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.

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