Recuerdos de Jerez

The Vinoble Sweet and fortified wine fair is finished; I’m Just about packed, and shortly on my way to Seville for three or four days before returning to wintry Cape Town.

My tasting of South African fortifieds was yesterday afternoon – about 45 people crammed into the beautiful, high-ceilinged room they call La Molina, as it’s part of the old olive-pressing building of the Jerez Alcazar (castle complex). It went well, I think. People were at least quiet and seemed attentive while I spoke, and sniffed and sipped appreciatively, and asked some good questions. A Portuguese sommelier came up to me afterwards and said how impressed she was with the port-style wines in particular.

And I gave the remnants of the 1968 KWV White Muscadel to someone who’d loved it – I also thought it showed very well, almost elegantly, even better than the 1973 Hanepoot Jerepigo. Incidentally, I enjoyed explaining the theories behind the word ‘hanepoot’ – I’ve been much more convinced by the ‘cock’s testicle’ idea ever since Callie Louw of Porseleinberg produced one at the last Swartland Revolution, and showed how convincingly it approximated to the size and shape of a Hanepoot grape…

imageSo, thanks to KWV, Monis, Sadie, Boplaas and De Krans, for generously sending over their lovely wines for me to show. They were the only Cape wines there (it was a smallish fair, dominated by local producers, but there were ten or so international flags waving outside, and it’s good the South African one was there too.

Great memories for me. If anything, my love and respect for sherry has grown even more. How refreshing and flavourful are fino and manzanilla! How magnificent and magisterial are old amontillados!

imageThere were two particularly great tastings I was privileged to attend. I have already written about the tasting of old amontillados. The next day was an even more perfect tasting in some ways. In the old mosque of the Alcazar, a charming octagonal-domed space. A fine guitarist played quietly throughout, while Antonio Flores introduced the wines – five vintage palo cortado sherries from the vast cellars of Gonzalez Byass. Antonio is GB’s master blender, and one of the perhaps two greatest figures in sherry today.

Most sherry is, of course, blended in soleras, but vintage sherries are found now and then. Gonzalez Byass have always put aside 200 top quality barrels each year to age unblended. Some are later used to refresh soleras, but some are kept, and occasionally bottled. The 1982 Palo Cortado is the current release in this occasional series – the 12th, I believe. Most of them have been olorosos, more fully oxidative than the stranger and more rare palo cortados.

imageWe also had for tasting, drawn from cask, palo cortados from the youthful 1987 (superb intensity, with weightless grace!), 1975, 1970 and 1935. All were remarkable, concentrated, supremely elegant and refined, thrilling. The near-black 1935, it must be said, could only be approached with the tiniest of sips – so powerful was its salty, iodine concentration. Its, flavour lingered in my mouth for hours.

This wine showed, said Antonio Flores, the “genuine perfume of Jerez”. And no one better than Antonio to speak about all these wines the way he did with quiet passion and poetry – even a non-Spanish-speaking person could be moved, listening while waiting for the excellent translator to give the details. His was one part of a tasting whose interlocking perfections – place, wine and presentation – made it an unforgettable experience. There was not a drop left in any of my glasses – well, perhaps just few in that extraordinary but nearly impossible 1935.

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