Manzanilla, bone dry and saline, with intensity and finesse from ageing under flor in the bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Today’s post looks at two more obscure examples, each very distinctive and with it’s own particular characteristics, and both with an intriguing story behind the wine enjoyed today. From sherry aficionados Equipo Navazos, the seventh in their classic line of La Bota de Manzanilla series, No. 55, and the Manzanilla Pasada ‘Blanquito’ from former Almacenista turned boutique bodega Callejuela.
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.
Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla No. 55
Equipo Navazos are the group of sherry aficionados founded by Law Professor and Sherry expert Jesús Barquín and technical director of Grupo Estévez, Eduardo Ojeda in 2005. Using their combined expertise and intimate knowledge of cellars of Jerez, Sanlúcar and El Puerto, and from all around Montilla, they have sourced countless brilliant sherry butts with volumes too low for commercial bottling, and have firmly established a reputation for exceptional and distinctive fortified wines.
Seventh in the line of Equipo Navazos’ classic La Bota de Manzanilla series, No. 55 follows numbers 4, 8, 16, 22, 32 and 42. This comes from oldest Manzanilla solera in the bodegas of Miguel Sánchez Ayala in Sanlúcar. Consisting of fifty butts with twelve scales, and only small monthly sacas, for this release Equipo Navazos have selected 22 toneles – 750 litre butts – from which this wine is drawn, at 6 or 7 years old average age.
Medium intensity, rusty brownish orange, slightly dirty and murky looking (but clear).
Intense on the nose. There’s lots flor influence giving aromas of scrub, mushroom, damp forest floor and rotting wood, with a hint of salty dry cured charcuterie. Saline and briney, with distinct mature marine character, stagnant rock pool, pebbles, sea shells and crustaceans. Though quite mature, this is still fresh and zesty, tangy dried orange rind and sea salt crystals.
Dry and very well integrated on the palate. Structured in body with sharp acidity, and a lovely smooth oiliness, reminiscent of walnut flesh and ground nut oil. Quite fruity, with hints of aged Armagnac and Cognac. There’s gravelly, rusty minerality, with walnut shell grippiness and a lasting finish.
Outstanding! Manzanilla on steroids, with all the classic characteristics turned up a notch. And to top things off, relatively kind on the wallet compared to most other La Bota releases.
Miguel Sánchez Ayala
Established in 1789, the historic bodegas of Miguel Sánchez Ayala are located in the Barrio de la Balsa (Barrio Bajo) of Sanlúcar de Barrameda between the streets Banda Playa and Divina Pastora. This neighbourhood is situated on land reclaimed from the estuary of the River Guadalquivir, and used to be surrounded by navazos, wetlands cultivated to benefit from the closeness of the freatic layer. This bodega was also the source of Equipo Navazos’ very first bottling, La Bota de Amontillado No. 1, and the inspiration behind their choice of name.
Miguel Sánchez Ayala have 120 hectares of vineyards in the pagos Balbaina, Torrebreva and Martelilla. The Spanish word Pago is usually translated as vineyard, but there are actually multiple vineyards, viñas, in one pago, with similar characteristics, similar to the French concept of terroir. They produce around 5000 hectolitres of wine per year, over half of which is Manzanilla.
The entire business, including brands, soleras, bodegas and vineyards, was bought by local businessman Jose Luis Barrero Jimenez in 1986, who has since continued to maintain the bodega and soleras immaculately. Their methods are quite traditional, with their soleras and methods not following textbook rules, currently being overseen by cellarmaster Luis Gallego. Unusually, several of their Manzanilla soleras are refreshed only with wine from grapes from their single Las Cañas vineyard in the Balbaina pago, mentioned in the 1898 guidebook ‘A Treatise on Wines’ as one of the most reputed of the region. They make exceptional Amontillados in very small quantities, much of which goes to Equipo Navazos, along with their Manzanilla.
Historically Miguel Sánchez Ayala was solely a traditional Almacenista bodega, only in recent years seeing their own wines though to market. The structure of the sherry industry has traditionally involved three types of organisation – vineyards growing the grapes and producing the base wines, Almacenistas, and Bodegas de Crianza y Expedición. The latter category are the shipping bodegas whose names are most familiar to the consumer, licensed to bottle and export the sherries once blended into consistent products. Almacenistas on the other hand solely mature the base wines in their soleras, being licensed to sell only wholesale on to the shipping bodegas. Despite typically being small family businesses, many also have their own vineyards producing the base wines.
