marquistas and one of the undisputed stars of the sherry story in recent years. You certainly can’t fault them for standing still: they may have started as bota hunters, but it is noticeable that the wines increasingly come from tried and trusted sources or from far and wide, that they increasingly make their own wines and have even diversified into rum, whisky, and even gin.

While all this was going on there was of course a lot of wine going down: or in my case, being spat out (I had to drive back). A really top lineup in fact, with everything from supermarket fino via Sacristia AB, and Equipo Navazos to the legendary “Teran Salvaje”. In fact at least one wine was wrongly included: the De la Riva oloroso in the final flight. De la Riva is a new project but certainly not a marquista. Ramiro Ibañez and Willy Perez, beloved of this parish, actually bought the solera involved (“with wood” as they say around here) and have acquired wine to refresh the solera on an on-going basis. Noone is making or bottling wine for these guys and the brand is registered in their name. (Having said all that, what an epic, flavorful oloroso – no complaints with having a glass of that.)

It was a fascinating and fun discussion albeit one that tended to confirm my beliefs rather than challenge them. I for one think that Equipo Navazos and others like them have done a fantastic service to the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar by bringing them to the attention of a wider public, and by showing how special they can be. And marquistas are always going to be around: the best marquistas have deservedly strong brands and even if they didn’t in some places it will always be easier to sell a new, exclusive label than a traditional brand.

But the marquistas are no more the future of the region than own label brands. You can see the future in fact in what Equipo Navazos (and many others) are doing – making and experimenting with new (or old) ways of making wines and focussing on vintages and terroir. In fact the real future is probably neither the marquista or the bodega, but the vineyard.

Manzanilla Deliciosa en rama, May 2016

Look at the colour of that. Rusty water, with a touch of rusty nail on the nose and palate (or is it suggestion?). Couldn’t help but think of the manzanilla en rama la Guita when I saw it, although unlike that second cousin this wine has acquired its colour from two years in the bottle – as you can see if you compare it to how it was two years ago.

Interesting to compare that note with this wine – this is still aromatic and yeasty, but a touch sour, slightly more mulchy haybales on the nose and a lower register in fruit flavours. Very enjoyable with the oxidation and a fun thing to try (here in Zalamero Taberna by the glass).

Delicious little bottle.

Lunch with Bodegas Tradicion in Taberna Palo Cortado

It is one thing to have an overdose of gainful employment and a backlog of posts, but it is quite another thing to fail to acknowledge an absolutely cracking lunch like the one I had with the guys from Tradición in Palo Cortado at the end of June.

We kicked off with a “martini” made with Salcombe gin and fino and there were bubbles and a superlative Amontillado to finish, but the stars of the lunch for me were the finos that came in between. First and foremost a bottle of the May 2013 saca of the Tradición fino, a little bottle of the fino bottled for Mugaritz and a magnum of the November 2017.

Really fascinating to see that 2013 again. The only other time I had tried it was at a superb vertical tasting of all the sacas at Reserva y Cata in Madrid in November 2016 and even then I remember the complexity and additional dimension it had. A year and a half longer in the bottle and there was caramel softness to it, and a bitter almond and butter feel to the flavours. Really fascinating and almost enough to make me want to keep a bottle for a few years (if it were not for the ease with which the November 2017 were slipping down). One day I will invest in a cellar that is far enough out of reach to protect the wines from erosion.

For the time being all you can do is give thanks that wines like these are being made year after a year and at such a high level. It certainly makes for a brilliant lunch.

 

Manzanilla Pasada Los 48 de Garcia de Velasco

This is a very coveted little bottle of wine amongst aficionados: a label that disappeared long ago but the guys talk of down there in hushed tones, and if you know a little bit about the area you will have seen the surname “Garcia de Velasco” in a few different famous family trees. It was somehow acquired by a good friend and brought to a fantastic lunch this summer in Cataria.

To be honest, the lunch might have been too much fun, because with all the laughter and, let’s be honest, other wines, I neither took notes nor have as clear a recollection of this as I would like. What I do remember was a wine whose minerals had almost precipitated into chalk particles and whose fruit had turned to musty, incense like spices. Still an elegant sup with a very light start and a mouth watering finish and flavourful but dry as a bone in the middle. As so often happens, I found myself wishing I had met this bottle 20 years ago.

Legendary stuff and you can still see why.

 

 

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.