Ube las Vegas el Carrascal 2017

Ube: The original

No jokey posts this time or corny lines, serious business tonight with a serious wine. This is the original UBE, one of the first really serious unfortified palomino wines I ever tried and with each passing vintage I am more convinced that it is one of the very best.

It is from the las Vegas vineyard in El Carrascal de Sanlucar, a plot with old, ungrafted vines of some of the original palomino varieties, palomino fino, palomino de jerez, and pelúson (aka big hairy palomino) growing on the loose, antehojuela albarizas of Carrascal de Sanlucar, one the most Atlantic influenced pagos of Sanlucar and el marco. It is fermented in bota and then spends another 20 months there – without flor – growing into this beast of a white wine. Since then it has been a good year and a bit in the bottle already although I think it is fairly recently released.

All that time in the making: a vine that had been slaving away for over 100 years, fruit that spent 2017 making itself, 20 months in the barrel and a year and half in the bottle. And after all that he bottle disappeared in the blink of an eye. One moment it was there. The next moment, it was no longer there.

But what a moment there was in between. This is not only an excellent example of what unfortified palomino is all about it is a truly lovely wine on any terms. In colour (slightly dark gold), aroma (citrus, herbs and sea breeze) and above all on the palate, where it has incredible range and even more extraordinary finesse, it is just a remarkable sup. That range goes all the way from white flowers to stewy herbs, passing through white fruits, jammy fruits, and sweet herbs on the way. And it does it with understated power and an elegance and clarity that is really quite remarkable.

Yes I enjoyed it. What often happens when I open one of these is that three go down in quick succession but that is not happening this time. Iron discipline is at work, but so is the shortage of supply. I am going to quickly sort out the latter, and we will see about the former.

Palma cortada la Barajuela 2017

One of the new crop of wines from the Barajuela project and another stunning chip off the wonderful block called el Corregidor.

I say a new crop of wines because we are not just talking about a new vintage (although it is a vintage wine – a 2017), we are talking about a new beastie altogether: no fino, or oloroso, but a “palma cortada” (and the other wines released in this batch are the “cortado” and the only slightly more familiar “raya”). What can the reason for this spiffy new moniker be? Well I have purposefully not done any research or asked the man himself (he said as if anyone expected this blog to have actually researched anything) but my guess would be that this “palma cortada” was a wine that was selected for “palma” status (for your reference, the Barajuela Finos used to indicate “una palma” on the back label) but went only slightly off the beaten path and had to be “cortada” (cut off at the knees) before reaching the promised land.

I may be wrong – it may be deliberate – but in any event it is a return to the ancient traditional nomenclature for the wines of Jerez and Sanlucar, a time before industrialization when the mighty white wines of Southern Spain had a fair claim to be considered the world’s best.

It could be considered surprising that in only the fifth vintage of this project what is clearly the “finer” wine with the white label has been rebaptized, contrary to all the norms of brand building and confounding future verticals, but frankly I find that more reassuring than anything. It may be possible to make an unfortified, single vintage fino every year, but the fact that this has been labelled more precisely tells you that the standards being reached for here are genuinely stratospheric, and the transparency involved is, well, a breath of fresh air. And the fact is that in those five vintages we have had only three finos and one oloroso: it is time to recognize that the fruit and the wine do not always conform to such narrow classifications.

And so we step back in time 150 years or so (or more, I have no idea really) and we enjoy our palma cortada. And enjoy is the operative word, because this may not have the word fino on the bottle, but it does have the word “Barajuela”. And even if it didn’t there would be no mistaking its origins or majesty: the flavours are utterly characteristic of the project and vineyard.

It is a beautiful white wine, lovely clarity and old gold colours on the eye, and high register white fruits, concentrated honey-suckle, dried flowers and herbs on the nose (seems sacrilegious to say it but there is chamomile in there). It really looks and smells of ambrosia.

Then you sip it (in whatever quantity you consider a “sip”) and, wow, the acidity and sensation of the wine, that incredibly deep, low to high flavour and tingling, mouth watering finish. The middle of it reminds me of the mellow roasted apples of a really good blanc de blancs with plenty of years of rima and bottle, a touch of oxidation, and the front end also reminds me of champagne with that acidity, but there is a greater umami and herbal depth in the middle part of the palate and the finale is so long, so zingy, it really is sensational.

So don’t be put off by the nomenclature. This is punky by comparison to the quite exceptional 2016 fino but still a superb wine on any register.

El Tresillo and la Panesa

One thing lead to another. These wines are a long time in the bodega and then survive a laughably short time once within arms reach.

They are two sensational wines each in their own way.

The Panesa is magnificent in its breadth, volume and solidity, lovely in the mouth and during a long finish, a wine you can drink at any time of day and night. Has a full aroma and flavour with no vibrato – Juanma Martin Hidalgo compares these to the classical music of Jerez and if so this is the pavarotti, a big lunged, vibrato free beast.