Historically there were many more Almacenistas than today, playing an important role in the sherry industry, as buying in mature sherry from Almacenistas allowed the shipping bodegas to reduce the capital tied up in ageing stock, and react to fluctuations in market demand. Many enjoyed steady business supplying the shipping bodegas, but as demand for sherry reduced, these had sufficient of their own stocks without relying on Almacenistas. In addition, many grape growers, especially the larger cooperatives, began producing their own base wines, which could be sold directly to the shipping bodegas. As a consequence of these changes many Almacenistas disappeared, with now fewer than twenty remaining, when once there were over fifty.
In 1996 the Consejo Regulador reduced the amount of stock a bodega must hold to be licensed as a shipping bodega from 12500 to only 500 hectolitres. This was an important change for the Almacenistas, allowing those who wanted to transform into small shipping bodegas, El Maestro Sierra and Faustino Gonzalez to name just two. Several other ’boutique’ bodegas were also established, Fernando de Castilla and Bodegas Tradición being among the most recognisable. In some cases, the wines of those who remained Almacenistas are of sufficient distinction to be bottled by the shipping bodegas under the Almacenista’s name, Lustau’s Almacenista bottlings of Manuel Cuevas Jurado’s sherries being one example.
Francisco Blanco Martínez, himself known as ‘El Blanquito’, following in his fathers footsteps, had worked in Sherry vineyards for 20 years, before in 1980, setting up as an almacenista in the Barrio Alto district of Sanlúcar, selling mosto to other bodegas. Mosto (must) in Spain usually refers simply to grape juice, and is called wine once fermented, but in Jerez refers to the wine even after fermentation and racking, only being called wine once in a butt in the solera system.
Over the next decade Francisco bought over 28 hectares of vineyard distributed throughout Jerez and El Puerto, with some of the best parcels in El Hornillo, Macharnudo, Añina (Jerez), Las Mercedes, La Callejuela (Sanlúcar) and La Casilla. Along with his sons Pepe and Paco Blanco, in 1997 Francisco moved the business to the El Hornillo pago, at the east of Sanlúcar, pago being a Spanish term referring to a cluster of vineyards, viñas, with similar characteristics. Helped by the young enologist Ramiro Ibañez, they built two bodegas housing 700 butts, along with pressing, ageing and bottling facilities.
They had only been selling in bulk before they decided to create their own brand ‘Callejuela’ which was first bottled in 2005. Since then they have created a range of seven wines under that label. The vines, all planted in albariza, were only Palomino until 2015 when they planted some Pedro Ximénez to ensure that all the wine in their range comes from their own vineyards. They are also experimenting with some almost extinct vine varieties. Above all they believe in the vineyard, the vine and the land as being the key to a good wine and many of the wines are from single vineyards. This strictly family bodega is ably assisted in winemaking by the outstanding oenologist Ramiro Ibáñez.
In 1997 the company moved to the pago El Hornillo with everything from vines to bottling in one place. In 1998 the brand Callejuela was created. In 2005 the first bottles of Manzanilla were bottled (until then everything had been wholesale) but it wasn’t until June 2015 that a whole series of wines were launched, like Quinario, El Cerro, Blanquito and La Casilla. The bodega also had a rebranding with new labels at that time.
The vines of Callejuela have only recently begun to be imported into the UK, for which we have Helen Highley of Sherry Boutique to thank. Helen also has other wonderful sherries from Bodegas Urium, whose Palo Cortado VORS we’ve already enjoyed this Christmas, and Bodegas Faustino Gonzalez, whose wines will be featuring very soon.
Callejuela Manzanilla Pasada ‘Blanquito’
Made from grapes grown in their El Hornillo vineyards, this wine is around 10 to 12 years old. Named ‘Blanquito’ in honour of the bodega’s founder, Francisco Blanco.
Coppery amber colour, quite intense for Manzanilla.
Pronounced intensity. Very distinctive, this is nutty, with a musty brazil nut shell, damp cardboard, almost mouldy, wet straw character. There’s shoe polish and tanned leather, and something between varnish and beeswax furniture polish, that reminds me of a Palo Cortado. Typical Manzanilla salinity, with interesting sea breeze notes of seaweed, sea wave foam, and rock pool crustacean. Showing some real character and development from it’s prolonged time under flor.
Very dry on the palate, with good acidity and high in body for Manzanilla. Chalky goats cheese minerality, with classic Manzanilla salinity. Saltiness, with some nutty raw vegetable character, cut raw swede, celeriac and fennel. Hints of sweet damp hay, with varnish and polished wood. Lasting finish.
Superbly complex and nuanced, this has quite a distinctive and unusual character for Manzanilla. Outstanding, though this could well be a little too unusual for some.