Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Bottle Ageing of Sherry

Many Sherries, particularly Finos and Manzanillas, carry a recommendation to drink them within a few months of purchase.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but without doubt these wines have the capacity to develop considerably more complexity in bottle, especially those bottled en rama. The recommendation on the label is really to avoid complaints from consumers who encounter  unexpected flavours  as they do not understand the effects of bottle age. In fact nearly all wines are better after a few months of settling in bottle after the shock of bottling itself, yet well over 80% of them are consumed within 48 hours of purchase. Such a shame.

Standard Finos and Manzanillas are filtered so as to be fresh and bright as the consumer expects, and they can develop well in bottle, however the all-but-unfiltered en rama wines have more substance, and that allows them to age better. All wines are living things and continue to develop in bottle, but the more that is taken out by filtration, the less scope there is for improvement. In fact some Sherries are bottled in magnum for the express purpose of ageing them in bottle, Equipo Navazos and Barbadillo for example, as wines age longer and more gracefully in magnums. In the end, the better the Sherry, the better it will improve in bottle. Equipo Navazos sometimes release wine which they have already aged in bottle for some time.

The bottle doesn't need to be this big...or does it?

One only has to taste side by side two en ramas of the same brand bottled a year (or years) apart to see how interestingly they develop. They are likely to be from the same vineyards and the same solera – virtually the same wines - the only important difference being bottle age. Depending on the age difference, the older one will have more intense, complex, subtle, nutty, buttery, bitter, oxidative characteristics and a slightly deeper colour, all of which certainly appeal to the Sherry connoisseur. These effects are brought about by reductive ageing; that is ageing in the virtual absence of oxygen, though it has been estimated that about 1m/g of oxygen per year can get into the bottle. 

With a vintage printed on the label one usually knows roughly when a wine was bottled, or at least how old it is. But Sherry is rarely a vintage wine. Being aged in wood for much longer than almost any other wine, one might reasonably consider it fully mature at bottling, yet it demonstrably continues to improve in bottle. This development is most marked in the younger, lighter Finos and Manzanillas. Naturally proper storage in the home will extend the life and enhance the enjoyment of these wines. The type of cork is a clue to how the producer sees the wine: if it has a cylindrical driven cork it is intended for longer ageing. So the question is how much bottle age is needed for the wine to develop the desired characteristics. This is really a matter of personal taste and the wine in question, but just one year can make a difference, but the more – within reason – the merrier. Experiment!

It would be very useful, therefore, to know how long they have been in bottle already, but bottling dates usually appear as impenetrable codes. At least with most en rama wines the bottling or saca date is stated on the label, but all Sherries really should carry a clear bottling date, or at least a common code which connoisseurs can understand. At the moment, the bodegas use many different codes. One does sympathise with them for not putting dates on the labels of more commercial wines, as the less well informed consumer might think the bottle is past its best.

This date is easy: Lot number: Year 2015 day 295 (October 22)

The other styles of Sherry are also capable of ageing well, but improvement is less dramatic as they are usually older already. All wines, including Sherry, will eventually throw a fine and perfectly harmless sediment over long periods of time, say five years or more, and sweet wines will eventually become a bit dryer. Harveys used to bottle some of their sweet Bristol Milk with a two inch driven cork specifically for laying down in bottle, and the result was marvellous, some of the sweetness drying out and giving way to texture and length.

Wine, like all things in life, needs understanding, and the best way to achieve that is to build up experience by tasting as many as possible at as many stages as possible. I would recommend you try ageing some Sherry in bottle. Buy two bottles of, say, a good Fino or Manzanilla, make careful tasting tasting notes on the first one, wait a year or ideally two, and do the same for the second. Comparing the notes will be fascinating, and you will have an even better bottle to enjoy than the first one. Then repeat the process.

Some Magnums to look out for:
Equipo Navazos: Amontillado 69 and Manzanilla Pasada 70
Barbadillo: Manzanilla en rama, Manzanilla Pasada Pastora
Delgado Zuleta: Manzanilla Pasada Barbiana
Antonio Barbadillo Mateos: Manzanilla Sacristia AB
Unfortunately releases are very limited.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Sólo 2013 13.6%, Bodegas González Palacios

Bright glistening gold with very light legs.
Fresh and different with hints of lemon curd, ripe appleskin, apricot and gentle flor notes reminding one of Manzanilla, unusual but attractive, especially as a more familiar dusty Palomino aroma comes through with the very slightest trace of oxidation. A real character which keeps evolving in the glass.
Fresh, tangy and fairly full with an interesting interplay between fruit and flor; the intense fruit is balanced nicely with the acidity and the flor. It is dry clean and interesting with a really long finish.
This wine is from the table wine Denominación Vino de Calidad de Lebrija. The town is actually in the province of Sevilla, but it is close to the Guadalquivir, upstream from Sanlúcar, and the vineyards share the albariza soils and maritime atmosphere with its better-known neighbour. Made from 100% Palomino grapes, the wine is fermented in butts seasoned with Lebrija "Sherry" (very good and very similar but outside the Sherry ageing zone) and aged in them for a year under flor. Wines have been produced this way for centuries.
9.15 euros from Licores Corredera

