(The song of) El Cid 

Now here is a wine you don’t see every day. I am often criticized for reviewing wines that are marketed in minute quantities. Wines, as a famous Spanish winemaker, student and philosopher puts it, of which there are more photos on twitter than bottles in circulation. Well this one isn’t marketed at all – it is in theory only distributed witin the family and shareholders of Osborne – so booyah to the haters. 

That being the case you may wonder how I got my hands on the liquid photographed above and the answer is simple: Territorio Era. It really is the number one spot to taste the rarer examples of these wines – and even by the glass. This one caused a bit of a splash on the social networks when its arrival was announced so after a short but enjoyable lunch we tucked into a glass. 

It is a fish of a similar kidney to the Solera BC 200 from the same house (and also of a very limited distribution) and is another absolute dream wine. I don’t know the full details but I would guess it was a very, very old but very fine amontillado with a small and very nicely judged, perfectly integrated percentage of pedro ximenez. 

As you can see, it has that dark, more intense colour that the pedro ximenez can impart. On the nose it was quiet but there was a lot in there: sweet figs, roasted nuts, bready Christmas cake. Then on the palate it was like a sort of nectar on steroids. The sweetness of the pedro ximenez lifting it and making it absurdly easy to absorb, but not hiding the fact that there was a lot of wine in there. A rapier, cool acidity first up then very intense flavours of those figs and walnuts, slightly burnt cake and just tending to sawdust before an eternally long and pleasantly sweet nut and fig finish. And no edges or joins anywhere in sight – like one of those baths carved from a single piece of wood this is all curves and smooth surfaces. 

Absolutely fantastic. 

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Fino la Barajuela 2013 – Saca de 2017 

Home after a month of vacation and what a welcome this is in Territorio Era. A second saca of the great Barajuela fino of 2013 which seems even bigger, even more fruitful and powerful than the first.

A rich oldish gold colour and an equally rich, honeyed nose with just a hint of undergrowth: mature apples packed in straw. On the palate it is just epic – that lovely fruit first up, then an explosion of zingy mineral power and flavour, fading to a long, long, mouthwatering finish with a cracking combination of mineral sizzle and concentrated fruit.

Absolute class. There is no place like home.

Palo Cortado Abuelo Diego 

I could be accused of dragging this out a little but here we go with wine number six of an outrageously good lunch with Bodegas Alvear. And again what a wine it is – an absolutely outstanding, very very old palo cortado. Named, if I am not mistaken, for “Grandad” Diego Alvear, founder of the bodega. 

And it really was outstanding. As you can see above it was crystal clear and a lovely reddish hazelnut in colour, almost ruby. The nose was also extraordinary, with nuts and hazelnuts and even figgy, Christmas cake like aromas. 

And then the palate was everything you had been lead to expect. As full of flavours as the nose and as bright and clean as its aspect. Nuts and cake, and specifically the sweet, burnt raisins of Christmas cake. But above all it had none of the defects that some of the really old wines can bring: the eye watering acid, astringency or wood of excessive concentration. Hard to argue with the classification of this as a palo cortado. It had a beautifully defined structure to it (my notes are rather more prosaic – I wrote it was “chunkier” than the amontillado-) but elegant for all that.

Another exceptional wine, out of the very top drawer. It seems almost sacriligious to have tried so many together (it is hard work etc …)

Amontillado Solera Fundacional 

To my mind this was the clear star of my recent lunch with Bodegas Alvear and one of the finest amontillados I have come across to date. 

I agree with the protagonists of Edgar Allan Poe’s great story. For me you cannot beat the amontillado style for flavourful elegance – manzanilla pasadas and older finos can be as elegant and complex but when the amontillado is good it can be exceptional. Experts tell me that back in the day the wines considered top of the pops were the amontillados and I believe them. And from what I have seen there is no doubt how they get their name: the amontillados from Montilla Moriles are as good as any you will find. (The Jerez propaganda about the style being named for the “ruined” wine that arrived by donkey from Montilla can be archived in the (overflowing) blarney file.) 

This Amontillado Solera Fundacion is one of the very best. It is taken, as its name maybe gives away, from the foundational solera and must be of a ripe old age, but wears its years with incredible grace. I may have been softened up a bit by the four top wines that preceeded it, but my notes are extremely, er, enthusiastic. 

It is very easy on the eye, crystal clear and a rich, hazelnut/amber in tone, and has just an outstanding nose. Concentrated, rich, compact nose with a lot of sides to it, like one of those 20 sided dice mathematicians love, with everything from caramel through nuts and leather to just the slightest hint of the darkest chocolate. (With the glass empty it was all sweet pine sawdust.)

On the palate it is the archetypal best of both worlds – elegant, silky and fine in profile but rich in flavour and expression. A sharp acid start, a controlled explosion in the middle involving a spectrum of flavours from nuts and caramel through cigar box and leather to dark chocolate and even coffee, then a smooth salinefinish with no astringency. 

Really fantastic. A touch of magic to this wine. 

Palo Cortado Privilegio 1860

I was given this yesterday at La Matilde blind (I did say that your man was a gent) and although I never expected quite this I knew where it came from immediately – if I had been given time I would have guessed it was El Tresillo 1874. (I really ought to have known, since I have had this not once but twice before (he said name showing off unobtrusively).)

As you can see a lot of solids in the glass but it was a beautiful wine in every other respect. The colour and sheen, the sweet spicey nose, and the perfect profile of smooth acid, full body and long finish without any jarring astringency. Such a lot of silk on the palate and tasty silk too – notes of ginger, chocolate and spices. The sort of wine that you can enjoy for a long time – it is eternal on the palate and just keeps unwinding flavours on you.

Real class and a privilege indeed.

Fino la Barajuela 2013 (and a 1er cru controlée)

From the comments you read and hear the great wines from Jerez with a bit of personality are often likened to their cousins up in Burgundy, so I thought I would take advantage of having a nice Chassagne Montrachet open to have another look at the Fino la Barajuela.

The Burgundy was glorious, a beautiful bright gold colour, a nice flowery, lemon and limestone nose, then elegance, balance and precision with flavoura of nectar and pollen, pear or apple and citrus acidity. Absolutely top class (I may be over-egging it but it was even better than I expected.)

The Barajuela is the business too but goes about that business in a markedly different manner. The chardonnay is full of fruit and so is the Barajuela – in fact it has more fruit than many of its peers in the sherry triangle, but maybe what strikes you most is the salinity in nose and palate, and the way the salinity and zing takes the place of the acidity. Do they leave room for the full range of flavours that the burgundy has? Perhaps not, but on the other hand the Barajuela’s minerals and muscle give it a different dimension, a uniqueness that lifts it above the comparison.

I originally wrote this note in terms of a comparison but I realize now – thanks to a comment from Alvaro Giron – that that is unhelpful. These are very different kettles of fish and it is the differences that are illuminating. My  verdict: don’t buy the Barajuela if what you want is a chardonnay. It is something else.