Sherry and Manzanilla in the room, all rise! (II)

(Leer en español)

Carlos González (@CarlosGuiaPenin) and Javier Luengo (@JavierGuiaPenin)

If last week we talked about Manzanilla, in today's article it is the turn of Jerez wines, and we remind you that you can check their scores in the new edition of the Peñín Guide 2022, now available online through this link.

A few kilometres from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, within the Jerez appellation, we came across some 44 finos, from the cleanest and simplest, to the pure and sincere "en Rama", or those that run towards the amontillado in their race towards oxidation, finos pasados. All of them are important in today's photograph of sherry wine, as they bring different histories to the discourse and, above all, notably different styles of wine.

As great exponents of these forms of expression we have Fino Tradición (Bodegas Tradición), Fino Granero en Rama (Manuel Aragón), Tío Pepe dos Palmas and Tres Palmas (both from González Byass), the highest scoring wines within the finos category in the tasting for the 2022 edition of our Guide. We have more, of course: Williams & Humbert Ecológico 2015, a wine of static ageing, which shows us the power of ageing in a vintage wine of biological ageing. Fernando de Castilla "Fino Antique" brings us a concept of classic fino, forceful and structured, a wine of long ageing, about 9 years, which shows us the controlled power of some finos from Jerez.

The relationship between time and Sherry wine

One of the most influential factors on Sherry wine is the way it relates to time. In its most special wines such as olorosos, amontillados or palos cortados, time has a special relevance, beyond the concept of pago, which, with the passage of time, loses both visibility and evidence in favour of other factors more linked to its ageing its relationship with time. Of course, the starting point of a wine whose relationship with time is sublime, as is the case of Sherry wines, must be an excellent grape, as this is the best way to "ensure" a balanced relationship with the concept of time.

The oloroso wines from Jerez have in their less long-lived versions the basis of the wine's relationship with oxygen over time, a relationship that becomes more and more complex as the years go by, something that also happens in other wines such as amontillado or palo cortado. Oxygen embraces these special wines until they become what they are. Time here is nothing more than a footbridge on which wine and oxygen slowly blend together, giving the wine that special character that makes it unique.

Several wines represent the relationship of a good wine with time and the oxidation it brings with it: the Oloroso Tradición VORS, from Bodegas Tradición, specialists in extracting elegance from an ageing process that without control can overwhelm the consumer, and Equipo Navazos with its La Bota de Oloroso nº98 "Bota NO", a very old wine that tests the organoleptic limits of an Oloroso taken to the extreme, but with an unequalled complexity. Our last giant in the oloroso field was Reliquia de Barbadillo, another example of the pride and haughtiness of a high-born oloroso, created to be among the greats and which combines a little of the two previous wines, elegance and overwhelming power. These three wines have been awarded 98 points, almost perfection. And if you want to try an ultra-powerful and aged oloroso, we recommend Manuel Aragón, a wine that is sure not to leave you indifferent and which has both defenders and detractors, and which obtained no less than 97 points. Judge for yourselves, as the price is not exorbitant for what these wines usually cost, 47 euros for a 50 cl bottle.


Oloroso Tradición VORS, by Bodegas Tradición, and La Bota de Oloroso nº98 “Bota NO”, by Equipo Navazos

If we continue in this same "cosmic" spiral of space-time we arrive at the amontillados, for us the queen category of El Marco, as it brings together all the winemaking processes, both biological and oxidative ageing. Conde de Aldama Bota NO, from Bodegas Yuste, has once again achieved 99 points for this unique wine. Conde de Aldama Amontillado "Bota No" is the most aged wine kept by Bodegas Yuste, coming from the soleras of Conde de Aldama started with the purchase of Aguilar y Cía in 1740. It is a single Bota, of which a maximum of 20 bottles are bottled per year and always made to order, at such an affordable price as 1,200 euros. Barbadillo's Reliquia range, and in this case the amontillado, brought us again, as could not be otherwise, another jewel that stood out in our tasting sessions. A wine that manages, with great mastery, to stand out for the elegance of a very long and very old wine, without an obvious finish.

Gama Reliquia, by Barbadillo

Tío Pepe Cuatro Palmas (97 points), the last of the four wines that show the effect of time in a fino, is the end of a path perfectly drawn by an important winery within the Marco, González Byass. Nervous, intense, and very complex, it is also, in its own right, another of the great amontillados of the year, along with Amontillado Tradición (97 points), Lustau VORS (97 points), Príncipe de Barbadillo VORS (96 points) or 1730 VORS by Álvaro Domecq (96 points).

The amontillados Tío Pepe Cuatro Palmas and Lustau VORS

The most enigmatic and mystical of Jerez wines, the palo cortado, also brought us great surprises. These wines, which accidentally coexist between oloroso and amontillado, are still there, perhaps a little too much. We have assessed up to 32 bottled wines in this edition.  As expected, not all of them correspond faithfully to what is orthodoxly understood as palo cortado. As an accidental phenomenon, it is difficult to faithfully produce it without falling into an excessive tendency towards oloroso or amontillado, instead of coexisting between the two worlds with the power of one and the elegance of the other. However, the most representative in this category were: Saca de Roberto Amillo (Bodegas Altanza) and Reliquia, both with 98 points, together with Palo Cortado Tradición VORS, González Byass 1991 vintage, Wellington VORS, from Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana, or Manuel Aragón Palo Cortado, all of them excellent representatives in their category.

In the Muscat line, Lustau's Emilín and Valdespino's Promesa were the two highest scoring wines in this new edition of the Peñín Guide, with 93 and 92 points, respectively.

We close the circle with Pedro Ximénez sweets, wines that manage to tame their sweetness and pastiness thanks to the acidity of the wine. The best examples are dominated by the solera effect, by a long ageing process that brings complexity to the world of raisining. If you combine that with the style of each winery, you get wines like Reliquia PX (98 points), PX Tradición (96 points) or Don Guido Solera Especial 20 años VOS (96 points).

Manzanilla and Sherry are still two unique universes of Spanish wine, capable of everything, but still locked in a dangerous spiral that began 50 years ago, with the massification of wine making that established fino and manzanilla for years as the Spanish white wine present in all bars and national aperitifs at low prices. Today there is a much wider range of wines from other regions and their effect thus has been diluted, making it urgent to change course towards the search for the uniqueness of their "veiled" elaboration. We spoke about these issues almost four years ago with the former director, and since last October the current president of the D.O. Vino y Brandy de Jerez, César Saldaña, in this interview.

It is still necessary to continue with the training work at all levels: institutional and winemakers, and to revamp the image of many of its wines, which, although they contain classic typologies and styles within them, could also benefit from a more casual and accessible image for new consumers.

We hope that our next articles will mention a change of trend in the acceptance of these wines by the consumer, and that many of the modifications pending in both regulatory councils will finally arrive.


If you liked this article, you may also be interested:

Sherry and Manzanilla in the room, all rise! (part I)

Jerez returns to the top of Guía Peñín; the superstars of El Marco


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