Ramiro Ibáñez and Willy Pérez will not easily forget the 2018 edition of Vinoble. Tickets for their tasting focused on Sherry’s vineyards and soils, scheduled for the last day of the fair in Jerez, were sold out 15 minutes after being released. Conscious of the opportunity to expose their vision about the identity and grandeur of the pagos or vineyards in Sherry Country in an event like Vinoble, Ramiro and Willy —nobody calls them for their surnames— worked hard on their presentation.
They are in the process of writing a book about this issue, which is expected to be published soon, and used part of the vast material they have to prepare a 20-page dossier with detailed maps of the vineyards that was handed out to the participants of the tasting. They barely slept the night before; they wanted to print everything on time which is why they had to step out of Territorio Albariza, the popular stand they shared with colleagues Primitivo Collantes, Callejuela, Forlong, Armando Guerra and Barbadillo.
But before feeding paper onto the printer, Willy and Ramiro returned to the vineyards to pick up samples of albariza soils to give away during the tasting. The rain that fell in the Sherry Triangle on the days before Vinoble had prevented them from picking the samples earlier but they managed to fill 60 small wooden boxes with nine hand-written numbered compartments each, featuring some of the 15 types of albarizas found on the Sherry Triangle’s pagos from Miraflores to Carrascal.
At 10:30 the Mosque hall was packed with sommeliers, distributors, journalists winemakers and colleagues from Territorio Albariza. Standing at the back of the room, the discreet figure of Luis Pérez, Willy’s father and former research director at Domecq, a producer they mentioned on several occasions during the tasting. Luis Flor, the man from the city’s council who organized the event, members of Sherry’s Regulatory Body and Juancho Asenjo, who fought hard to have the new generation of producers at Vinoble were all there.
There was great expectation to listen to Ramiro and Willy and try their wines and they delivered in spades. In an hour that will be long remembered, this pair passionately demonstrated their knowledge of the region’s history and identity to an audience that embraced their message and thanked their excellent tasting-walk through the pagos and soils of Jerez with a long, heart-felt round of applause —and even some tears of emotion.
Many left the Mosque hall with the feeling of having lived a special moment, like Sarah Jane Evans MW. “I’ve never heard such applause for what was ‘just’ a wine tasting; the emotion was palpable. It marked a step change. Other regions, from Burgundy to Priorat and Napa Valley, have mapped and analysed their vineyards. This marks a new stage for Jerez, and a strikingly democratic one, sharing the knowledge and history with us all.”
For Paddy Murphy, who runs the blog The Vine Inspiration, it was a tasting for the ages. “It was a demonstration not only of Ramiro and Willy’s winemaking talent but also of their knowledge of and respect for the history of el Marco de Jerez. In presenting wines spanning almost eight decades, the tasting again emphasised to me the value of 'place over process’. Many people merely pay lip service to the capability of this region to produce world class fine wines, but this was a true realisation of that potential.”
Willy and Ramiro started their presentation “with humility and respect for tradition”, explaining the Sherry region in broad terms: the importance of proximity or distance to the ocean, vineyard elevation, winds and the different soils in a tasting that started in ocean-exposed pago El Carrascal, on the limit of albariza in Sanlúcar. This is the origin of the first wine on the taste, UBE Carrascal 2014, made by Ramiro with old vines in a plot called Las Vegas, on the highest part of this pago that produces “fresh, linear wines.” Fermented in casks and aged for two years, it is “a great representative of Palomino”, according to Willy.
The second, a 2016 with one year in bottle and more body and structure than the previous one, was sourced from Miraflores Alta, an area that they consider “the belly of Sanlúcar” for its location, elevation, orientation and soils. As Ramiro said, Miraflores was for a long time associated to manzanilla Barbiana, in the days that it was owned by Rodríguez Lacave. Nowadays, most of the owners of these vineyards are grape growers from Sanlúcar.
