To The Pillars of Jerez & Beyond

Pillars of JerezPrior to May of this year, I really wasn’t familiar with González Byass apart from Tío Pepe. It was Christopher Canale-Parola who arranged a private tasting for me in the bodega. Recently, I had the unique opportunity to interview Christopher about their Pillars of Jerez YouTube series. Here’s what he had to say about their wines, and working with wine expert, Antonio Flores.

Seana – Are you just sherry focused, or do you represent all of González Byass products?

Christopher – I work with all of them. We have six wineries in Spain, and we have an expanding spirits line. For quite a few years now, we’ve been producing a gin called London No 1 Gin. We have a vodka. We’ve been making brandies forever; Lepanto and Soberano, beautiful brandy de Jerez. Then of course Nomad whiskey, which is our newest baby, which is very exciting. It’s a very old company and innovative since the beginning.

S – As soon as I open a bottle, the smell instantly takes me back to Jerez.

C – You’re absolutely right! It’s so distinctive; it really isn’t like anything else. When you get that real oxidative nose, or when you get that acetaldehyde kick, or whatever, it can only take you to one place. Really in the world there are very few places like Andalucía. And of course sensory memories are the strongest. So, you get that smell, and it takes you there emotionally before it does mentally. Because sherry is so distinct, it has that ability. When you see someone playing the flamenco guitar, when you see the streets of Jerez, or when you see the white Albariza soil, it’s just so different to anything else. It can only take you back there.

C – We go into detail about one video per wine, but we just do three wines. Maybe if we had time we would have done more. Within that range, I think those three have a real interesting story to tell: Tío Pepe which is an icon, Viña AB which is one of the few traditional amontillados, and Leonor which is a dry, textbook-classic Palo Cortado.

S – Once these nine videos are released, are you already in the works for something more? Or are you seeing where this goes?

C – We’ll see. We haven’t got anything planned with regards to more videos of this type. Antonio was born for the camera. He was born for people. He was born for tastings. No doubt he will continue to do many other cool things.

Alonso - Vina ABI don’t know if you remember the story, but he was born in the winery. His dad was head of Board of Direction of González Byass. Often people shy away from what their parents do, especially if their parents are really good at something. The thing about him is, he originally wanted to become a sailor; he wanted to be in the Navy. So he did that. He went off and joined the military; did the Navy for a little bit. Then his number-two career choice was being a writer. He thought about being a journalist and creative writer.

AmontilladoThen he fell into wine making, because it was almost inevitable that he was going to do that. But the fact that before that, he had this desire to be a writer and create, that’s something that shows in his tastings.

There’s a guy in New York called Levi Dalton. He does a podcast called I’ll Drink to That! He’s a quite respected sommelier in Manhattan. We did a podcast with him, and you’ll see that just in the middle of conversation, [Antonio] starts quoting Octavio Paz. (Literary poetry translation is a full-time dedication of career. I thought, “stop talking about poetry; go back to sherry!”)

Tio Pepe CheersWhen he references literature, or when he creates these beautiful images in his communication, that communicates concepts really powerfully to people. So, yeah I’m sure that he’ll continue to do other videos. He’s the perfect person to be doing them.

me + christopherI hope you watch each video in the series! Even better – watch the videos while drinking a glass of sherry from González Byass! The rest of our conversation can be found in my archives under What Is Sherry.

Criaderas + Soleras ~ Sherry Pillar 5

Pillars of JerezExplaining my passion for sherry wine isn’t always easy to do concisely or eloquently. González Byass has made the job easier for me by creating their short video series the Pillars of Jerez. I had the unique opportunity to interview co-host Christopher Canale-Parola for behind-the-scenes commentary. Here’s what we discussed with regards to the fifth pillar on criaderas and soleras.

solera shotSeana – I have the hardest time simplifying the solera system. How did you do that in two minutes?

Christopher – Visuals help a lot! We’re standing in front of a whole barrel system, and we even simplify it in our communication. When you’re standing in front of three or four barrels and doing it with your hands, it makes it much more obvious.

We’re explaining how the fresh wine goes in the top, and once or twice a year we take out a third or a quarter and put it in the barrel below. In addition to this, as Antonio and I are talking, it fades to an image of a barrel, and we have two different shadings so that one of them goes lighter than the other, so you can visualize how it’s been moved down.

