Sherry: bodegas and barrels; terroir on a small scale

Lay & Wheeler La Bota & Sacristia Rare Sherry

There are times when study is tough; long hours spent bent over a book, scribbling notes, cross-checking everything online, bending one’s mind around difficult concepts and information. There are other times when study is, maybe, not quite so difficult. The first weekend of July was one such time: a study trip to Jerez with a couple of fellow Master of Wine students, taking the chance that it would be worthwhile (even though we had not at this stage received our results from our first year exams). If nothing else, I suppose, we knew the weather would be better!

It is often said that the best way to understand a region is to visit it in person; no amount of book-learning can replace actually standing in a vineyard and looking around, talking to producers and getting a sense of “place”. With sherry however it is less about the vineyard and the fruit itself, but far more about how and where the wines are aged.

Terroir is a familiar concept to anyone who has read much about fine wines; usually in the context of a vineyard site, its aspect, the soil, the bedrock and the climate. Terroir is also a concept in Jerez, but it is based more on the barrels that the wine is in, where they are within the bodega and their position in the row.

I was mildly cynical about such claims. How could a few metres make a difference to how something tasted? However, a tasting with Eduardo Odeja, production manager for Grupo Estevez (who own La Guita and Valdespino) and one of the people behind Equipo Navazos, soon dispelled my cynicism. He dashed along the rows at the La Guita bodega, enthusiastically expounding the virtues of individual barrels, comparing two (one barrel and one row apart) that he said were like sisters, one serious, one mischievous, but obviously related. There were numerous examples along these lines and it was striking exactly how much one wine could vary so much after a few months in barrels in different locations.

It is exactly this quality that forms the basis for the recent fashion for single and selected cask bottlings like La Bota range and the Sacristia AB Manzanilla that we are currently offering. Eduardo Odeja and Antonio Barbadillo Mateo have selected barrels that they believe offer very specific qualities and have bottled accordingly, creating unique wines that are some of the best that the region has to offer.

I was lucky enough to be able to taste the La Bota Palo Cortado no. 34 in situ, directly from its barrel – stored at the Fernando de Castilla bodega in Jerez, tucked away in a dark corner. It was extraordinary in its complexity and character; a beautiful and evocative wine that demonstrates ably how truly underpriced great sherry is.

Kat Wiggins

The wines from our current sherry offer:

Sacristia AB Manzanilla, Antonio Barbadillo Mateo
La Bota de Palo Cortado, No. 34, Equipo Navazos
La Bota de Fino, No 27, Equipo Navazos
La Bota de Fino Amontillado “Montilla” No. 24, Equipo Navazos
La Bota de Palo Cortado, No. 21, Equipo Navazos
La Bota de Oloroso, No.28, Equipo Navazos

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