Alonso Ruiz Olivares never forgot his dream of becoming a sherry bodeguero for over 40 years, finally being realised when he bought a small bodega in 2007, renaming it Mons Urium. Sherry is a contagious condition, and so much like Alonso’s father before him, daughter Rocío Ruiz caught the bug. Devoted to the bodega and passionate about the fantastic wines they produce, Alonso and daughter Rocío are extremely generous hosts who welcomed us as friends to their bodega.
Becoming a sherry bodeguero was a long held dream for Alonso Ruiz Olivares, who’s father, a farm worker, walked each year across the Coto Donaña from Moguer to Jerez, to help with the wheat harvest. He’d fallen in love the wines and albariza vineyards of Jerez, and after being injured in the war, bought a large barrel of Vino de Moguer (Condado de Huelva) and small tabanco like bodega, selling wine to scrape a living.
Alonso was given a bicycle by his father, on which he helped to deliver the wine. The bicycle, which he’d colourfully decorated the with streamers and ribbons, was known by all the locals, until one unfortunate day its adornments were eaten by a hungry goat. When Alonso grew up he followed in his father’s footsteps, pursuing a career in hospitality and wine in Huelva, but for over 40 years never forgot his dream to become a sherry bodeguero. Alonso finally found and purchased a relatively small and forgotten bodega from former almacenista Josefa Pérez Rosado in 2007, renaming it Bodegas Urium. In September 2009 he registered Mons Urium with the Consejo Regulador, Mons Urium being the Latin for golden hill, the Roman name for Moguer, the Ruiz family’s hometown in the province of Huelva.
This small bodega is split into three parts, each built at different points in history, the oldest parts dating back to the end of the 18th century, although Alonso hasn’t been able to confirm the exact dates. Two of these have low ceilings, dating them from a time when all sherry was oxidatively aged, before biological ageing was introduced, when there was no need for ventilation to help the flor survive. The first of these has a pent roof with Moorish skylights ‘tragaluces moriscos’, and the second an adjacent patio where they age the vinegar. Over the patio, the modern bodega dates from the late 19th century, with higher ceilings for ageing Fino.
Sherry is a contagious condition, and so much like Alonso’s father before him, daughter Rocío Ruiz caught the bug. Rocío didn’t begin her career in wine, graduating first in Economics, then completing an MBA, before working as a finance auditor and building company controller in Madrid for many years. She found the work frustrating, and when her father bought the bodega, didn’t think twice before returning home to dedicate herself to the venture, studying for a Masters in Viticulture and Enology in a Hot Climate.
Alonso and Rocío began by rationalising the stocks and selecting the best wines. Although one of the newest bodegas, the 500 butts that were purchased along with the bodega had been ageing for a long time, allowing them to immediately bottle only V.O.R.S. wines when they launched, which at over 40 years average age, actually nearer to 45, exceed the minimum 30 years, with the PX over 50 years old.
They also started a Fino solera allowing them to launch a range of younger Urium Clásicos wines in 2011, with an average age of 12 to 15 years old, and also started selling Manzanilla Pasada, bought from an almacenista in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Bodegas Urium’s most special wine is Gran Señor de Urium, a unique Palo Cortado coming from one single butt, carbon dated at over 100 years old, with only a very limited number of bottles released each year.
Not yet ten years since the family started their Jerez bodega, in early 2017 they bought the old Bodega San Francisco, near to the water at the bottom of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. While until recently this housed the restaurant Currito, this was in the past where the famous Manzanilla El Rocío was aged, clearly this new venture as Manzanilleros was destined to be. They have some work to do before starting the new solera, and building also has space that will be fantastic for events and tastings.
Thanks to Helen Highley of Sherry Boutique, who kindly helped coordinate our visit, we were honoured to be hosted by the whole family, including Alonso, Rocío, and Rocíos husband Mario. Helen had mentioned that we must visit on a Tuesday or Thursday, as only on those days does 72 year old Alonso work at the bodega. Despite Alonso speaking no English, and only sketchy pigeon Spanish from ourselves, communication was not a problem. Alonso, who every Christmas delivers thousands of presents to the children of Spain1, has such a jovial, kind and charismatic character that communication came naturally, although of course without Rocío’s superb English some of the technicalities may have been lost.
1we’re guessing here, but if not he’s certainly Father Christmas’ lesser known brother
Somewhere during the blur of our visit, Rocío called us over, her father wanted to show us the flor growing on top of the wine in one of the butts using a pocket mirror. She also pointed out one of their storage tanks, where so prevalent is flor in the environment that a veil of flor was growing on top the mosto it contained.
We were privileged to taste the family’s wines drawn straight from the butt, though such was the welcome, as if we were long time friends, that the sherry flowed freely, and the term ‘tasting’ is used here in its loosest sense. ‘Drinking’ may be a more descriptive term, but after all, what’s sherry for if not to be enjoyed amongst friends? Tasting wines straight from the butt was eye opening, especially in the case of those biologically aged, making a mockery of the term en rama. In comparison, these completely unfiltered wines were full of yeasty flor character, with much more fresh green apple on the palate, not having had time to soften out in the bottle. Incidentally, Bodegas Urium’s Fino En Rama, tasted from bottle is the closest I’ve tasted to those drawn straight from the butt, so moreish and characterful.
Almost everything at the bodega is done by hand, which Rocío said was in part pragmatic, as a lot gets lost in the pipes if pumps are used, significant when their volumes are only small to begin with. Some of the butts in the bodega are over 100 years old, Rocío pointed out the top row of butts on one of the rows, which are Alonso’s favourite butts that they don’t dare touch without his say so. Although Rocío nowadays manages the bodega day to day, she says they’re under no miscomprehension about who’s real boss!
The bodega has an ongoing agreement to source over 60% of their base wine from a vineyard in the Pago Balbaina, which faces the Atlantic and produces fresh, elegant grapes. Notably, they also source their Pedro Ximénez must from within Jerez Superior, commonly imported from neighbouring Montilla-Moriles.
Alonso and daughter Rocío are devoted to the bodega and passionate about the fantastic wines they produce. They are extremely generous hosts to whom we are indebted for welcoming us as friends to their bodega. Many thanks go to Helen Highley for facilitating our visit, and for making these stunning wines available in UK through her business Sherry Boutique, who have a number of retail stockists.
Bodegas Urium Manzanilla En Rama
Urium’s own Manzanilla from the old Bodega San Francisco isn’t ready yet, so this is bought from an almacenista in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Being 8 to 10 years old, it’s technically Manzanilla Pasada, and comes from a tiny solera that yields only a limited number of bottles per year.
Appearance Medium intensity, rich golden yellow.
Nose Pronounced on the nose, this has heaps of yeasty flor character, almost as if it’s been drawn straight from the butt. There’s salt dough reminiscent of salty fresh bread straight from the oven, almond and lemon zest pastry and soft overripe lemon citrus. Notes of scrub and cabuzela follow in the background.
Palate Soft, rounded and rich on the palate, quite unusual, are those really hints of crustaceans and shellfish? Salt dough, is it only me who ever ate this as a kid? Floury and soft, with lemony citrus that’s not harsh, more like lemon pie soaked pastry. There’s not quite ripe nutty character, foraged wild hazelnuts and acorns (with their furry shells). Quite moreish and with only a hint of bitterness.
Conclusions Excellent, absolutely quaffable, if ever so humble. Very distinctive Manzanilla, really tastes like it’s been drawn straight from the butt, quite Fino in character.