A piece of Sherry’s history to celebrate International Sherry Week
Posted on November 06 2020
The Almacenista story in Jerez
Few wines are subject to as many misguided assumptions as Sherry – it’s all brown and sweet, it keeps forever, only elderly female relatives drink the stuff, it’s naff - need we say more?
Last year we decided to run two tastings celebrating International Sherry week in the Kew and Chiswick shops. The first surprise was how quickly they sold out. Not that we needed persuading of Sherry’s drinking credentials - more that so many of our customers were so enthused by it.
The pick of both nights - amongst a great cast - was the Palo Cortado from Cayentano del Pino - part of Bodegas Lustau’s Almacenista range.
Lustau is such a familiar name to any Sherry lover - a famous bodega with a great reputation. But they too started out as an Almacenista back in 1896.
Their founder was Senor Jose Ruiz-Berdejo, who began cultivating vines in his spare time and selling his wines to Sherry producers. The actual Lustau brand didn’t appear until 1945. By then Emilio Lustau had moved the bodega into a building which forms part of the old Moorish walls of Jerez - where it remains to this day.
As you may be wondering, Almacenista is derived from the Spanish word almacen – meaning a store or warehouse. Within Jerez, it refers to smaller producers, often family-owned, who bought or sometimes made their wines and matured them in Solera before selling the wine on to the larger bodegas for blending and shipping under another name.
There were 50 such Almacenistas in Jerez until the 1990s and two years ago just 19 were left. The problem was that to qualify for a licence to ship you had to have 12,500 hectolitres of Sherries in your warehouse -well beyond the average holding of an Almacenista.
The Consejo decided to reduce the limit drastically - to a modest 500 hectolitres, spawning a small surge of extremely high-quality focused bodegas – Equipo Navazos, El Maestro Sierra, Bodegas Tradicion and Fernando de Castilla all among them.
Lustau themselves, launched a series of wines from different Almacenistas in 1981 - in part as an homage to their own origins. But some Almacenistas are more equal than others. Certain houses are regarded as the best makers of a particular style. In the case of Palo Cortado NO-ONE does it better than Cayetano del Pino! Dating back to 1880 and established by Don Cayetano del Pino Vasquez, they became official suppliers to King Alfonso XIII, and grew so large they had their own cooperage and print room. These days their wines are bottled by Sanchez Romate and Lustau.
A Palo Cortado is a rare style, a thing of beauty and definitely one for my “Desert Island Dozen”
A wine destined to be a Fino, but where the Flor yeast just doesn’t take as well as expected, exposing the wine to both biological ageing under Flor and oxidative ageing too. This one comes from a Solera of just 22 barrels with an average age of 20 years. Its rich nose of orange peel, dried fruits and roasted hazelnuts belies a complexity of flavour where the wines time under Flor adds a savoury dimension too. As a VOS (Very old Sherry) the wine’s concentration and length is extraordinary.
Drink it chilled!
Drink it when you need to be reminded of something lovely!
Or go all out and pair it with fondant sweet potato cooked in duck fat and some confit duck leg, perhaps some very fine Jamon de Belota or some nutty aged Manchego -it’s an awesome match with all of them.
P.S. Sherry is finally trendy …………………..
Make a date with a Sherry this week - there’s a style for everyone and a story behind each style!