At its side the Tresillo is beguilingly fine and more complex on the nose and palate, with a touch of polish in more ways than one and more noticeable sea air. Then a touch of hazelnut to La Panesa’s almonds. This would be the other chap – more of a crowd pleaser and a more complex character maybe but not that same force of personality.

Frankly, this is why people say comparisons are odious – what a pair of absolute belters.

Barajuela class of 2013

I discovered during the lockdown that I had managed to squirrel away quite a few bottles of la Barajuela and ever since had been looking for an occasion to crack some open, so when I was invited over to dinner by some friends recently I seized my opportunity.

I am pretty sure I will be invited back, and it isn’t due to the conversation.

These two wines are by now like old friends but I still remember the first time I sat down with a full bottle of the fino – Father’s day 2016. Together with that first palo cortado that set me off in the first place this is the wine that made the strongest first impression on me.

Since then there have been another saca of the fino and two new vintages and more recently an NV and I have had more than my share of all of them – it is no secret that I like them and wherever I go they seem to follow me.

But I will never tire of them either – really outstanding white wines, that simultaneously have a higher and a lower register than most, more body, more complexity, more salinity and all in a beautiful profile. Just beautiful and great to drink them together, that step in power and that hint of oxidation in the oloroso seeming to add an extra dimension.

And I never tire of sharing them with friends. These wines are such great ambassadors for Jerez and the best possible argument in favour of terroir and vintage focussed winemaking in the region.

But not too many friends – the bottles are tiny and only hold 750 mil.

La Panesa

Taking it to the next level

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.

Great memories and great wine.

Santa Ana Pedro Ximenez 1861

Lunch today featured a really outstanding finale – this quite superb, fruitful, elegant and compact old wine.

It is the oldest wine of probably the finest cellarmen around – Emilio Hidalgo. Makers of the killer Panesa fino and the finest amontillados, olorosos and palo cortados in Jerez, these guys have a touch of genius when it comes to caring for the wines in their butts.

This wine is probably the starkest example. When they are as old as this pedro ximenez wines can get twisted into all sorts of shapes but for whatever reason this maintains perfect form. It has the flavours and aromas of the inside of a raisin fruit but with a sharp acidity and a freshness that make it feel as light as a feather.

Almost too easy to drink, when you should really imbibe it drop by tiny drop.

Blanco Macharnudo De la Riva 2017 in Taberna Palo Cortado

The world is full of injustice and misery. As the great Cantona shrewdly observes, like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, and so on and so forth. But the worst of it is that there is so little of this wine available.

It is a marvellous white wine, that has everything you could ask for. White blossom on the nose and on the palate ripe melon made of steel on the verge of going rusty from interstellar corrosion such as that suffered by the Millenium Falcon. Then mouthwatering and persistent – a massive, sapid, mouthful of flavour, less like a leaf in profile and more like a comet – a massive tail.

This is why we drink wine. Superb! Make more of this please!

Fino la Barajuela 2014 en Lakasa

Here we go again with one of my very favourite wines (of which I recently enjoyed a glass in one of my very favourite places).

Fino la Barajuela is, depending on your point of view, the white wine of finos, or the fino of white wines. The semantics should be irrelevant, because what matters is the liquid genius of it: big and powerful with a lovely aromatic profile, mineral sharpness up front and salinity in the finish to keep it fresh despite the weight in between. And that in between is quite something: a big mouthful heavy in texture (a natural, unenhanced 15% + here) and a flavour profile from honeysuckle to honey and citrus to savoury stewed herbs that fill out the throat.

It all makes for a wine that is a massive, massive legend but light on its feet and easy to drink, and for all that it is at the cutting edge in terms of the new Jerez, it is immediately recognizable to wine drinkers from across the spectrum. In fact, perhaps ironically, it is almost more widely accepted outside the sherry world than it is within. In the sherry world you get the feeling it is seen as an awkward upstart that doesn’t fit in any of the established categories, – an ugly duckling -, whereas like the eponymous juvenile aquatic bird, the reality is quite magnificent.

Oloroso M Antonio de la Riva

From the reborn De la Riva label this is nevertheless a very old wine – said to be over 70 years old – from a solera that Ramiro Ibañez and Willy Perez have acquired and brought back to life with wine from Balbaina Baja.

The first impression is of the beautiful old school packaging – the vintage label and dinky bottle – and it still looks good in the glass. The one above looks too cold (only cellar temperature but in any event it soon warmed up) but even so you can see the rich red chestnut colour, which was clear as a bell.

Even more than how it looks, this wine just smells sensational. The most amazing aromatic profile – a sweet brandy nose with volatile acidity lifting and nuts and caramel in the background. Absolutely delicious, enticing aromas.

Then on the palate it is as sharp and potent as any oloroso I have had. Sharp acidity and salinity then a lot of concentrated flavours emerging like flavored layers of a gobstopper.  I saw Luis Gutierrez describe this as having rusty nail and that is bang on – there is rustiness at the beginning and end, with a big robust nutty caramel to burn caramel in the middle and a slightly dusty, astringent, biting finish.

A cracking little bottle of wine (and excellent accompaniment to a couple of frames of snooker).