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Battling sherry’s public image problem bottle by ‘real’ bottle words: Liz Longden illustration: Adrian Morris
nce upon a time, sherry was the glittering jewel in the crown of Spanish wine. A delicacy coveted by the tables of kings and emperors across Europe. Fastforward to today and most people are less likely to see sherry as a highquality, artisan product than a handy ingredient for a once-a-year Christmas trifle, or a boozy fruitcake. Even those who know more than most about wine often don’t know all that much about sherry, which is frequently viewed with ambivalence and/or bafflement. Yet there has been a quiet revolution stirring in Andalucía. Its aim: to blow the image of cheap, sweet sherry out of the water and reinstate this regal wine where it belongs, at the head of the table of the world’s finest drinks. How will it do this? By reintroducing the world to ‘real’ sherry. Wild sherry. Sherry that is untamed and unpredictable. ‘Wild sherry’ might seem something of an oxymoron, but that says more about how we’ve come to consume it than the drink itself. Sherry was always supposed to be a complex drink, not only thanks to a unique production method in the solera system (see p56) and the vast range of different styles it comes in (see p58), but because the nuances of the wine vary even from cask to cask. However, much of the sherry that has often been exported has catered to the (low) expectations of foreign, and particularly British, consumers – think cheap, simple and sweet. Diabetes in a glass. Even
higher quality, well respected and very drinkable sherries are usually tinkered with, heavily filtered, stabilised and blended to produce a wine that, while very drinkable, is, above all, predictable. Nothing too scary that may frighten the consumer. That, at least, is the view of Jesús Barquín, Professor of Criminology at the University of Granada, sherry connoisseur and a founding member of Equipo Navazos, a modest but increasingly influential venture which is aiming to reintroduce the world to “authentic” sherries – sherries taken pretty much straight from the cask, with minimal filtration and no stabilisation. Instead of hiding their quirks and idiosyncrasies, these wines flaunt them shamelessly. The results are unlike any sherry the wine world has seen for a long time. Writing in Decanter, the wine writer Maggie Rosen described one
offering, La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada no. 20, as “wild and extreme: more in common with single malt Scotch than with wine”. Another writer, Jamie Goode, described Equipo Navazos sherries a little excitedly as “mind-blowing” and “a life-enhancing experience” (www. wineanorak.com). And they throw up some interesting flavours that inspire wild and exotic fantasies. One writer has described La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada no. 30 as having notes of curry and spices; another (Maz Allen in Gourmet Traveller) describes the ‘I Think’ Manzanilla En Rama as “like licking oyster shells in rolling surf ”. These sherries, Barquín argues, represent “the true expression of the grape, soil and tradition of wine making in Andalucía”, a tradition of wine confident enough in its own qualities to not have to bend to the demands of fickle market www.hotrumcow.co.uk
Making History Bodegas Tradición is carving out a future in sherry with the techniques and tools of its proud past
tepping off the parched streets of Jerez into Bodegas Tradición feels like stepping into a church. Dark, cool, still, with high ceilings, darkened windows and thick stone walls. Lines of oak casks face off, forming aisles and in one room leading to a tasting table positioned like an altar. Faded photos show that a wooden Christ on the Cross used to overlook the scene, which would have completed the impression that you were strolling round a medieval church – were it not for the reek of sherry. Here is the first of the contradictions in Bodegas Tradición. The buildings, along with the techniques and even the wines are ancient, but the business is a mere pup by sherry standards, having been established in 1998. There are plenty more. It is one of the youngest bodegas, but it deals exclusively in the oldest wines and was created with the aim of 52
WORDS: Simon Lyle PICTURES: Matt Davis resurrecting “respect for the oldest noble wines and brandy from Jerez, by means of using traditional methods of maturation”. It’s a gleaming new brand, but owned by one of the city’s oldest sherry families. Even dedicating an entire bodega to old sherry was a radical move. The family of owner, Joaquín Rivero – a property magnate – has a long history of wine-making in the region, which can be traced back to 1650. The Riveros were involved with the respected, but now defunct CZ brand until it was sold in 1981. Empty warehouses were revived, including a disused 18th-century Domecq building beside Jerez’s ancient city walls, and a team of experts was hired to source the old and new wines needed to kick-start the project with Director Lorenzo García-Iglesias Soto. “We bought wine from many different suppliers, stockists and wineries and we created our own styles starting with two,” says García-Iglesias Soto.
