Hard to imagine the year is almost at its end. So perhaps, this is the perfect ending for this year’s posts. I’ve been sitting on this last story from my Sherry Odyssey partly because I don’t want to admit all good things must come to an end for new journeys to begin.
Ever since discovering sherry, Lustau has been a huge part of my education. What better way to end my Sherry Odyssey with them! It was my last day in Jerez, the last bodega visit and the perfect summary for all my experiences rolled into one full day!
I arrived at Bodegas Lustau bright and early and waited downstairs by security for Juan Mateos Arizón. Juan is Sherry Triangle incarnate; he works in El Puerto de Santa Maria, lives in Jerez de la Frontera and vacations in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Juan tied up a few loose ends at the bodega, and then we were off in his car heading to Sanlúcar.
We took the breathtaking scenic route with wild flowers covering the roadsides in reds, yellows and purple. He pointed out where he loves to ride his horses. It’s not surprising with his love for sherry and horses that he also loves flamenco. As soon as he learned I dance flamenco back home, he turned on some bulerias.
As he told me more about Lustau’s history, he pointed out all the vineyards and land owned by his extended family. I did not realize I was in the presence of sherry royalty. His cheery disposition is only a fraction of his passion for his family’s legacy in the sherry trade. Arizón derives from his Irish roots ~ Harrison ~ who played a large role for sherry with the East India Trade company.
We arrived at Viña Las Cruces, between Rota and Sanlúcar, where they grow Moscatel & Pedro Ximénez. Juan pointed out Chipiona and Huelva in the distance. It was so quiet. It felt like another world surrounded by blooming cactus and fruit trees. Similar to my visit with Spirit Sherry, he brought me here to see the growing vines, and to become familiar with the soil. Vineyards are stressed for water, so they rely on the humidity of the river and sea during the cooler evenings to water their roots.
We went on into Sanlúcar where Juan drove me around showing me his childhood memories. As he put it, Sanlúcar is his passion. He loves this place and spent many childhood summers here. This is also where he fell in love with riding horses. What better way to learn than on these beaches? We passed by the old castle and along the banks of the blue water filled with fishing boats. He pointed out the villa where Juan’s family once crammed over 40 people inside for the summer!
We finally arrived at the small Almancenista bodega of Manuel Cuevas Jurado. This is where they produce small batch bottles of Manzanilla Pasada and Amontillado de Sanlúcar for Lustau’s Almancenista series. These are very special bottles. The numbers on the label design indicate that the bottling came from just one of 80 barrels of Manzanilla Pasada and one of only 21 barrels of the Amontillado. I cannot tell you how excited I was to be tasting directly from these barrels as part of my, as Juan coined it, Ultimate Lustau Wine Experience!
Before even entering the cellar of barrels, I was captivated by the patio that opens up to a stunning Bougainvillea arbor stretching across the top. Inside, the space is small and crowded with barrels well over one hundred years old. Because heat rises, the Amontillado barrels stay on the top layers, placing the delicate Manzanilla barrels on the floor where temperatures do not vary. The windows do not have glass and are covered with woven mats to block the sunlight yet allow the humid air to circulate.
As Capataz for 38 years, Pepe continues the same work passed down through the generations to establish the best conditions for the wines so that he can then pass off the role to his successor. He is with the wines day in, day out. Pepe knows exactly where each wine is at in fermentation and aging, and when it’s time to run the scales and blend the barrels. He takes care of each barrel of wine as if they were his children.
Pepe explained that even though Manzanilla and Finos start with the same must, the microclimate in Sanlúcar is different enough from El Puerto and Jerez, that the character of the wine changes during fermentation and aging, thus requiring a different classification. It’s more aromatic and maintains a distinct salinity.
He first pulled a glass of Manzanilla from the criadera barrels to demonstrate the importance of drinking the wine when it has aged a bit. Most Manzanilla and Finos are pulled from the criadera after only two or three years in barrel to please the masses who like it young with little depth of character. To me it’s much harsher to drink and would explain why many Americans are put off by it. Pepe agreed as he poured us glasses from the solera where the Manzanilla had been blended and aged five years. Just those two extra years of aging added a lovely golden color and nutty flavor.
Here it’s still tradition to use the venencia made of bamboo rather than the stainless steel used elsewhere. I love the sound it makes dipping into the barrel. We sampled the Amontillado from the barrel. Aged for about 30 years, it was spectacular! Juan pointed out that this would be best served chilled in a white wine glass paired with artichokes, and mushroom risotto topped with parmesan cheese.
As we headed out to say our goodbyes, we walked around the corner and Pepe stopped and handed me a piece of chalk. How humbling and exciting to once again sign a sherry barrel. I was very honored for the opportunity.
Stay tuned for part-two as Juan takes me through Bodegas Lustau and the grand cata of all their amazing wines and brandy!