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.

Fino la Barajuela 2013

Happy Father’s Day to me. What a wine this is.

It is a famous wine and one that lives up to its reputation. I first heard about it many moons ago, tried it in March on an overwhelming day in many ways, and have since heard its praises sung from the rooftops. And rightly so.

It may not be what you expect from a fino but it is a very fine wine. In fact, it is the expression of terroir and fruit in Jerez, and of winemaking, that I and many others have been waiting for. I thought it was impressive in March but found it heavy – now it is light on its feet and has the presence and personality of a great wine. I just can’t believe how good it is. It is outrageous.

If anyone tells you palomino is a “neutral vessel” let them taste this (or its Sanlucar cousin, the UBE, when it comes to that). When I first opened it it had that meaty nose of fresh grilled tuna, with a little lemon and coriander. Then as it opened later the nose was all fruit and sweet herbs. On the palate it has those same flavours fruit, sweet herbs, and meatiness, and the profile is horizontal: a long, long flavour that persists. All the while there is spicey saltiness in the background, and the balance of salinity and fruit is perfect – tasty but not clingy, full but not heavy.

Just really delicious. A fantastic wine.

Don PX Convento Selección 1955

Wine number 3 of the tasting at the Taberna Palo Cortado was this absolute beauty. Another single vintage wine, now 61 years old, and showing sensational integration.

A deeper black brown in colour, like crude oil, this had the most amazing, surprizing, nose. Yes it had raisins and maybe chocolate, but it was for all the world like an overripe Chateauneuf du Pape with jammy fruit and spices, again oranges, but now mouldy orange peel from the back of the bin.

Then on the palate this came across as lighter, with nice acidity and sweeter spices, no astringency and much less mineral than the 1965. It again had a bittersweetness to it but rather than savoury it was the bitterness of marmalade, with acid and bitter citrus  – your man from Toro Albala came up with a great descriptor: the bitterness of orangey hands after peeling an orange. After that bitterness there was a different kind of sweetness, concentrated and dense, like black treachle and which just seemed to last forever.

Really out of the top drawer – an epic wine.

Marqués de Poley Amontillado Selección 1951 

A fantastic night at Taberna Palo Cortado started with this 1951 Marques de Poley Amontillado. All of the wines were single vintage “añada” wines but not “statically” aged – the “merma” or evaporation of the wines had been replaced by wines from the same añada (and it wasn’t clear whether the wines had been “moved” between barrels in addition to that).

Anyway, moved or not, this is a 65 year old dry amontillado (Montilla amontillado, as Antonio Barbadillo pointed out) that is 100 pedro ximenez but unbelievably fine and light. I have written in the past about how elegant single vintage wines seem to remain, but this one was really amazingly excellent given its age and cepage.

You can’t really see the colour above because I didn’t get hold of the bottle until the glass was nearly gone, but it was crystal clear and a really lovely amber colour,  extremely appetising. The nose had a spirit quality that was nearer to brandy than petrol fumes, a really fine nose of caramel and alcohol. Then on the palate it had a combination of acidity and zing, that didn’t so much burn as freshen, followed by notes of caramel then quickly tobacco and leather, before a long, long bitter almond finish.

A really exceptional wine. One of the best 65 year old wines I have drunk, without doubt. (Seriously, one of the wines of an exceptional night – and what a start.)