It is not often that words fail me but I am struggling, and have been struggling for several weeks, to find the terminology to describe my second visit to Kaleja.
If my first visit was almost furtive, ensconced at the bar with my head down, this time it was an occasion and, oh boy, what an occasion it turned out to be. I had what could be termed the extra long menu – one of everything – and it lead to a couple of hours of proving the fallacy of the good time/long time dichotomy.
The pictures here tell at least some of the story, of dish after outstanding dish, but you would need more than a 1000 words to adequately describe some of these.
Looking at them it is hard to know where to start. Maybe the dish that had the biggest impact on me was the huevas con fetta – a little flavour bomb of fishy and cheesy salinity and freshness. The dish I would have repeated over and over the squid in butter, or maybe the beans in ham, or the foie in salpicon, or the gamba, or the green beans …
The list could go on and on – and I could have too. While some menus can seem a long struggle, this one never got heavy. A fantastic combination of flavours, textures and ingredients, and all that stewing and roasting making for a lunch that was as digestible as it was enjoyable.
You get the idea – it was an absolute feast for the senses.
And a liquid feast too, as Juan “Juanito” Perez weaved a merry thread of superb wines through proceedings, including some absolute crackers beloved of this parish. The Camborio en Rama, Saca de Floracion, La Fleur by Forlong, UBE Miraflores, the Antique Oloroso, the Maria del Valle fino, the Amontillado by Bodegas Tradicion and a sensational Palo Cortado by Antonio Barbadillo.
Superb wines all but also brilliantly matched to the cooking – harmonies and complements, flavours that reinforced each other. Really excellent work.
A really outstanding lunch in fact, one that will live long in the memory. I can’t wait to get back down to Malaga for Round Three.
There is still a feeling of sacrilege when I open these little bottles that have been stashed away these last few years but the regret doesn’t outlast the first mouthfull.
What an astonishingly nice wine – it really is the archetypal dry sherry. Beautiful gold colour, lovely haybales and yeast on the nose, zingy salinity and fresh yeasty juice on the palate, and the mouth just sallivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs.
This bottle is from when it was still bottled as a mere “manzanilla” but it really is a manzanilla pasada – you can feel it in the concentration and the intensity of the flavours.
Aperitivo o’clock in a bustling Coalla Madrid and nothing better to wash down your berberechos than a glug or two of this white wine from pago Macharnudo.
One of the first unfortified white wines from Jerez – the first vintage was back in 2008 – this project by Equipo Navazos with one of the story of Jerez’s unsung heroes, Dirk Niepoort aims at recreating the wines of Jerez in centuries past. From 100% palomino fino from the famous albariza of macharnudo, fermented in bota and no fortification, with only a few months of spontaneous flor.
It is delicious stuff – fresh, saline and aromatic, with a suggestion of white fruit and a touch of the old esparto grass. Fruit, mineral, herb in a lovely balance, and very elegant. The berberechos were also top class it must be said and a better pairing I cannot think of.
Marvellous – with wines like this by the glass no wonder Don Ramon is enjoying Madrid!
So here is a new addition to the growing variety of “blanco de albariza” on offer from the small producer behind the Cruz Vieja fino and others.
These guys have some serious real estate – the fino shares its roots with some of the great wines of Jerez’s past, so I was interested to try this in Taberna Verdejo recently.
As you can see, it is a beautiful old gold colour, crystal clear (apologies for the condensation), then a nose and palate of beefy herbs and grapey fruit. On the palate there is that tingle of salinity up front, those flavours and then a finish that is part jammy, part mineral and part fresh.
More from my mixed case of Emilio Hidalgo wines aka bodega party pack. The Hidalgo Fino is a serious little Jerez-style fino in its own right but when I have one open more often than not it gets to share some glass time side by side with its big brother, and that is not a comparison that many wines can live with.
La Panesa is an awesome fino and one that means a lot to me for a number of reasons. It was one of the first very serious wines from Jerez that lead me down this path, and the great Juanma from Emilio Hidalgo probably did as much as anyone to show me the way down the road. First an outstanding tasting at Enoteca Barolo, then an unforgettable visit to the bodega, and if that wasn’t enough, it was at Juanma’s cracking event “Vinos de España, una pasión” that the idea for this blog was born.
Since then there have been many other great times with Juanma – some uproarious dinners with the “Table 7 Club” here in Madrid and a great night at last year’s feria – but above all I keep coming back to the quality of these wines. Because however much I may have reneged from the vision of Jerez where vineyards are forgotten and the flor is king, there is no doubting that these guys are artists in the bodega. The man himself puts it nicely: they make the classical music of Jerez.
What else is there to say about this wine? It is a zingy but beautifully elegant, marble compact, buttery, bundle of almond and yeast, turning to bitter-almond at the long fresh finish. An absolute belter – one of the few finos you can drink before dinner, during dinner, after dinner, or as dinner.
Coalla Gourmet is an institution up in the north and has long been a friend of this blog. An outstanding selection of sherries (and wines of all kinds), coupled with a superbly efficient web and logistics add up to an awful lot of boxes for my daughters to play with, while the contents of those boxes account for a goodish percentage of the posts on this blog.
There have been some outstanding wines over the years, and although I don’t get up to Gijon as often as I would like, when I do I make a point to stop in at the counter of their cracking space in Cimadevilla for a glass or two of something dry with a sliver or two of top quality ham, or a wedge of first class cheese, or maybe some sardines … and the list could go on and on as they produced hams, cheeses, jars, cans and bottles of quality rations from every corner.
