My final day concluded with a morning appointment at Bodegas Tradición. It was pouring with rain this particular morning, and as it wasn’t forecast I had only taken sandals, which suffered somewhat! Luckily the hotel lent me a large umbrella and it wasn’t actually at all cold. I was greeted by Daniel Martinez Becerra, who first explained some of the bodega’s varied and curious history.
In 1998, Joaquín Rivero Valcarce, who is head of Metrovacesa, one of Spain’s biggest construction companies, bought top quality old cellars from almacenistas and refurbished a derelict bodega to house the project. The size of the personal financial investment is extraordinary. The idea was to recuperate family traditions and produce small lots of very high quality sherries and for this Rivero employed experts to oversee buying of wines and cellars (whose walls are 4 metres thick in places since they were not only cellar walls but also the wall of the Moorish city). As well as the wines, the bodega houses Rivera’s private art collection, one of the biggest in Andalucía, and the gallery is open to the visitor. A rotating exhibition of about 60 of the 400 works held are exhibited at any one time, a beautiful addition to any tour.
Tradición produce only old Sherries (and brandies), at first no Finos and nothing under 20 years old but since about 2012, there has been a Fino in the range and which is over 12 years old. There are about 500 butts of Fino and about 1000 bottles are produced a year, all hand labelled and numbered, like all Tradición’s bottlings.
The Pedro Ximenéz Sherries are interesting, about 6,000 bottles of which are produced a year. The year’s sobretabla wines are bought in Montilla, where PX grows much more successfully, and fortified to either 7 or 15% depending on the current price of alcohol. The VOS spends 25 years in the solera in 5 criaderas, i.e. 5 years in each criadera! There is a group of 6 butts of super old PX classified as VORS but much older and of which only 100 bottles are released a year (at 150€!).
There are a handful of wines which undergo static ageing (crianza estática), i.e. no solera movement, for some vintage wines (de añada), particularly a Palo Cortado (currently 40 years old) and some Olorosos, which are lacquer sealed and under strict control of the C.R.. These wines lose a great deal of volume through evaporation.
Barrel tastings (en rama) of the amontillado solera;
- 6th criadera, which is currently about 12-14 years old and receives its “rocío” with 12 year old Fino Viejo. The nose still shows some saline flor notes and melted butter
- 4th criadera at 25 years old
- 3rd criadera at 40 years old, now with varnish notes, caramelised almonds, nuts and fudge
- Now at 50 years old, 19.5% natural alcohol, by concentration and not fortification, the colour has moved from deep amber to mahogany and is immensely complex and concentrated on the nose, nutty, lifted, caramel.
- Amontillado Viejo at 100 years old (!!!) of which there are only 9 butts. Amazing nose and palate with lots of wood and a silky smooth mouth and finish.
- An exam tasting, which I was told I probably hadn’t encountered before nor would again; inky black and opaque in colour with a nose of figs, dates and coffee, I thought it was some sort of PX or maybe old Moscatel but the palate didn’t fit. Eventually I was told it was from 3 butts of what is called “color” and which used to be used for wines destined for England, where more colour was required. It’s a sort of arrope, boiled wine, and is now over 50 years old; a real novelty!
And so we went to sit and taste the following;
- Fino Viejo Saca May 2017, 12 years old,15%; I found the nose very difficult to describe with my Fino head on; russet apples (reineta) and brandy and this fits with the wine being at the end limit of biological ageing although still with a layer of flor on its surface and from very old butts. The palate was bone dry, soft, saline and almost unctuous in texture with aromas of bakery products and sweet brioche. Amazing!
- Palo Cortado VORS but actually over 40 years old, 19.5% and 3,000 bottles /yr. Medium amber colour with a pale green rim, the nose shows caramel and fudge, caramelised almonds and almonds. The palate is intense with lots of elegant wood, vanilla, nuts, caramelised sugar and crème caramel; concentrated and long.
- Oloroso Viejo VORS but actually 50 years old, 20%; pale mahogany colour with a deep olive green rim, the nose is hugely complex, perfumed and elegant with vanilla, nuts, caramelised almonds (garrapiñada), smoky hints, wood, cocoa, tobacco, incense. The palate is mouthwatering, soft and very full, corpulent, with lots of fine wood and cocoa. Spectacular!
At this point Daniel called on the extraordinary knowledge of Pepe Blandino, Tradición’s Capataz Jefe, to answer several of my more technical questions, which in honesty I had been accumulating throughout my stay in Jerez and needed answering once and for all before I left, and so I had the most amazing conversation about flor’s impact on acidity and glycerol in particular. It went something like this; flor feeds off many components of the wine including glycerol and acetic acid and so acidity levels fall during time in the solera. All acids are eventually consumed; acetic (volatile), tartaric, malic, succinic etc. So Amontillados (which begin with biological ageing) have softer noses and palates than Finos, since as well as there being less acidity, the flor has not yet consumed all of the glycerol. As Olorosos never see flor they contain more acidity and much more glycerol so have much fuller palates. Although flor doesn’t need sugar, it will consume any small amounts in the sobretabla, which again is present in Olorosos, especially those which are very old and where sugar is concentrated through evaporation. In time, alcohol in Finos also drops since the flor again consumes it.
- Amontillado, 50 years old, 19% alcohol; pale mahogany in colour with a pungent, complex nose. Notes of salty seawater, sweet bakery, patisserie products, Arab sweets(!), raw nuts and perfumed incense. The palate is intense and concentrated with fine, elegant wood, smoky hints, toasted nuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, caramel and toffee and an endless finish.
- Cream VOS, 70% Oloroso and 30% PX, sold at Fortnum & Mason, 180g/l RS. The nose shows liquid figs, prunes, sultanas, coffee and tobacco leaf. The palate is well balanced with dried apricots and prunes to add to the nose.
- PX VOS, but 25 years old, 15% and 450g/l RS; opaque brown in colour the nose is of liquefied dried fruits, prunes, apricots, sultanas, raisins, figs with a hint of coffee, the palate reflecting the nose with lots of toasted, roasted notes of coffee and cocoa. It is extremely well balanced hugely sweet without being sticky and with a molasses note on that very long finish. The wine would lose freshness if left any longer hence it is not made as a VORS.
- PX VORS, 30 years old, and sells for about 150€, the wine is almost black with a nose of molasses and sultanas and all those dried fruits. It is more concentrated than the VOS but somehow less sweet with a coconutty hint. Absolutely fascinating!
And that was three hours of Daniel’s very generously given time over, and very much appreciated! These are extraordinary wines like many I have tasted on this brief incursion to Jerez, and must be tried!