Manzanilla and the Sherry Triangle

As we enter the weekend of International Sherry Week, I continued the festivities last night by taking a step outside the city of Jerez to enjoy a Manzanilla from the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  Sherry can only be made in the the so-called ‘sherry triangle’, comprising the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, in the southwestern tip of Spain.  A legal designation is given to these wines and it is protected in the same way as Champagne.

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The ‘Sherry-Triangle’ in the southwestern corner of the Cadiz province, Andalucía

 

 

However, within the sherry triangle, Manzanilla has its own designation and can only be produced in the town of Sanlúcar.  In every way Manzanilla is the seperated-at-birth twin of the Finos I discussed earlier in the week.  The same palomino grapes, from the same vineyard areas, are vinified and fortified in the same manner as those destined to be Fino.

The key difference is the location of the ageing cellars and bodegas.  The sherry houses of Jerez, 25km inland, experience extreme summers which can see the flor thin or even die off in the heat.  The town of Sanlúcar, located on the Atlantic coast catches more moderating oceanic breezes.  In this cooler environment a thicker, more stable layer of flor develops on the surface of the wineprotecting it from oxidative effects, producing the lightest, freshest style of sherry.  The name ‘manzanilla’ means little apple, which is a local name for a fresh fragrant chamomile tea; these are two of the more common flavours found in these wines.

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Delgado Zuleta La Goya Manzanilla

The La Goya Manzanilla above comes from one of the oldest bodegas in Sanlúcar; Delgado Zuleta.  It’s a light straw colour in the glass, with typical green apple and chamomile notes on the nose, supported by a mild yeasty and almond character.  It is light, fresh and bone-dry on the palate.  Lemons, green apples and chamomile are married with a lovely light touch of bread dough before a long finish that brings forward a touch of pleasant salinity.

Availability: Imported by the Spanish wine specialists, Vinos Tito, and is available in most good independent wine shops at about €11/37.5cl bottle.

 The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This wine is aged slightly longer than the minimum required, so gets lovely complex notes.  Offers terrific value for money and is the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips or sushi.

 

On The Second Day of Sherry Week Jerez Gave to Me…

enrama

To celebrate the official start of Sherry Week last night I enjoyed another glass of Palomino fino.  Again it was from bodega González Byass, and once again it goes by the name Tio Pepe.  In fact it even comes from some of the same barrels as the wine I reviewed yesterday.  But before you stop reading and worry that I’ve been celebrating sherry week with a little too much ‘enthusiasm’ there is one key difference; indicated by the words ‘En Rama’ on the label.

Translating as ‘raw’ this essentially means that the wine is bottled with minimal filtration and clarification.  Most finos are heavily filtered to remove any bits of yeast and sediments that build up in the barrels, giving a light floral wine.  But this process also strips away some of the raw flavour.  Fino En Rama  receives only a light filtration, to remove the largest particles, before bottling.  It is as close as possible to tasting the wine straight out of the oak barrel without making a trip to Jerez (although I do highly recommend every budding sherry enthusiast make a pilgrimage to that city).

But there is more to the wine than simply saving on a bit of filter paper in the winery.  The wine for the En Rama bottling comes from carefully chosen casks of Palomino in the bodega.  As I mentioned yesterday, a layer of yeast (flor) grows on top of the wine inside the two-thirds full casks.  In some barrels the exact strains of yeasts present will differ slightly, providing subtle flavour nuances; in others the layer will grow faster and thicker, influencing the extent of oxidation.  Hence each barrel will have its own unique character and flavour profile.  As these casks are never completely emptied of their wines in any given bottling, the Master Blender will know which individual barrels tend to develop the more complex characteristics.

When the stocks are simply blended together for Tio Pepe, this variation is lost giving the end product a consistency from year to year; the better wines compensating for those that are less complex.  However, in the last 8-9 years there has been a trend among sherry bodegas to keep back the very best wines from carefully selected casks and release this superior quality wine in its raw form.  Now the release of the En Rama wines are some of the most eagerly anticipated events in the sherry-lover’s calendar.