Monday, 20 February 2017

20.2.17 Optimism in the Brandy Sector

Brandy has been in worldwide decline for some time. In Spain, the fact that it is no longer included in the “shopping basket” of the consumer price index demonstrates its falling importance in consumer preference. Fifty years ago Brandy de Jerez had 50% of the Spanish market. Declining per capita consumption of alcohol along with rising production costs and fiscal pressure explain the unease of recent years in the Jerez Brandy industry which has led to the conversion of many Solera brandies into cheaper Bebidas Espirtuosas and a drop to virtually nothing in promotional investment by the Consejo Regulador.

Things could be about to change however; worldwide, brandy is growing again. The recent purchases of the old Domecq and Garvey by Andrew Tan’s Emperador represent huge investment and faith in the sector inspiring some to predict that brandy could be the next fashionable drink after the gin and tonic boom both at home and abroad. According to Bosco Torremocha, general director of the Spanish federation of spirit drinks (FEBE), although all fashionable drinks run the risk of falling out of fashion again, brandy in general, and Brandy de Jerez in particular, with its quality and tradition, is growing again and this provides an opportunity.

After an era dominated by novelty, innovation and technology there is a move back to the roots, to the real thing, which will attract consumer interest. FEBE is convinced that it will not be long before the rewards for this will be reaped. Evaristo Babé, president of the Consejo Regulador Brandy de Jerez, feels the same saying that the world of spirits moves in cycles which repeat themselves and this happens in Spain just as much as the rest of the world. For a while a particular drink becomes the height of fashion and ends up being the drink of a generation - until the next one comes along - not out of some whim, but because of changes in lifestyle and consumer habits.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Oloroso Alburejo 18%, Bodegas Pilar Aranda

Deep dark mahogany fading to amber with the faintest trace of green at the rim, legs.
Serious, quite intense with tangy notes of volatile acidity with traces of raisin, oak, nuts, fallen leaves, tobacco and dried cereals. It smells quite old and complex yet is rounded off by a slight caramel note.
Full bodied with a very dry feel, not so much from tannin - though there is a little - but by the tangy acidity which also gives it zest. It has a little of the austerity and seriousness of the old wines, but not so intensely. That caramel note helps with balance to make a really interesting and rare experience.
While the label on this bottle bears the name of  the famous old almacenista Pilar Aranda, who was the first to register with the Consejo Regulador in 1933, it was actually contract bottled for Álvaro Domecq, presumably as he didn't yet have his own bottling registration (RE) number. He bought the bodega in 1999 and has since sold the wine under the Alburejo brand, named after his estate outside Jerez where he bred horses. This ties in with the coat of arms at the top of the label which shows two horses, spurs and a banderilla (a decorated barbed stick used by bullfighters) and a legend which says Nacer de Nuevo (to be born again). The coat of arms also appears on the cork. So this wine was bottled in the very early days of  Bodegas Álvaro Domecq and must have about 16 or 17 years in bottle plus its solera age which is given as over 7 years. It certainly had plenty of sediment and a thick plastic capsule of a type no longer used. I thought about marking these notes "retaste" but really the wine is different to the Alburejo of today (QV).
21 euros from Licores Corredera 

Friday, 17 February 2017

17.2.17 Lecture on 1st Circumnavigation at Consejo

Much will be heard over the coming two years about the first circumnavigation of the world, the 500th anniversary of which will be celebrated in 2019. Since Portugal had reserved the eastern route to the Spice Islands and Columbus had failed to find a western route on behalf of Spain, Ferdinand Magellan set sail in a fleet of five ships from Sanlúcar in September 1519 in search of it. The voyage was largely financed by King Carlos I of Spain, and was completed three years later by Juan Sebastian Elcano after the death of Magellan, most of the crew and the loss of four ships.

Luis Molla delivering his lecture (foto:diariodejerez)

The fleet loaded its supplies at Sanlúcar, and these included a lot of wine. Sherry was therefore the first wine to circumnavigate the world, and yesterday a lecture on the subject was given at the Consejo Regulador by Luis Mollá Ayuso, a writer, naval captain and professor. During research for his forthcoming novel on the subject he came across the original 200 page ship stores book which lists 253 butts and 417 odres (wineskins) of Sherry enough for 246 sailors, and which cost the crown the modern equivalent of 60,000 euros.

