Despite the delay in the presentation of the programme and the absence of news about this fair focused on sweet and fortified wines, the impressive Alcázar in Jerez reopened its doors for the ninth edition of Vinoble between May 29-31.
Most of the 50 exhibitors came from the Sherry Triangle and Montilla-Moriles, plus a handful of representatives from Chiclana, Valencia, Canarias, Málaga, Portugal, Bordeaux and Armenia as well as Ochoa (Navarra) and distributor Perea. Many participants and producers complained about the timid presence of wines and buyers from around the world, something necessary to imbue prestige and international dimension to this fair. However, the lack of financial resources at Jerez City Council, which organizes Vinoble, put a stop to it.
The excellent average quality of the wines shown in this fair makes up for the modesty of the event. Only the large hall that the DO Sherry occupied on the first floor of the Alcázar Palace was sufficiently interesting to spend a whole morning tasting its wines, with six stands exhibiting a large number of wines from various wineries across the Triangle and divided by styles: finos, manzanillas, fortified, sweet and two highly popular tables with dry and sweet VOS and VORS.
The stands were ably managed by winemaking students from nearby Puerto Real campus but also had the occasional presence of producers such as Luis Arroyo (Arfe de la Cruz), Borja González García-Mier (Faustino González) or Antonio Barbadillo (Sacristía AB), who moved from this stand to the Manzanilla one downstairs. Sanlúcar producers put aside their disagreements over the use of bag-in-box for their wines to focus on showing some of the great wines made in this seaside town such as the manzanilla pasadas Blanquito (Callejuela) or Maruja (Juan Piñero), both brought about by Ramiro Ibáñez, the wizard of Albariza.
One of the main attractions of Vinoble were the free daily tastings, as the huge sales-style queues outside the Alcázar every morning attested. In this regard, the organizers failed to put in place a system to provide tickets online and turned a blind eye at the cheaters who used the exhibitors’ entrance to avoid the queues, which provoked the ire on those who had been waiting since first thing in the morning.
One of the most commented and revealing tastings was held at the beautiful mosque inside the Alcázar. Pedro Ballesteros managed to bring together, under one roof, to César Saldaña, director of the DO Sherry, and some of the Triangle’s new producers, some of them working outside the appellation. It was a public acknowledgment of the creativity that exists outside the established rules as Saldaña talked about “an unstoppable change of cycle” in the region and left the door of opportunity open for these producers to a “to fit in the future” under the DO umbrella.
Under the title “The Sherry Triangle: New Avenues on Age-Old Lands”, the Spanish Master of Wine managed to bring avant-garde and tradition together with a tasting of 14 wines “which are different but sink their roots deep” in the area and the presence of nine “brave producers who experiment in the vineyard and the winery”.
Winegrowers such as Alejandro Narváez and his wine Forlong Blanco; Primitivo Collantes and Socaire, his new single vineyard barrel-fermented white; Willy Pérez, with his unfortified Fino La Barajuela 2013; Pepe Blanco, one of the brothers behind Callejuela, and his vintage manzanilla 2/11; Ramiro Ibáñez and his Encrucijado 2014 vintage Palo Cortado or José Antonio Zarzana (Ximénez Spínola) and his Pedro Ximénez wines made in Jerez.
Along with the new wave of producers were some long-standing wineries which, as Barbadillo winemaker Montse Molina said, are showing “the courage to face change and launch new wines without corsets”. She presented Mirabrás, a white wine fermented in casks and deposits with a weak layer of flor —interesting to see how it develops in the bottle. Meanwhile, Antonio Barbadillo brought with him his first ever saca of Sacristía AB 2010 manzanilla, with evident notes of oxidative aging after these years in bottle. Other wines that we tasted, without the presence of their makers, were Navazos-Niepoort, 2009 Vintage Fino by Williams&Humbert, Amontillado 51 1ª VORS by Osborne, Oloroso Faraón VORS by Hidalgo-La Gitana and Palo Cortado VORS by Lustau.
The last to present his Vintage Moscatel was Antonio Flores, undoubtedly one of the best sherry communicators. The winemaker at González Byass won over the tasters with his passionate defense of a wine with over 100 years which he defined as “the tears of God that sweeten life” before reading some verses by the poet Pablo Neruda.
The most popular event, despite being held on the last day of Vinoble, was the tasting organized by Los Generosos, a cultural association made up of a group of friends who are passionate about sherry wines. Some 100 people, 50 in the Mosque and 50 in a nearby room with simultaneous transmission, enjoyed a comparative tasting of current and old bottles led by winemaker and communicator Luis Vida and comments by people like Pepe Blandino, cellar master at Tradición, among others.
The results were uneven —the tiredness of Fino Antique by Fernando de Castilla with nine years in bottle contrasted with the good shape of the 2008 saca of Fino La Panesa by Emilio Hidalgo or the dignity and verve of Matusalem VORS bottled in 1909. Rather than the wine analysis, what was interesting in this tasting was the chance to take part in this game of tasting new and old bottles and delve into space and time, which are the variables of sherry.
Between tastings, six regional restaurants offered show cookings paired with wines from five wineries while Pepe Ferrer, ambassador of the DO Sherry, did the same on the first floor with his popular tastings mixing gels and sherry.
Some wineries with financial muscle organized private activities during the three hours that the fair shuts in the hottest hours of the early afternoon —Spanish lunchtime— such as Barbadillo’s visit to the vineyards, lunch receptions with Ximénez Spínola and Sánchez Romate. Night time was reserved for partying with an exclusive gathering hosted by José Antonio Zarzana and a more informal cocktail party by Sánchez Romate at Tabanco Damajuana.
Tradición pulled out all the stops and opened its winery to over one hundred lucky people who tasted their wines and dined tapas prepared on site by restaurants such as Taberna Palo Cortado in Madrid or VORS in Santander and tuna sushi from nearby Barbate before moving onto the dancing floor with cocktails made with wines and brandies from the winery.
Almost everyone who stayed until the last Vinoble evening enjoyed an off-programme reward. A few lucky people heard through the grapevine that Pancho Campo’s tasting of Setubal wines would be followed by a special session, which turned out to be a journey through Tokaj, Port, Madeira, Sherry and Sauternes with five great wines from these regions, including Palo Cortado 1987 Vintage by González Byass and Château d’Yquem 1996.
With the lessons learnt from this Vinoble, organizers have two years ahead to prepare a solid and interesting 2018 programme both for national and international exhibitors and visitors —in 2006 Vinoble attracted over 400 wineries and 85 exhibitors. According deputy major Laura Álvarez, funds will be destined to improve infrastructures, communication and the organization of additional activities that “contribute to give continuity and raise the level of this exhibition until Vinoble 2018, to make it even better than this year”.
As Ballesteros said, “Jerez is a trustworthy wine”. It remains to be seen whether its guardians follow suit.