Thursday, 19 April 2018

19.4.18 Very Interesting Lecture at Williams & Humbert

The excellent Ciclo de Conferencias (Cycle of Lectures) offered by Williams & Humbert since 2014 continues on Thursday 26th April with a fascinating lecture entitled “Tránsitos de Ida y Vuelta: La Anudación de Tres Continentes” (Return Journeys: the Ties between Three Continents) by María del Carmen Borrego Plá, Professor of History at the Universidad Hispalense in Sevilla, author of various books and co-proprietor of Bodegas El Maestro Sierra. She will explain the connections and cultural, social and economic exchanges between Europe, Asia and America which took place during the XVI century - including the wines and their customs – which have lasted till the present day without us being aware of their origins. The lecture will take place at the bodegas of Williams & Humbert at 19.30 and a glass of Sherry will be served afterwards. Go if you possibly can, there is no charge, but places are limited.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Pedro Ximénez 15%, Bodegas Fernández Gao

Opaque browny black fading to amber at the rim, viscous.
Very fruity, predominantly pasa but hints of prune and dried fig too. It has that lovely smell of raisins on their redores (esparto mats) out in the sun as well as notes of carob, molasses and Christmas cake. 
Amazing viscosity with an attractive dried grape pulp texture, pure raisin concentrate! Super smooth and mouth-filling with just enough acidity to mitigate some of the sweetness giving it a soft treacly tang and very good length. 
This lovely PX has an average age of over 12 years and comes from a small solera in the bodega San Jorge in Calle Arcos, Jerez. Fernández Gao is the welcome reincarnation of a historic old bodega of the same name whose origins date back to 1750. In 2014 Jerez businessman Antonio Sánchez Gago bought two disused bodegas in Calle Pajarete (formerly Real Tesoro) and Calle Arcos along with the original firm's various brand names and, using family soleras as a starting point, set up the new firm along with his brother Juan Carlos who is the oenologist. It is early days but the wines are very good and have already received some deservedly good scores from the critics.
26,60 per 50cl, Licores Corredera

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Brandy Pedro I Solera Reserva 38%, Bodegas Yuste

Mahogany with copper highlights fading to amber.
Complex and refined, it has developed a bouquet of subtle nuances like oak, nuts, Oloroso, caramel and vanilla all nicely melded together. It might contain some aguardiente, but not much, this is mostly holandas and it has an air of quality.
Very smooth and quite rich with hints of dried fruit and caramel rounding it off. It holds the alcohol well too, which helps, and there is a gentle texture. There are gentle brown sugar and orange peel notes and there might be a trace of sweetening (perfectly legal) but it has been well done, and the Oloroso is not excessive. Long, harmonious and very satisfying.
The soleras for this excellent brandy were established in 1860 by the now lost firm of Pedro Romero in Sanlucar, and they were bought by Francisco Yuste after Romero went bust. The brandy itself has an average age of nearly 20 years, spent in butts made from American oak from Costa Rica. I'm not sure if it is named after Pedro Romero or after King Pedro I of Castilla and Leon, a XIV century monarch known as "Pedro the Cruel" or "Pedro the Just" depending on which side you were on.
32,60 euros, Licores Corredera

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Sherry of Royalty

This lovely and very interesting article by Ángel Espejo and video by Miguel Ángel González appeared in yesterday’s Diario de Jerez. The video is in Spanish but is well worth watching nonetheless.

*His wine has a privileged place in the royal household and also refreshes the criaderas of Tio Pepe.
*Curro of La Blanquita is the creator of this Fino without a name from the historic pago of Balbaína.

El Kubala used to enter the royal Zarzuela Palace* just like Pedro did his house. He always went well provided with a few arrobas of Fino wine from La Blanquita to refresh the butt which Pedro Pacheco* had gifted to King Juan Carlos* during his time as mayor. Rafael García González - better known as El Kubala or Kubalita for his resemblance to a Hungarian footballer and his skill with the ball when he competed in the lower divisions – looked after the royal barrel with the same care he put into the maintenance of the small solera in the little private bodega of the ex-mayor of Jerez, which was also refreshed with the wine of La Blanquita, the 50 hectare vineyard in the historic pago Balbaína which belonged to the Barba family.

