Thursday, December 11, 2008

Drinking Sherry

I’ve been spoiled here in London—my friend Neil, who knows how much I love the wines of Equipo Navazos, has been treating me to a parade of La Bota sherries, punctuated occasionally by Burgundy and champagne. The first night it was the La Bota de Oloroso #14 Bota “NO”, drawn from a very old solera of 12 butts at Valdespino. It’s customary to mark “NO” on selected barrels of exceptional quality, indicating that they are not to be used in the regular blend, and at Valdespino, these 12 barrels have apparently been left undisturbed for several decades, with no wine bottled from them. For the #14, Equipo Navazos selected a particular cask from this legendary solera, bottling just 600 half-bottles (375-ml). This is undoubtedly one of the finest olorosos available on the market—pure and vivid in character, it shows a complex depth of black walnut and dark chocolate aromas that are intense without being at all heavy or weighed down. It has an unbelievable balance, feeling lithe and gently steely under the rich flavors, and its completeness and depth of perfume are so completely arresting. Many people talk about wines being “wines of meditation”, but this is one that truly fits the description—it demands your full attention, requiring you to savor it slowly and carefully, sip by sip. Just smelling it is enough to make your heart skip a beat.

Last night, although we took a detour with wines such as the 2004 Saignée de Sorbée, 2000 Rousseau Clos de la Roche and 2000 Rousseau Clos St-Jacques, Neil opened two finos to compare: the #15 and #7. Both are from a fino solera at Valdespino that is composed exclusively of wines from Macharnudo Alto, the most privileged portion of the famed Pago Macharnudo. They are both taken from a scrupulously restricted selection of barrels, only 18 to 20 out of the 69 that comprise this particular solera, and bottled unfiltered. The difference between them is the age of bottling: the #15 was just bottled in June of 2008, while the #7 was bottled in April of 2007. (The #15 is actually the third bottling from this solera, as there were also 800 bottles of a #2 Macharnudo Alto, bottled in June of 2006. Sadly, this wine is practically nonexistent now.) While the two wines do share a common intensity and fineness of character, it was surprising to see how different they were. The #15 is salty and brisk, feeling as saline as a manzanilla yet showing more body and richness. It’s exceptionally fine in tone, with a pungent fragrance and a lovely clarity of flavor, finishing with taut, elegantly controlled aromas of almond skins and fresh Breton butter. Later that evening I wrote in my notes, “Does fino get better than this? I’m really not sure.”

The #7 is equally as striking, but it feels burnished, old-fashioned, like stumbling upon an artifact from a bygone age. I wasn’t around a hundred years ago, obviously, but this is how I imagine that old finos were made, with more intensity and complexity of flavor and less of the sheen and cleanly immaculate polish that characterizes so many examples today. It’s a wine of deep visceral pleasure, seeming to affect you more in a corporeal rather than an intellectual way, infusing your whole body with its presence and heady perfume. It feels somehow rich and weightless at the same time, forceful in its personality yet still inviting you to drink more of it. When I was in Jerez earlier this year, Jesús Barquín, one of the people behind Equipo Navazos, told me that contrary to popular belief, the best finos need several years in bottle to show their best, and it’s easy to imagine this #7 continuing to develop more complexity and character with further time in the cellar. This wine has long been sold out around the world, but I’m eager to put away some bottles of the #15 and see what happens to it with age.

1 comment:

Wicker Parker said...

This is a beautiful post, Peter, and thanks for the insights. I've too long ignored sherry, typecasting it as the choice of dotty British schoolteachers, but I recently had the very nice Carlos VII Amontillado from Alvear. This experience and your post combined encourage me to seek out more.