San Sebastián, home to a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants, was the city chosen by Sherry’s Regulatory Council to promote its wines in Spain with the Sherry Festival.
As in past editions in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, the week-long Festival included wine store promotions, tastings and paired dinners for the general public. On 8 May, a professional showroom was also held in San Sebastián with 23 producers and over 200 wines plus three seminars led by president Beltrán Domecq (VOS and VORS), general director César Saldaña (biological aging and en rama wines) and Sherry ambassador Pepe Ferrer (pairing workshop), from the Regulatory Council.
With Fenavin, Spain’s largest wine trade fair, being held a day later, some small producers had to choose which of the two events they would attend; others, which act as négociants, are not allowed to take part in these promotional events except if they go with the producers they whose wines they bottle (as it was the case of Antonio Barbadillo and his Sacristía AB brand, who shared a table with Bodegas Yuste). Other producers who are making alternative wines in the area were also missing —Luis Pérez, Primitivo Collantes and La Callejuela, among others— but the quality and interest of many of the majority of the wines there was unquestionable.
Below is a small review of ten wines from ten different producers that caught our attention at the show with a range of styles and prices. This list could easily include 20 or 30 different brands, such is the quality of the wines in this small region.
Launched for the first time on May 8, this artisanal producer in Chipiona is better known for its excellent moscatel wines but it has chosen not to be left behind in the trend to make biologically aged en rama wines.
It is made from Palomino sourced from a vineyard in pago Miraflores that César Florido, fifth generation of a family which has been producing wine in the region since the 18th century. Five criaderas feed the solera of this fino (400 butts). For the time being, only butt number two, chosen for its quality, will reach the market.
Despite coming from one of the Triangle’s top vineyards and despite being aged around 25 meters away from the Atlantic Ocean, this fino does not technically belong to the DO Sherry as the bodega lies in Chipiona, away from one of the three noble Sherry towns. As such it is labeled as “Area of Production”. Beyond that, this fino has a saline, pungent expression and is savory on the palate —it resembles more a manzanilla than a fino.
Retail price: €14 at the producer’s physical store and via email
Each October for the past eight years, Antonio Flores, “maker of wines” at Bodegas González Byass, has marked 100 butts in the Tío Pepe solera which rests in the old La Constancia cellars in Jerez. In April, the Sherry Triangle’s star communicator (it’s worth seeing his instructive videos in YouTube) goes back to the cellar to select the final 60 butts out of those 100 that will be bottled in the annual spring saca as Tío Pepe Fino en Rama.
The 2017 saca carries the bottling date on the back label (April 21) and, unlike previous vintages, it does not state a best before date. Those days when it was said that en rama wines had to be drunk on release are history: the oxidative, concentrated character gained with the extra time in bottle has an increasing number of followers.
Right now, the wine is gold in colour with yeasty flor and almond notes on the nose. Elegant and expressive with good freshness. According to Flores, this wine is “alive and wild”.
Retail price: €16 (bodega’s online store, Wine Searcher)
This manzanilla is a selection of butts by Antonio Barbadillo, whose initials adorn the labels of this brand launched at the beginning of the decade. Sacristía AB is always bottled en rama, with no clarification or filtering, hence it is normal to find flor yeast deposits at the bottom of the bottle. Antonio selects it in the autumn and lets it stabilize for a few months.
This saca, which was bottled at the end of March, is fresh and briny and feels more lively and intense than previous releases. It comes from old soleras with around 8-10 years under flor selected from Bodegas Yuste, a new player in the region with some of stocks of old wines like the extraordinary amontillado from the old Conde de Aldama solera.
Retail price: €15 for a 37.5cl bottle (Vinissimus, Wine Searcher)
This Sherry bodega is loyal to the style it has been making wines for generations: very long aging times and unconcerned about releasing en rama wines, so in vogue over recent years. This amontillado fino comes from solera El Tresillo; it is a fino that has gradually lost the flor layer with the passing of time and it later undergoes oxidative aging. All in all, this wine spends 15 years in butts before its release.
Given such a long time under flor, El Tresillo is paler than other Amontillados and maintains a pungent character combined with bitter notes a a nutty, bone dry finish. its older brother, El Tresillo Viejo 1874, comes from the same solera founded that year. It has great concentration and personality with an average age of around 50 years. This 'young' Tresillo offers great value for money considering its quality and years of aging.
Retail price: €28 (Ideavinos, Wine Searcher)
After Filipino tycoon Andrew Tan purchased the assets of Fundador, Domecq, Terry and Harveys to integrate them in the Fundador Group, many in the industry breathed a sigh of relief when they found out that the new owner seemed to have no intention to split up again these historical names.