So I was delighted to learn they were opening a store in Madrid, and I am even more delighted now that I have seen it. It is a fantastic space – 350 square meters on two floors – with lots of bar space and plenty of bottles open and cooling – and just like the mother ship in Gijon it is crammed to the rafters with the kind of bib and tucker that makes life worth living.
It opened last Saturday to massive crowds and unanimous applause from every side and has been packing them in ever since. If you haven’t been yet there really isn’t any excuse (unless you don’t like wine, fine food, or fun of course) and there is no doubt that it is a great addition to the Madrid scene – not least for wine lovers. The entire top floor is given over to wines and you can see the muscle of a major distributor here – an absolutely awesome selection of wines from all over Spain and the world, and what is more you can literally take any bottle off the shelf and tuck in, with a very generous corkage policy (free for bottles of €18 or more, bottles below €18 cost €18 in total).
And best of all, it is no more than a 5 minute walk from my home – so I will be able to make regular checks on the wellbeing of Don Ramon and his merry crew.
Part IV of the Cuatrogatos Wine Club Didactic Selection is upon us, bringing with it the oxygen action of oxidation.
One of the things that is so striking about the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar (and indeed a number of other regions around Spain) is the coexistence of three distinct forms of ageing: biological ageing under the flor (Parts II and III), oxidative or “traditional” ageing where there is no flor (today) and not forgetting wine without flor or oxidation (Part I).
Each form of ageing brings about different effects. In biological ageing, the living flor protects the wine from the oxygen in the air and steadily eats away at the alcohol, sugar and glycerine, reducing the volatile acids and leaving behind the hay bale acetaldehydes. The result are wines that are literally “fino”, potent and with bready, nutty, herbal and floral flavours and aromas.
In “traditional” ageing, these gears go into reverse. Residual alcohol, glycerine and sugar all increase as evaporation (the angels taking their share) does its work, and colour and volatile acids increase due to the interaction of the wine with air and barrel. Now the result is oloroso, a fragrant (oloroso literally means “aromatic”), acidic, caramel flavoured wine, or, where the wine has also had biological ageing, an amontillado, which can combine the characteristics of both to make some of the most sought after wines of all. And here we have two such wines, both from the boys at Callejuela.
First up for didactic reasons is El Cerro oloroso. A really beautiful, elegant old oloroso, and a perfect exponent of the qualities that oxidative ageing can bring out. A dark brown in colour as you can see (I love the clear bottle presentation) and on the nose the aromas are all burned sweetness: fruits and nuts singed to an inch of their life. Then on the palate it has that sharpness of acidity and then a big density of flavour, again half burned sugary raisins and walnuts, with a turn to the bitter but not too much. Real solidity to the middle part of the palate and then a remarkably clean finish. No astringency or bitterness as it hangs around the palate. Lovely.
And then that is a nice contrast to an amontillado from la Callejuela, the “Origen Calificada”. Now here maybe the contrast is forced and the comparison between categories isn’t quite fair – el Cerro has a fair bit more age than the Origen and a better comparison would probably have been La Casilla amontillado.
But the point here is to compare the effect of that biological ageing compared to the oxidation and that comes across really nicely in this wine, maybe better than it would in a much older amontillado. On the nose and amongst the roasted almonds and hazelnuts you get church furniture, and the palate is that touch finer and fresher at the start, and almost comes across as grassy fresh at the finish.
And here endeth the Didactic Selection, as they say.
But “what of the “other” category, the “palo cortados”?” you may ask, as you suddenly smell a rat and suspect Sharquillo’s selection is one bottle short. Worry not: it really isn’t so. “Palo cortado” has become a very successful category commercially but really is not a uniquely different category of wine. Without wanting to burst anyone’s bubble the wines available as palo cortados would, in days gone by, have simply been sold as olorosos. In fact, some leading bodegas have even told me that their bottlings of palo cortados are brought about by identifying and selecting the finer butts of their olorosos. This isn’t to knock their quality – a finer oloroso is a wonderful thing. Indeed, on that score, El Cerro could easily pass as a palo cortado if sales ever dip below the tiny production that it has.
And besides, there is a limit to the number of bottles you can fit in a case, and once you have started there could be no stopping. I hope these few posts are just the start of a long voyage for someone, and I would encourage anyone who has got this far to thing far outside and beyond this box, and to search out all the many, many styles and makers and explore the wines of Jerez. I did and I have never looked back.
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.
The Fino from Emilio Hidalgo is not a wine you see around – not released widely by the bodega and only available in a handful of places, I was able to pick one up as part of a mixed case.
Although obviously overshadowed by La Panesa (which wine wouldn’t be?) it is a cracking fino, pungent and mineral on the nose, fresh and solid on the palate with slightly bitter almonds. A very traditional “Jerez” style of Fino – not excessively aromatic and slightly fat and serious in the mouth.
Worth trying if you can find it – and in particular fascinating to taste alongside it’s more famous sibling.
As I have occasionally published, a fellow has accumulated a pretty large collection of these little bottles over the years but, no more. They may or may not improve in the bottle, but the only way to enjoy them is once they are out of it. Plus I have a famously small vinoteca and these little bottles are annoyingly fiddly to store. When you add to the equation the fact that the wines inside them are right up my alley, their life expectancy is in the basement with no takers.
First to go to the block is my oldest – this effort from winter 2013, the aguja colinegra or black tailed godwit.
Nearly seven years later it is lovely stuff, and proof of one of my deep held beliefs on the bottle ageing debate: the better the wine, the better it will stand the passing of the years. Lovely and rich in colour and on the nose, still zingy first up and full of juice on the palate, with just a hint of that incense bitterness that can develop in older manzanillas before a buzzy, mouthwatering saline finish.
None of this is doing any good for the chances of survival of the others it must be said …