Archives for category: What we did on our Holidays!

“La Gitana” (the Gypsy woman) is actually the name of the most famous wine produced by the Hidalgo Company in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, about 15 miles West of Jerez. The Hildago family began the business in 1792, and it’s now run by the eighth generation. Making Solera-system Manzanilla fina from the 19th Century, it now constitues about 80% of their production and the cavernous, cathedral-like Solera-stores house over 4,000 barrels of Manzanilla.

Here’s a slide show of some of those barrels:

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The name La Gitana emerged in the the later 19th Century when an otherwise anonymous Gypsy women used to travel to Sanlucar from Malaga to source the Manzanilla most popular at her wine bar. It is thought most buyers came to refer to this wine as “el vino de la Gitana”, though perhaps the connection was amplified by a love affair between this woman and a member of the family. Either way a painting of her still adorns the wall in the old office among late 19th and early 20th Century ledgers.


The name and the image have adorned the bottles ever since.

Pale sherry, aged under a protective covering of flor (a yeast that seals out air from the fortified wine and allows biological rather than oxidative aging) is commonly called Fino in Jerez – but Manzanilla in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The differences most commonly identified are a gentler overall profile to manzanilla, but higher saline mineral components. These are usually attributed to sea influence, but are sometimes thought to be in the vineyard. However the wine makers claim this is not the case – many Palomino grapes for Manzanilla are grown nearer to Jerez. The sea influence is thought to happen in the winery where the very old solera barrels sit. They are on land that was once below the Estuary of the Guadalquivir river, and salt water is within a few metres of the barrels, cooled (relatively compared to Jerez} by Atlantic breezes and usually at about 70% humidity. This leads to thicker flor, softer development and salt tinges.

A La Gitana barrel with the flor clearly visible.

I’ve often wondered how barrels of Manzanilla (or Fino) are topped up without disrupting the flor, and Elena, the La Gitana guide, explained it to us. A finger-thick closed steel pipe is plunged through the flor to the middle of the barrel and wine added through small (shower-head type) holes in the last few centimeters of the pipe, now well below the flor. When the proper level is reached the pipe is withdrawn quickly and straight through the flor and the small rupture seals itself quite quickly…

There are apparently two stories how the name of Manzanilla originates. One is that the colour of the wine resembles Chamomile (Manzanilla in Spanish); the other is that local shortages of grapes used to result in buying them in from a town called Manzanilla, some miles west in Huelva.

The solera system for La Gitana, founded in the early 19th century, is made up of 14 tiers, with a high refreshment rate and an average bottling age of around 4 or 5 years.

The Solera system of making sherry may be familiar to most readers, and to explain is is worth a post on its own. So if you want to know more click on this link: Solera System Explained to the excellent Food and Wines of Spain website!

We tasted 6 wines:

La Gitana Manzanilla – Light, with floral, saline and  nutty notes a hint of apple and a clean mineral finish. Very clean and precise.

An En Rama (bottled when the flor is thickest and less filtered) version of the same wine – Cloudy but with more complexity and fruit

Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada – A single vineyard version with about double the age of La Gitana – More substance though no less salt, dried fruit – especially lemon, herbs and salted nuts, warm acidity at the finish. very good and nearly my favourite…

Napoleón Amontillado – 15 year old amontillado, with warm flavours of fruit, peel, nuts, floral hints and warm saltiness. Moreish, balanced and versatile with food, just a great wine – my favourite!

Alameda Cream – a cream sherry made with 30% PX in it. A reverse version of the English favourite derived from Drake’s sacking of Cadiz and taking 3,000 barrels of Oloroso to England, where it was found too dry and was “creamed” by adding caramel. Actually this is a bit creamy and has some caramel but the sweetness pitch makes it seem too simple and a bit one-dimensional.

Triana PX – This is a full Pedro Ximénez. Though, in company with all the house’s wines, less intense and a little more elegant than most examples. It isn’t really as much a wine as a syrup and I’d eat it as part of dessert rather than drink it with dessert. That said it drinks more easily than most…

A lovely tasting and tour. Thanks to Carrie for her company and to Elena of La Gitana for her information.

Hasta la vista…

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Hello Again

It’s been a while – over a month since the last post (?), and basically nothing in September.

The main reason is that I’ve been away for pretty well the whole month; on a 2,000 mile road trip to the Loire – Bordeaux – Rioja – Bordeaux – the Loire and home… So I thought I’d kick of the first of 6 posts in October with some thoughts provoked by the trip.

The centre of the holiday was 11 days in Rioja. The first time I’ve spent any time in Spain other than on the Coast (Catalonia – Almeria – Andalusia…), and the first where wine is the main (but far from only) attraction.

