Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Changing Sherry Market - Fine Sherry is more than Equipo Navazos

Not really so long ago in Burgundy, négociants dominated the wine market. Growers sold even their finest wines to the négoce who bottled them and that's what was largely available for retail purchase. But as a new generation of growers took over their parents' estates, and as the market expanded for wines made by a specific grower, drinking Burgundy wine is now about finding bottles by the producers and the vineyards that we like. And I doubt that anyone would say that this is a bad thing.

In a way, the opposite is true regarding Sherry. A long time ago, even smaller producers bottled and sold their Sherries and they were available in various markets. Not now. The market for Sherry has been bad enough for long enough that there simply aren't many Bodegas left - maybe 40 in total, and that's including all three cities in the triangle. And of these 40 or so Bodegas, only some bottle wines that are exported and sold in the US market. And of those, many are not distributed all that well, and only some of the wines are available for purchase, never the Bodega's entire lineup.

Eduardo Ojeda pouring Valdespino Cardenal and Coliseo from barrel. These are among the very best of Palo Cortado and Amontillado, respectively, and we cannot buy them in the US.

It is a Spanish version of the négoce that allows us to drink some of the wines made by smaller Sherry Bodegas. Here in the US, if you want to taste the Sherries of Jose Luis Gonzales Obregon, you must buy them in a Lustau bottle. If you want to taste the Sherries of Sánchez Ayala or Fernando de Castilla, you must do so in an Equipo Navazos bottle. This sort of négociant activity is a good thing in the Sherry triangle - there are many great wines made in Jerez, Sanlucar, and Puerto Santa Maria that we would not be able to drink if not for bottlers and shippers such as these.

Jan Petterson of Fernando de Castilla.

For me, it's been a bit strange to wrap my head around. When I first drank an Equipo Navazos wine I had no idea what it actually represented. Eduardo Ojeda and Jesus Barquin of Equipo Navazos have developed relationships with people in Bodegas all over the triangle, and they select special barrels from specific soleras to bottle and sell all over the world (more often than not in Singapore, but that's another story). Many of the people I spoke to in Jerez and Sanlucar are happy that Equipo Navazos is doing what they're doing because Equipo Navazos is generating renewed interest in Sherry as a fine wine.

Equipo Navazos wines are expensive by Sherry standards (and well worth the money), and people snap them up so fast now that it's virtually impossible for retailers to keep them in stock. Would you pay $45 for a bottle of Sánchez Ayala Manzanilla? This is a rhetorical question because we didn't when we could have, and now we can't. But we all eagerly shelled out $45 for Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla No 22, a Manzanilla from the soleras of Sánchez Ayala.

Jesus Barquin of Equipo Navazos.

This is not a criticism of us, of Sánchez Ayala, of Equipo Navazos, or of anything. I'm just trying to suggest that we should remember, as we (re)discover fine Sherry wines, that there are great producers of fine Sherry, outside of Equipo Navazos.

Fernando Hidalgo, brother of Emilio Hidalgo, pouring Fino Especial La Panesa.

I will keep buying Equipo Navazos wines (when I can find them) and you should buy whatever makes you happy. But in addition, I will also buy Sherries made by producers such as Emilio Hidalgo, El Maestro Sierra, and other Bodegas who bottle their own wine. If you like Sherry but you drink mostly Equipo Navazos wines, you might also consider trying some other wines. It's not all about Equipo Navazos, as great as the wines are. There are other great Sherry wines out there and they are becoming easier to find in the US, probably due in large part to the success of the Equipo Navazos project.

Some of my favorite Finos that are available in the US, for example:

--Valdespino Inocente (and Equipo Navazos bottles wines from this solera too)

--Emilio Hidalgo Fino Especial La Panesa (Crush sent an email about this wine today - definitely something to buy if you haven't already)

--Emilio Hidalgo Fino (delicious, inexpensive, and absurdly hard to find, still)

--El Maestro Sierra Jerez Fino

--Pedro Romero Manzanilla Aurora

--Gutierrez Colosia El Puerto de Santa Maria Juan Sebastian Elcano

--Argüeso Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda Manzanilla San León Clásica


leviopenswine said...

I think that when you write "Would you pay $45 for a bottle of Sánchez Ayala Manzanilla? This is a rhetorical question because we didn't when we could have, and now we can't. But we all eagerly shelled out $45 for Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla No 22, a Manzanilla from the soleras of Sánchez Ayala" you are drawing an incorrect equivalence, because as you know, the selections from Equipo Navazos are not just any old regular offerings from a Bodega, but something special that is bottled in small numbers. If Manzanilla from Sanchez Ayala were on the shelf in the U.S., it wouldn't be the same wine in the bottle that we are buying from EN. And there is the issue of filtering, which is something that you also know, but which I just point out.

Do Bianchi said...

this post is amazing (even in the context of this wonderful series).

Thanks for this, Brook (do you endorse/embrace Eric the Red's pseudonym?).

Levi, your question, however rhetorical, is right on... but it really comes down to the same issue: these wines (like so many agricultural products of the Europe we love) are increasingly challenged in their epistemological implications by globalization.

However clumsy, there is an analogy to be made with punk rock... As soon as the Clash had a hit, the ceased to be the Clash.

Like the label on a bottle of Romano Levi, it ceases to be in Benjamin's world of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.

Alfonso Cevola said...

I have lived vicariously through you in this series. Always had a lust for Sherry and to someday go there.
In the meantime, thank you for this series, really really loved it, will print it out as a tutorial for all who want to know more of the mysteries of these amazing wines.

Thank you so very much!

Brooklynguy said...

Levi, you are correct in what you say. We didn't buy the regular Sanchez Ayala Manzanilla either though, and I think it is Equipo Navazos that is bringing us back to Sherry as a fine wine in this country. Now, I want to remember the sources o those wines too.

Thanks for all these kind words.

Olly Bartlett said...

The El Maestro Sierra Amontillado Superior is THE text book amontillado, although I am biased as we import it in the UK