Lustau Pt 1 -Road Trip!

Road Trippin.jpg

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!

Lustau patioI 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.

scenic routeAs 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.

villa carmenWe 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!

Almacenista SeriesWe 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!

bougainvilleaBefore 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.

ManzanillaHe 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!

Meeting the Edmundos at Bodegas Grant

Bodegas Grant doorwayOne of the first Amontillados to leave a lasting impression on me was Amontillado La Garrocha from Bodegas Grant. It’s a small, family-owned bodega in El Puerto de Santa María. Like many small bodegas, they do not have their own vineyards, but purchase their grape must from other growers. Since its founding in the mid 1800’s, they’ve mostly functioned as almacenistas selling their wines to replenish soleras in other sherry houses. It’s only been recently that they’ve bottled under their own label. It was highly recommended that I make a visit while in the Sherry Triangle.

It was my first train experience venturing outside of Jerez all on my own. I admit, I was a little nervous walking down unfamiliar streets using my phone to guide me. I arrived at the bodega’s storefront much earlier than my appointment. The kind lady inside said I could wait in the café just around the corner.

I sat down and ordered a café con leche. A man reading his paper at the end of the bar shyly introduced himself at Edmundo. He remained behind his paper, occasionally making conversation until his father, Edmundo Sr., arrived to greet us both and paid the tab.

Bodegas Grant

The café was conveniently attached to the back entrance to the bodega. It’s a lovely space, full of light, yet managed to keep out the day’s growing heat. Compared to his tall, shy son, Edmundo Sr. was an average height Spaniard full of animated gestures as we tasted wines from their barrels. He explained that unlike Jerez, the flor yeast in El Puerto does not vary in thickness since the temperatures aren’t as extreme in winter or summer.

Fino + FlorEdmundo Sr. walked over to a Fino barrel and had to chisel open the bung. He handed me a glass of Fino wine mixed with the flor to taste how it influences the flavor. I was surprised by the pungent aroma of fresh almond and its subtle sweetness. The flor not only influences the wine’s nose and flavor, it’s key for protecting the wine from oxygen. When I tasted the Fino on it’s own, the aroma of the flor was still present, yet the wine was bone dry for being only three years old. They don’t currently bottle en rama, or unfiltered Fino, for export markets. Perhaps they will in the future, but for now it’s only available for local patrons.

Amontillado La GarrochaNext, he poured me a glass from the La Garrocha Amontillado barrel. Magnífico! I’ve never had anything so fresh! Truly trumped my initial experience back in Oregon!

Once the flor dies and oxygen is exposed to the wine, their Amontillado is ready for bottling after aging approximately 9 years. I could taste the Fino influence, but the body was much fuller and richer. The color was a beautiful topaz and the nose was a balance of almonds and toffee.

US Exports - La GarrochaAs I continued to taste through, Edmundo Jr. participated more in conversation, especially explaining to his father I already knew my sherry basics. Our conversation transitioned to their excitement of their growing export market. Currently they only export half-bottles of the La Garrocha Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso. Their first shipment was 300 cases, and just last year they exported 1500 cases!

We walked over to a table where they set up the remaining flight of their La Garrocha wines. Oloroso always smells like it would be sweet, but it’s bone dry on the palate. This one had a lovely citrus finish. Although I prefer dry sherries, I wasn’t going to turn down their sweet ones. The less sweet of the three was the Cream. Their Cream is a blend of the Oloroso with a splash of Pedro Ximénez for added sweetness. It smelled like raisins and had a beautiful amber color.

The Moscatel surprised me. It reminded me of honey, yet it wasn’t empalagoso, or overly sweet. Unlike the Pedro Ximénez, which coated my mouth like syrup and lingered. It’s smell took me back to being a child eating out of a snack box of Sun-Maid raisins.

We ended our visit toasting with a glass of a Amontillado Viejo averaging 20 years old. I asked them to sign my “sherry bible” before they sent me off with a gift of a signed poster and a bottle of La Garrocha Amontillado. They highly recommended I return for harvest next year. I just might take them up on it!

un brindis

A Special Visit with El Maestro Sierra

EMS sign

It’s so quiet.

All you can hear are birds.

So peaceful.

~ Excerpt from my journal April 24, 2015

Pilar PláI knew I wanted to visit El Maestro Sierra after reading their backstory in my “sherry bible.” Firstly, I loved that a master cooper, building barrels for Gonzalez Byass, founded it because he wanted to become an almacenista. (Sherry makers at that time typically earned their vocation out of a birthright and did not favor this start-up mentality.) Secondly, I love that in a very male-dominated trade, this bodega is run by women.

