Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Old School Indie at El Maestro Sierra

In as prim, proper and establishment a place as Jerez, a place where family name is as important as showing up to lunch with a crisp pair of khaki's, a pressed pink button down shirt and tweed coat or blazer, you've got to appreciate the independent bodega who, from their very inception, faced long odds and had to work harder than most, with minimal resources, in order to establish their little niche in the sherry business. Such was the case with El Maestro Sierra, an almacenista begun by a master cooper during a time when setting up shop in Jerez was primarily a sport for the nobility. Even today, the winery maintains its outsider cred as it is run by Doña Pilar Pla Pechovierto, a widow whose deceased husband was a direct descendent of the winery's founder, and the export manager is not only a woman, but a real outsider, from Ribera del Duero in Castilla y Leon. I can only imagine the type of shit talking which may have been dished out about El Maestro over the past 181 years!

That having been said, nowadays, El Maestro is appreciated in Jerez as a bastion of tradition and legacy, having recently been recognized as such by the D.O. The bodega looks and feels every bit as old as its history. while visiting there recently there was some fairly persistent rain that morning and a noticeable leak in the reception area. While I cannot speak to this section of the building, I was told that the roof over the barrels in the bodega is the original 1830's roof . The winery produces a wine called 1830 Amontillado, a VORS which consists of a two bota solera; both botas were built in 1830 and have never needed any repair work whatsoever.

As far as the bodega's wines, I could best describe them as richer than most, and, for the wines aged under flor, occasionally a bit on the funky side of flor. Five criaderas are often used here, more than the 3-4 which are commonly employed elsewhere. Racking is done by hand every 4-6 months.

This was a cool visit in that, given that Andre "Guiding Light" Tamers organized things, we had the opportunity to taste wines at various stages of completion, to taste some very, very old stuff, and to be in the presence of some very knowledgeable Jerezanos - both from within El Maestro Sierra as well as from outside the winery.

Sobretabla (one year old, fortified base wine)

Very vinous and mineral. Ana Cabastrero compared it to still cava.

3a Criadera (Fino)

Deeper color and more complete flavors, getting closer to a finish product.

Solera con flor (Fino)

Soon enough this will be bottled and will become a current batch of El Maestro Sierra Fino. The color has now become a lighter, more typically light straw fino hue. Rich and full of distinctive flor produced acetaldehyde flavors.

1830 Amontillado

No notes. I was too focused on the age of the 2,000 liter botas. I remember liking this, but not as much as the olorosos which followed it.

1/14 Oloroso

Awesome. Big cocoa and dried fruit flavors in this 50 year old wine.

1/7 Oloroso

Another mention of "vino de pañuelo" from one of the old-timers. Heavy rancio aromas. My notes are short on specifics and long on abstraction. They read, "Deep. Shit is deep. Walnut husk. Cocoa. Peanut shell."

Next up, es la hora de fiesta: Carnaval and a visit with Cesar Florido in Chipiona.