So, what’s the difference I hear you ask?  Well, firstly the price; the En Rama version is about twice the price of the regular Tio Pepe.  But it is also fantastically more complex than the regular wine.  In a side-by-side comparison the En Rama version is like the Tio Pepe on steroids.  In the glass it is a much deeper gold (unsurprising as it is not as heavily filtered).  All of those lovely almond and mealy green apples on the nose are still there, but amplified and exaggerated.  The soft floral and chamomile character of the regular Tio Pepe is relegated, whilst the yeasty bread note comes to the fore.  On the palate it has a richer mouth feel and the almonds are joined with hazelnuts and a pleasant salinity on the long finish.  But despite this fuller form of Tio Pepe there is no denying its origin, boasting an elegance that begs for another glass; it is beautifully balanced and is the perfect accompaniment to a meatier fish plate or sushi.

Availability: Alas this is not an easy wine to find, but most good independent wine shops will stock at least one brand of fino En Rama.  The excellent Lustau Fino En Rama  is on special in Mitchell and Sons during Sherry week and The Corkscrew on Chatham St usually have some stock.

These wines tend to be released twice each year- in Spring* and Autumn- and as they are not stabilised through filtration should be drunk young.

The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This is a wonderful and complex wine.  Although more expensive than the regular Tio Pepe, the En Rama is a very different beast and should be seen as the premium product that it is.  For the very limited production available it still offers very good value for money and well worth hunting down.

 

* The wine I reviewed was the Spring 2016 bottling.

On The First Day of Sherry Week Jerez Gave to Me…

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Today sees the start of Sherry Week- a global celebration of that most underrated (in Ireland at least) and quintessentially Spanish wine; showcasing the history, culture and creation of sherry.  Once Spain’s most important wine export, sherry is in the middle of a true renaissance.  If you think it’s purely the preserve of elderly female Downton Abbey characters, take another look at the wine lists of some of the trendiest restaurants across the globe, where a good sherry offering is essential.  And it’s no surprise, as these are hugely versatile, food-friendly wines.

If you want to get involved in sherry week, find a full offering of events in Ireland over on The Vine Inspiration blog, run by the passionate and knowledgeable sherry educator, Paddy Murphy. For those of you not on The Emerald Isle, you can get a comprehensive list of events in your area on the Sherry Week website.

One event that everyone can join is the online tasting with the Master Blender of González Byass, Antonio Flores.  On Thursday 10th November he will be giving a tutored tasting of Tio Pepe.  Find details here.  Last night I started celebrations early with a bottle of this delicious fino.

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Tio Pepe Palomino Fino, González Byass

Being on the market since the mid-19th century, even confirmed sherry lovers often overlook this wine in favour of more fashionable brands.  However, it remains one of the best-value mass produced wines of the world.

As with all sherry finos, the Palomino grapes for this wine come from the vineyards around the city of Jerez in the south west corner of Andalucía in Spain. Only the finest first press grape juice (must) is used, from which this style of sherry gets its name (fino= fine in Spanish).  The must is fermented like any other wine before the addition of alcohol to bring it to 15% abv.  This fortified wine is then aged for an average of four years in large old oak casks that are two-thirds filled.  During this time a layer of yeast (flor) grows on top of the wine, protecting it from too much oxidation and preserving its freshness.

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A two-thirds filled cask of Palomino Fino under its protective layer of flor, Bodegas Lustau, Jerez

This wine could not be further from the perceived sweet and cloying reputation sherry has attracted.  It is light, floral and bone dry.  On the nose it is full of aged green apple, chamomile and an attractive almond and bready note.  In the mouth it is crisp, fresh, dry and balanced, offering up those promised green apples and almonds.  The alcohol (15-15.5%) is well balanced and gives it a lovely warming touch on the long finish that offers a touch of saline minerality.

This wine should be served well chilled and is perfect as an aperitif or with fresh shellfish.  Once opened keep in the fridge and drink within a week.  Tio Pepe is available from most off-licences, supermarkets and wine shops for around €16 for 750ml.

 The Irish Wino’s Verdict: This is not the most serious or complex sherry I will try this week, but it is fabulously consistent, excellent value and tremendously food-friendly. 

 The Irish Wino’s Tip: This wine should be drunk young and fresh, so check the back label for the bottling date.  If it was bottled over a year ago, leave it on the shelf.  Independent wine shops and better off-licences should have younger, fresher stock. 

