I’ve known of Alexander Jules for quite awhile. I’ve actually referred to Alex Russan as the Jesús Barquín of the United States. I just never had the chance to taste his sherry. In recent months, some exciting things have been happening to promote sherry in the Pacific Northwest. Walden Selections is going to be my new best friend! Based in Washington State, they not only represent local northwest wines, some of which are made by Portland friends, but they also represent Spanish wines and sherry, including Alexander Jules. YES PLEASE!
I discovered Alex Russan was actually going to be in Seattle and Portland within the first week Walden Selections started business in Portland. Not only did I want to meet him, but I wanted to hear his story, taste his wines and connect him with all my favorite chefs, bartenders and wine shops who have helped make Sherry Sips stay a vital part of my life.
I arranged to meet with Carrie from Walden Selections and Alex for coffee. It’s funny when you meet someone in person you’ve known via social media. Do you hug? Do you shake hands? Not only did I recognize him, but also realized Carrie and I were classmates in WSET Level 2 last spring.
Carrie and I had to explain to Alex that in Oregon, the rules are much stricter when it comes to serving alcohol, especially if a place is not licensed. So we wouldn’t be able to bring them inside the coffee shop. Funny enough, I felt more worried about getting caught bringing his sherry inside, yet sampling them from the back of his car didn’t phase me. Sadly, I didn’t think to take a picture of this classy moment.
I’ll admit, there are other wine writers far better at wine descriptions than I am. But let me tell you my experience was transformative! These sherry selections took me to another place! The first was his Manzanilla. It was so floral and a yellow apple note that shines through stronger than any flor influence. It reminded me of mosto, when palomino still wine hasn’t been fortified. It was so elegant and feminine, with a pop of bright acidity balanced by salinity. Yet, this was not at all astringent. It could really pair well with more than just seafood.
The Fino was a punch in the face. Alex said the solera is housed near Fernando de Castilla and I was instantly transported. There’s no question this bottle encapsulated the Jerezano style of Fino. It was so pungent by comparison to the Manzanilla. Really bold but not super yeasty or reminiscent of wet dough. It had a lovely burst of acidity, some green olive notes, yet light on the palate.
The Amontillado was my favorite and left me craving more. This was an extension of the Manzanilla aged and bottled just at the tipping point where it becomes Amontillado. The color was much lighter amber. The nose still held onto the previous yellow apple fruit with only slight hazelnut and toffee to add a layer of complexity. On the palate it was so delicate and not concentrated in comparison to other Amontillado styles. This wine excites me! The range of pairings could be limitless because of its lighter body and balance of flavors.
When we sat down to get to know each other, I asked Alex my standard question for everyone – how did you get into sherry? He actually discovered wine about three weeks before he turned 21 and got into sherry rather quickly. He wanted to try the most complex styles on a college budget. In Rancho Cucamonga, there were still a few making California Sherry, nothing like proper sherry, but nevertheless great wine. Little by little, he started exploring authentic sherry. There’s nothing like them and they’ve always called to Alex and held a special place in his heart.
Always an entrepreneur, he imported coffee for nine years, primarily with Columbian coffee. He would taste hundreds of coffees a year from neighboring fields with really small lots; each subtly similar. He liked coffee, but he LOVED wine. In 2012, he started seeing articles that sherry was gaining popularity. Taking what he knew from his coffee venture, he wanted to taste through barrels of sherry. Similar to rare single barrels of scotch, Alex could only imagine how each old barrel would influence sherry with its unique personality.
He started with contacting each bodega listed on the Consejo Regulador’s website, with the intention to spend two weeks visiting each one. Through this journey, he narrowed down whom he wanted to work with. He flew out and started making barrel selections. At the time he wasn’t even aware of Jesús Barquín and his very similar Equipos Navazos project. Alex wanted to do Single Barrel Sherry, but due to the nature of the solera, it became multiple barrels.
Alexander Jules represents exceptional soleras of unique sherry Alex feels to be the most complex and elegant from within that solera. All bottlings are en rama, being only gently filtered or entirely unfiltered, with no other treatments or additions. He doesn’t want to have consistent releases, so he’s not having any blending happening for these specific barrels.
This excites a consumer like myself – that each bottle will have something new inside! All the labels note the number of barrels selected. For example, the label at the top of this post represents a selection from 22 barrels in an 85 barrel solera from Bodegas Sánchez Romate Hermanos in Jerez de la Frontera. Alex tries to list as much information he can on the label and on his website.
Being based in the USA, sherry is first for importing, but to maintain his business, he started importing still wine and cider from small producers around Spain, focusing on rare grapes, and less common regions like the Canary Islands. He also used to make wine at home, which spurred on his project called Metrick Wines. His desire is to hybridize grapes for California, and would like to have a small vineyard in the next five or so years to plant those, along with less common varieties that will do well in California.
It’s fellow west coast sherry lovers like Alex that make me not feel so far away when I’m missing Jerez the most. I am excited for more things to come from Alexander Jules!