Rising Sanluqueña Stars – Manzanilla Sacristía AB & Velo Flor

While many Sherry houses can trace their roots back hundreds of years, Antonio Barbadillo Mateos and Bodegas Alonso are amongst a few rising stars defying convention with fantastic results. The work of Antonio Barbadillo Mateos, of the Barbadillo dynasty, Sacristía AB is a Manzanilla de autor, bottled from a selection of butts at Bodegas Yuste. At Bodegas Alonso, the wealthy Asencio brothers eventually plan to bottle Manzanilla offering beginning to end, vineyard to bottle traceability, but for now, Manzanilla Velo Flor is an astonishing creation from bought in wines.

Manzanilla Sacristía AB & Velo Flor

Antonio Barbadillo Mateos Manzanilla Sacristía AB Segunda Saca 2015

A Manzanilla de autor, Sacristía AB was selected and bottled independently by Antonio Barbadillo Mateos, who left the family bodega in 2008 to establish the brand. Like the eponymous Equipo Navazos, Antonio does not produce his own wines, instead selecting from the soleras of existing bodegas, picking the butts with the characteristics he wants, then bottling them himself. Alongside the Sacristía AB Manzanilla, Antonio has also bottled a 60 year old Amontillado from the Conde de Aldama solera of Bodegas Yuste, and a 50 year old Oloroso from an unnamed Jerez bodega.

Manzanilla Sacristía AB

Antonio sourced the first releases of Sacristía AB, between 2010 and 2013, from an 80 butt solera in Bodegas Sánchez Ayala, before switching to Bodegas Yuste in 2014. The original plan had been to take four seasonal sacas, but only two sacas per year are usually taken, left to settle for a couple of months before being bottled en rama. Segunda Saca 2015, the second saca of 2015, was selected in December 2015 and bottled in March 2016. At around 8 to 10 years old, this is Manzanilla Pasada in style, now with a further 17 months in bottle.

Appearance Deep golden bronze, with oily legs forming on the glass.

Nose Prominent yeasty flor bitterness, with cabuzuela, briny olive oil and notes of spicy orange zest and dried apricot. There’s interesting mature salty marine notes, like slightly sludgy damp seaweed, and slightly sweaty hot sea air, reminiscent of hot dusty sand dunes.

Palate There’s no hiding from this one, it’s intense, dry and bitter experience, pronounced and full on. Distinctive vegetal character, reminiscent of fleshy green olives and sea salt crystal encrusted capers, then nutty, mature and slightly dried out almonds, with overbaked, salty rye bread. Heaps of yeasty, flor and cabuzuela, with hints of warm wet straw and farmyard, melding with sour stewed apples, reminding me of the soggy bits on a crumble.

Conclusions Outstanding, though I feel this has reached a peak in its development, beginning to lose a little freshness.

Bodegas Alonso Manzanilla Velo Flor

Bodegas Alonso was recently established by the Asencio brothers. Fran Asencio’s fortune was made as a construction engineer, including projects at the now ruined Gaza airport and in Romanian infrastructure, investing some of it in the pioneering winery Dominio del Uragallo in the Asturias. Fran, along with his brother Fernando, comes from Sevilla, and togther they were keen to invest in a winery project in that region. The demise of the renowned bodega Pedro Romero in Sanlúcar provided the opportunity, and the Asencio brothers bought Bodegas Méndez in Calle Rubiños, previously an almacenista owned by Pedro Romero, with Francisco Yuste buying the Manzanilla Aurora soleras.

Many of butts owned by Pedro Romero are now store in other bodegas around the town, but the Asencio brothers have retained some very old soleras that previously belonged to Gaspar Florido before Pedro Romero. The brothers also bought 13 hectares of vineyard in the Pagos Balbaina and Miraflores, from which they will produce the mosto to refresh a solera of 40 butts from Pedro Romero, from which they eventually plan to bottle Manzanilla offering beginning to end, vineyard to bottle traceability. For now, they have started a second solera of Manzanilla bought from almacenistas, which they’re feeding with bought in mosto. Marketed as Manzanilla Velo Flor, they produced this first bottling in Spring 2017, the revenue from which will hopefully be sufficient to sustain the older soleras for the time being. Notably, they’ve chosen to bottle the wine in an unusual shaped bottle, closed with a high quality natural cork and sealed with wax.

The Méndez bodega is in a dilapidated state, with the butts’ supporting stones scattered and flaking paint on the walls, but Fran and Fernando are working hard to restore it, while keeping it entirely traditional. The bodega’s sacristia, where the best butts are stored, is in much better condition, and houses several historic Gaspar Florido soleras, GF 30 and GF 25, which Gaspar Florido referred to not as Palo Cortado, but as Jerez Viejísimo, very old sherry. The legendary Ánsar Real GF solera also sleeps here under lock and key, five butts Carbon 14 dated to be aged 126 years old. José Antonio Palacios, capataz at the bodega for the last 15 or so years, says that some of the soleras have not been properly run for the past 4 or 5 years, save for tiny sacas and rocíos to retain some freshness, and that proper reorganisation of the cellar and running the soleras is needed.

Manzanilla Velo Flor

Located close to the Guadalquivir river in the Barrio Bajo, almost at sea level, the bodega has almost perfect exposure to the west wind, making the conditions ideal for ageing Manzanilla. Some traditional tools were left behind by the previous owners, including a wine filler used between 1860 and 1950, antique pictures and posters and a guide to ‘good practices and appropriate handling’, though the brothers haven’t said if they’ll be following its instructions! For now, vinification happens in rented premises, as the bodega only has space for ageing wines. The Asencio’s are in no rush, acutely aware of their responsibility for maintaining this piece of Sanluqueña history, giving themselves 3 years to build their own winery. They plan on building a traditional lagar wine press, but have not yet decided whether to ferment in stainless steel or barrels.

Appearance Medium golden lemon.

Nose Wonderful and lively. Bags of chamomile and baby oil, with floral vanilla notes and sweet and grassy, dried out hay. Honey and beeswax spring out of the glass, reminiscent of sweet honey and lemon water cold remedy. There’s traces of flor, yeasty warm bread dough and hot soft fresh white bread.

Palate Intensely bitter chamomile and flor characteristics, balancing an astonishing line just the right side of unpleasant. There’s bitter salted almonds, bitter green olive oil, pithy lemon zest and soured apple juice, with lovely saline minerality, though not particularly marine in character. Quite winey and fresh, with atypically good acidity, though definitely keeping the Manzanilla personality.

Conclusions Outstanding. Intense, though not concentrated. Yes please.

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