“Now we have a nice portfolio, we have six wines and two brandies, which is plenty. They are only top end wines, VOS and VORS wines, which have more than 20 or more than 30 years ageing. They must be outstanding quality because they go through blind panel tasting, every time we bottle.” The wines were sourced by experienced old hands from the trade like José María Quirós and Pepe Blandino (right), who, in their former roles, were caring for some of Bodegas Tradición’s wines years before it even existed. Buying in wines, including young raw base wines and wines which have already been aged, is quite normal in the sherry business. While some of the bigger sherry houses do still have their own vineyards growing Palomino, Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez grapes, many producers buy wines from cooperatives, small almacenistas or other bodegas and age the wine in their cellars before
years of history
The first wine to circumnavigate the globe, Shakespeare’s favourite drink and a quintessential expression of Spanish identity, sherry is a historical and cultural giant. Join us on a jolly through its rich and entertaining history words: Liz Longden Illustrations: Sergey Maidukov
herry is a drink with undeniable pedigree, the descendent of a long and illustrious line, with royal connections and of literary fame. Other wines may be more in vogue, and may attract more attention, but they are like the equivalent of ‘new money’ in contrast to sherry’s aristocratic credentials and a heritage which stretches back not centuries but millennia. For sherry’s roots go back to antiquity. According to the ancient Greek geographer Strabo, it was the Phoenecians, that great sea-faring, wine-loving civilisation of Middle Eastern traders, who first brought vines from 32
what is now Lebanon to what was then ‘Xera’ in 1100 BC. And, indeed, Phoenician wine presses have been discovered just 4km outside of modern-day Jerez de la Frontera. When the Roman legions came marching through Andalucía around 1,000 years later, they took up where the Phoenicians left off, cultivating the vines in the town by then known as ‘Ceret’. The discovery in Italy of amphorae stamped ‘Vinum Ceretensis’ has been offered by some as evidence that ‘sherry’ was already being shipped and sipped across the empire. Then came the Arab Moors. Invading from North Africa in the 8th century AD and occupying most of modern-day Spain and Portugal and some of France, they left a
lasting imprint on the culture and history of Europe. Pioneers of their age and excelling in a vast range of disciplines, from maths to astronomy and architecture, they left behind a myriad of marvellous inventions: guitars, hookahs, coffee, numbers, quilts, carpets, windmills and cheques, to name just a few. But the greatest of all must surely have been the distillation of alcohol. It was a strange invention in many ways, since drinking alcohol was technically forbidden by the Quran. But not all Arabs were devout Muslims and there were, for example, as Julian Jeffs notes in his book Sherry, a few ‘inconsistencies’ on the part of the authorities. For one, while the sale of wine was officially illegal, it was also taxed. Contemporary records also show the existence of large bodegas, while Jeffs notes that Al-Motamid, the last Moorish king of Seville, would publicly ridicule teetotallers. And, ultimately, when it comes to good wine, there are always ways around the rules – when the Caliph Al-Hakam II ordered the destruction of the region’s vineyards on religious grounds, the work was curtailed under the convenient excuse that the grapes were needed to make raisins to nourish the Muslim soldiers in their holy war against the Infidel.
ll of this, however, is mere backstory. The history of sherry really takes off in the period following the Christian ‘Reconquista’. When Alfonso X – himself something of a wine connoisseur, and fittingly known as ‘Alfonso the Wise’ – retook Jerez from the Moors in 1264, he turned his attention to the vineyards. Loyal knights were rewarded with plots and encouraged to cultivate them. Had this been any other region of medieval Europe, sherry may well have developed as a simple wine, naturally fermented in the southern sun. But with the invention of distillation, the Moors had left an important legacy. By adding distilled spirit to the local wine (and therefore creating a level of alcohol that helped prevent the flourishing of bacteria) the wine makers of Jerez discovered that they were able to make their wines more stable and longer lasting. The result of this inspired addition was a fortified wine custom-made for export, at a time when sea-faring exploration was about to take off. It is widely accepted that Christopher
