Sherry, Manzanilla and el Marco

There is not a single wine taster in the world who does not praise the benefits of Manzanilla from Sanlúcar and Jerez. All those who dedicate their careers to the wine industry appreciate and are fascinated by the singularity, tradition and finesse of these wines produced in a tiny corner of Spain. We have returned, once again, to Jerez to monitor what is currently under elaboration, with the purpose of offering an updated image of the region. We tasted 235 wines between both denominations of origin (D.O.) Jerez and Manzanilla de Sanlúcar as well as 20 vinos de la tierra coming from Cádiz. A range of tastings and ratings that will be released en primeur, for the first time in the history of Guía Peñín, via registration to the online Peñín Guide.

In fact, after this first publication of wines from el Marco, those who wish to know everything about tastings and rankings will have access to them by subscribing to the 2019 Guía Peñín. We will, gradually, include all tastings as we travel along the road of the spanish territory.

Jerez is the starting point of the Spanish wine tasting sessions for the team. It is our fist stop and that is why we feel certain agitation as the amazing pilgrimage through Spanish wine which will include more than 5 months of chats, trips and tastings starts.

Tasting team journey starts and ends at a train station, as with all good stories. Besides tasting, travelling comes along with other things: discussions with winemakers, plot’s visits and, luckily, also small incursions into local cuisine.

What makes Denomination of Origin Jerez unique?

This is a question everyone poses us. It is, basically, the diversity of its wines. To the everlasting finos, manzanillas, amontillados, palo cortados, olorosos, muscatels and pedro ximénez, we should add the particular elaborations from a pool of bold wine growers who intend to turn things upside down. They aim to review the present notion of traditional wine produced within the Marco region, diving in its history and the great amount of pre-existing documentation in relation with the wines elaborated in the region. All these wines, present and past – not specifying which is which- live perfectly together among the highest rated wines, as you will appreciate when browsing through the ratings on the first tasting release.

Most of the tastings took place at the headquarters of Consejo Regulador Jerez and Manzanilla de Sanlúcar, in a reserved space kindly assigned by them. During the sessions, we grouped wines according to their categories and richness, common practice for this kind of tastings.

Tasting room at Consejo Regulador of Jerez and Manzanilla de Sanlúcar

Against what anyone may think, wines from the Marco region appear to be very traditional but they are also subjected to seasons’ trends. As an example, the finos (30) and manzanillas (30) we have tasted. The most common style until recent years were clarified wines (filtered), fresh and sharp. However, during our last visit, we have witnessed how this product influence decreases in favour of wines “en rama”, special attention given to Manzanillas.

Wines “en rama”, with a less transparent and golder look, offer an excellent aroma since the fact of saving the wine the filtering process does not rest singularity to the aroma it received from the wineskin. This practice is not new in Jerez and many foremen, in the past, used to bottle finos and manzanillas unfiltered for self-consumption. However common this practice might have been, it was never included in the bottles’ labels until the year 2000. The Manzanilla en Rama of Gaspar Florido (Guía Peñín 2001) and the Manzanilla en Rama from Barbadillo (Guía Peñín 2002), became the first samples.  

The “en rama” process gains relevance among many wine growers in recent years when they become aware of the potential to market their most expensive manzanillas in smaller formats, 50 cl., and unfiltered, which translates into a significant saving on oenological products.

Manzanillas and Finos Pasados (that is, wines containing oxidative nuances) gain wide popularity after Navazos team, back in 2007, began marketing their first Bota de Fino and Bota Punta de Manzanilla, both achieving 98 points on their first year in the Guía Peñín tasting sessions. Even though the original idea did not belong to them, they were the first to include an exhaustive explanation about the product bottled. They are wines that need clarification. In the past, the mentioned products were known in Sanlúcar as manzanillas amontilladas. The firm Hidalgo y Cía sent in 1999 their manzanilla Pastrana, to be included in the 2000 Guía Peñín, and they accompanied it with a description closer to amontillado rather than manzanilla. This typology is not referred to in the technical specifications that rule over Sherry and Manzanilla wines but it is indeed one of them. A manzanilla or fino with amontillado charateristics as regards to oxidation, but in which distinguishing sharp and salty notes persist, characteristic of the biological ageing. It is precisely transitioning from one type to another. Wines of an important complexity which generally show a strong character and impact.

