Wednesday, May 25, 2011

La Cigarrera, makers of manzanilla, amontillado, palo cortado in Sanlucar de Barrameda

[This will be the last profile of a sherry bodega that I write for a while. I'm not sherried out, not in the slightest. However, it has taken a good bit longer than I had anticipated to conclude this slowly unfolding series of visits, all of which took place a few months ago in March. I hope that you enjoy the post and continue to drink plenty of good sherry.]

If the town of Jerez is like a country club, full of self assured, relaxed, people, possessed of a confidence that is the product of success, money and blue blood, then Sanlucar de Barrameda is the local dive bar: full of character, characters, charm, and perhaps some scrawled graffiti every now and then. To offer another analogy, if Jerez is East Hampton, then Sanlucar is, umm...Jones Beach? OK, so I don't know either of these places other than by reputation. Let's try another one. Jerez is to Sanlucar as Rehoboth Beach, DE is to Ocean City, MD.

If you're not from or well familiar with the mid-Atlantic, then let's just say that coastal Sanlucar feels completely different from the slightly more inland Jerez. People do not take themselves as seriously. They dress less formally. You get the sense that folks are content to munch on french fries and a simple ración of chorizo, washed down with a cold Cruzcampo (this sort of lunch would NOT work for many Jerezanos).

All the above may be a sweeping generalization (one based on just a few days spent in the region, at that) but things just seemed that way. I think that the wines bodegas in either town specialize in is also pretty telling: Sanlucar's manzanilla is easy to drink, thirst quenching, and to be enjoyed in robust quantities. Jerez' amontillados, olorosos, even the more serious of their finos, are contemplative and intellectual, serious wines to be respected, perhaps even revered, and taken seriously.

I learned that La Cigarrera, as do the rest of Sanlucar's top bodegas, excels equally at thirst quenching manzanilla as well as more serious manzanilla pasada,amontillado and palo cortado. Located in Sanlucar's prime barrio bajo district, an especially humid part of town (humidity in the bodega varies between 80-90% most of the year), La Cigarrera has been an almacenista since 1758. Their manzanilla is arguably the most delicious around: salty, almondy and savory, but also showing a tangy yellow fruited quality, the purity and expression of which is not always a given in other manzanillas, even examples of other brands which are fresh and recently bottled. This must have something to do with the elaborate solera system, consisting of 8 criaderas. The bodega is clean (showing its age, but tidy), barrels are in very good shape, and one senses the pride and dutiful yet low-key stewardship of this place.

During the course of a long, drawn out, delicious lunch, we drank a lot of sherry. We also had ample time to relax, become better acquainted and spend time in one of the most ideal settings I can imagine taking in a leisurely Sunday meal: inside a beautiful, weathered, centuries old sherry bodega.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nady Foucault visits Oakland

Well, not exactly, but two months ago I was lucky to have participated in a vertical tasting of Clos Rougeard at a friend's house in Rockridge. It's safe to say that much has been written out there about Foucault and his wines. Here is a good overview. Try Neil's post for a different take. I will stick to tasting notes as opposed to focusing on the specifics of elevage or vineyard site. Anything in quotes that is not otherwise attributed is something I wrote that, in retrospect, I either find revealing, witty, ridiculous, or perhaps some combination thereof.

A huge thank you to Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports (Clos Rougeard's CA importer)for putting this together.

The tasting was divided into four flights:

Flight 1

2003 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny

Ripe red cherry aromas. Pretty. Savory underbrush scents as well. Pure and intoxicating. On the palate, the wine was delicious. Elegant, red fruited, with good acid and a silken texture. A revelation (not in my original notes, but that it certainly was)

2002 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny

Savory red fruit aromas have a more apparent green/herbaceous aspect. Maybe a bit stemmy smelling? Initially reserved, but opened up and revealed increasingly more elegance aromatically. Flavors were elegant, mineral and less defined by fruit as the wine above.

2001 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny

Macerated cherry aromas, a warmer vintage stamp to be sure. More fruit forward than the 03? I seemed to enjoy the flavors a bit more though. Darker cherry fruits, quite mineral and sturdy flavors. Plum skins.

2000 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny

Elegant (underlined in my TN's). Burgundian. Stem smells are pleasant and not dominant. Pomegranate seeds. Similar flavors as the aforementioned aromas, with perhaps a bit more of a bitter snap to the fruit.

For this line-up, I learned afterwards that grapes used in the 2003, 2002 and 2001 were actually 100% de-stemmed.

Flight 2:

2004 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny

Rich cherry aromatics. Red and dark. Great fruit. Pure, tasty and very lithe tannin structure.