From the street, the bodega was pretty unassuming and just as humble inside. They don’t do tours, so I was glad Ana was available on short notice. Eduardo from Spirit Sherry encouraged me to visit, and I’m so glad I did. It was by far one of the most unique experiences I had while in the Sherry Triangle.

They are quite strict about maintaining their way of tradition down to the letter. The botas are the original barrels from 1830. Ana explained that there is a four-degree difference between the floor and the area above. Which is why they keep their barrels of Fino on the bottom rows of the solera where it’s cooler, with the Oloroso barrels stacked on top where it is warmer.

EMS wax sealEverything is done by hand, using no machinery. They stick to the old method of siphoning the wines from the barrels to aid the blending process. They use no chemicals or harsh filtration. If filtration is needed, it’s only using egg whites and gentle paper filters to catch any large particles. They even run off of well water to guarantee no chlorine touches their wines. Even their labels are applied by hand. It was certainly the quietest winery I had been in!

The conversation and tour with Ana was fast pace with little pausing for pictures. She left me alone with my cata, or tasting. I wished she’d share her thoughts with me on each wine. Since they are such an authentic bodega, I wanted to know the special nuances that set their wines apart from others.

I did my best to write down my own thoughts for each. I started with the Fino I’ve had in the past. It is dry, but mature for being only five years old. Due to the gentle filtration, it has a strong flor, or yeast influence. I loved it’s golden color in the sunlight. Next, I tasted the Amontillado. It’s aged twelve years, but still had a very salty Fino influence. I loved its butterscotch aromas and topaz color.

The flight quickly moved onto the aged bottles. The Viejos are only bottled once a year in September and only 20 to 70 bottles at a time. Because so very few are bottled in general, each label has the date and number written on the back.

Amontillado Viejo 1830 comes from a solera that started when the winery was founded. On the nose, I picked up a metallic brass note. On the palate, although it was dry, it was very round with nice toffee notes. The Palo Cortado had an amazingly clear amber color. I’m a lover of all Palo Cortados, and this one had such a nutty complexity, I couldn’t put my glass down. That was until I moved onto the two Oloroso VORS! The Oloroso 1/14 VORS hit my nose like a the smell of varnish and burnt caramel, but the flavor was intense and heated the sides of my tongue similar to a really smooth whiskey. They saved the best for last. The star of this show was certainly the Oloroso Extraviejo 17 VORS. It averages over 80 years old! It too had a smell of polished wood floors and caramelized bananas. The finish was rich and lingered on forever. It took a lot of willpower not to reach over and help myself to a second glass.

El Maestro Sierra BlissI didn’t stay long, but I certainly did not want to leave this silent sanctuary. It was like stepping back in time. I enjoyed having a moment to pause and take a deep breath. So much love and care goes into this place, and I could feel it extend to even to me as a visitor. I am so grateful for this unique experience.

An Afternoon with Gutiérrez Colosía

GC botasI woke up to a tweet this morning celebrating the 70th birthday of Juan Carlos, the winemaker at Gutiérrez Colosía for the past 55 years. Seeing his face reminded me of one of the best conversations I had this past spring. To think, my visit nearly didn’t happen.

GC Sangre y TrabajaderoI originally planned to visit this bodega because one of the first Olorosos I ever tasted was their Sangre y Trabajadero. I was nervous to go on my own by train from Jerez to El Puerto de Santa Maria. (FYI it is listed as El Puerto on the kiosk. You can purchase your ticket the day you plan to travel. It’s not the last stop on the train, so be watchful and don’t get lost in the scenery.)

Having never been to this town, I was thankful for my phone’s GPS to take me right to the little door on the boulevard. I mentioned to the woman in the storefront that I was here for my 12:30 appointment with Carmen. She asked, “¿Cuál Carmen?” I couldn’t remember if my email correspondence was with Carmen the mother or Carmen the daughter. What I soon discovered was Carmen the daughter was not available, and Carmen the mother had two large tour groups she was entertaining. Rather than apologizing and sending me away, they graciously invited me in and had Bertrand lead me through the bodega.

Gutiérrez Colosía is located right on the banks of the Guadalete River. I mention this because I learned their location is perfect for keeping a healthy veil of flor yeast year-round. The bodega is a lovely cathedral style, shadowed to keep out the light and heat. Because they are so close to the river and sea, they don’t need to keep soil on the floors to regulate the temperature.

GC flightCarmen reminded me of my own mother; playing hostess, making sure everyone was taken care of and feeling at home, as well as not liking her picture taken. At her request, I promised not to post the one picture I convinced her to take with me.

She poured the standard flight of their Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez, and treated me to a plate of cured meats and cheeses. I was left to sample them on my own. Sadly, the only tasting note I made was their Fino reminded me of Manzanilla for its salty nuances.

