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  • Unfortified whites from Jerez: back to the roots and the soil
  • Unfortified whites from Jerez: back to the roots and the soil
Selection of white unfortified wines from Jerez. Photos: Yolanda O. de Arri

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Unfortified whites from Jerez: back to the roots and the soil

Yolanda Ortiz de Arri | October 8th, 2018

Ten years have gone since Equipo Navazos brought back the old Jerez tradition of making unfortified white wines. Their Navazos Niepoort 2008 opened the way to this style —still made in limited, even experimental releases— but which is gradually entering the portfolios of a majority of quality producers in the Sherry Triangle and contributing to add dynamism to a world-class wine region that is still unknown by the general public at large.

These wines combine tradition, identity, origin and terroir —something that occurs across other great wine regions worldwide— and could (should, really) become the entry door to the quality sherry category. The Regulatory Board set up a commission earlier this year to open up the appellation to single-vineyard, unfortified whites, but approval is unlikely to be easy given that there is opposition from some producers and that it is being debated alongside other thorny issues like the bag-in-box and finos from Sanlúcar.

For the time being, and given that there are no regulations, some of these wines are sold as IGP Vino de la Tierra but others work outside official categories with the added freedom to experiment and recover traditional winemaking practices (as Willy Pérez says, “everything has been done in Jerez before”). 

Most of them are made from Palomino grown on albariza soils, Some with different clones (Ube by Ramiro Ibáñez) although there are some others featuring Uva Rey (Primitivo Collantes), Moscatel (4 Ojos Wine) or even Vijiriega Blanca (Compañía del Atlántico, listed below) and they usually never go beyond 13% alcohol. The veil of flor is a tool rather than a requirement in this type of wines that come in a wide range of styles and prices.

Coinciding with International Sherry Week (8-14 October), SWL selects ten favourite unfortified wines made in the Sherry Triangle which deserve their space in the universe of dry white wines of the world. 

And forget the copita: they should be served in a large crystal glass. 

1. Blanco de Hornillos, Callejuela
Brothers Blanco, third generation of mayetos (grape growers) from Sanlúcar with over 28 hectares of vines in vineyards like Callejuela, El Hornillo, Macharnudo and Añina, are true advocates of unfortified white wines. Their Blanco de Hornillos is commonly known in the area as “mosto” (must) which refers to the region’s unfortified young wines that are used to feed the criaderas (different ageing stages) of manzanillas and other wines aged in the traditional solera system. This Palomino from albariza soils is fermented in stainless steel tanks and displays the fruity, fresh notes of a young wine with a dry finish. Citrus and mineral on the palate, it is an excellent wine to start on the unfortified white wine category. 
A step up are Callejuela’s excellent single-vineyard whites: Hacienda de Doña Francisca from pago Callejuela, La Choza from Macharnudo and Las Mercedes, from pago Añina. All of them are fermented and aged in casks under flor in order to express the terroir. For just a little bit extra (€11.85 in Decántalo) they are an excellent choice.

Find this wine for €6.80 at De Albariza

2. Viña Matalián 2017, Bodegas Primitivo Collantes
Like a brave Gaul on the coast of Cádiz, Primi Collantes stands firm against the threat of urban development and maintains its sea of vineyards in Chiclana, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, where land under vine has shrunk to barely 150 hectares.
Viña Matalián, younger brother of Socaire, comes from 20 hectares of vines in the eponymous vineyard with albariza soils. It is in the outskirts of Chiclana, where the wind blows relentlessly and the grapes ripen a little later than in other parts of the Sherry Triangle. 
Although it is the most modest wine in the range, Viña Matalián offers a great deal for very little. It is made with palomino grapes before being fermented in stainless steel tanks with not a trace of flor. Ripe pear fruit notes on the nose with a chalky character and final bitterness that lift the wine. It is perfect to drink now with the final spell of good weather just before the long winter.

Find this wine for €7 at Andalucía en Vino

3. Ojo de Gallo 2017, Bodegas Estévez
It is the third vintage in the market of this wine sourced from your Palomino vines planted in the 145 hectares owned by Estévez in Macharnudo Alto, one of the most legendary vineyards in Jerez with its perfect location and pure albariza soils. It is aged with its lees in stainless steel tanks for six to eight months before being bottled. Fruit and floral aromas, expressive and mineral with the telltale chalky notes that reveal its origin. Pleasant, savoury and easy to drink.

Find this wine for €7.30 on grupo Estévez

4. Corta y Raspa 2017, Mayetería Sanluqueña
Four wines, three mayetos and Ramiro Ibáñez. Mayetería Sanluqueña is the name of this exciting project launched in 2016 to encourage small vignerons to produce their own wine instead of selling it to third parties at ridiculous prices. The growers are Antonio Bernal (La Charanga vineyard in Maína with soils of albariza de barajuelas (a laminated type, like a deck of cards), José Manuel Harana (La Atalaya vineyard in the eponymous pago in Sanlúcar, albariza de lentejuelas, which is loose and soft) and Rafael Rodríguez (Las 40 and Casabón, in Añina, albariza de tosca cerrada, tough and solid). 
All of them are artisan and very personal wines, with limited yields and productions (600 bottles, except La Charanga, with 1500 bottles) and naturally fermented in casks, like in the old days. Consultant Ramiro Ibáñez helps them with the winemaking, which is the same for the four wines. It’s fascinating to taste them side by side and see the differences between them, from the saline and mineral La Atalaya to the sapidity of La Charanga or the structure and character of Las 40 and Casabón (this wine has replaced Morla in the current 2017 vintage). All of them are classified as table wines.

