Archives for posts with tag: Sherry

“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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As regular readers will know, my mother sadly passed away in June this year. So, as you will imagine, I have devoted much time since putting her affairs in order and clearing her house for sale.

My mother did not drink, and it’s 38 years since the death of my father, who definitely did drink – spirits mainly. But she kept a cupboard of bottles for visitors, and anyway she was not the type to throw anything away. So when I went through this cupboard I found – amid the bottles, opened and unopened spirits, opened cream sherry (jettisoned) – this unopened bottle of sherry>>>

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It had been stored upright, yet a thick sticky residue had exuded under the foil and the driven cork was wet. Presumably the high storage temperature had caused evaporation inside the bottle, condensation in and above the cork and the setting of this sticky goo had resealed the bottle. All this had resulted in the level being just above the shoulder.

My father must have bought – or more likely been given – this bottle, I would guess in the early 1970s, and mother kept it through two house moves…

I searched the web and could find no details of this particular bottle, although I did find that W. Coates & Co. were a London Wine Merchants with two wine bars who were taken over by Corney and Barrow in 1959, who didn’t develop the wine bar side of their business until the late 1970s. You can read a bit about this here .

My guess is this bottle originates from Coates Broad Street premises in the early 1970s. But I could find nothing of the particular wine. So I opened it…

The bottle had some sediment, and the most careful attempt to remove the driven cork resulted in its disintegration, partly into the wine. I filtered the wine into a jug, cleaned the bottle and filtered it back again. Then I tried it….

As you can see an extremely dark tawny, but quite bright after the filtering. The nose was Xmas pudding, quite spirity, with candied peel and dried fruit notes. The palate was definitely sherry, of Oloroso general character – it certainly was fully oxidised now if it wasn’t at the outset. The palate had strong orange peel hints with warm notes recalling brandy-soaked dried fruit. Not dry but only slightly sweet – nothing like cream sherry, in fact the sweetness level and the flavours recalled very old Verdelho Madeira  – not all that surprising given is evolution in my mother’s cupboard.

Anyway a surprising and wonderful treat – cheers mum!!

However I still do not know of this wine’s time-of-sale character. Was it a medium Oloroso sold in the wine bars of W. Coates & Co.? Was it one of their proprietary styles, quite different to how it turned out 40 years later?

Any idea?

Until soon… cheers!

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