Refreshening the Collective Solera

On landing at Jerez Airport the first port-of-call is Venta Estaban. Proudly standing at a nondescript intersection entering Jerez, the food and service is not only excellent but also quintessentially Jerezano. Packed to the rafters, loud and full of humour, the venta (or inn) immediately recalibrates one back to the rhythm and mode of this magical corner of Spain.

Antonio arrived late, leaving Tommy and I to keep the waiter’s company and discuss the week ahead. For the first time in a year the Diatomists would be together again in Jerez. A whole week to visit growers, old friends, and to make new ones.

Our first appointment took us to Chipiona on the Atlantic coast, about 5 miles south of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The town is famous for making sweet wine from Moscatel and the bodega we were visiting had once ranked as the 5th largest producer in the entirety of Spain.

One of the first lessons of wine tasting visits is to wear good footwear. Standing up all day on hard floors in cavernous cellars, caves and bodegas the priority is for shoes that are comfortable and warm. Within 5 minutes at Bodegas César Florido I realised I had made a grave error in thinking conditions would be temperate. To my surprise, shimmering flickers of frost were visible on the fields as we drove to Chipiona. My feet were frozen through by 10am.

Thankfully the wine was so good I soon forgot about my equipment, or lack of. Tommy and I had tasted with César Florido and César Florido Junior back in the autumn and had been shown several botas from some of the best pagos in Jerez. We were now revisiting these botas to select the wine for a new bottling of Vino de Pasto to add to the Diatomists range.

Vino de Pasto is a term used for a wine made in Jerez using the static system of maturation, i.e. a conventional still, dry white wine without fortification. We were enthralled by these cuvées which showed distinct characteristics from 3 of the great terroirs of the region – often described as the “Grand Crus” of the “Sherry Triangle”: Balbaina in El Puerto de Santa María, Miraflores in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and Macharnudo in Jerez de la Frontera.

We tasted botas from several vintages ranging from 2018 up to 2021. All showed clearly the trademarks of their particular terroir. Macharnudo is the most powerful of the 3 with luscious stone-fruit and a generous, silky texture. Balbaina is more subtle, with citric freshness and a finely woven, more linear structure. Miraflores stands out for its floral purity with saline grip. Every bota showed great beauty and harmony.

Following much deliberation, we choose 2 botas for immediate bottling. With several years maturation in barrel, we were beguiled by the 2019 Balbaina and 2021 Miraflores. Only one bota was made of the Balbaina and 4 botas of the Miraflores, they are in their absolute prime ready to be enjoyed this year. The thought of having these bottles to offer in the UK is mouth-watering, to say the least.

Our next appointment was a real eye-opener. We had heard a lot about Antonio’s first cousin Consuelo and that she was starting a unique project with vines recently inherited by her family. Rather than buy an existing solera of botas and add her own wine to an established system (the standard practice for a new solera in Jerez), Consuelo was starting from scratch and in so doing has ensured perfect provenance.

North of Carrascal in Espartina Pago, we drove up to the top of a gentle hill that revealed stunning views into the west with a marmalade sunset. Looking down the slope we saw Consuelo’s vines on a text-book westerly aspect. Processioned into the courtyard by a small orchestra of dogs and her smiley baby – Miguelito – we were shown into a small finely proportioned bodega. Unlike the vast majority of winemakers in Jerez, Consuelo harvests, presses, ferments, and matures her wines a stone’s throw away from the vines’ where the grapes are grown.

To taste an Oloroso aged in the static system from several vintages in the same terroir was fascinating. Each vintage clearly demonstrated the vicissitudes of the growing season within controlled and constant viticultural conditions. The wines were delicious with tension, integrated fruit, and complex oxidative flavours. We were enthralled by these gems and the attention to detail throughout the bodega.

Consuelo has not decided when she will bottle her first cuvées but we are very excited at the prospect. The wines showed impressive clarity of place and harmony. Her patience is commendable and well considered. These wines will be a marvel and we look forward to tasting them again when they are ready for bottling. 

In between making new friends we were delighted to see old ones and the growers behind the Diatomists range. It is always a joy to see Luis and Fernanda in Sanlúcar de Barrameda – the team who make our inimitable Manzanilla. Huddled around a small bota of Amontillado Viejo - “solo para la familia!” (for family members only) – we shared a glass or 2 and heard about his work in the vines at Miraflores Baja and the new bottling line he has installed at the bodega. After a challenging 2022 vintage, Luis is hopeful for a return to normal in 2023.

In Jerez city itself, we spent a superb morning with Anna who makes our Medium and PX in a small bodega in the city centre. We tasted across our range as well as some of the other treasures in her bodega including an invigorating Oloroso and some very old Amontillados and PX. Well over 80 years old, these are the styles we stay well clear of for our own range preferring more approachable, affordable cuvées. Saying that, we were all astounded by the freshness of these venerable wines which had retained incredible acidity and vitality.

We visited several other bodegas and winemakers who are working on fascinating projects and may well take up journal posts in the future. As Tommy drove us to the airport, we could not have been happier with our time tasting together. Our growers are all in rude health and looking forward after a short and difficult 2022 vintage; new ideas and talent are flooding into the region with enthusiasm and expertise; and we are adding to our own range with 2 delicious Vino de Pastos. There is much to be cheered about. In the same way that a veil of flor is rejuvenated by young wine being added to the bota (known as rocio), we had been invigorated with a collective rocio thanks to our time together in the wine region we love.