The connection with royalty was interrupted by the sudden death of El Kubala. The monarch ceased to reign and the ex-mayor was deprived of his liberty. But that is another story. By one of life’s many coincidences, the La Blanquita Fino regained its connection with royalty, but by another route, brought about by the friendship between the elder son of Francisco Barba González, “Curro de la Blanquita”, and José Manuel Zuleta, Duke of Abrantes and equerry to Queen Letizia, childhood classmate of the vine-grower’s son, and by which the despatch of Balbaína Fino to the palace for the annual refreshing of the royal barrel was re-established.

News came directly to the ears of Curro de la Blanquita about the refusal of the King Emeritus* to accept any wine which did not originate from his vines after Pacheco was relieved of the mayorship. “So they say” said the veteran Sanluqueño vine-grower, who was more worried about the quality and prestige of his wines, which also refreshed the criaderas of Tio Pepe at González Byass.

Curro Barba invested the money he had managed to save in Barcelona as a painter, the first place he went after completing his military service at the La Parra base*, in the purchase of the vineyard on the last day of the year back in 1969. Four million of the old pesetas which they gave him to pay half the asking price for La Blanquita, a parcel located on the left of the Jerez-Rota road in the first few kilometres, in the municipality of El Puerto, and which then consisted of 15 hectares of vineyard presided over by the casa de viña La Blanquita whose whitewash shone brightly in the sun giving the vineyard its name.

Barba had only seen the vineyard as a young man working as a day labourer in Sanlúcar, but he quickly adapted to the new role of vine-grower where he soon saw the need to make the change to wine maker because of the slim margins provided by the sale of grapes to the bodegas.

“I had no idea about wine but it couldn’t be too difficult and I knew something about vineyards”, explains the official provider of wine to the royal household, who continues “I had a rough time of it at the start since grapes offer very low returns, but after much hard work I completed the payments for the vineyard for which they gave me a reduction for early payments, then I grubbed up the very old vines and re-planted it”.

In the mid-1970s, with his financial affairs in order, Curro assumed another debt to build a press house, and years later, in his tireless search for stability, he again re-mortgaged the family home in Sanlúcar to construct another building to house the necessary tanks as he became a wine producer. “From selling grapes I went to making mostos which I sold straight from the butt to González Byass, and later installed the tanks from which I could sell wine which had been racked for a higher price.

With great effort and sacrifice the business began to finance itself and allowed him to triple the size of the vineyard to 45 hectares with the purchase of another two parcels in the area and establish a modest solera of 180 butts of Fino “as my little treat”, that is to say for personal consumption or with friends – now limited in number by the ailments of age – and for sale in bulk. No Amontillado or Oloroso or any other types of wine, just Fino, but Curro takes care not to allow the wine to get fat, by what he calls “false sales” or withdrawing part of the wine and refreshing it with younger wine so it doesn’t end up losing the flor and becoming Amontillado.

Curro of La Blanquita misses the excitement and hope of those years, despite the hard daily work in the vineyard, but at almost 83 years old his main worry is that he doesn’t see his legacy go beyond his son Francisco Barba “Currito”, the only one of his three children interested in being a grower.

With 52 springs on his shoulders, Currito runs the business in which he began working 13 years ago and he doesn’t want any of his four children anywhere near it. Curro and Currito agree that it “provides a living given hard work, but not much more. It is very demanding and you have to be on top of things all day, every day”.

With a considerable production of some 600 butts per year – between 250,000 and 300,000 litres – La Blanquita remains a small family business far from the winds of change blowing through the area, and this distance doesn’t hold out much hope, in the short term at least, of resulting in increased grape and must prices for the growers.

Curro father and son don’t understand new Sherries or new grape varieties. Theirs is the Palomino, from which they make their Fino, and “the more the merrier”, because according to Curro “Jerez is still one of the few DOs which still pays by the kilo, so how can they ask a grower for more if they don’t pay for it”.

Although this family of cosecheros lives beyond the new airs blowing through the area, they agree on the vital importance of looking after the vineyards and also that of the pago from which the grapes come, in their case, Balbaína “whose wines are famous for their finesse” affirms Francisco Barba senior, who insists that “this provides a living given hard work, and if you don’t have the capacity for such work you would be better trying something else, because only with constant work and attention will the vineyard succeed”.

