Many connections can be established between Rioja and the Sherry triangle. It is traditionally accepted that Haro and Jerez de la Frontera were the first Spanish towns to have electric light on their streets as early as 1890. Both regions are important wine producing areas with long-established roots and a rich history –they are also the most renowned Spanish appellations worldwide. Aging has played a decisive role in their wines (occasionally with adverse effects) and both are now in the midst of intense, lively debates about terroir.
Cvne could not have chosen a more appropriate time to present Monopole Clásico, made following the old recipe. Launched in 1915, it hid a secret ingredient: a small amount of Manzanilla purchased from the Hidalgo family in Sanlúcar de Barrameda was blended with the local Viura variety in order to gain structure. Such an irregular practice continued until the 1980s with the blessing of Rioja’s Regulatory Board.
The wine, presented to the media during the latest edition of Haro Station Wine Experience in mid-September, was one of the highlights of the day. Cvne had invaluable help from Ezequiel García aka El Brujo, who was in charge of winemaking between the 1940s and the 1970s. Despite being an octogenarian, he enthusiastically joined in and shared his expertise.
Cvne has published a small brochure with the story of the wine which includes the drawings and notes from Ezequiel himself (see the slider above). Grapes were sourced from some of the westernmost villages in Rioja like Haro, Cihuri, Anguciana, Tirgo or Sajazarra. Most of them were Viura but small percentages of White Garnacha, Malvasia and Calagraño were included even if Calagraño was often rejected given its low alcohol, high acidity and astringent palate.
Racking was done in traditional cement vats, but fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks. The wine aged for about eight months in 300- and 500-litre barrels and botas –Manzanilla is bought in botas so Sherry casks are also used for the elévage.
Monopole Clásico 2014 is set to be released over the coming days. Retail price is expected to be around €19-20. The nose displays white fruit and green apple aromas with a clear briny note, but it feels a bit shy and may benefit from some extra bottle aging. The palate is rewarding, displaying an evident Sherry style with salty flavours and some pungency leading to a long, creamy and nutty finish.
The broadening, long-lasting effect is more evident in Olivier Rivière’s white Rioja Mirando al Sur (which means Facing South), a name which clearly pays homage to Sherry. Rivière, who arrived in Spain to join Telmo Rodríguez’s team of winemakers and ended up launching his own project, is a member of Rioja’n’Roll, a dynamic group of young producers focusing on terroir.
“I really like Sherry, but I often find alcohol levels too high”, he said the first time he presented the wine to me. “However Sherry shows amazing complexity; it’s a thrilling wine. Sherry and Rioja are key names which form part of Spain’s wine heritage and I wanted to bring the two worlds together".
He chose his best plot in Labastida, a very old vineyard with gravelly soils overlooking the river Ebro, and then added grapes from a second plot in Briñas. The wine is fermented and aged in French oak for six months, just as his other white Jequitibá, but Mirando al Sur spends an additional year in two botas: one had previously contained Manzanilla and the other one Amontillado. Production is tiny (just 1,200 bottles) and it is relatively expensive (€57.80 at Barcelona Vinos), but the 2014 vintage is really amazing with a complex nose displaying aniseed, almonds, fine toasty aromas and other hard to define nuances. The palate is powerful, deep and salty with great acidity and complex dried fruit flavours. The finish excels in comparison with the previous 2013 vintage; in fact this is one of those wines where the fun starts after you swallow it.
Last week, Bierzo producer Grégory Pérez presented two intriguing wines at a tasting in Vinoteca Tierra, his distributor in Madrid. Mengoba Tinajas is a pale orange wine made with Godello grapes fermented with their skins and aged in amphorae while Mengoba Las Botas follows Olivier Rivière’s idea of aging in botas which had previously contained Sherry, but instead of Viura he used Godello, Bierzo’s signature white grape. On the nose, the wine is shy, with primary, fruity aromas that remind me of Monopole, but the palate is beautifully creamy and nutty.
José Luis Mateo from Quinta de Muradella in Monterrei conducted an interesting experience in the 2009 vintage. Fascinated by the high levels of minerality found in Sherry and Jura wines, he experimented with a sandy and granite plot planted with Dona Blanca to mute the varietal character of the grape. He oxidized the must which was then fermented in stainless steel tanks with no added sulfites in order to set the malolactic fermentation and finally put the wine in barrels. Neither the tank nor the barrels were entirely filled, so that the layer of yeast (the flor) could develop. During the process he witnessed how a flat must lacking acidity was able to concentrate acids and alcohol in such a way that the soil character managed to come through. With Quinta da Muradella Crianza Oxidativa 2009 (€28.5 at La Tintorería), flor is now part of the yeast population living in the cellar. This has been very helpful for Mateo’s second attempt in the 2013 vintage, in this case Treixadura grown on iron soils from decomposed slate. The wine has already been bottled but it won’t be released for the time being.
In a similar vein, one of the most secret and little known wines made by Comando G in Gredos is El Tamboril Crianza Biológica. A blend of White and Gris Grenache sourced from the same vineyard destined to El Tamboril, the wine goes into glass demijohns which are not filled to the top so that a thin layer of yeast is formed. More Jura than Sherry-inspired in this case, production is tiny (75 bottles of 50cl. and 30 magnums in the 2010 vintage) but the flor does play its role.
In eastern Spain, Gutiérrez de la Vega works with Muscat aged under flor for around 18 months for their scarce but affordable Tío Raimundo (€13,95 at Uvinum). As is the case with all of their wines, they are not part of the Alicante appellation. In Castilla y León, Beatriz Herranz from Barco del Corneta also decided to eschew the Rueda appellation for her terroir-driven Verdejos. One of her new wines, called Bruto, is made from old Palomino vines grown in Alcazarén (Valladolid). Aged under flor, it will be released by the end of the year.
These experiments of growing flor on white varieties across the country or the use of old sherry botas to get the sherry flavor (as it has traditionally been done by whisky producers) may bring a new lease of life to those Palomino vines planted in large areas of Galicia and Castilla y León after phylloxera. Many of them have been in these areas for over 100 years and are well adapted, just as their red counterpart Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), which is starting to play a small role in high-quality red wines from Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra.
Precisely in Bierzo, Catalan winemaker Mario Rovira makes Palomino-based whites but he decided to head south to craft Tosca Cerrada, an unfortified Palomino under flor made with the aid of Delgado Zuleta and released under the VT Tierra de Cádiz seal.
What is certain is that some of the most cutting edge wine producers in Spain have fallen hopelessly in love with Sherry.