I found the area captivating. Geographically –  the terrain varying from lush to arid, and in September at least benefiting from refreshing cool nights due to the altitude, but warm sunshine, and sheltered from rain and wind from the North by the Cantabrian Mountains… Without trying we found ourselves in a couple of significant festivals with crowds celebrating, with much singing, dancing, eating, bull-running and conviviality. Indeed people are very hospitable and seem keen to celebrate for the slightest reason, usually some historical pride of town, region or culture without any sense – so common in the UK – of it being competitive with something else….

Anyway, this is a wine blog so let me say a few things about the wine. These will only be of a very general kind as the ICC WING group will taste Rioja in February. In fact I knew that the Theme of Rioja had been elected (top of the poll, in fact) before I set off, so my aim was to garner wines for that Tasting as well as explore for myself.

Let’s start with a map of the Rioja DOC Wine area:


First of all it would be simple if the Rioja Wine Area was entirely in the La Rioja Autonomous Community. However it’s not the case, first of all only the Northern half of the province is in the Wine DOC area. Also, the Rioja Alavesa sub-region is that part in the Basque Province of Álava and the part of Rioja Baja that lies North of the Ebro is in Navarra. Indeed it seems to me that the boundary of Baja and Alta is pretty arbitrarily drawn just East of Logroño, partly to follow the Navarra / Basque Border north of the Ebro and a similar line south of it. In fact that’s not quite right either, as the border bulges further East again just South of the River to allow the very famous Marqués de Murrieta winery to be in Alta!

It’s not that there shouldn’t be distinction from the much hotter Baja, with a  more Mediterranean climate to the South East as the Ebro descend to meet the Sea about half way between Barcelona and Valencia and the higher cooler areas. However a distinction based on Mediterranean influence would draw a border much further West near the River and much further East away from it…

Soil types are not helpful in making distinctions either – here’s a soil map:


So the sub-region issue isn’t that important and certainly near the area the sub-regions meet the issue is more to do with soil and wine-making.

Just North-East of Logroño – about 3 miles only – there is a point near the Camino de Santiago where one could (if you could find it – it’s not marked)  stand with a foot in La Rioja (and hence Rioja Alta), one foot in Álava (and hence Rioja Alavesa) and bend down to touch Navarra (and hence Rioja Baja). We were staying only 4 miles from there and were able to visit Wineries in all 3 sub-regions – though those closest to this point sourced their wines from more than just one…

Two or three things struck me:

  • The first was indeed soil, particularly the Agrilo-Calcaire found also in Bordeaux, Loire etc. This seemed to be the most highly prized sites – with carefully maintained older vines; vines used for single vineyard or restricted source wines (still uncommon – though growing in Rioja); and for more serious white plantings of Viura.
  • Secondly the red wines can contain Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo (Carignan) and Garnacha. We tend to think of Rioja as a Tempranillo wine with some minority blending partners – a bit like Chianti and Sangiovese… But that’s not accurate at all. There are no rules about how much of each grape can be in a Rioja. So it’s possible to have 100% Graciano, 100% Mazuelo or 100% Garnacha! Indeed these seem not too difficult to find as growers move more to site-based wines…
  • Finally although there is still beautiful production of Reservas and Gran Reservas, there is a tendency to produce what I can only call super-Reservas – wines that don’t fit entirely into that classic hierarchy… Some growers are vinifying their better fruit in special Cuvées and using exclusively French (often Allier) oak for the time thought appropriate for the wine rather than the time set by the Gran Reserva (or even the Reserva) rules. The result is more elegant and more structured – and more Bordeaux-profiled – wine. This certainly has a place, but I for one still enjoy the depth and voluptuousness of well-made classic Rioja, retaining a warmth, depth and sense of place.

I won’t go any further now, we’ll look out for these trends and discuss other issues next February…

Finally a return to the Loire – swapping the richness of so many of the reds for the leaner lighter style of Cabernet Franc was a lovely contrast. One day I thought I’d cook a curry – having missed spicy food since I left England.

As my Birthday was coming in a day or two I opened a 2008 Schaetzel Kaefferkopf Alsace Gewurztraminer Grand Cru to accompany the food. It was transcendentally wonderful! It had the rose petal scents and exotic fruit one expects – but subtle and tending more to passion fruit than lychees and evolving a warm honey hint. The palate had a complex set of fruit and mature elements but had a clean acidity that delighted and worked with the food. Amazing length and pleasure – without doubt the wine of the Holiday! It’s such a pity that these wines can no longer be had from Schaetzel, who has thrown in his name with Marc Rinaldi and the “KIRRENBOURG PROJECT”.

If anyone knows what’s happening to the Kaefferkopf wines that Schaetzel used to exploit– please let me know!

À Bientôt

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