2005 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny

Smells of liqueur scented dark cherries. BIG. "A big, bad, delicious drink." Once again, I'm impressed by the fine tannins.

2006 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny

Cooling, root beer-ish/menthol driven aromas. "Not quite the purity and freshness of others, but what do I know. A touch bitter."

2005 Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux Saumur-Champigny
Completely something other than the Clos wines. Big dark fruits, with a nicely ripe quality. "I could sniff this all day." Assertive dark cherry and plum flavors, with tannins that are definitely more prominent but still very balanced. MINERAL. Where is this headed?

Flight 3:

2004 Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux Saumur-Champigny

Deeply perfumed dark cherry. And pits. Rich, ripe round on the palate.

1996 Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux Saumur-Champigny

INTENSE aromas. A bit leafy dark fruit. Hint of dried tomato. On the palate, lots of presence. Mineral. Life. REALLY TASTY. Wine of night?

2003 Clos Rougeard Le Bourg Saumur-Champigny

A bit toasty smelling. Red fruit, espresso grounds, savory leafy aromas. Very big, very savory, very mineral. A tenuous balance of intense flavors. "Like the best Leoville Barton you could hope for in the modern era."

2000 Clos Rougeard Le Bourg Saumur-Champigny

Intense red fruit, pomegranate seeds, a hint of a stemmy and herbaceous quality similar to the 2000 Clos. Intense but mellowing red fruits on the palate. Elegant. Also similar to the 2000 Clos on the palate, with much more mineral and less bitterness. "In a transitional stage" - Michael Sullivan, importer

Flight 4:

2003 Clos Rougeard Breze Blanc Saumur

Smells like quince. Sparkling, pure tangerine scents. Ripe and pure. Yellow skinned fruit on the palate. Tasty, perhaps a bit short.

2002 Clos Rougeard Breze Blanc Saumur

A bit more honeyed smelling? Orange fruits, smells like a less sweet marmelade. Intense, with stronger presence and acidity on the palate. Quite tasty. This should drink well for a long time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sherry comes from grapes

Forgive me for stating the obvious, here but the wines of Jerez, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Chipiona, Sanlucar de Barrameda - they all come from grapes. Of course, we all know this; sherry comes from grapes. Given the elaborate production process, though, one tends to forget that sherry is in deed a wine made from grapes, grown in a specific type of soil (ideally consisting of 60% chalk) in a fairly strictly defined zone of Andalucia, Spain. From the initial fortification of a young sobretabla, to the biological ageing underneath a layer of flor, to an extended oxidative ageing in barrels or perhaps a combination of the two, there is much to learn about the production of sherry. Along the way, it is easy to forget that vineyards were farmed, palomino (or pedro ximenez or moscatel) grapes were harvested, fermented into wine, fortified, and sold to almacenistas and shippers. Vineyards matter.

Vineyards matter, and yet, barring a few exceptions, most bodegas do not own any vineyards. This brings to mind a simple question: how much better could sherries be if more bodegas owned (and carefully farmed) their own vineyards?

That having been said, I was able to check out a vineyard owned by Curo Balbas. Curo sells fruit to Bodegas Grant, as well as some other folks as he has 50 hectares of palomino vines in some prime real estate: the pagas bibainas sub-zone of Jerez. While I do not remember exact yields, I do remember that they seemed on the high side (even for the higher production numbers I expected in this region). Vines here vary in age from 15-25 years. As it had rained recently, a walk in the vineyards was amply rewarded with a full clay cover on the sole of my shoes; imagine the top of a large muffin draping over the waxed paper liner underneath. At the winery was a simple set up for fermenting grapes. There were also some policia nacional hanging out, playing cards maybe, enjoying what was surely an out of the ordinary event here, a visit from a group of wine professionals.

A few other non-vineyard related anecdotes are worth mentioning. Curo Balbas' hands and fingers are some of the most serious vineyard worker mitts I have yet to see. This guy has done some serious pruning in his life. Also, Curo does a wonderful "curo" (sorry I couldn't resist) of olives. A terrific blend of tiny, firm olives and larger, softer ones, full of garlic and bay leaf driven flavors, were by far the best I ate all trip. Spanish gourmands agree that iberico ham is best enjoyed in Andalucia, though if you do not eat ham you can at least take comfort in the fact that other Andalucian specialties are also first rate. One of these is the olives, which in neighborhood bars are almost always free.

One more reportaje in this sherry focused run, and then we'll move on. For now, a pictorial re-cap of the visit to Curo's vines.