Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Una bota de...

I was first introduced to the magnificent sherries of Equipo Navazos ( in the Summer of 2008 by the absolutely charming Eduardo Ojeda of Grupo Estevez (who own Valdespino, La Guita etc...) during what remains to this day as the single greatest winery visit I have ever experienced.

Our tour was arranged by the equally lovely Maggie Rosen who must have told Eduardo that we were very very important people as I very much doubt that most passing tourists who happen to answer the phone for Berry Bros. & Rudd get to taste Coliseo (VORS Amontillado), Cardenal (VORS Palo Cortado) & Toneles (Moscatel so old that it doesn't have an acronym) from barrel.  The Toneles barrel even had a frickin lock & key on it!?! Obviously now that I am really really important I get this kind of treatment all the time!

What stayed with me most from the visit, however, was Eduardo's obvious pride when he showed us his "special" barrel of Macharnudo Alto Fino which was destined for his exciting new project.  We had seen the vineyard earlier in the day and it was clear that Eduardo felt that it was possible to create a truly truly great wine from this terroir if freed from the commercial constraints of Valdespino.  Tasting this cask was the first time that I understood Fino as a "wine" first and foremost, as something akin to Grand Cru Burgundy, rather than as a distinct category.

Needless to say I have been a massive fan of, and advocate for, these wines ever since so the opportunity to try the new releases at a tasting organised by Paul Shinnie of Rhone to Rioja at Quo Vadis yesterday was too tempting to decline.

First up were the two bottlings of the I Think Manzanilla "En Rama" which are exclusive to the UK and available only in halves.  En Rama is all the rage these days and it is amazing how two little words on a label can influence a taster's opinion to the extent it is seemingly divorced from almost any sense of rational thought.  I have been consistently underwhelmed by the various bottlings on the market in the last couple of years (the new La Gitana version pictured below was recently given a prize at the LIWF) but had given the Equipo Navazos version the benefit of the doubt as it can be difficult to gauge storage conditions and optimum drinking windows from bottling without a fair bit of experience.

The 2010 bottling was once again disappointing and tasted a bit flat in all honesty, which would be fine if it didn't cost over £10 per half bottle, but the newly-released 2012 bottling was a completely different story with much more pronounced acidity and real zip to the finish.  The packaging looks great too which helps (no pic sorry).  My guess is that it's just a freshness thing, which always used to be a notorious problem with more basic Manzanilla & Fino in the UK market, due to sluggish sales and lack of knowledge about how quickly these wines should be consumed.

Next up were two bottlings of Miguel Sanchez Ayala Manzanilla, No. 32 bottled in October 2011 and No. 8 from October 2007, but in contrast here it was the older bottling that showed complexity and real character alongside the expected salinity, with the younger wine still dominated by wood to my mind.  I had similar feelings about the flight of Macharnudo Alto Finos (No. 18/Dec 09, No. 27/Mar 11 & the recently-bottled No. 35) from Valdespino, which showed a real progression reminiscent of Grand Cru Burgundy once again, which I always struggle to enjoy from barrel or soon after bottling because of all the oak.

But the standout wine of all of the Finos for me was the No. 30 Manzanilla Pasada "1/15" from La Guita (below) which was bottled in June 2011 and for which my tasting note just reads: "Really fucking good."

There followed two younger Manzanilla Pasada bottlings (Nos. 39-40) which failed to excite me and I was similarly non-plussed with the first Amontillado (No. 37) but was then absolutely blown away by the No. 31 Amontillado "Bota No" from La Guita (below) which was bottled in October 2011 in 1700 50cl bottles and had just an incredibly intense assault on the front palate with rich caramel colour and salinity which bordered on just the right side of raspiness.
Personally I think it was a mistake to try and follow that with the Palo Cortados as they just don't have the same level of intensity, but having said that, both the No. 21 (Valdespino/Feb 2010) and the No. 34 showed pretty damn well. The tasting note for the has yet another bizarre explanation for the Palo Cortado classification but I have it on pretty good authority that a true Palo Cortado only results from the cask variation inherent from fermentation in barrel using natural yeast (a practice that has all but died out in Jerez). I have also heard other producers claim that the position of the barrel in the cellar can bring about similar variation and character? It seems to have caught on regardless and I'm willing to bet a fair bit of money that most of the people present would claim it to have been their favourite!

The range was completed by the No. 38 Viejisimo Cream which was fine but not particularly exciting and a bizarre "cooked" wine No. 33 Dulce Color "Bota No" which was not at all profound and left a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth!  There were also two PX bottlings being shown but I didn't taste them because they were, well... PX.

Another "blogger" with a little more experience than I in such matters was also at the tasting.  Here is a link to their offering:

The wines are available from Rhone to Rioja or through those lovely chaps at Indigo Wines


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