C – When I’m doing a tasting, what I sometimes do is get four wine glasses and I’ll take a drink out of [the fourth] one. I’ll top it up [from the third one], then top that up [from the second one], then also top that up [from the first one], and then say that’s where the fresh wine goes in. It’s a very simple thing, but people can associate the same wine moving through the barrels never being completely empty. It’s not that hard a concept, just tricky in the beginning. quality control

S – People who aren’t as familiar with sherry want to know the vintage to know how old it is.

C – That’s one of the classic footholds of people who come into the wine world – first, they look at the color of the wine. Is it a white wine or a red wine? Then they look at grape varietals. Is this a grape that they know, and do they like it? Then beyond that, they look at the year. These are easy footholds. So if you take them away, sherry makes it challenging for people a little bit. Because it’s so different, you do have to hold their hand through it and give them a little information.

S – It’s challenging for me when I introduce others to sherry and they still just don’t get it. tabanco cheers

C – If someone in that position goes to Jerez, and they sit down and have a load of food, get poured a glass of wine, and they drink it, and it goes with the food, they’ll think WOW that’s amazing! It wasn’t sitting down with the wine maker and learning about the solera system, or learning about the varietals and the vineyard or whatever it might be. It’s just that moment where it’s treated like a wine. You look at all the tables around you and they’re drinking it. It’s that moment or realization that it’s just the perfect wine for the cuisine. Don’t ask anymore questions, just get another glass.

That’s the experience, the epiphany, for a lot of people; more than studying it and realizing in a very cold, intellectual way that it’s a very good wine. Understanding it emotionally and feeling the flavor combination and looking around and seeing everyone doing it and realizing it is a thing and it’s not so weird.

S – I’m hoping that Portland gets there. me + christopher

Stay tuned for the rest of our conversation regarding classic wines and the creative spirit of sherry expert, Antonio Flores!

A Visit to Grupo Estévez

Grupo Estevez BodegaOne of my first sherry tastings was with Jaime Gil from Grupo Estévez. I remembered anything he poured from Valdespino agreed with me. Naturally, he was the first person I contacted when I planned my Sherry Odyssey back in April. I was curious how my visit would be, knowing how full his schedule was. It was a miracle with his travels that he was even in town! He arranged for me to join a tour of the bodega, then met up afterwards for our private tasting.

Grupo Estévez lobbyThe facility is beautiful and truly the largest I had seen – encompassing the wineries for Real Tesoro and Valdespino. La Guita is also under Grupo Estévez, but housed in Sanlúcar de Barrameda where all Manzanilla is produced. Grupo Estévez is also one of the few wine makers who have their own vineyards in Jerez.

The Bodega Lola wine cellar, named for the iconic flamenco dancer Lola Flores, houses 12,000 barrels of Real Tesoro’s Fino Tío Mateo. Outside past the production plants are lovely horse stables and the carriage house. The larger, two-story space was like an art gallery with the cellar in back that holds 25,000 barrels of Valdespino and Real Tesoro soleras. The barrel room is only accessible to tourists from above for a lovely panoramic view.

Once back in the main building, I sat down to my private tasting with Jaime. He was soft-spoken and full of great details about each wine.

cataLa Cata (the tasting):

deliciosaManzanilla Deliciosa en Rama by Valdespino, bottled in 2014. Five days after my visit, they bottled for 2015. Grupo Estévez only bottles this Manzanilla in the spring, because they feel the flor has more character than in the fall. The flor, literally meaning flower, is the yeast growing on top of the wine. In the fall and spring, it is much more active and grows thicker, which adds intense flavor and aroma to the wine. Being en rama, or unfiltered, the color was a dense golden tone. Even though this had been bottled for nearly a year, it tasted super fresh and salty. Jaime explained that most manzanilla soleras have five criadera levels. Manzanilla Deliciosa has six criaderas, which helps age the wine just a bit further.

guitaLa Guita Manzanilla bottled in December 2014. Jaime told me the story that back in the 1800’s the bottles had no markings or labels. This manzanilla had the reputation for not only it’s high quality, but for having a winemaker that demanded up front la guita, the slang term for cash. You drink it you buy it. Guita also means string or twine. Today, every bottle of La Guita has a piece of twine attached as tribute to this story. Even though it’s more commercially produced, it has not lost its reputation for high quality. It would pair well with crudo, jamon Iberico, fried fish and anything salty.

