Monday, July 23, 2012

Macharnudo Alto - Exploring the Terroir Stamp of a Vineyard in Sherry.

When I think of terroir, I invariably think within the Burgundian model where each vineyard produces wines that are different from those of its neighboring vineyards. I'm willing to bet that most of us think of terroir in approximately those terms. There are several places in the wine world that do not adhere to this model, though, and the Sherry Triangle is one of them.

When I think of terroir in Sherry I think of the white chalky soils called albariza, I think of the peculiar and wonderful smell and taste of flor, I think of the salty air in Sanlucar's Manzanillas and of the yeasty tang of Jerez's Finos. I think of intense heat and winds. Especially now that I have visited the region, I think of the beautiful old buildings, or bodegas, where barrels of wine age in elaborate soleras. Each bodega is unique in terms of airflow, temperature, humidity, and many other variables, and I've heard people say that the Bodega itself is a unique terroir. I do not for a moment doubt the truth in this idea.

Where is the vineyard in all of this? There is little or no emphasis placed on the vineyard in Sherry. This was not always the case, and Peter Liem, America's foremost Sherry expert, has often spoken about how the best vineyards in the area have long been recognized as such, and how they once played a prominent role in the understanding of Sherry wines. As I am sure he will discuss in his forthcoming book called Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla, a collective decision was made a long time ago in the region to focus on producing high quantities of decent wine for the mass market, as opposed to making wines of the highest quality. Even today, although we are in the middle of a huge resurgence of interest in Sherry wines, much of what is available is mass market wine that is decent but not special. The market still has a long and winding road to recovery.

Is there a terroir stamp of the vineyard in the Sherry region? As Peter would say, there is little empirical evidence for this. Almost no one in the region is making single vineyard wines, and comparing vineyards is therefore almost impossible. "Since no one has cared for 60 years, Miraflores for example has not been vinified and aged in solera in the same place as Macharnudo Alto," Peter said. "It would take quite a while to do this, even if the investment were made."

Although there is no way to compare vineyard terroirs right now, it is possible to very deeply explore at least one vineyard, the site called Macharnudo Alto. Macharnudo Alto is a parcel within Marcharnudo, one of the four great pagos of the region. A pago is something like a vineyard district - an area containing several named parcels. I recently had the great pleasure to attend a dinner featuring a slew of wines made from Macharnudo Alto. Peter Liem conceived of this dinner and put it on with the support of Rosemary Gray of RS Productions NYC.

 Peter explained the idea behind the dinner:
I have been wanting to do a specific sherry tasting for over a year now, involving an in-depth examination of the vineyard of Macharnudo Alto. Macharnudo is one of the four great pagos, or vineyard districts, that lie to the north and west of Jerez, and while it is composed of many individual vineyard sites, the most celebrated is that of Macharnudo Alto, which is the highest in altitude and the one considered to have the purest albariza soils.

We are fortunate in that not only is Macharnudo Alto one of the great historical sites of the sherry region, it also belongs, in part, to one of the greatest sherry bodegas currently in existence, Valdespino, who has been making single-vineyard sherries from Macharnudo Alto since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The result is an array of wines that offer a multi-faceted expression of a legendary terroir...
The Macharnudo pago is perhaps 800 hectares, the Marcharnudo Alto parcel much smaller than that, and of that Valdespino owns 56 hectares. From these vines come excellent wines that you really should get to know if you are interested in Sherry (if you haven't tried them already). I'm talking about Inocente, the very fine Fino, Tio Diego, the unique and wonderful Amontillado, Viejo CP, the great Palo Cortado, and finally Cardenal, the rare and regal very old Palo Cortado that is surely one of the finest wines in all of the region. On a recent hot and muggy night a group of Sherry lovers congregated at Terroir TriBeCa to drink these and other wines from Macharnudo Alto, and although I cannot say that I came from this with a clear understanding of the terroir of Macharnudo Alto as it relates to other parcels in Jerez, I can tell you that the wines are reliably excellent. Here are some notes and thoughts:

Valdespino Fino Inocente. We drank two versions of this great wine; one recent bottling from October of 2011, and one that was bottled in January of 2006 and aged in a cellar since then. That's right, aged Inocente. Well made biologically-aged wines are capable of improving in the cellar and drinking these two wines next to one another was a startling experience. I very much like the young wine and would happily drink it at any hour of the day, but the version that spent 6.5 years in bottle...that wine was amazing. This is not the first time I've had this experience, and it reminds me to put bottles of this great wine in the cellar. What's odd about the wine with some bottle age is that it seems to follow an aging curve that is the inverse of what we see in most wines. The older wine shows a more prominent fruit character! Who can explain these things. Anyway, Inocente is a fabulous wine and I am excited to hear that Valdespino's new importer Polaner will offer 750 ml bottles in addition to the 375's that we've seen here. Inocente out of a 750 is a very delicious thing.

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino Macharnudo Alto Nº 15, 18, and 27. These wines are created by selecting from barrels in the Inocente solera at Valdespino. Although the idea is to make a different wine each time, these wines are similar in that they tend to be richer and fuller in body than Inocente.

I like each of them, but on this night Nº 18 was the one I preferred. It had an energy and a linear focus that I enjoyed. You can almost see this when comparing the appearance of the three wines in the above photo. I must say that of all of the Equipo Navazos wines that I have tasted, this series is the one that I am least enamored of and I think it's because I cannot help myself but to compare them with Inocente as I drink them.

Amontillado Tio Diego. Tio Diego is unique as an Amontillado because it is so recently removed from flor. It is essentially a biologically aged wine that has spent only 5 or 6 years aging oxidatively. I always thought that Tio Diego is a continuation of the Inocente solera, that Tio Diego is what happens to the wines in the solera level of Inocente if they continue to age for a few years. But on this night I learned something new about this lovely wine. Tio Diego is its own solera, and Inocente does not feed it. The young wines that replenish the youngest barrels in the Inocente solera - they are the same young wines that replenish the youngest barrels in the Tio Diego solera. But after that they follow their on course. In any case, Tio Diego is a delicious Amontillado, one in which the lactic and tangy echo of flor is still quite evident. It is a wine that like all of the brown Sherries I know, shows best a few days after opening.
Palo Cortado Viejo C.P. This Palo Cortado solera is fed with barrels from the Inocente and Tio Diego soleras, barrels that the cellar master deems unusual in some way, not well-suited for making Fino or Amontillado. I tasted a version of this wine at the bodega from a barrel but had never had this wine from a bottle with a meal. It showed beautifully, I think more perfectly than any other on this evening. I loved the orange oil I was getting on the nose and the compelling depth and complexity of the palate. It was incredibly delicious with a well-prepared plate of thinly sliced roast pork and rosemary. C.P. stands for Calle Ponce, by the way, the name of a street where the Valdespino bodega that houses this solera was once located.

Palo Cortado Cardenal VORS. The wines here average 60-70 years of age at bottling and the Viejo C.P. solera feeds this solera. I find it hard to describe the aromas and flavors of Cardenal. It is so intense and complex and it develops over many days after the bottle is open. It is a combination of great richness and complexity from the concentrated old wines, and also of great finesse and detail, characteristics that just might be the best way to think of the terroir stamp of Macharnudo Alto.


wine student said...

excellent article... thanks for educating me!!

Food and Wine said...

Really enjoying the blog that that wine bottle looks amazing this post sounds awesome!