Manzanillas en rama and pasadas (slightly oxidative notes), the best pieces of our last tasting.

It is currently ordinary to find a group of wine which are sold jointly and serve to “educate” the most unsettled consumers as evidences the work developped by Pitijopos (pagos de Sanlúcar) belonging to Ramiro Ibáñez; Mayeterías Sanluqueñas, Ramiro Ibañez in association with some mayetos (vine-growers) or Zerej a Barbadillo brand. The latter pays tribute to the oxidative ageing process by bottling four contrasting brands exposed to different degrees of oxidation ageing. This interesting proposal captivated us by virtue of its design and value. Pay particular attention to Palo Cortado, Zerej Nº4, which we marked with ≥94 points after its big volume in the mouth.

Amontillado who art in heaven

It is presumably the type of Sherry wine that raises more interest among tasters due to its dry and clean spirit, its complex aroma and lushness in the mouth. Fashion trends have a lesser impact on them since they find their own idiosyncrasy on its ageing process. Consequently, their tasting and rating remain almost unaltered over time on each tasted bodega/winery, apart from one oscillating point. We managed to review 42 amontillados overall, and finally found the ultimate expression of an extremely old amontillado in Conde de Aldama, that possesses an endless palate. It is definitely one of those wines everyone should taste at least once in their life to savour a bit of wine’s history. Unique and complex, obtained a preliminary rating of ≥94 points, in the absence of a second round to compare it with the highest ranked amontillados which will take place in July. Nonetheless it was not the sole wine capable of captivating us. Bodegas Tradición, Álvaro Domeq, Gutiérrez Colosía and González Byass showed us once again their majesty with samples as Amontillado Tradición, 1730 VORS (Very Old and Rare Sherry), Solera Familiar Gutiérrez Colosía or Cuatro Palmas. All provisionally scored until July when the top marked wines will be reviewed according to each category.

Sometimes consumers are challenged when they do not reckon certain brand and the winery fails to include the wine’s ageing stage, so they must taste the wines in order to learn whether it is a vintage amontillado or not. Many winemakers decide to omit the VORS label (over 30 years ageing) when presenting much older wines since they reckon the mention does not add value. It is the case of Conde de Aldama. Generally, amontillado is produced out of 100% palomino fino grape, however certain wineries resolve to touch them with a hint of Pedro Ximénez, a choice we consider does not complete the final product, but it turns them into a more commercial, easy-to-drink variety, sacrificing a portion of their essence. Pedro Ximénez is a highly expressive variety and adding it to the final blend, even in a small quantity, is easily recognizable.

Outstanding range of Amontillados recently rated by Guía Peñín

Olorosos, the oxidative king

They become best representative of oxidised ageing since its personality lays solely on this type of ageing process. There were 41 olorosos on our tasting panel: Oloroso Tradición VORS (Very Old and Rare Sherry) and a Bota de Oloroso nº78 Bota NO.

It is slightly shocking to witness the rise of such an accidental and rather inconsistent typology as the one of Palo cortado –it is a wine half way between amontillado given its nose and oloroso due to its mouth. Rise proven by the fact that 2009 Guía Peñín tasted 18 palo cortados from 39 wineries, and 10 years later, we tasted 25 coming from 32 wineries. Wineries forcibly push production to obtain their bottled Palo Cortado every year, resulting in wines which clearly do not correspond to this classification. Final consumer might encounter some brands which are closer to amontillados and others more like oloroso.