And although Fundador is focused mainly on brandy, wine seems to be an important element within the business plans of this millionaire of Chinese origin. The VORS range, whose soleras were born at the beginning of the 20th century, have been relaunched with a new, elegant image. The same approach has been taken for the premium range, with six wines ranging from a fino to and old Cream.
With a more commercial, gentler profile than other dry amontillados it is nonetheless a fine and elegant wine. Sourced form a solera founded in 1928, grapes come from El Majuelo, a 200-hectare vineyard owned by the bodega in the legendary pago Macharnudo.
Retail price: 15 € for a 50cl bottle (contact the producer for points of sale)
Barbadillo is one of Sanlúcar’s leading producers. As well as being the largest producer of manzanilla, it also stocks a considerable number of wines thanks to the 12,000 butts resting on its cellars spread across the town.
Its VORS range, with an average age of at least 30 years and limited releases, feels at times eclipsed by the Reliquias —the family wines which have gone unrefreshed form 150 years and are sold in tiny amounts at €1,300 euros and above.
It might not be the winery’s ultra premium wine, but this oloroso is the closest you might get to Reliquia for a tiny fraction of its price. An oxidatively aged wine, this Oloroso is balanced and harmonious with notes of orange peel, coffee and a classy finesse that makes it look sweeter than what it really is. Elegant and persistent.
Retail price: €98.50 (Vila Viniteca)
This small familia winery in Jerez started life in 1972 thanks to Faustino González, a wine loving doctor who purchased an old solera and seven hectares of vines cared with sustainable viticulture methods and where the traditional vara y pulgar pruning system, similar to the Guyot method, is still practiced. As almacenistas, they provided stocks of wine to bodegas like Álvaro Domecq or Lustau, but since 2014 they market a small amount of fino, amontillado, oloroso and palo cortado —all of them en rama— under the brand Cruz Vieja.
Cellar master Jaime Gonzalez, one of the five brothers working in the property (a term he prefers to wine maker), explains that his father used to drink it when he was young and went to the cinema. “Back then it was a cheap wine and it was drank by the locals”, he says. Nowadays things have changed considerably and palo cortado is not an everyday drink in the bars of the Sherry Triangle.
Production has dropped considerably too, a trend that is also reflected in this winery. Out of the 480 butts in the Cruz Vieja cellar, located on one of the highest points in Jerez, only 17 are destined for palo cortado. This wine starts life under flor and is later aged oxidatively in sherry’s traditional 650-litre butts. Dry and pungent, it has a delicious palate combining the finesse of an amontillado and the intensity of an oloroso.
Retail price: €37.50 (El Petit Celler, Wine Searcher)
Made from 75% Palomino Fino from Pago del Hornillo in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and 25% Pedro Ximénez, Piñero’s Cream Viejo has over 20 years of average age. Winemaker Ramiro Ibáñez has been consulting here since 2013, when Piñero started to bottle and market its own wine.
Better known for its excellent manzanilla Maruja, this blend of oloroso and PX is made in very small quantities with two annual sacas. Dark mahogany in colour, the traditional power of an oloroso is balanced with a tasty, silky texture that is not at all cloying. It’s hard not to finish a bottle when paired with a good assortment of soft-rind cheeses.
Retail price: €19.90 for a 50cl bottle (Lavinia, Wine Searcher)
The history of Moscatel is linked to Chipiona and also to this cooperative founded in 1922. Nowadays it is formed by 170 wine growers who control 280 hectares under vine and are responsible for 85% of the production of moscatel in the DO Sherry.
Dark mahogany colour and with a high concentration of sugars, this luscious moscatel has plenty of raisins, dates and toasted aromas over a background of cocoa and vanilla. Unctuous and with broad intensity, this wine is seriously underpriced for its quality.
Retail price: €8.20 (cellar's online store, Wine Searcher)
Urium is one of the smallest bodegas in the Sherry Triangle and belongs to the Ruiz family, who hail from Moguer (Huelva). Rocío Ruiz, daughter of the owner and winemaker, is the visible face of this bodega which was born in 2009 with one cellar in the centre of Jerez and around 500 butts containing aged wine. One of those old soleras is the source of this Pedro Ximenez, with an average age of some 50 years.
Dark mahogany in colour, this is a dense and concentrated wine with a whooping 400 g/l of sugar and aromas of raisins, honey, coffee and burnt sugar notes on the background. Unctuous and persistent on the palate, it is sold in an elegant bottle which stands out from the standard model. Urium has also launched a limited edition with 400 units (€75) in an oversized perfume-like bottle neatly sold in a velvet box.
Retail price: €39.90 for a 50cl bottle (Ideavinos, Wine Searcher)