Spanish Tastings to Lift the November Gloom

With the deepening evenings looming over us, October and November offer some great wine events to cheer up even the most passionate Bacchant!

Rhône Wine Week runs from 2nd-8th November, with some terrific events around the country. Check out the full schedule on their website or Jean Smullen’s Wine Diary. The highlight of the week is the Ely Big Rhône tasting; read about last year’s mayhem over at Frankly Wines.

logo-isw-enFor the Iberophiles amongst you, lamenting the end of the World Tapas Day celebrations, fret not; there are two terrific events to brighten up your gloomy November evenings. First up is International Sherry Week, where Dublin celebrations are centred on Stanley’s Wine bar. For the full list of events, get yourself over to recently-qualified sherry educator Paddy Murphy’s Vineinspiration.

Then on Wednesday 11thNovember Spain Uncorked offers the exciting opportunity to try some of the best wines Spain has to offer, in the fabulous surrounds of the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin city. Over 40 bodegas will represent the wines of Ribera del Duero and Rueda. Although geographically close, these two regions offer contrasting styles. The brooding, powerful Tempranillo reds from the former; crisp, refreshing Verdejo whites from the latter. Ribera del Duero was the first wine region I visited (read here) and remains one of my favourite wine styles, so don’t miss this wonderful event. Limited amount of tickets still available at Eventbrite.

Travel to the Home of Sherry- Jerez de la Frontera

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

Sherry tends to get a bad name: often regarded as little more than that dusty bottle of sweet wine residing in the back of a drinks cabinet, only seeing the light of day to offer a favoured spinster aunt a drink at Christmas. But there is so much more to these styles of wines, which is slowly being rediscovered, not least their wonderful ability to pair with food.

However, even for sherry lovers, the city that sired this famous drink is often overlooked. Situated on the western tip of the provice of Cadiz, Jerez has played an important role in the political and social development of Andalucia for centuries.

Inhabited since the Neolithic, the area we now know as Jerez was an important city for successive empires. From the Romans to the Almohads, the city was fortified and lavished for centuries, until the reconquest by Catholic Spain in the thirteenth century. With the expulsion of the Islamic caliphate, Jerez prospered as a trading city, particularly after the founding of the New World.

Throughout this turbulent history Jerezanos continued to make wines. Introduced by the Phoenicians as early as 1100 BC, viticulture continued through Muslim rule. The stability of Jerez’s fortified wines meant they could survive the long voyages of Columbus and Magellan. The wines became hugely popular in Britain and were exported across the sprawling British Empire, leading many entrepreneurial Englishmen to the south of Spain to found wineries that retain their name to this day.

In 1894 phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Jerez. Many small producers were wiped out and vineyards were abandoned across the sherry triangle, leaving only the best producers. Recovery was slow and the wines fell out of favour for much of the twentieth century. Currently sherry is seeing a small revival in fortunes, but these unique wines are still some of the best value, food-friendly wines in the world. Perhaps that old spinster aunt was on to something after all!

When to Visit

Old Jerez Vendimia Poster (1949)

Jerez Vendimia poster (1949)

Although there are no bad times to visit this wonderful, historic city, the busy and scorching hot summer is probably not ideal for Irish skin tones! Instead try to coincide your trip with one of the many festivals either side of the summer months to really appreciate the Andalucian fiesta atmosphere.

The biggest of these are the Vendimia in September, to celebrate the grape harvest, the Feria del Caballo in early May and Holy Week, which is designated a Spanish Fiesta of National Interest. If you are interested in MotoGP, Jerez has hosted a round of the World Championship since 1987.

Find a full list of festivals here.

Where to Stay
lafondaThere are plenty of accommodation options to suit any budget around the city, but one little gem is La Fonda Barranco. Located just outside the centre of the city, this little guest house is a converted merchant’s house, built around a central atrium. Breakfast is served on the rooftop with an unrivalled view of the cathedral and is substantial enough to set you up for a day of sherry tasting. Tip: request a room with natural light as the interior rooms are very dark.

A little more central, located on the Plaza Rafael Rivero, is the beautiful Palacio Garvey Hotel, set in an old renovated townhouse.