Palo Cortado Vintage de 1987 belonging to González Byass, was a genuine discovery. However, being a particularly old wine, we would also like to highlight several other elaborations such as Alm Cayetano del Pino (Lustau) or even Manuel Aragón Premium. The latter, considering it ages in Chiclana, that is outside the prescribed ageing triangle (Sanlúcar, el Puerto y Jerez) is not allowed to show the D.O. signature on its back label, an ancient heritage, slightly absurd nowadays that unfortunately conditions the labelling of any products ageing away from the Triangle.

Moscatel from Jerez de la Frontera flowery and creaminess

The variety Moscatel almost goes unnoticed within wines coming from el Marco. It shows its best side when near the coast, hence Chipiona and Chiclana are the most traditional moscatel areas within the Marco production region. Nevertheless, since it is not compulsory to include the grape provenance on the final labelling of wines, it is very often unknown where do many moscateles come from when not stated.

Detail of Moscateles laid out for their tasting session

Pedro ximénez

Besides the fact that the variety pedro ximénez originates in Montilla, in truth there are exceptional bottled wines under D.O. Jerez regardless their provenance. The characteristic tinges of pedro ximénez’s produced within el Marco region can be found on the seniority, so that the youngest references offer sun-filled hints, sweet, straightforward, sweet teeth by comparison to the more sophisticated aged versions that show touches of incense, smoke and solera.

Two excellent examples of Pedro Ximénez with D.O.P. Jerez

Still wines

When wandering through Southern wines, we make a quick stop at those wines that currently fall out of the D.O. Jerez or Manzanilla de Sanlúcar protection. Being labelled as Vino de la Tierra from Cádiz, these wines offer their particular perspective of el Marco. This way we arrived to the pagos range that Blanco de Viña Callejuela and Ramiro Ibáñez families have bottled to underline the greatness of Jerez’s terroir as it had been masked by the intrusion of the ageing process and, in consequence, those cases set up a new approach. Wines show theory might become reality and they only do so when not seen as something unique and extraordinary but as an increasingly large group of wines. 

The following serve as case study of what we mention: La Barajuela Raya of Luís Pérez 2015 and UBE Maina 2015 of Ramiro Ibáñez, or wines from Forlong, like Amigo Imaginario or La Fleur. The latter is the latest creation of Rocío Áspera and Alejandro Narváez, which shows a self-confident, without fashion strings. However, other Marco wineries do not dare to imitate them, victims, for better or worse, of their past and history.

Wines that steer away from dinamic ageing concept to take a glance at statism. Everything begins and ends in the same wine. The notion of blending vintages falls into misuse to let space to young wines, as sincere and expressive as the year allows and as straightforward as their vintage and pago wants them: mature or fresh, mild or blunt.

Over the days the team spent in Jerez de la Frontera, they took the chance to taste some traditional local dishes, such as  the tagarninas stew, popular name given to the wild castellan cardillos. A filling dish containing cardillo, fried bread, garlic, paprika, white wine vinager and olive oil. Neither did they fail to savour the local version of ensaladilla rusa with a mayonnaise prepared with manzanilla. Even though ensaladilla is not a typical Southern meal, it is possible to enjoy great versions if you know where to go. This time the gastronomic appointment took place at restaurant El Almacen (Calle Latorre, 6, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz), in the city center.

The journey through Jerez and its wines did not end at the city of Jerez de la Frontera as expected. Last taste session was held at the temple of Marco’s wines in Madrid, that is Taberna Palo Cortado (Espronceda, 18, Madrid) where we were received by the charismatic owner, Paqui Espinosa, who beams passion towards the Sherry wines. Therefore, numerous winegrowers from el Marco present their wines at this small and cosy space that gathers over 200 brands by the glass and offers a whole range of diverse and great Marco’s productions. It was precisely in this spot where we finished the tasting of some missing references we needed to publish the former release.

Once more el Marco and its wines earn their own place inside Guía Peñín and not only in consideration to their traditional wines, living history of the wine industry, but also as regards to its new productions that have provoked an open debate, a positive discussion since it points out the need to establish different protective frames and broaden the big family of Jerez wines to all production areas. 

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