Find these wines for €9 at Cuatrogatos Wine Club

5. El Muelle de Olaso 2016, Bodegas Luis Pérez
This wine, and this 2016 vintage in particular, is one of our favourites in the new generation of unfortified whites in the Sherry Triangle. Palomino grapes destined for El Muelle are handpicked on the second of five selections (based on the ripeness of the grapes) that take place in the vines of pago Carrascal in Jerez —the 2018 harvest of the Barajuela range has lasted for 61 days. The wine seeks to express terroir in the purest possible way without the influence of flor. 80% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks with the rest undergoing asoleo (grapes dried in the sun) before going to seasoned Sherry casks where the wine spends six months on its lees. The pineapple and banana aromas that the wine had when it was first released are more subdued now. The wine has gained in sapidity, concentration and complexity punching well above other wines in this category. A serious white that benefits from extra time in bottle. 
The 2016 vintage is not easy to find but the 2017 vintage is already on general release.

Find this wine for €9.35 at Jerez de Vino

6. Mirabrás 2016, Bodegas Barbadillo
Sourced from the plot Cerro de Leyes (Pago de Santa Lucía) planted in the 1970s on albariza soils, Mirabrás was born in 2014 with the same spirit that Castillo de San Diego (Andalucía’s most popular white wine) had when it was launched 40 years earlier: “to release wines without straitjackets,” as winemaker Montse Molina says.
It is made in the traditional way, as the grapes are dehydrated in the sun (known locally as asoleo) before being fermented in old manzanilla butts. The wine is later aged for just over a year in butts and tanks with a thin layer of flor. A limited production wine (barely 2,000 bottles) it is a white wine in which the salinity and the biological ageing notes are blended in with ripe fruit and bread aromas in a persistent and concentrated palate. It’s perfect to drink right now but it will be interesting to see how it evolves. 

Find this wine for €14.70 at Coalla Gourmet

7. Navazos Niepoort 2016, Equipo Navazos 
This house pioneered the category of biologically aged white wines without added alcohol. 2016 is the seventh vintage of this 100% Palomino Fino. The wine is fermented in butts with its own yeasts before being aged for 12 months in butts under a veil of flor. It is then bottled with no clarification. Sapid, saline and citrusy, this wine develops very well in the bottle —at this year’s Vinoble we tasted a 2009 with a captivating nose and a salty, chalky and powerful palate. As its maker Eduardo Ojeda says “Palomino has tons of character.”

Find this wine for €21.90 at Lavinia

8. Atlántida Blanco 2016, Compañía de Vinos del Atlántico
Alberto Orte and Patrick Mata, partners at Olé Imports, a Spanish wine importer in the US, have gone a step further in the making of white albariza wines in Cádiz with this wine that seeks to express the character of Vijiriega Blanca, a minority grape variety that practically disappeared after phylloxera in the Sherry Triangle and recovered at the San Cristóbal vineyard in Añina after six years of work with grape varieties and clones.
Aged for 18 months in 600-litre casks and stainless steel deposits, Atlántida offers great aromatic complexity, good acidity, balance and a lot of class and brings more diversity to the region and its wines. The wine is in top shape right now but it has good ageing potential.

Find this wine for €26.50 at Vinos Magerit

9.Blanco De la Riva 2016, Bodegas M. Antº De La Riva
The new joint partnership between Ramiro Ibáñez and Willy Pérez, named after an old Domecq brand, pays tribute to Sherry’s history, vineyards and albariza soils but it’s also about the importance of the human factor to go full circle and get the best out of terroir. On its first vintage, the grapes to make this unfortified Palomino born in El Notario, a legendary vineyard in Macharnudo Alto, were dehydrated on the sun and levant winds for eight hours, in the style of the structured wines made by this brand in the old days. With yields of 50% after pressing, the wine was fermented in sherry casks at ambient temperature and aged for 10 months under a veil of flor. Ripe fruit and petrol, notes, very fine flor and a persistent finish in a wine with good length and great personality. The 2016 vintage is almost sold out but 2017 is set to be released before the end of the year so make sure you get at least one.

Find this wine for €34.80 at Monvínic

10. Vibrations 2016, Muchada-Léclapart
This is one of the five wines made by the partnership of Cádiz architect turned vigneron Ale Muchada and renowned Champagne producer David Léclapart in three hectares of vines in Sanlúcar and Chipiona. In terms of pruning, they follow the traditional vara y pulgar style, but they only till the land with animals and let the grass grow on the soil, an unusual practice in the region. In the winery, minimum intervention and the search for purity are the key.
This Vibrations is a super original old vine Palomino from Pago Miraflores in Sanlúcar which is macerated with its skins between five-seven days and is later vinified in manzanilla butts with no flor. Although the 2017 vintage is now on sale, the 2016 has gained complexity with a bit of extra time in bottle with ripe fruit, celery and saline notes. The palate is classy and has a lot of character. Only 700 bottles were made; it is not cheap but it is worth getting hold of a bottle for a special occasion. 

Find this wine for €37.50 at Licores Corredera

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