Encrucijado 2015

The fruitiest saltiest white wine you will ever try, and one of the jammiest from Sanlucar. This wine has a very special place in the affections of this blog and blogger for personal reasons but it is a very special wine in its own right.

It is a blend of palomino, perruno and uva rey, three of the many originally autoctonous varieties of the region, whose presence side by side in the same vineyards were the original reason for the variety of wines that came out the other end.

In this one the oxidative inclination of the uva rey and the jammy perruno, together with a decent spell of flor and oxidation, make this wine, which would have been a very nice, bota fermented palomino, into something altogether different and unique.

Bottled after 20 months or so, the four years in the bottle have suited this down to the ground – it has grown in every direction and is now a massive wine – even a massive cucumber as they say down there. A beautiful rich colour and lovely on the nose – ripe melon and baked fruit -, then a palate and finish that manages to be jammy, salty, and fresh.

Fantastic.

Verdejo, pero viejo

Of the many joys that this blog has brought me undoubtedly the greatest has been the possibility of trying things that otherwise I would not. I have been spoilt by sommeliers, invited to events, been able to visit wineries and meet winemakers, and generally been very fortunate indeed. And there was a new example this week as a colleague from the firm where I work shared something really unique with me.

His family own a winery, Bodegas Otero. up in Benavente, one of five wineries in one of Spain’s least famous DOs, where they make some very enjoyable reds and whites from prieto picudo and verdejo. Unusually for this blog, we are not talking a new winery: they were founded in 1906. Also unusually for this blog, the wine was not a new one either, quite the contrary.

The bodega has the typical “sala de visitas”, with old barrels on every wall, many of them signed for family members, recently decided to take stock of the wine in those barrels, and what they have found is quite extraordinary.

The barrels were filled with verdejo in the 1980s and then they, and their contents, literally became part of the furniture. The angels took more than their share and the barrels became a little less full, allowing a veil of flor to form for a few years before a decision was taken to fortify around 15 years ago, since when they were left to grow old as gracefully as possible. Until last year, when the barrels were emptied into two deposits, from which a few bottles – no more than tasting samples – have been produced.

And this is where my luck comes in because I was fortunate enough to be given a couple of those bottles and asked if I thought it was worth bottling the rest. Even before I opened them I was intrigued – who wouldn’t be – and I couldn’t think of a better place to do so than Angelita, with its cooking based on the produce of the same zamoran fields.

And the wines didn’t let anybody down – a lovely golden colour, clear as a bell, and aromatic, with barrel, sawdust, wax and brandy there but also old old apple. On the palate too: nice acidity, mellow flavours, not at all heavy on the palate despite their 19 degrees and a long, mouthwatering finish with that same aromatic profile. The two wines – we had a bottle from each deposit – were also full of character. One finer, all barrel and mellow, and the other brasher, with more volatile acidity and the juicier, spirity profile and nose that that brings.

I was impressed enough, indeed, to want to compare them with some of the many sherry wines on excellent list and they really stood their ground admirably – finer and maybe less potent on the palate due to their lack of solera, but no less aromatic and flavorful and maybe even more elegant.

So a lovely discovery all told, no doubt at all that these need bottling – in fact they will be a couple of wines that will be well worth hunting out when they are finally available (and I am glad to say you should be able to find them in Angelita). My sincere congratulations to Bodegas Otero and my thanks to them for sharing.

Cortado La Barajuela 2017

They are doing it you know.

A couple of years ago they passed me a draft of a first section of a book intended to tell the true history of the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar. It was pretty dense: knowledge and enthusiasm per square inch off the chart, and a story that I had never heard before.

And they started with an explanation of how these wines used to be called. Palma, Raya, and everything in between. It was pretty nerdy – wine names you had never seen and a narrative coming from a whole new direction. But it rang true. Every wine lover and wine maker – even this wine bluffer – knew it to be true the moment that they read it. At that time it read like a theory in need of practice. But now you can experience the practice, and you can really appreciate the power in the theory.

This wine is the successor to a wine called oloroso. My guess is that it no longer can be called oloroso, because it was, like its sibling the palma cortada, cut off in its prime.

If it cannot be called an oloroso it is a mistake, because it might not be as aromatic as some but it is an almost divine representation of the effect of oxidation. The first time that I tried Oloroso la Barajuela, a few years ago now, I was mystified – I have had more oxidated burgundies (quite often). But then I was looking for more oxidation, more concentration, and I overlooked the wonderful way the palomino frame carries the oxidation.

And just as the flor can be cynically used to produce effects rather than wines, – carve wines too fine, produce too much haybale and too much sea air at the expense of too much fruit – oxidation can be thought of as just a tool for producing caramel, toffee, black toffee and burnt toffee, when in reality it can be a way of turning white fruit, quite literally, gold.

I mean it stands to reason that olorosos didn’t just start leaping from the barrel at 12 years old. There must have been a moment when people started noticing how nice these wines were with a bit of oxygen – before we all started overdoing it.

