Sherry seems to be experiencing somewhat of a renaissance at the moment. It is primarily produced from the Palomino Fino grape which is fortified and aged in the solera system under a veil of flor. Flor is a one to two centimetre layer of indigenous yeast that forms on top of the sherry wines which protects the wine from air contact.
There are some incredibly beautiful and complex offerings as well fresh, vibrant everyday drinking examples coming out of the sherry triangle. The triangle is an area in the province of Cádiz in the south west of Spain with the three vertices being the cities of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa Maria. The different parts of this triangle produce the different styles of sherry (Fino, Manzanilla, Manzanilla Pasada, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Jerez Dulce).
It was in the 1970's when sherry started to become commercialised and produced on a larger scale, and this is where the majority of it was turned into a fortified style. Sherry is fortified using a distilled spirit, it is first mixed with mature sherry (a 50/50 blend) and then mixed with the younger sherry to the correct proportions. However, leading up to the 1970's, sherry was not routinely fortified and now some artisanal producers are looking back to the pre-1970's methods to produce some incredible vinos blancos (white wines) that smell and taste a lot like sherry but aren't sherry. These artisans believe that too many sherries taste of the production process and not of the vineyard and grape.
We are particularly excited about two of these producers, Ramiro Ibáñez of Cota 45 and Jesús Barquín of Equipo Navasos.
The Producer: Cota 45 operates out of a former boatbuilder's cottage on the waterfront in the town of Sanlúcar. This is where you will find Ramiro Ibáñez, a man with a passion for the albariza soil and the recovery of the traditional grape varieties, many of these almost lost and also no longer permitted by the governing Consejo regulations. He produces wines that demonstrate the personality and terroir of each vineyard and grape variety without too much flor to obscure it. He was a founding member of a group (Manifesto 119) of like-minded local producers who wanted to experiment with old varieties and winemaking techniques, making unfortified sherry and give more importance to the grapes and vineyard. All the wines are made in very small quantities and the current range is from the UBE project which is old vine Palomino from different clones fermented in old Manzanilla butt. Two of his wines currently getting us a bit giddy are…
2017 Cota 45 UBE Miraflores (Sanlúcar) $39
100% Palomino off 5 plots. Three of the plots in Miraflores Alto and the other two plots in Miraflores Bajo. The fruit is off 80 to 90 year old vines grown on the famous Albariza (chalk soil). The fruit is hand-picked and pressed (45-50% whole bunch) into an old 600L Jerez bota for a spontaneous ferment where the wine ages for eight months, including 4 months under flor.
Lovely floral aromas on the nose, following on with notes of white peach and white nectarine and a touch of warm sourdough. On the palate there is a fantastic acid backbone leading to green apple, ripe lemon, spice and of course, the moreish saline character that comes with the territory. The judicious use of flor here is evident as the flor characters are really quite subtle and knit together beautifully with the other flavour components. This wine makes me yearn for Spain, sitting on the water’s edge with some Ortiz anchovies and a glass of Miraflores to match. Due to travel restrictions I’ll settle for watching Rick Stein do something similar on the food channel.
2015 Cota 45 UBE Maina (Sanlúcar) $68
100% Palomino off 40 year old vines from a single vineyard called Viña La Charanga in the Pago de Maina grown on the Albarizas de Barajuelas soil. This type of Albariza contains a significant amount of ancient marine fossils. Hand-picked of course, spending 24 months in 1000L bota, the last 2 months under a veil of flor.
An attractive nose with notes of herbal tea, florals and dried fruits. Initially on the palate you are greeted with lovely savoury qualities and richness that then leads to a dry and chalky texture. Less acidity than the Miraflores but still shows some zippy apple elements. The salinity and minerality are clearly present for the entire long journey on the palate.
The Producer: Equipo Navazos is the brainchild of wine writer and sherry aficionado Jesús Barquín and a group of sherry lovers. Jesús and his disciples were very aware of the treasure trove of unbottled sherries buried in the cellars within the sherry triangle. So, in 2005, they made the decision to rescue these gems. They started to select specific butts “of special finesse and complexity" and then bottle them in limited series. But we are here to talk about the incredible Navasos vinos Blancos. The unfortified project started in 2008, the goal, to produce wines following the same rigorous quality criteria employed by the top producers of the Bajo Guadalquivir around two centuries ago. The two wines to come out of this project are as follows...
2015 Navazos-Niepoort (Jerez) $59.00
This project originally included the expertise of lauded winemaker Dirk Niepoort and Quim Vila. This is the seventh vintage and Niepoort is no longer involved but his name is on the label in recognition of the major role he played. 100% Palomino off 30 year old vines. Single vineyard fruit from the outstanding Macharnudo Alto site, often referred to as the "Montrachet of Jerez". The Albariza chalk here is the Tosca de Barajuelas variety. This soil type contributes to low yields and thick-skinned grapes and produces chalky, saline wines. Hand-picked and naturally fermented in a 40-year-old bota which was filled five sixths to encourage flor. It then spent 11 months under the flor veil before bottling.
A fairly intense nose showing almonds, straw, chalk dust and a hints of sourdough starter. Expressive, vibrant, fresh and dry on the palate with nuances of apples, dried apricots and slightly sour nectarine. The fruit, mineral and saline dimensions all work together beautifully to deliver an outstanding wine with a very long, fresh finish. An outstanding match with mackerel or Jamon Serrano.
2015 Navazos La Bota 77 Vino Blanco MMXV Florpower (Sanlúcar) $69
Again, a single vineyard wine sourced from Sanlúcar's most revered terroir, Miraflores. The Tosca Cerrada Albariza soils found here give lovely roundness to the wines. Hand-picked and into bota for 8 months. As the name suggests, 'Florpower' spends these 8 months under flor and is then transferred to a stainless steel tank for a further 9 months.
A pretty intense and similar nose to the Navazos-Niepoort with aromas of almonds, apple, preserved lemon and sourdough. A very bold, broad palate, salted almonds and seaweed dominate the non-fruit savoury elements. There's chalk, iodine and hints of honey and grapefruit.
The above four wines will almost certainly appeal to the fans of the Jura vin jaune wines as there are plenty of stylistic similarities. For those that drink mostly mainstream wines, there are flavours here you will not have encountered before, a new dimension if you like. Either way, these unfortified wines should be on your radar if not already!