Bodegas to Visit

Gonzalez Byass, Bodegas Tio Pepe: This is the best known and largest bodega in Jerez and no trip would be complete without a visit. Situated beside the cathedral, tours begin with a train ride around the grounds and run all day.

70e6e8277ae916c9a6ddc1123956153e Bodega Fundador Pedro Domecq: One of the oldest sherry houses in Jerez, Fundador Domecq is a combination of three different brands, including Harvey’s. This is a wonderful, intimate tour through their cavernous ageing rooms. I recommend you pay the extra to taste the stunning VORS Palo Cortado and Olorosso.

Most bodegas offer guided tours and all are well worth visiting. Pick a few and work them in to a leisurely stroll around this wonderful city. Turismo Jerez provides a full list of bodegas and contact details.

What to Do
Alongside the wonderful bodegas that dot Jerez, the city offers a wealth of history and architecture that can rival any in Andalucia. To trace the depth of Jerez history, don’t miss the newly renovated Museo Arquelogico on Plaza Mercado.

The Alcazar, situated behind the Cathedral, is the cultural and festival heart of the city. This twelfth century building is one of the few remaining examples of Almohade architecture in Spain. Spend a lazy afternoon wandering amongst the ancient orchards within the fortified walls before taking in the spectacular views from the Obscura.

If the Alcazar represents the cultural heritage of Jerez, the Cathedral is the religious heart. The flying buttresses and cavernous dome of this baroque building dominate the skyline of the city, whilst inside is a fascinating museum well worth the modest entrance fee.

Less well-known, but no less impressive, is the Church of San Miguel on Plaza San Miguel outside the original city walls. Lavished with art and statuary by local merchants, this fifteenth century church boasts a magnificent altar that took over 50 years to complete. Well worth the €2 entrance fee. Note that opening times can be irregular, so early morning is the best time to visit.

To get out of the city, take one of the many tours or local buses to the other towns that make up the Sherry Triangle- El Puerto de Santa Maria or Salucar de Barrameda.

If you have a car, take the time to drive up to Bodegas Luis Perez outside the city. Making dry wines in the heat of Andalucia, this stunning bodega has unrivalled views of the valleys below. Don’t miss their Tintilla aged in amphorae under the sea!

Where to Eat
Jerez has no end of good eateries to fill the belly after a long day of sherry tasting. From tapas to fine dining, there are plenty of options to suit any budget.

Not to be missed is Albores; situated on a wide cobbled street just off the main square. It offers an extensive wine list (dozens of sherry by the glass) and a modern take on tapas dining. Arrive early or book a table in advance, as it is very popular with locals and tourists alike.

Also worth noting is Reino De Leon Gastrobar, located on Calle Latorre behind the Ayuntamiento building. It offers a good wine list and well-crafted menu at very reasonable prices.

Wash down your dinner with a glass of fino in nearby Tabanco El Pasaje. This renowned little tabanco doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the crowd will spill on to the streets to hear a favoured flamenco artist, while your bar tab is marked in chalk on the counter!

Note that the Jerezanos traditional take on flamenco rarely includes dancing. To get a full flamenco show with dancers, catch one of the impressive shows at Tablao Flamenco Puro Arte. Also drop in to the small El Tabanco Mariñiguez for great value, delicious sherries. Check their Facebook page for upcoming events.

How to Get There
Ryanair have discontinued their Dublin to Jerez route, however both Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly regularly to Málaga from Dublin and Cork airports year round and add Shannon to their summer schedule.  Ryanair also fly an irregular route from Dublin to Seville.

From Málaga the easiest option is to rent a car and take the excellent Autopista del Mediterráneo straight to Jerez in about 2.5 hrs.

For very competitive rates, book with Malaga Car.

However, unlike many wine regions, a car is not necessary in Jerez, as most of the bodegas are concentrated within walking distance of the city centre. The buses and trains that connect Málaga to Jerez are neither convenient nor direct. The best option is the train that leaves from Málaga’s Maria Zambrano station, which is linked to the airport by the local rail service. Note that the only train to Jerez is via Sevilla, so takes about 4 hrs. Renfe run the regional trains in Spain.

Further Information

Tourist Information: http://www.turismojerez.com, http://www.cadizturismo.com

Consejo Regulador: http://www.sherry.org

Ayuntamiento de Jerez: http://www.jerez.es