And that is what we have here, in this white wine from the greatest vineyard in Jerez. And it is what we are beginning to see too in its counterpart from Sanlucar, Agostado. Both of them are white wines so solid on their frame that that oxidation is not a defect but a burnish, a polish.

And those words – palma, raya, cortado – they are on bottle labels, wine lists and, hopefully, in publications, and blog posts, and rankings. And the word will spread.

And who knows? We may one day see the second section of the book even …

La Bota de Palo Cortado 92 – “Pata de Gallina”

Pata de Gallina III, with a vengeance

In the 1980s a young undertheflor would watch a program on the TV called “The Day the Universe Changed”. In it, the great James Burke tells the story of the advancement of human knowledge and the humans that advanced it. Nerdy as it may be, it was absolutely outstanding, a celebration of achievement and knowledge, and nearly 40 years on I still remember some of the episodes. (There were none involving wine, although brandy and barrels get a look in in a couple.)

In the story of the advancement of my wine knowledge there have been a few days when the universe changed. One was the day I tasted Episode I of the Pitijopos, one was when I was given a tour of Emilio Hidalgo by the great Juanma, another when I visited the pagos and vineyards of Jerez and Sanlucar with Ramiro Ibañez. Even single wines have done it. I will never forget my first bottle of la Barajuela Fino or of Toneles Moscatel. And one of those days was the day I tried the wines from Pata de Gallina the first time, in the guise of La Bota de Palo Cortado 34, by the great Equipo Navazos.

I went and found it in Enoteca Barolo after getting the tip from Victor de la Serna that I should look for “La Bota”. But when I took it home I really had no idea what to expect and it just blew my mind. I will never forget the moment. I sent an email to a mate of mine about it – I wish I could find that!

It wasn’t just shock value, it was a really outstanding wine, No 34. I loved it deeply and dearly, buying up every bottle I could in Spain and even reimporting a case from the UK (to the amusement of the sellers involved). I think I still have a bottle at the back of the minibar there. The ones I have had recently have faded a little, but back then it had a bit of everything, complexity in handfuls, and a balance and a lightness that very few wines share. Eight years later and probably 800 different sherry wines (and similar) later it is still right up there.

And this, its most recent reincarnation, is a lovely reminder of it. It is not the same wine – I am convinced that the more recent releases have become sharper, finer, with less fullness of bone and more definition, and I frankly miss that puppy fat. But this is still one of the very best examples of what this style of finer oloroso is supposed to be about. Flavourful but sharp – cheeky and complex. And when I say sharp I mean rapier sharp, without renouncing the full palate and a bundle of flavours and sensations that take minutes to unpack as you hold it on the tongue, warming your gums and the inside of the cheeks with its acid and salinity. Burnt wood, burnt caramel, sweetness, bitterness, citrus, sawdust – but without being overbearing in any direction really.

A lovely, balanced wine yet again, and I always wonder if the 34 was better or if I was worse, or am I worse now? I suppose in end it doesn’t matter. But I hope this wine will change a few universes as its predecessor did mine.

Solear en Rama Spring 2014 – the Red Kite, 7 years on

Amazing to think that I started hoarding these little bottles seven years ago and even more amazing to crack them open and find the wine is still sensational, maybe even better than it was.

Was nostalgic to see this bottle still had the “manzanilla” with no pasada on the label and the agglomerate cork instead of the natural cork in the recent bottles, and it has been fun trying to recall what I was up to in 2014 when I first opened this. I didn’t have the blog yet and I hadn’t even been to Jerez in those days. I wasn’t on instagram yet even – what in the world did I use to do with my time? (Yes I know there aren’t many posts these days so same difference I suppose.)

But some things haven’t changed. Back then I loved these little bottles and I still do. I suppose the question is whether I loved them more or not and that is an interesting one. In general of course these wines no longer have the impact they did on that more impressionable young fella, but this has withstood the test of time as well as any.

And this specific wine has certainly taken the passing years in its stride. It is still intense, full of zingy saline heat, and full of juice too: real concentration of flavour. The colour is that touch darker, and the flavours have gone down a notch in register – but this is just as full a palate as I remember, and with time open a sweetness comes through on the finish that just rounds it off.

I would swear it was better for seven years in this tiny bottle – wish I had bought a couple of magnums and had a couple of decades …

La Bota de Palo Cortado 86 – Bota NO

Yo ho ho and a palo cortado. This is a lovely elegant wine selected by the enterprising gents at Equipo Navazos from Perez Barquero in Montilla Moriles that is so drinkable this little bottle seems to vanish like the morning dew – albeit at night time, because it would be unseemly even for me to be sucking down palo cortado at breakfast time.

Palo cortado is not a traditional designation in Montilla Moriles – but Equipo Navazos have never been afraid to reclassify and neither have the best bodegas. They have chosen the right wine here – this is lighter and finer than an oloroso, while still juicy and without enough biology to make it an amontillado.

It is evident in the colour, and on the nose it is light and a bit of brandy. And then on the palate the juice is there – it has juice in every molecule, one of the most pleasurable palo cortados I have tried in terms of mouthfeel. Velvety is a word I don’t use enough in fact.

