Monday, 4 August 2014

Oldies but Goodies Series: Wine Trip to Spain

Continuando a sessão nostalgia do fim-de-semana... Sul da Espanha… essa foi a minha segunda wine trip em 2007 à trabalho com a Kate. Eu já conhecia os mais vinhos da Espanha como o Rioja e tudo mais...mas a paixão pelo Fino nasceu mesmo em Jerez. Porque Jerez é o berço do Sherry! Igual Champagne é da região de Champagne na França :)

Depois de tantos anos a paixão não diminuiu - Fino e Oloroso ainda são meus vinhos favoritos. Não há nada melhor nesse mundo, experimente. Enfim a viagem foi linda novamente... teve até tempo para um show the Flamenco... fotos em ordem...e desculpa a máquina era péssima na época.

Jerez de La days with Sherry and Flamenco
Written in October 2007 – Wine trip to Spain with Green & Blue Wines

The small and warm Jerez is a southern province of Andalucía and it was the final destination of my second wine trip. This beautiful ciudad is famous for the most popular sherry produced in the world and the only real one. They produce quite famous brandies as well. But Jerez also has beautiful churches and cathedrals which date back to the times of the Moorish domination. Many of the today’s churches were originally mosques and the architecture differs from the rest of the Europe. It was there where I could watch for the first time in my life flamenco, a passionate and marvellous dance which movements made me cry, made me think of how beautiful life is and how powerful feelings can be. 

Paraphrasing Kapuscinski "before this trip I didn’t know how sherry came into being". But in few words, to make sherry you need: wine, casks and time. In addition to these a big bodega and a particular kind of artist - a cellar master. He is the winemaker. He doesn’t grow the grapes, he doesn’t take care of the soil or vinification, all his job is, is to be patient enough to understand when the sherry is ready to come into the world. He is the one who tastes all barrels in the bodega – and some bodegas have more than 150- 200 barrels - and decides when and how to blend to get the right taste of Oloroso, Palo Cortado or Manzanilla.

The grape variety Palamino is the beginning of the process to produce sherry. This unknown grape is the main variety in the production of dry sherry, I believe it is not known because the wine doesn’t get its name from the grape as happens with the sweet sherries - Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel. Different to any other grape in world, Palamino does not give to the wine its taste or fruitiness. After being fermented till fully dry, it is fortified with grape spirit and then gently and patiently the old oak barrels will do their job, giving the wines age and a taste that is really marvellous. 

Lustau is a bodega that is more than 100 years old. Its long corridors are filled of barrels and silence, surprisingly only 15 minutes walk from the bustling centre of Jerez. The entrance is as beautiful as a vineyard, there are no grapes to pick but there is a fresh smell of stone and wood, a canopy overhead of vines and flowers and a old fountain. Our guide was a very friendly native, who had lived in London for few years but went back home, maybe fed up with the weather or maybe because it is too difficult to give up a place like Jerez.

The first Bodegas, called Los Arcos is where Fino is produced. Fino is a pale and very dry style with notes of almonds and vanilla and is the style aged under a very special growth called Flor.. This floats on the surface , feeding on nutrients in the wine and protecting against oxidation and ultimately, giving a younger, fresher style. In the richer, more oxidized styles like Olorosso, the yeast does not grow at all.

The secret of sherry production lies the ‘Solera’ system, a continuous blending of new with old wines. At Lustau this blending happens three times a the cellar master deciding how often and when after tasting extensively.

It is quite complicated understanding how does this system works but to be brief : a Bodegas is built to hold many barrels with brand new wines going into a series of casks called the ananda. This wine will be continually blended, up to a third of the barrel at a time, into other levels of the system, each of which is called a Criadera. The final level is known as the Solera and it is these barrels that they bottle from. 

Fino is aged for only 2 – 5 years with the temperature being very important for this style. Flor is a live creature and doesn’t like hot temperatures so ceilings in the Bodegas are high and the floors are sandy or gravelly, often kept damp to preserve humidity. Another thing that sherry doesn’t accept is new oak. Sherry doesn’t need flavours of new oak – creamy vanilla and butter. 