Page 5 of the ship stores book showing references to Sherry (foto:diariodejerez)

About 25 years ago a replica of Elcano’s ship the Nao Victoria was built and was successfully sailed round the world. It is only 28 metres long and 7.5 metres at its widest point yet, if we do some sums, it carried some 50 butts and 83 wineskins – among all the other stores – and a crew of 42. The precise size of these containers, in days long before standardisation, is not known but the wine ration was one litre per day issued in four rations. The Nao is tiny, and it must have been incredibly cramped, I know, I’ve been aboard.

The Nao Victoria replica at sea 

During his discourse, Luis Mollá was rightly at pains to encourage the trade to take maximum advantage of this opportunity to promote Sherry during the celebrations. He said that Sanlúcar will be the capital of Andalucía for a while and that the Consejo should support initiatives such as special fifth centenary labels. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

16.2.17 Europe Prepares Strategy for Protection of Origin in US

The arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States has put the main sectors of the world economy on alert, among them the wine sector, whose alliance of leading denominations of origin led by Sherry, Champagne and Port see the progress achieved in reinforcing protection of origin in the USA being endangered. Signatories of the Declaration to Protect Wine Place Names and Origin, signed in the Napa Valley in 2005 (see it here: are worried about the cooling of the free trade agreement known as TTIP between Europe and the USA since the arrival of Donald Trump. There will be a further alliance meeting at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in June.

The “post Trump strategy” took up a great deal of the debate at the recent meeting of the great wines of the world, held in Chianti in celebration of the tercentenary of Chianti Classico, and the alliance now has the support of twenty denominations of origin and geographic indications from all over the world. There will be a further alliance meeting at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in June.According to César Saldaña, director of the Consejo Regulador of Jerez the alliance is preparing a common strategy in an attempt to stop the global impact of the protectionist policies of the new president. He said that Trump’s arrival has confused the situation. One plan is to form a lobby group to ensure that the free trade agreement isn’t allowed to lose its teeth and that more attention is paid to European wines in the USA, where there has been no progress since the signing of the Wine Accord back in 2005.

The meeting in Chianti (foto:diariodejerez)

On that occasion the EU and the USA agreed to photograph the fake wines on sale at the time in the American market. The Accord fell short however; while no new brands were permitted, established ones could continue. In the USA it is considered that the names Sherry, Champagne and Port do not refer to their origin but to their production methods. It is expected that at the forthcoming meeting in Bordeaux new members of the alliance will be announced. Current members include Sherry, Port, Champagne, Burgundy and Chablis, Bordeaux, Rioja, Madeira, Chianti, Tokaj, Western Australia, Victoria and even a few from the USA: Long Island, Oregon, Paso Robles, Napa Valley, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Walla Walla, Washington State and Willamette Valley.

Meanwhile the EU has just voted to ratify a trade deal with Canada, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Negotiations began in 2009 amid much controversy and once each EU member parliament has agreed to it, it should take effect in a matter of months.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Bodegas: Molina & Cia.

José María Molina y Lamata worked as an agronomist at Bodegas Misa in Jerez before leaving to establish his own bodega in 1870 at Calle Honsario. This was a very old street in the Barrio San Pedro which had once been the site of the Jewish cemetery in medieval times. With the knowledge and experience he had gained from Misa, his business was very successful, gaining an excellent international clientele.

In 1884 he moved to a bodega complex in Calle Clavel, 29 which had once belonged to Carlos Haurie and now belongs to Emilio Hidalgo. This was the result of forming a partnership with Servando Álvarez Algeciras, who had a bodega in Calle Carpinteros in the Barrio Santiago. Servando provided financial backing and commercial experience while José María ran the bodegas and provided the winemaking skills. Servando married the daughter of fellow bodeguero Pedro Beigbeder y Casenave.

The Calle Clavel complex consisted of three bodegas, two for storage and ageing and the other, which held 2,500 butts, was for preparing wines for export.  Here they had an impressive range of modern conveniences: a bottle washing machine, a bottling line, corking machine, cork-branding machine and capsuling machine. Not only that but they had a steam boiler for cleaning butts, a 10 horsepower steam engine,  a still for brandy production and a cooperage.

Together they successfully exploited many European markets like Germany, France, Holland and Switzerland as well as the transatlantic ones of the USA, Mexico and much of Latin America. The firm reached its heyday in the late XIX and early XX centuries, but the partners were ageing. After the death of José María Molina around 1908, Servando Álvarez bought over the firm but before long sold it to Emilio Hidalgo. His bodega in Calle Carpinteros was demolished to make way for a school somewhere about 1912.

Bodegas Molina had an ample range of wines and their Sherries included Palido, Oloroso, Amontillado, Fino, Tres Cortados, Manzanilla, Moscatel , Moscatel Quinado and PX as well as home-made Málaga, Madeira, Port, Tintilla, and of course, brandy “Cognac Fine Champagne”. Some other brands were Abuelo, Imperial Molina, Jerez Para Enfermos, Vino Para Consagrar.