inocenteFino Inocente by Valedespino. This is a very unique Fino. It’s only uses grapes from a single vineyard at the highest altitude and has the best Albariza soil. Grupo Estévez maintains tradition by barrel-fermenting the new wine, which goes into 400 barrels in a single solera with ten criaderas. The wine ages for ten years under the flor. Jamie explained that the wine is already very good at five years old and they could bottle it at that time. However, they want to go further to the end of the yeast’s life before it completely dies.

amontilladosAmontillados Tío Diego by Valdespino. After the wine aged as Inocente for ten years biologically and the flor dies off, they age it another five to six years oxidatively to become this amazingly delicate amontillado. Even though the nose has the caramel notes of a typical amontillado, I could really taste the influence of the flor. It was dry with strong almond notes. It would be great with artichokes!

Amontillado del Principe by Real Tesoro. This was a classic amontillado style. It is aged eight to nine years under the flor, then another nine to ten years oxidatively. Compared to the Tío Diego, this was darker like an Oloroso, and had more caramel notes.

palo cortadoPalo Cortado Viejo C.P. by Valdespino. This was the first Palo Cortado I ever had when I first discovered sherry. This Palo Cortado began either as a barrel in the Fino Inocente solera or one in the Amontillado Tio Diego solera. Because the wine was not reacting to the flor in the same way as the other styles, the barrel was removed from the criadera. It’s very delicate and the rock star of their wines. The nose was like Amontillado Tío Diego, but on the palate it felt a bit more like an Oloroso.

don gonzaloOloroso Don Gonzalo VOS by Valdespino. Jaime spoiled me with this bottle that represented soleras established over one hundred years ago. Jaime calls this one the liar; it smelled sweet, but was quite dry on the palate. It had a unique toasted character and a very long finish.

coliseoAmontillado Coliseo VORS by Valdespino. This Amontillado actually started as a Manzanilla in Sanlúcar. Once the flor died, the wine was brought to Jerez to age as an Amontillado. It was concentrated and intense and averaged around 40 years old. As Jaime explained, the flavor cuts like a knife right down the middle of the tongue.

padlockPedro Ximenez El Candado by Valdespino. I love the story behind the name and the reason for the little padlock attached to the bottle. Many years ago, the wine maker had a client who loved the PX so much; he bought an entire barrel for his own consumption. It was set apart from the other barrels with a padlock, and the client could come and taste using his own key. The workers all referred to the barrel as el candado, or the padlock. Today, the cap on each bottle has a little hole to allow its owner to keep it locked. I loved the balance between its acidity and sugar. It’s aged for eight years to keep it nice and light.

jaimegilJaime Gil was the first to introduce me to Valdespino sherry, and this grand tasting was a clear reminder why the wines from Grupo Estevez have won me over!

Biological + Oxidative Aging ~ Pillars 3 + 4

Pillars of JerezI cannot express enough how much I enjoy the Pillars of Jerez videos from González Byass! I am very fortunate to have co-host Christopher Canale-Parola living in my city of Portland, Oregon. We continue our chat around the third and fourth pillars; biological and oxidative aging.

Seana – Some say the salinity in Manzanilla and Fino comes from the sea air. Others say it’s the soil, having been under water so many years ago. Is it one or both, or just BS?

Christopher – No, I don’t think it’s BS at all, and very important in fact. You’ve got to remember that when you have a biologically aged sherry, you have this big surface area that’s covered with this living yeast. That yeast is constantly in contact with the oxygen in the air around it, and it will have an impact.

flor on venenciaS – Is flor only particular for that area? I have friends who always ask if I’m going to make sherry, and I just laugh.

C The sherry region isn’t the only one that uses flor yeast, but it is one of very few, and it’s the only one that does it exactly in that way. So, for example in Jura in France, there are white wines that are aged under a layer of yeast. So, here and there in the wine world, it does exist, but it’s very difficult to reproduce.

People have taken yeasts to Australia; they’ve taken it to the States, and to South Africa. People have tried to age beer under it in Belgium, but it’s very difficult because you’ve taken a native yeast out of its home environment. It just doesn’t do its thing.