Carmen brought her husband Juan Carlos down from his meeting to sign my sherry bible. He took me by surprise by sitting down to take time to chat. Our chat quickly turned into an hour conversation!

Photo Author: Ralf Bender

Photo Author: Ralf Bender

Our topics were not at all what I expected. We talked about religion and how he is not a religious man. We talked about wine and climate change. He was quite matter of fact that climate change isn’t anything he worries about; it’s not anything that will impact his wines in his lifetime. When I mentioned that I focus on sherry, because the wine world in general overwhelms me, he assured me that it is quite small when it comes to where grapes can actually grow to produce good wines.

GC VORSAs we continued, Juan Carlos spoiled me with his bottles of VORS. The Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and PX. He had me drink the Oloroso first because it’s the youngest of the group. Mind blown!!

At one point in our conversation, I mentioned whiskey and Carmen chimed in that my pronunciation was very Andalucian when I spoke. I was quite honored, not only by the complement, but also by how they treated me like a guest in their home despite all the other groups sitting right behind us.

By the time we kissed our goodbyes, I had already spent three hours with this lovely couple! The entire visit to Gutiérrez Colosía went above and beyond my expectations. I cannot wait to go back!

GC autograph

Sherry Odyssey 2015

tabancoAs I slowly write posts on each sherry maker I visited this spring, I realize I wrote about my list of where I hoped to go, but never said where I actually landed this time around. (Trust me, there’s so much more to experience – I’m already planning for my return!)

Here’s what fell into place in April 2015:

So much packed into a little amount of time! I can’t wait to get back to experience even more!

A Visit to Delgado Zuleta

Delgado ZuletaAs temperatures rise, this time of year is perfect to cool off with a glass of Manzanilla!

When I was planning for my April trip to the Sherry Triangle – I knew I had to escape to the city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the home of Manzanilla. Manzanilla is created just like Fino, but the climate and location of Sanlúcar gives the wine a salinity flavor not present in most Finos.

Due to time constraints, I only had time for one bodega visit in Sanlúcar. I made sure it was with Delgado Zuleta, the oldest firm in the Marco de Jerez with the most famous Manzanilla.

I chose to take a taxi from Jerez because I didn’t want the hassle of figuring out the busses. Rubén was the sweetest driver. We chatted the whole way as we passed by windmills and vineyards. Once at Delgado Zuleta, he was willing to wait without running the meter!

I walked into the retail store out front and said I was looking for Nuria de los Reyes. A happy face greeted me with, “You’re my blogger!” as she popped up from her desk. With that, Nuria led me outside to the vines growing along the main road to start the grand tour.

As she told me about the history of Delgado Zuleta, we headed inside to a room full of their oldest documents. Although they were founded in 1744, some of the documents are dated back to 1719. She showed me a beautiful book on viticulture from 1879 with hand-painted pictures. Across the room stood a large cabinet full of proper sherry glassware through the centuries. Nuria explained to me that the typical cata vino copa, the a small tightlipped wineglass, is used in the bodega because they know the wines best by the way they smell and rarely have to taste them. They look for vanilla and coconut notes. If they smell something different, the barrel is removed from the solera pyramid.

Even though the current building is from the 20th century, they do their best to maintain tradition when it comes to making their wines. They even use a traditional venencia made from bamboo. Nuria pointed out that Manzanilla is the only female sherry style. The most famous from Delgado Zuleta is La Goya Manzanilla named after a famous flamenco dancer in the early 1900’s.

Delgado Zuleta bottlesAlthough 90% of their production is Manzanilla, Nuria and I sat down with their oenologist Salvador for a flight of their premier sherry styles.

First off was a refreshing glass of La Goya Manzanilla Pasada. It’s a richer, older Manzanilla in which the flor starts to fade and has a final average age between six to eight years. What I love most about Manzanilla that set them apart from Fino is the salinity.

Next we tasted through four of their premium wines under the Monteagudo label each aged for 10-12 years: a rich Amontillado with lovely nutty notes; a savory Palo Cortado slightly softer than the Amontillado with strong notes of walnut and coffee; a full-bodied Cream with intense dried fruit nuances; a luxurious Pedro Ximenez, soft, warm and sweet with strong raisin flavor.

Salvador, me + NuriaUnfortunately, my phone died before our tasting began. I love recording all my visits and I’m disappointed not to have the conversation between Nuria and Salvador available for review. I really enjoyed hearing them compare what nuances they tasted as if they weren’t experts in their own wines.

I’m so glad I was able to squeeze in this visit to Delgado Zuleta and was welcomed with such hospitality. All their wines – not just La Goya – are amazing down to the last drop!

me + Nuria