Columbus, funded by and closely tied to the Spanish crown, would have had significant supplies of sherry on his voyage to America, making it the first European wine to be served in the New World. It was also a prime provision on board Ferdinand Magellan’s first attempted circumnavigation of the Earth, with the Portuguese explorer famously spending more on sherry than he did on weapons. Sherry has also long been exported within Europe. The Netherlands and Germany in particular have historically been, and remain, strong markets. But without a doubt, for the past 500 years, the most enthusiastic sherry drinkers have been the nations of modern-day Britain. Even today, the UK remains the wine’s largest market. According to the Consejo
Sherry was a prime provision on board Ferdinand Magellan’s first attempted circumnavigation of the Earth, with the Portuguese explorer famously spending more on sherry than he did on weapons Regulador, the official regulatory council for the sherry industry, around 28% of today’s total sherry production is destined for the UK, compared with 26% sold within Spain. And historically this figure has been much higher. It’s an enduring love affair that has weathered the most ferocious political storms. As early as 1485, there are records of sherry being shipped to ‘Plemma’, thought to be Plymouth. It is also likely that sherry, also known as ‘sherris sack’ (from the Spanish ‘sacar’, meaning to draw out of the cask), was served at the wedding of a still young, fresh and wholesome Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon in 1509. Anglo-Spanish relations became more strained when Catherine was later jilted for Anne Boleyn and Henry www.hotrumcow.co.uk
RateBeer’s top 10 members have posted a combined 230,000 beer reviews. Hot Rum Cow explores the why and how with the world’s most prolific beer reviewer words: Simon Lyle pictures: Adam Wilson
an Bolvig has drunk more than 30,000 different beers. That’s three with five zeros. And he didn’t just swig them back and move swiftly on to the next either. He carefully admired their colour, he held them up to the light, he caressed them, he swirled them, he savoured their aromas, he slurped and sipped them, he considered their malt, their hops, their subtleties and nuances; then, he expertly assessed them. And he wasn’t even done then. No, Jan took the time to score them, to type up his thoughts and musings and to share them with a few hundred thousand close friends online. As a beer fan, it makes me feel pretty part-time. At the time of writing, the actual number of beers Jan has reviewed on the crowdsourced beer review site RateBeer is actually 30,858. What is even more remarkable is that this figure only includes the beers Jan has reviewed on this site since 2006. It doesn’t take into account those he reviewed informally for several years before he joined RateBeer and it doesn’t include any the 53-year-old Dane drank throughout his adult life before becoming a reviewer (and it seems fair to assume that he has always enjoyed a beer). Simple arithmetic says this can’t have happened by accident. It required dedication, organisation and a very understanding wife, who also enjoys a beer. RateBeer was founded in the United States in 2000 and is today one of the world’s largest and most influential online communities for beer lovers. More than 1.3 million users visit
the site every month to post beer reviews (330,000 members have posted 4.84 million to date), discuss its merits in the site’s forums, and form friendships and partnerships which help spread the global beer gospel. Jan has posted more reviews than any other user and sits at number one in a top 10 dominated by Scandinavians (including seven Danes – Jan’s explanation for this is simply that they have a strong RateBeer community in an affluent country). All of them have reviewed more than 12,000 beers, ciders, meads and sakes. Executive Director Joe Tucker says the RateBeer team has been stunned by the number of reviews some members have posted. “I remember when somebody on the site hit 1,000 ratings and we were all astounded. Most of us didn’t know that there were 1,000 beers in the world. But it makes sense to me. The person whose opinion meant the very most in wine, Robert Parker Jr, would sit down to taste 400 wines in a single sitting. So when people say the quality of what our raters are producing isn’t good, I think it probably is pretty good. Or as good as what counts as the best possible opinion in the wine world.”
What does it take to brew Belgium’s strangest beer?
