I travel around the world and witness all manner of wine production methodologies in practice, supported by a vast panoply of attitude and thinking. This is what makes wine so gloriously diverse and holds us to it. But there’s a place that has a method of production that can never be replicated, ever. A quirky methodology that brings with it a wonderful , custodian-like mentality. A production method that’s entirely alien to the vast majority of the world’s winemakers but not, curiously, to malt whiskey producers. I know that I sound like a stuck record, but this magical wine wonderland is Jerez (and Sanlucar).
On my recent, first visit to the area, all of my hopes of the area, based entirely on what I had tasted, were met. And plenty more besides. Tasting wine directly from barrels in the beautiful, ancient cellars is one of the finest experiences I have ever had in a winery. It was so fascinating: at times visceral, at times soothing and, on occasion, terrifically exciting.
Let me try to explain why it is so. Essentially sherry as we know it, is a pale imitation of its constituent parts. Its constituent parts lie in solera systems. These systems comprise many different levels of partially filled barrels, arranged in criaderas (rows), the idea being that wines are moved through the system, newer wines being mixed with older wines as they progress, but barrels never emptied completely. This means that some of the original wines, often between 50 and 100 years old, will always be found in the wine that goes to bottle, since the bottling barrels are never fully emptied.
The resultant wines have very little to do with the initial wines from the vintage. They have everything to do with the wine’s meticulous ageing in solera. This is where one can find a parallel in the malt whisky industry.
Some of the wines one can find in these barrels, all different, are astonishing. Their remarkable attributes are never quite found in the bottled wines however. Why? Because the wines are essentially blended up from many barrels, and in many cases, particularly Manzanilla, harshly filtered to bottle.
I say never, but there’s a relatively new trend, led by passionate fellows, to bottle from individual casks (or blends of casks) without filtration – en rama as it is known.
Once upon a time, in the 70s, sherry was more expensive than Champagne. It is now drastically under-valued and therefore amazing value for money. The en rama wines are reversing this trend and regularly fetch £80 bottle, snapped up by zealous aficionados.
I love these wines. And will be getting some tiny volumes in to feed my habit, as well as promote your latent habit. So watch this space. We already have some wonderful examples on our shelves from Fernando de Castilla…but there will be more.
It’s a whole new world of wine, just waiting to be discovered.