I was dining at Lakasa last Friday night (and it was absolutely heaving – great to see) with a group of friends from outside my wine nerd bubble but nevertheless was allowed to choose the wine, and even (somewhat controversially) given free reign. I picked two wines that to me seemed blindingly obvious – the Cuvee Saint Anne by the brilliant Alexandre Chartogne and the Fino la Barajuela.
What I didn’t know was that they had run out of the 2013 and had just received the 2014 (in fact I didn’t know the 2014 had even been released) and suddenly a wine I had been waiting for for 18 months (give or take half a glass in a tasting with the man) was on the table in front of me.
This is the second vintage of Willy Perez’s outrageously good fino, and although the 2013 will always have a special place in my heart you have to say that this is even better. It has the same nose or honey-suckle to honey with golden yellow apple underneath, the same bite and palate of fruit but even more mineral sapidity and throat filling savoury flavours. It is frankly epic and totally delicious.
And as always happens with these Barajuela wines, my friends from outside the sherry bubble loved it. It is a tremendous source of frustration to me that when I read the views about this wine from sherry experts and tastings there are grumblings about whether it is really a “fino” yadda yadda yadda. Surely what is important is that it is an outstanding white wine, and one that paired with almost everything we proceeded to eat.
Now begins a heartbreaking period in which I am allowed to purchase a shockingly small allocation of bottles and then feel obliged to hold back when I see it in stores so that a wider public can try these wines. Please, don’t let my sacrifice be for nothing.
This wine was only released a couple of months ago and in minute quantities but it is already a legend. The maker, the excessively tall and talented Willy Perez, describes it as “the wine of his life”, while one of the leading critics of the modern age calls it “by far the finest white wine I have had from Jerez”.
To be quite honest since last June I have been a little smitten with the Fino la Barajuela and maybe didn’t give this wine quite the respect it deserved (to be fair I didn’t have any to drink anyway). But albeit in thimblefulls I have been fortunate to have tried it on a number of occasions over the last few months, in February at the Cuatrogatos Wine Fest, in April when Ramiro Ibañez used it as an example of the wines from years gone by at another cracking tasting at Palo Cortado, at the Bar of Territorio Era (where else?) shortly after release and most recently at a superb tasting with the man himself at Taberna Palo Cortado. It just seems to get better and better.
The other night in Palo Cortado it was just superb. Just so powerful and complete in its range: everything from high notes of white fruit and blossom at the top on the nose through concentrated fruit and hints of nuts to mineral power at the bottom, with a richness that doesn’t seem heavy and a balance and perfect shape to it. A fascinating comparison with the finer profiles of the two finos that we had prior to it and with the richer, but slightly heavy, raya that came afterwards – the context really showing off the characteristics of all four.
I wasn’t in the best of shape at the time and it looking back at my notes it all became a bit too much: there are a number of swear-words in different languages, a lot of words underlines and block capitals everywhere. I also remember losing my composure in a number of other respects: I was almost overtaken by jealousy of my table mates, convinced that they had been poured 5 ml more than I had, and when the last of the liquid was gone I was overcome with sadness, like that old Jedi in Star Wars when the planet gets blown up. There was talk on the night of a further release years down the line of this wine at 15 years. It is hard to imagine it getting any better, but it is something to look forward to even still.
What an absolutely sensational wine.
This was one of the absolute highlights of an unforgettable Wednesday night at Taberna Palo Cortado. Two absolutely exceptional wines, from the same vineyard, by the same hand and in the same style but different years, and what a difference a year makes.
First, both have a superb balance of concentrated white fruit and honeysuckle top and savoury bottom but the 2014 (which as far as I know was not an exceptionally warm summer) seems to have even more mass behind it than the 2013 did – a really epic punch of flavour.
Second, while the 2014 still has a fruitful richness to it, the additional year under flor seems to have pushed the 2013 over the boundary into the sharper, dryer, more elegant world of the fino. It is still an exceptionally full bodied fino by today’s standards, but next to it’s little brother it comes across as a touch reserved.
I am trying to be balanced here but I obviously like the 2014 best. They are both great wines though, and the kind of wine that any wine lover would enjoy.
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.
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.
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 …)
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.