And it may not be an eye watering bottle of potent concentration but it has all the features of a top palo cortado – in nice proportions too. Fresh, acid, sweet, nutty, savoury, barrely – then salty sweet and three times as long as the average post on here. Then at the end has a nice smokiness on the aftertaste.

Really top class as long as it lasts …

Pastora Manzanilla Pasada in Angelita Madrid

There is a lot of enthusiasm for old bottles these days. I don’t share it in general – I rarely meet one without wishing I had met it years ago. But there are exceptions and exceptional places. In Corral de la Moreria, Abarra and, lately, Angelita.

In the last few weeks I have been spoiled in Angelita with a couple of old bottles that were really exceptional – a Gitana most recently but most memorably this Pastora. It was absolutely sensational.

The older wines become finer and more fragile in profile – it only takes the slightest imperfection to throw the silhouette. But these two were great and the Pastora out of this world. Still zingy, but rapier fine, and flavours that had gone from spice to incense. But even better it was still all joined up – the shape was there, not too bitter and remarkably pleasing.

But probably the best thing that I can say about it is that the friend I shared it with loved it – and I don’t think they had had a new manzanilla pasada before that, let alone one that was fifty years old.

You didn’t need to be a fan or a “sherrylover” to love this, it was lovely wine.

Añina 2016 in Taberna Palo Cortado

In sherry terms Madrid is one of the places to be, if not the place to be, with restaurants and winebars with incredible lists of sherries seemingly in every neighbourhood. But the final destination for the discerning drinker in want of some of the really good stuff, and in particular the really hard to get stuff, is Taberna Palo Cortado.

In Taberna Palo Cortado there is a wine list of over 300 sherries (and other traditional Andalucian wines), all available by the glass. A list exceeding my over exercised imagination. But even that list is not the end of the story. If you dig a little deeper you will soon find yourself being offered wines off the menu that are even more special.

One such is this Anina 2016 by the great Willy Perez. It is of course 100% palomino fino, from old vines on a vineyard called “El Caribe” in the historic pago de Añina in Jerez. It ticks two of my boxes: terroir and (as its name suggests) vintage, putting it right up my street, and it is another example of this new style of concentrated, unfortified white wines that Willy is quickly becoming associated with.

All the hallmarks are there – it is ripe and honeylike on the nose, loads of fruit and only the faintest hint of a distant haybale, has good acidity and weight on the palate and again a lovely mouthful of fruit flavours. Maybe a hint of oxidation up front – certainly not much suggestion of anything biological – but nice mineral and herbal notes in amongst it all. Not quite as saline or savoury as its cousins from Carrascal de Jerez, but excellent, no question.

The only problems with this wine are (a) the small size of the bottle and (b) the small number of them. Not that that stops Taberna Palo Cortado!

UBE Carrascal 2015 – in Taberna Palo Cortado

This was the original UBE and still my favourite overall. From Carrascal de Sanlucar, the freshest and most vertical of the great pagos in el marco, but from old vines and a low yielding vineyard that produces wines of relative potency and concentration.

It is of course 100% palomino (although with Ramiro other options are available), from three different clones – palomino fino, palomino de jerez and palomino pelusón (which intriguingly translates as big hairy palomino). It is fermented in bota and then spends another 20 months there, without flor, after which this one has been another three and a half years in the bottle.

That period in the bottle has really brought it on – as I so often find with palomino white wines – and the result is a highly enjoyable, fresh but flavourful white wine.

As you can see, it has taken on a very attractive old gold colour, clearly darker in shade than I remember it, and it has a very distinctive nose, chalky interlaced with lemon but with a hint of stewy herbs in the background. In fact those herbs come through more and more as the wine opens up. Really interesting balance of mineral, fruit and savoury. Then on the palate more of the same, the effect of the chalk, the fresh start and a nice, generous mouthful of citrus and herbal fruit before slipping away in a long fresh finish.

Plenty to enjoy here, a really excellent wine, and that savoury character makes it a great wine for one of the cheeky lunches I have missed so much …

Agostado 2016

The artistry formerly known as Encrucijado.

A clash in trading names means a change of moniker for this historic wine and it is a real shame. Historic because it is made using varieties that had long fallen out of favour, and because it was one of the first “new wines” from el marco. It was certainly the first that I tried, what seems a long time ago now in September 2015. That was the 2012 – the MMXII – and this is the 2016.

Over the years the wine has wound its neck in a bit. Back then there were five or six varieties involved, as the idea was to try and replicate the almost random selection of the pre-phylloxeric vineyards. But it was never meant to be an experiment, it was meant to be a wine, and as a wine it has grown and grown in stature even as the varieties dwindled. Now it has just three varieties: palomino fino, uva rey and perruno. (Still two more than your average blanco de albariza.)

From the start it was a lovely wine, but it just seems to get better and this strikes me as good as any that I have tried. It has that bit of extra girth of flavour, more buttery, more melon, but this one also has a lovely elegant profile and fresh finish. And from memory it seems to have improved a lot with a year in the bottle too.

One worth hunting out and savouring – the history of the wines and varieties of Jerez, and a lovely wine while you are at it.