La Blanquita has other attributes however; the vineyard has beautiful views looking towards Jerez, though they have changed in recent years with the uprooting of vineyards “where we reached 22,000 hectares and now only have 6,000”. The abandoned appearance of some of the nearby slopes resulting from the uprooting saddens Curro, though while there are still some plots dedicated to producing Sherry there are others, like the neighbouring Viña del Caballo, bought by a bodega to plant other, non-Palomino, grape varieties to make Vinos de la Tierra de Cádiz. “At least it is still a vineyard”, he observes.

While he is still physically able, Curro de la Blanquita will keep on going every day to his vineyard, in winter only in the mornings and in summer, mornings and afternoons “to attend to everything that happens here”. And he will continue to do it with an amiable smile, a reflection of his good-natured character to which the inscription on a plaque presented to him by his friends for his 80th birthday refers. It hangs on the main door of the bodega and reads: “We will always be able to count on you because you are a person with a good heart”.

*In 2014 King Juan Carlos I abdicated in favour of his son, now King Felipe VI, married to Queen Letizia, and now holds the title of King Emeritus.
*The Zarzuela Palace in Madrid is the residence of the King/Queen and the royal household.
*Pedro Pacheco was mayor of Jerez between 1979 and 2003. He was imprisoned for municipal irregularities in 2014 and is now nearing the end of his sentence.
*La Parra was an air base built close to Jerez in 1936 and is now the city’s La Parra Airport. Parra means “vine”.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Manzanilla 1a Saca 2017 15.3%, Sacristía AB

Bright old gold with golden highlights.
Full, forthcoming, complex and very fresh with beautifully harmonised notes of bitter mature flor, buttery toasted almond and faint oxidation. There is also plenty of straw and dried herbs and scrub as well as a distinct salinity. There is a nice dry air about it, presumably since it was selected in summer when the flor is thinner.
Big, quite intense and very clean with beautifully balanced acidity. Lots of straw and dried herbs, yeasty sourdough, distinctly maritime and at a lovely stage of maturity. It is very dry with a slight chalky texture and finishes with a very long and impressive flourish.
This wine is the only saca of 2017 (so far, but probably) and comes, as it often does, from the bodega of Francisco Yuste who has stocks of some great Manzanilla. It was selected in July and bottled en rama in November. The hot dry spring had left its mark on the flor giving the wine great depth, personality and elegance, and it is a Manzanilla Pasada, well over eight years old, though that is not mentioned on the label. Despite great success with his wines, Antonio Barbadillo seems ever less inclined to use the electronic media, so unless you bump into him it is difficult to keep up to date and offer more information. Still, this is a lovely wine, classic Manzanilla.
15.50 euros per 50cl, Er Guerrita

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Manzanilla Victoria 15%, Bodegas Diez-Mérito

Bright pale golden straw with golden glints.
Fresh and forthcoming with herbal and slightly floral aromas of grass, straw and camomile there is a salty edge too, and of course some flor bitterness, but not enough yet to obscure traces of apple and fresh apricot. Young and zippy, still with some vino blanco character.
Plenty of tangy freshness, clean and appley with an attractive gentle herbal bitter note and a dry, chalky feel from the albariza and a mineral hint. It gives you the impression of open sea air on the beach near a meadow, and arouses a strong desire for seafood tapas.
The name Victoria has long been a popular name for Sherries having been used by a number of bodegas like Otaolaurruchi, V&F González, Bobadilla and Bodegas Internacionales. This brand will have come from the latter due to the purchase of parts of Internacionales along with Diez-Mérito by Marcos Eguizábal in the 1980s after the collapse of Rumasa. It was then sold under the name of Federico Paternina, the umbrella name of Eguizábal's company, until Diez-Mérito was bought by the Espinosa family in 2016. The wine has an average age of over three years and is excellent value for money.
4.00 euros, widely available.

Friday, 13 April 2018

13.4.18 Tio Pepe en rama 2018 Launched

The 9th release of Tio Pepe en rama is now available. After an initial selection of 120 butts in October, Antonio Flores has selected the wine from just 62 butts from the Constancia and Rebollo soleras, both of which are made from Macharnudo musts. Autumn 2017 was very hot and followed by a cooler winter, with decent rainfall into spring which gave the wine a healthy layer of flor which is reflected in the wine’s yeastiness. For the first time it will also be available in magnums.