Manzanilla, bone dry and saline, with intensity and finesse from ageing under flor in the bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Three wines from the bodegas Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, starting with the en rama release of the ubiquitous La Guita Manzanilla (with a little bottle age), then thanks to sherry aficionados Navazos, two fabulous wines with obvious Sanluqueña origins, the La Bota No. 59 Manzanilla Pasada and La Bota No. 58 Amontillado. Priceless? You decide, but undoubtedly worth mucho guita.
Manzanilla, like Fino, is made from the Palomino grape and aged biologically, that is under the veil of flor yeast that forms on the surface of the wine, protecting it from oxidisation. Closer to the sea than Jerez, Sanlúcar has a cooler and more humid climate, with more consistent temperature than bodegas further inland. Here the flor grows thicker, protecting the wine from air still more, producing slightly lighter sherries which are very dry and saline, with fresh, zesty characteristics. Sanlúcar de Barrameda’s proximity to the sea typically gives Manzanilla more coastal, sea breeze, saline and iodine characteristics than Fino sherries. Chamomile, for which Manzanilla is the Spanish name, is another aroma typically associated with Manzanilla.
Visit the region and many sherry makers say the distinction of Manzanilla as somehow different to Fino is misleading. Tuck your Fino butts away in a particular part of your bodega, where the conditions are similar to Sanlúcar, one can produce a Fino in the style of a Manzanilla, and vice versa. Why not a different name for the Fino’s of El Puerto de Santa María, typically distinctive from those of Jerez?
Left to its natural conclusion, the flor would die before having a distinct influence on the wine, once the nutrients in the wine had all been consumed, but is kept alive for years by continually replenishing the butt with younger wine containing fresh nutrients.
This system of fractional blending is the basis of the solera system, which as well as maintaining the flor, maintains a consistent style. The barrels are arranged in groups called criaderas (nurseries), with the barrels in each containing progressively older wine. The oldest criadera (itself called the solera) holds wine ready to be bottled. Manzanilla solera systems typically have more criaderas than those of Fino, with at least nine, and up to twenty.
Manzanilla must be aged for a minimum of 2 years under flor, but is usually aged for 3 to 5 years before bottling. Sometimes this young Manzanilla is known as Manzanilla Fina to distinguish it from Manzanilla Pasada – bottled at around 6 to 7 years old, when the flor starts to fade and expose the wine to oxygen.
After this initial period of biological ageing, the flor may be intentionally disturbed or removed, or, alternatively die naturally once the nutrients become too depleted for the flor to survive, once the wine in the oldest criadera reaches 8 to 12 years old. Either way the wine will be refortified up to 16% or more to prevent the flor regrowing, ageing oxidatively for a further period to become Manzanilla Amontillado, with more distinct oxidative characteristics.
Equipo Navazos are perhaps the biggest shake up to have hit the world of sherry in many years. Not a Bodega, but a group of sherry lovers led by wine writer Jesús Barquín, and technical director of Grupo Estévez, Eduardo Ojeda. Jesús, an intense and serious character, is not only a regular contributor to World of Fine Wine, but has a demanding day job as a Professor of Criminology at the University of Granada.
It started when in 2005 the group discovered several dozen barrels of an exceptional 20 year old Amontillado at Sanchez Ayala, from which they drew a volume equivalent of a butt and produced 600 bottles, with the name ‘La Bota de Amontillado’, a reference to to Edgar A. Poe’s popular story ‘The Cask of Amontillado’. The group realised that there were numerous brilliant sherry butts lying around in the cellars of Jerez, Sanlúcar and El Puerto, and from all around Montilla, with volumes too low to be viable for commercial bottling, but too good be part of but large solera blends.
These wines were intended only to be shared privately amongst the group’s 30 or so members. Yet such was the enthusiasm with which they were received, that the group saw the potential to once again give sherry the platform it deserves alongside the other great wines of the world. Three years after their foundation, in 2008 Equipo Navazos started to make small commercial releases of their bottlings, each numbered chronologically and marked with the date of withdrawal from cask.
