Registrants for the annual wine tasting and feast Spain’s Great Match, held once again at the terrific Hudson Yards restaurant Mercado Little Spain on October 12th, were informed that a printed guide of all the producers and wines on offer for the afternoon would not be provided to guests on site for the sake of saving paper – “in an effort to lessen our environmental impact” the tip sheet read – and folks could instead download a detailed listing available online as an app and use that as a basis to navigate their way around the event. For Luddites such as myself, accustomed to writing notes in whatever basic guide is typically handed out at tastings (and too often in a format which allows scant space for legible scribbling), this made for something of a challenge – but also an opportunity; I resolved to focus on those producers who brought with them pre-printed materials which would enable me to jot down notes in the manner I am used to. Call it creative limitation. (One day sometime soon I may yet adopt habits to transition to the Digital World.)
Making things easier for me was that one of my primary objectives was to participate in the Master Class on sherry scheduled at 3:30 PM, and for this there was a hand-out listing those spirits being showcased, and which also conveniently had ample space for notes. Entitled The Miracle of Biological Aging in Sanlúcar: from Manzanilla to Amontillado Sherry, it was conducted by César Saldaña, who started things off by informing seated guests about the region and factors involved in production. Since aspects of climate and geography are crucial to the production of any wine, it was stressed that there’s a cliff that divides the town of Sanlúcar into two different elevations – the upper part called Barrio Alto and the lower part, Barrio Bajo, being conditioned by river mouth sediment.
With that background established we were presented with 8 varieties of sherry – 7 Manzanillas and one Amontillado – to demonstrate the unique values of each. The first was the Rodríguez La-Cave Manzanilla Barbiana en Rama, which had an aroma of yeast and had notes of chamomile flower and tea, along with fresh dough, and was very dry; aged from 4 to 7 years, with an alcohol content of 15%, it had a distinct aftertaste of green olives. Next up was the 2015 vintage La Riva Manzanilla Fina Miraflores Baja; an organic wine with 3.5 years of aging, it was the yeastiest of all 8 we sampled, with a minerality in the nose and a taste of physalis on the palate – lightly sweeter than the first we sampled. The 2015 Valdespino Manzanilla La Especial Miraflores was one of my favorites, produced with what we were informed is a new trend of ‘static aging’ – i.e., “evolution in the bottle” (as opposed to the once standard credo of “once you bottle it drink it”); at 16% alcohol and bottled in October 2021 this wine had a hint of apricot in the nose, and on the palate opened with a relative sweetness resolving to a nutty and physalis finish.
The 2016 vintage Callelueja Manzanilla Macharnudo which followed was also one of my favorites; at 15.5% alcohol content – also static aged, and bottled in May of 2020 – this had a nose redolent of orange peels and opened boldly on the palate, rounder and fuller than those we previously tasted, with aspect of orange fruit, apricot and pekoe tea. The Hidalgo – La Gitana Manzanilla En Rama Aniversano was comprised of Pasada, Barbania and Miraflores sherries, with 8 years solera and two years of static aging and 15% in alcohol volume; the nose yielded an aroma at once of chamomile, fresh dough and a hint of almond, and the dry, yeasty, and even chalky character persisted upon tasting. The Barbadillo Manzanilla Pasada En Rama Pastora was aged for 9 years, 15% alcohol in volume and had a faint orange aroma, blended with pekoe tea; the term cabezuelas describes the yeast colony sediment the imbues such wines with their distinctive flavor profile, which can be quite complex – here a bitter and acrid quality lingered on the center of the palate beyond the smooth and creamy body.
Lustau is deservedly one of the more esteemed sherry producers, and their Manzanilla Pasada Almacenista Cuevas Jurado 1/80, despite an austere minerality in the nose, was fuller bodied than those we’d had before; at 17% alcohol volume it opened sweeter on the palate than suggested by the nose, with a creamy character of almonds and hickory. The final example poured at the seminar was the sole Amontillado on offer – the Barbadillo Amontillado Principe 12 años. With 8 years biological and 6 of oxidative aging, this wine had an alcohol content of 19.5%, and the hint of molasses and tea on the nose beget a creamy, balanced and pungent spirit once tasted, blending mixed nuts, toasted grains and dried citrus.