Friday, May 30, 2008

Wine of the Week: Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada #10

My Wines of the Week are intended to be exclusively champagne, but unfortunately I haven’t had a single drop of champagne this whole week. Anyway, as I said before, sherry is the champagne of fortified wines, so this will do.

If sherry parallels champagne, manzanilla could relate to a Côte des Blancs chardonnay, and Equipo Navazos would be equivalent to the wines of Champagne’s hipster growers. However, Equipo Navazos, the brainchild of Jesús Barquín and Eduardo Ojeda, isn’t actually a winery. Essentially, they look for top-quality soleras of sherry that show particularly distinctive characters, and bottle these separately as small, limited-production lots, generally consisting of only 2,000 to 2,500 bottles.

What differentiates these wines from other sherries, even from sherries that are produced out of the same soleras, is that they usually select a smaller range of barrels from the solera, looking for wines that have a strong personality and distinct character, and then bottle these unfiltered, which is very rare. The vast majority of sherry undergoes a heavy filtration that dampens much of its flavor and aroma, and it can be downright startling to compare an unfiltered version of a similar wine. It reminds me very much of the relationship between namazake and regular sake — you might prefer one or the other, but there’s no question that they have very different characters.

In addition to their limited production, these wines are even harder to find due to the fact that this was originally conceived as a private operation, almost a sort of wine club. “This didn’t start as a commercial venture,” says Barquín. “We found some excellent wines that were not on the market, and we just wanted to bottle them for ourselves.” Today, however, a small quantity is being sold in selected markets.

You’ll notice that the above photo is actually of La Bota de Manzanilla #8, a spectacular single-vineyard manzanilla bottled in October of 2007, because I simply forgot to take a photo of the manzanilla pasada #10. The label looks the same, however. Unfortunately the #8 is completely sold out, so I chose to talk about the newer release instead.

La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada #10 was bottled in January of 2008, drawn from a solera of Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, producers of the famous manzanilla La Guita. This solera is composed of only 15 barrels, containing aged manzanilla averaging around 12 to 14 years old that was set aside for private consumption by the family, due to its exceptional quality. It is not used for La Guita, and in fact, it hasn’t been touched for two decades, except to draw off a little bit of wine every once in a while and refresh it with new wine from La Guita’s top soleras to prevent it from becoming an amontillado.

This is a wine of intense personality, and I had to taste it several times before I felt that I really understood what was going on. “The nose is very peculiar, even a bit heavy,” says Barquín. “You can only understand it when you put it in your mouth. The freshness comes out on the palate — it’s very, very long, and it grows a lot.” It’s remarkably rich in texture, although the balance and structure are classic for manzanilla, and the flavors on the palate are unusually fragrant, even forceful. The finish feels extremely detailed and nuanced, backed by racy, pungent salinity. Barquín notes that this wine needs a lot of air to fully express itself, and suggests serving it in a Riedel Bordeaux glass, never a sherry copita.

The wines of Equipo Navazos are imported into the United States by Eric Solomon Selections/European Cellars, Charlotte, NC. They tell me that they will be receiving La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada #10 sometime this summer, as well as two other wines from Equipo Navazos: the Pedro Ximénez de Jerez #11 and Pedro Ximénez de Montilla #12. Pricing is not yet available.