Navazos’ wines are all bottled unfiltered, or with the lightest filtration possible, to preserve as much body and complexity as possible, in line with the current trend for en rama sherries. A transparency not traditionally associated with Sherry is also provided for the bottlings, with the Bodega, date of withdrawal from cask, number of casks used, their yield, geographical area of grape production, and and other information being openly available on the bottle or website. The group have subsequently also bottled several unfortified dry white wines made from both Palomino Fino and Pedro Ximénez, sparkling wines and Brandy.
Their primary objective has always been passion for the unique wines of the region rather than commercial success. Using their intimate knowledge of the region, the group sources high quality and distinctive barrels from numerous Bodegas, with ongoing relationships with Valdespino and La Guita (owned by Grupo Estévez), and with Rey Fernando de Castilla, Miguel Sánchez Ayala and Pérez Barquero.
La Guita La Guita La Guita
These three wines come from the bodegas Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, founded in 1852, and since 2007 part of Eduardo Ojeda’s Grupo Estévez. The hugely popular Manzanilla La Guita is the only sherry regularly available from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, which until 1972 was produced as a single vineyard Manzanilla Pasada of around 12 years old, but such was the demand that it’s now released as a Manzanilla Fina of 4 1/2 years old.
The name La Guita is derived from the old Andalucian slang for cash, in which the bodega’s founder was renowned for wanting to be paid. In a marketing move to make mucho guita, the neck of the La Guita bottle is now decorated with a string, playing upon the more common translation of the word, and associating the brand with the guitar playing and flamenco bands of the tabancos.
The bodega has a huge production of around 250 thousand cases per year, which when you consider that no more than 35% is drawn off annually from the soleras of their 16 thousand butts, equates to a somewhat mind boggling volume of sherry stored in their two Sanlúcar cellars. The oldest, at the highest point in Sanlúcar, number one on the Calle Misericordia, was converted into a ageing bodega in 1867, previously having been the hospital San Juan de Dios, situated on that site since the 16th century. They also have the Pago de Sanlúcar Viejo bodega on the Carretera de Jerez, acquired in 1993 and housing 14 thousand butts in 11 thousand square metres, exclusively given over to ageing the La Guita Manzanilla, and also houses the modern bottling facilities.
Like many bodegas in the region, Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín don’t have their own vineyards, buying base wine from the Covisan cooperative, made up of 170 Sanluqueña vine growers, mainly in the renowned Pago Miraflores.
La Guita En Rama saca de Octubre 2015
In line with the modern trend, Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín have now relented to market pressure, and release a Manzanilla En Rama. At an average age of 4 1/2 years, this is roughly the same ages as the standard La Guita, but the careful selection of five butts result in a very different wine.
Appearance Medium amber in appearance, with a muddy, musty, brownish hue, and even some pinkish tints in certain lights.
Nose Pronounced on the nose. There’s saline, salty black olive brine and black olive flesh. Surprisingly fruity, with dried figs and raisins, and a slightly chemical, iodine note in the background. Lots of yeasty flor character, with musty marine sea air, sea herbs and rockpool.
Palate Really salty and briney on the palate, with soured citrus lemon juice. There’s leathery dried fruit again, fig and raisin, and dried out almond and hazelnut nuttiness, giving quite an unusual almost tannic, textural mouthfeel. Some oxidative character, and a long saline finish, bringing out notes of black pepper and olive.
Conclusions Outstanding. Showing good level of bottle development. Quite delicious, this is pretty savoury and bitter, one for the sherry geek, possibly too challenging for the uninitiated. Yum.
La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada No. 59 “Capataz Rivas” saca de Junio de 2015
Apart from the 11 scale La Guita solera, the bodega keeps several other soleras containing Manzanilla Pasada, Manzanilla Pasada Vieja 1|10 and Manzanilla Pasada Viejisima 1|3.