S– So most sherry styles outside of the region are going to be an oxidative style?

C – Predominantly yes, which I think is perhaps the traditional mass-marketed cooking sherry. Everyday I’m still teaching people that sherry isn’t just a cooking wine. That, I think will be mostly oxidized wine that people are reproducing.

S – Putting aside that sherry is protected in the first place, I can’t imagine replicating the process elsewhere.

flor in barrelC – I am aware of a couple of more serious operations that have really tried to make a sherry style wine. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason why you can’t make wines in a similar style that are really good elsewhere, or there’s no reason why you don’t try. It’s just difficult to do.

It’s like the Champagne community perhaps saying you can’t make sparkling wines outside of Champagne. Of course you can, right? With Champagne, it gives us a good feeling and people love drinking it, yet most people have no idea how it’s made. To most people, a sparkling wine from Prosecco is more or less the same as Champagne, except that one’s just more expensive and they should like it more. But ask them about it, and they probably won’t know.

At the moment the sherry world would say you can’t make sherry outside the sherry world. You can’t call it that, and it probably won’t be as good. But that’s no reason why somebody doesn’t give it a go, you know? The wine world is in constant motion. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was something that became more of a thing going forward.

Tio Pepe Jerez

We are incredibly privileged where we are in terms of climate and soil. You just can’t ever think anything will come close in terms of quality. If we could ever get there with sherry, where we don’t have to explain the solera system, fortification, biological aging, oxidative aging, and have them dig it and want it – give it a little sex appeal, you know – that would be wonderful!

me + christopherStay tuned as we discuss the final sherry pillar, who is sherry wine expert Antonio Flores, and the three classic wines from González Byass!

The Soil + The Grapes – Sherry Pillars 1 + 2

Pillars of JerezHave you seen the Pillars of Jerez YouTube series yet?! My conversation with co-host Christopher Canale-Parola continues! Before talking a bit about the soil and varietals, I wanted to know more about Christopher and his role with González Byass.

Gonzalez ByassSeana – How did you become the “face” of these videos?

Christopher – That’s a funny story! Basically before I moved to the US, I was the only native English speaker based out of Jerez in a sales role. Over time, I ended up interpreting tastings for Antonio Flores and we built up a rapport.

Sherryfest 2013Then we’d do trips together: Sherryfest in New York and Toronto in 2013, then again together in San Francisco 2014. Then this year he wanted to do it again, so I went to New York. People were really enjoying the tastings we were doing.

So, the reason these videos came about was we had one of our Canadian agents come over on a trip with about 15 others. Antonio and I did a tasting and they had a good time. Somebody that came with them said, “wouldn’t this be really great if you could record this tasting? It would be a really informative, thorough sherry tasting in English from Antonio through translation.”

We thought about it. But we can’t really record an hour and a half tasting. That would be SO boring! So we thought, how can we take that concept, transmit the same information without so much technical detail, and make it effective? The way to do it is to break it down into little chunks and give each video a very obvious purpose and focus and then just record them, edit them and see how it goes right?

venenciaS – Are you considered an ambassador?

C – I think my official title is something like Regional Sales Manager. I handle the whole portfolio in Canada – Atlantic Provinces right through British Columbia, and a zig-zag cut through the US from the west coast to the south. My colleague in New York handles the east coast and a little bit in the mid-west. Basically, it revolves around the distributors we work with. People often say that’s a really big territory, but for sherry, normally you have like one or two people to do the whole world! So we’re incredibly privileged to be able to send two people to just do North America.

S – When I watched the First Pillar video of the soil, my husband remarked “it’s so dry and crumbly,” and he’s never been. Even for me, when I went to Jerez in May, I was shocked by how absorbent it is.

Soil– Exactly – it’s visual! The idea is to just give a sense or an impression of what it is and what this wine region is all about. I think we put something together that would communicate to people who already knew a lot about it – you know things like the asepiado – the steps put in the soil – which even people who are very familiar with sherry, may have never seen that process put into action.

S – I saw that for the first time when I visited. I was shocked to learn that vineyards aren’t watered, which is why those steps are there to collect the winter rains. I was amazed to see how fine the roots are that can go digging in the soil searching for water seven meters deep and up to sixteen meters across!