Words: Liz Longden Illustrations: Christine Rösch
he beer writer Jacques De Keersmaecker has described Lambic beer as ‘a living anachronism’, and with good reason. While other contemporary commercial beers are fermented with specially harvested yeasts pitched in controlled conditions, Lambic is unique in preserving the pre-industrial practice of spontaneous fermentation. It belongs to a world that no longer exists, where a brewer could trust that the fermenting of beer, like the rising of the sun every morning or the coming of spring, would just happen, without needing to understand why. The result, according to the late beer guru Michael Jackson, is “the most unusual style of beer made in the developed world” — in fact, hardly like a beer at all. Almost flat and often associated with a slight tang, a good Lambic should, Jackson
notes in his World Guide to Beer, be “variously reminiscent of a fine dry cider, a Chardonnay or a Fino sherry”. Having taken over the last Lambic brewery in the historic town of Lembeek in the 1970s, Frank Boon has been brewing the style for almost 40 years. From an initial annual production of 250 hectolitres, Boon has, over the years, increased the brewery’s output to 14,000 hectolitres, making him, he claims, Belgium’s biggest brewer of traditional Lambic. In that time he has seen Lambic beer go from obscure local thirst quencher to darling of the gastropub and Belgian national icon. But it hasn’t always been easy. “It was my aim to be a small brewer and to live from it, to have a nice time and to only have to work four days in the week,” he recalls. “But I discovered that I had to work seven days in the week and that I had to swim, to swim, to swim, not to go to the bottom of the lake with my brewery.” www.hotrumcow.co.uk
Toro Terrífico Superimposed on the skyline, their statuesque silhouettes stand proud all over the Spanish countryside. At first glance, when obscured by fields of sunflowers or looming from behind rolling hills, Osborne Bulls can appear real. But with a proper sense of perspective their scale gives them away as billboards – or ‘bullboards’, as they are known to many. words: Christina McPherson pictures: Matt Davis continued
hat happens when a wannabe rock star turns his hand to cooking? In the case of Martin Blunos, you wind up winning Michelin stars and forging a very successful career as one of Britain’s most talented and recognisable chefs. “My dad was convinced that if I went into food, I’d always have a job. ‘We all need to eat,’ was what he used to say, and, there you go. I could have gone into the shipping industry instead, and look what happened there,” says Blunos. Blunos’s interest in food started at an early age. With Eastern European parents, his diet was very different to what his friends at school were eating. “I was brought up differently to the beans and toast brigade,” Blunos explains. “We would have things like pig tail soup and gherkins with black bread after school. I’d talk to my friends about it – who were having the likes of egg and mash – and they would look at me like I came from another planet. But that got me into the food thing, being exposed to so many different tastes. Nowadays, it’s very different. We live in such a multi-cultural society that every town has specialist shops selling things that were hard to get your hands on 20 years ago.” These days Blunos favours a ‘less is more’ approach to his cooking. “When I had my second restaurant in Bath, it was very formal, and that was what people wanted at the time,” he says. “But now, people are more in tune with what they want from their food, and as I get older I think that people want food to be simple, beautiful. Why would I want to cover a beautiful piece of meat in a really heavy sauce, or chop it all up and turn it into a mousse? I’d rather concentrate on making a nice sauce that goes with it, rather than bastardise food. But with that comes other challenges – because it’s so simple, you have nothing to hide behind and if it doesn’t deliver on taste or technique then the client can shoot you down. “If you change something completely and turn it into a mousse or a froth or a foam, then rather than fusion it becomes confusion and the customer doesn’t really understand what’s going on. But if you put a nice piece of meat down with an amazing sauce and a few leaves, it’s pretty perfect.” Blunos has adopted this philosophy on his latest venture as Culinary 70
Lemon Sole with Beetroot Pilau and Sea Spinach Blunos puts around 250 grams of raw beetroot into a food processor to make little grains of beetroot rice. He then sautés a shallot and a clove of garlic with a little butter until they soften. The beetroot is added, followed by a glass of Buckfast and the same quantity of fish stock. The earthiness of the beetroot and the sweetness of the Buckfast complement each other perfectly. A few minutes before the beetroot is ready (it takes around 45 minutes to cook), he poaches the lemon sole and sautés the sea spinach in a little butter. When the fish is cooked, Blunos squeezes a little lemon juice over it. Before serving the beetroot, he removes from the heat, stirs in a knob of butter and seasons. Once the beetroot, spinach and fish are on the plate, he drizzles a little clarified butter over the fish and garnishes with red amaranth. This dish is best served with a glass of white wine.
Director of the Blunos Sea Grill at Seaham Hall in County Durham, where there is a simple focus on the food, rather than on any fad. “Five or six years ago, balsamic vinegar was the ingredient to use, and everybody was really into it. And a bit before that was the sundried tomato, which people couldn’t get enough of. We were all using these things way too much, which causes them to fall out of favour. Now, it’s all about chemicals, foams and hot jellies, which doesn’t really do it for me. But I do think the next trend will be simplicity.”
Buckfast A fortified wine believed to be of French origin, Buckfast has been made by Benedictine monks in the village of Buckfastleigh in Devon since the late 1800s. It was originally sold as a patent medicine rather than a tonic wine. In the early 1920s, the monks lost the licence to sell wine out of Buckfast Abbey, and the distribution and sale was taken on by a separate company. A new recipe (similar to todayâ€™s) made the wine smoother. At 15% ABV in Scotland (14.8% ABV in Ireland), Buckfast contains red wine mixed with vanilla and spices and is matured in the Abbey vats, which gives it a very distinctive, sweet taste.
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Published on Oct 14, 2013
A walk on sherry's wild side. Shocking results from a twisted taste test, the man who drank 30,000 beers, banishing the bland with Vestal Vo...