The 15 butt solera of Manzanilla Pasada was started in 1986 by Rafael Rivas, the capataz for several decades at La Guita’s bodega on Sanlúcar’s Calle Misericordia, until his retirement in 2011. This isn’t bottled commercially, at least under the bodega’s own name, Rivas’ plan being to produce an old Manzanilla of exceptional quality in case the blend of the standard La Guita ever need an extra boost. This has never been necessary, so to maintain its character, and avoid it becoming Amontillado, Rafael nurtured these butts with utmost delicacy. He took out only occasional sacas of only 4 or 5 arrobas, sometimes as long as 2 years apart, and refreshed with wine from the best butts of the La Guita solera. With the wine around 15 years old, only a thin layer of flor survives, weakened by the lack of nutrients, especially given the 16% alcohol and infrequent refreshes of the solera. To give it the best chance of covering the wine’s surface, the butts are filled almost to the brim, within a tocadedos (finger reach from the top), much higher than the customary 5/6, a dos puños.
But with La Guita bodega now part of Grupo Estévez, under the direction of Navazos’ Eduardo Ojeda, this astonishing solera was never going to be overlooked, so from 14 of the butts come La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada No. 59, the remaining ‘Bota Punta’ yielding La Bota No. 60.
This is a true Manzanilla Pasada, not tainted by Amontillado character, with the high filling of the butts, scarce layer of flor and infrequent refreshes adding up to make a wine quite distinctive in style. Today the reigns have been taken over from Rafael Rivas by El Cabo, now the capataz and shepherd of these butts.
Appearance Medium intensity, showing a burnished orange, rusty red hued brown in colour.
Nose Pronounced on the nose, with obvious Sanluqueña origins. A distinctive salty and oily marine character, reminiscent of wet quayside ropes, wet seaweed, briny sea air and stagnant rock pool. Tanned worn leather, brazil nut and hazelnut hint at maturity, but this certainly remains Manzanilla in character, retaining citrussy orange zest freshness, and distinct notes of sea herbs and dried moorland scrub.
Palate Quite bitter and savoury on the palate, with green almond, pithy orange rind and cut raw vegetal notes. The Sanlúcar origin shines through again, briny sea salt crystal freshness, marine herbs and seaweed. There’s some maturity starting to show through the scarce layer of flor, overripe black olive, brazil nut and soured orange juice. Persistant and salty finish, displaying hints of clove and black pepper spice.
Conclusions Outstanding. Stunning complexity, with real intensity and concentration, superbly well integrated and rounded. Unmistakably Sanlúcar, this has a lovely balance of freshness and maturity.
La Bota de Amontillado No. 58 “Sanlúcar” saca de Junio de 2015
Sanluqueña Amontillados are confusingly referred to as Manzanilla or Manzanilla Pasada, until they become really old. After the stocks of Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín were rearranged its stocks in the 1980s, moving most out to the cellars on the road to Jerez, the soleras of Manzanilla Pasada survived practically undisturbed until the purchase by Grupo Estévez. They restructured the greater part of these confusingly labelled stocks, selecting the best butts and refreshing with unfortified Manzanilla, to create an Amontillado solera of over 100 butts.
It is from this solera of Amontillado ‘Mlla. Pda’ that Navazos bring us La Bota de Amontillado No. 58., the same as from which the 12 butts of La Bota No. 37 were picked. Only this time, the 15 butts were selected that showed the most freshness and balance given their age. The average age of 22 years, 3 more than No. 37, gives an additional layer of complexity and maturity, though the relative youth is reflected in the comparatively modest alcohol strength.
Appearance Burnished rusty brown in colour, iron rich sandstone hues.
Nose Pronounced nose, distinctly Sanlúcar in origin. Oily and salty, reminiscent of oily seaside fishing tackle, with wet seaside pebbles and slippery seaweed. Zesty notes of salty orange, nutty toasted hazelnuts and freshly cut pine wood. Very fresh and vibrant.
Palate Medium bodied on the palate. Overtly salty and marine in character, with oily rock pool and brine revealing the Manzanilla roots. Quite piney and resinous, there’s spuce, tangy dried apricot and a glossy, caramelised orange mouthfeel. Intensely bitter, lime and bitter green olive oil, lasting and salty on the finish.
Conclusions With its wonderful freshness and moderate alcohol, not quite complete in its transition to oxidative state, this retains some youthful Manzanilla characteristics, tremendously drinkable. Fantastic concentration and complexity, with superb length and balance, unequivocally an outstanding wine. Superlatives abound.