S – Most bodegas [or sherry wineries] purchase their grapes elsewhere, but González Byass has their own vineyards?

ViñasC – We have a large vineyard area where we get our grapes from. We have about 10% of the Jerez Superior. We have an important nursery, as well, where we’re growing vines up, one of the very few to have our own Pedro Ximenez. It’s very rare. At the moment, we do purchase grapes like everybody else from a region in Montilla, but we also have our own vineyards and are increasing that production. Antonio and the team hope in a few years time to be 100% self-sufficient for our own PX.

VarietalsS – I loved seeing them sun-drying the PX grapes in the video. Can Palomino Fino even grow in Oregon or elsewhere?

C – There is some in California and Argentina. My dad was drinking some dry PX from Argentina the other day, he told me about it. There are a few experiments going around, but not an awful lot. It’s just such a unique growing region like any other in the world, you just can’t really reproduce the style, and neither should you. You should perhaps maybe take inspiration from it and do something cool. I’d love to see what comes out of it. But you can’t really reproduce exactly the same thing, you know?

me + christopherTune in for more from our conversation as we discuss the remaining videos of the Pillars of Jerez series, the creativity of Antonio Flores and the future of sherry!

5 Pillars of Sherry – a look behind the scenes

TitleAs my desire to learn more about sherry grows, it can be challenging to find local resources to take me further. I am envious of all the classes and tastings provided in Jerez. When will technology figure out teleportation already?!

However, it is exciting to see more of my favorite sherry makers interacting on social media. Recently, Antonio Flores from González Byass has been posting YouTube videos on a regular basis! If you haven’t seen them yet, you MUST watch the Pillars of Jerez series releasing this month! The introduction video alone made me ache to go back!

I had the privilege to sit and talk in depth with the co-host of the series, Christopher Canale-Parola. Each week I will post the videos here with his commentary. Here’s what he shared about how these videos all came together: Christopher + Antonio

Seana: I’m so excited that you guys have been doing these! How long ago was this?

Christopher: We did this back in September – it’s a beautiful time of year to be filming. The concept was to have a short video – people have really short attention spans. As you’ll notice if you’ve watched the video, the technical information is very light. We’re not actually going into a lot of detail about sherry production really. We’re kind of skimming over the basics. The idea is to just give an impression of what it is and what this wine region is all about. Antonio + Christopher

S – Is the target audience people who are unfamiliar with sherry?

C – Our job would be so easy if we could just pick up everybody and take them to Jerez for the day. Because this is quite difficult to do, the whole point behind this is was to be able to give people just a visual image so they don’t need to read through a whole lot of information just to get the basics. So the idea was to go through and give an overview of sherry to a mixed audience, and to be able to break it down in a very easy format.

We tried not to go over two minutes which was a little bit difficult, so we kept them under 3 minutes for these videos. Quite a lot was edited; we did it all in about four hours, all in an afternoon. We didn’t even have a huge amount of preparation time. We just went out there and tried it as an experiment, and it came off quite well.

This whole concept of the Five Pillars, this is Antonio’s little brain-child. This is something that he’s been referencing in his tastings as long as I’ve been tasting with him.

S – How long have you been?

C – I began in 2011 with González Byass.

– It’s nice that these are coming at a time as I keep introducing others to sherry. I have something I can point them to that is professionally done, rather than creating my own webcam video.

copita brindisC – That’s the luxury that we had. We work with a very good media team that has done several events for us in the past. We have so much to show, that we have to do it the best way possible.

That’s what we did basically. We have nine videos: one of them is the introduction – do you love that shot of the drone over the vines? I love that shot! Five of them are the five different pillars of sherry – we have the soil, the grapes, biological aging, oxidative aging, solera and criadera.

That leaves us with three more. So, we go into detail about one wine per video. One on Tio Pepe, one on Viña AB Amontillado and one on Leonor Palo Cortado, just those three. Maybe if we had time, we would have done more. Within that range I think those three have a real interesting story to tell: Tio Pepe which is an icon, Viña AB which is one of the few traditional amontillados, and Leonor Palo Cortado which is a dry text book classic Palo Cortado.

me + christopherStay tuned for more videos and our continued conversation! Until then – be sure to #drinkmoresherry!