The second Bodegas we visit is called Campania and it is where the Oloroso is produced, without any Flor. There is no sand on these floors because the humidity does not need to be so high. This style is older and it turns a deep, wood brown colour. It can be dry or sweet – it depends on whether they blend in sweet Pedro Ximinez or not. It is my favourite style. Lustau make two styles : Emperatriz Eugenia and Don Nuno. The difference? The first one has been produced since 1845 and the second one started later.

There are other styles such as Palo Cortado, Amontillado or Manzanilla. In each style there are a range of flavours, depending on the age of the particular wine, whether or not it has been sweetened and if so, by how much. One of the styles that we stock is the East India Sherry – a wine aged in wood for an average of 30 years. It is a traditional style for Lustau and drinking it, is the same as eating a peace of Christmas cake. Jude used to tell me: “It is ok to like sweet wines, Giselle especially this one!” We tasted a range of 24 sherries and a brandy and it was a struggle to write notes about each of them!

After Lustau we walked to Bodegas Tradicion, a little bit further from the city. It was created in 1998 for Joaquin Rivero it is the only in Jerez, and it specializes in very, very old wines. Their sherry and brandy fall into the categories drawn up by the regulatory authority: V.O.S (aged for more than 20 years) or V.O.R.S (aged for more than 30 years). We tasted the whole range - four in total. These were very elegant and complex. There were three dry styles: Amontillado, Oloroso and Palo Cortado and one sweet - Pedro Ximenez. This one tastes of caramel and smells of dried fruits. Their Oloroso was rich and aromatic, with a smooth and velvety taste. D e l i c i o u s!

To my surprise sherries and brandies are not their only speciality, they’ve got a permanent exhibition of paintings as well. It is the owner’s collection and it was a very good opportunity to learn something about Spanish Art and History. There were works from Goya and Velazquez, very famous Spanish painters. The one I like the most was a painting of a gipsy wearing the clothes of a toreiro . Beautiful, very impressive eyes, alive. Almost like a photograph. The only problem here was the price. Their wines are good but too expensive. 

Bodega e Galeria de Arte

After this we went back to the hotel and then to a Tapas Bar, in a very gipsy area of Jerez. There watched genuine flamenco with native dancers. There was something in the air in this place. Flamenco is very powerful – it moves us. When you are watching Flamenco, your emotions move like the dancers. It is intense.

Flamenco dancer - the real one, native from Jerez

On our last day we visited Bodega Colosia in Puerto Di Santa Maria, 20 minutes from Jerez. By the sea, it was my favourite place. This bodega has a tradition going back centuries. Since 1838 they have been producing sherries for other bodegas but since 1998, they started to bottle their own wine. The location of this Bodega is its strongest point - the proximity to the sea and river produces a special microclimate. Jose Gutierrez, who has been in the bodega since he was in his mother’s belly is very proud of his wines. 

Well…I have to say his wines were blessed, maybe it was the breeze of the sea but their wines have a very distinctive smell. I loved their Palo Cortado, Jude is a long term fan of their brandy which we now sell. The Fino has a delicate smell, full of smokiness and freshness. Carmen, his wife, suggested we taste Fino with dark chocolate. I have tried, it is indeed a perfect match! We sold it over Christmas and it was a completely success. 

There was another bodega but this one was nothing special. It was big, with a lot of barrels but empty of spirit. I don’t really know if they understand that wine is their business… or maybe for them it is just “a business“… for what we could see and taste, it is not a place for real wine lovers maybe for people who care more about special effects than beautiful things. For us, no. 

My days with sherry and Flamenco in Jerez had taught me many things … sherry is not as many people think a wine to be drunk only at Christmas time. The best sherry is not only sweet and yes (sherry can be a perfect companion to a very good meal. But the most important lesson for me was to discover that between a cask and the wine exists a commitment. Even though sherry is made by man’s hands, without the natural elements – the Flor, the microclimates of the cellar and the wine from the Palomino grape, none of this would exist. And I believe it is where the secret of the best sherry lies, in this generous and patient engagement between Mother Nature and Man’s hands…

Xxx xxX

Oh gosh! Ter boas lembranças é bom demais!

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