El Armijo vineyard, also in Miraflores, was the origin of the third wine, Amontillado El Armijo, with 10 years of ageing under a veil of yeast and another 10 years of oxidative ageing. This wine belonged to the family soleras of Gaspar Florido, the late producer behind legendary wines like GF. Ramiro recalled how Florido liked his older manzanillas to have a jerezano rather than a Sanlúcar style. “Human factor and the way a producer interprets albariza soils is also part of terroir.”
Manzanilla La Charanga, the fourth wine in the tasting had an average age of five years. Born in a 1.7ha vineyard on the northernmost part of Maína, this land is owned by a mayeto or grape grower. This vineyard is rich in diatomite, a sedimentary rock with fossilized skeletons of single-celled plants called diatomes, and is located at a distance of almost 15km from the ocean. According to Ramiro, this fact “contributes to add a sapid character and structure in Sanlúcar.” They value these fossil-rich soils highly “above other calcareous soils from other regions”, Willy and Ramiro said.
The fifth wine, Dos Palmas 2009 by Forlong, came from Balbaína Baja, an area with heterogeneous soils located six kilometres away from the coast on El Puerto de Santa María that was described as “the most Sanlúcar-like pago in Jerez” by Willy. There are only a few vineyards left in the vicinity of El Puerto these days, but Forlong still owns some. This sapid, fresh fino, with three years under flor, came from here in very small quantities: 200 bottles and 40 magnums.
Moving further inland, the sixth wine was sourced from Añina, a pago dating from Roman times with almost 600 ha of vines on the outskirts of Jerez but mostly owned and worked by Sanlúcar producers and grape growers. Lesser known than neighboring pagos Balbaína and Macharnudo, Añina has four subareas. Amontillado Las 40 comes from the eponymous vineyard, in the Marihernández sub-area, and is an artisanal wine made in a house in the vineyard with around 18-20 years of almost static ageing. “Nose from Jerez and palate from Sanlúcar”, said Willy and Ramiro.
Blanco De La Riva, the old Domecq brand that this pair have recovered, was the seventh. The grapes to make this white wine —which was a popular style in the region in pre-phylloxera days— were exposed to the sun for eight hours on a day with dry levant wind and then fermented in casks for 10 months under a veil of flor. “Exposing grapes to the sun on the coast is not recommended because the spirit of the grapes is forced, but it is great in Macharnudo and Carrascal as it favours structure”, they said.
Willy recalled their almost childlike excitement when they were allowed to purchase grapes from El Notario, a plot on the north side of Castillo del Majuelo in Macharnudo Alto, “the place where modern sherry was born” highlighting “the importance of Domecq’s human terroir, which was imitated by many.”
El Corregidor is the most famous vineyard in pago Carrascal, the furthest inland among all the great pagos in Jerez. Tosca de barajuelas is the predominant type of albariza here and this is where Oloroso La Barajuela 2013, the eighth wine on the tasting, was born. It is part of the Barajuela range, which includes three more wines and a brandy whose grapes were harvested in 14 different tries for 50 days. The expression of the vineyard is sought on these wines rather than the oxidative ageing. “The idea here is to achieve ripeness without forcing it, sunning the grapes, which is an old, natural technique, and avoiding fortification,” explained Willy, who described his Barajuela as “somewhere between a still wine and an oloroso”.
Without leaving Macharnudo, “the Romanée Conti of Jerez”, and to finish such a revelatory walk on albariza soils, Ramiro and Willy brought from their personal collection —they’ve been buying old sherries for years— a 1945 saca of the enormous amontillado fino Carta Blanca 1940, “one of Spain’s greatest white wines, a vineyard sherry, with a well understood ageing, sapid; that’s the style we like.” Ramiro remembered that Agustín Blázquez, who made this wine, and La Guita, were ahead of the rest of producers in this respect. “The wine had gained concentration in the vineyard and this character was respected in the cellar,” without the biological ageing overpowering the volume on the palate.
To finish off the tasting, a final thought on identity from this non-conformist duo: “Quality in Jerez is very high, but there’s room for improvement.”