THE SHERRY REVOLUTION – Gunshots in the vineyards and the release of GONZALEZ BYASS’ stunningly great ‘PALMAS’ rare old Finos.
To coincide with the release of Gonzalez Byass’ rare old ‘Palmas’ Finos, Mauricio Gonzalez invited me, together with a small group of other wine merchants, to Jerez to visit both the Bodegas and vineyards, and take part in a small wild partridge shoot in the ‘Bonanza’ vineyards, midway between Sanlucar and Trebujena.
The region has changed dramatically in the ten years since I was last in Jerez, the landscape looking rather bleak with vast swathes of bare, undulating land and the hoizon filled with wind turbines which now generate more income than grapes, cotton or cereals.
Our first two partridge drives were across just such open land and we were grateful for cloud cover and the fact that we were not standing under the relentless Andalucian sun that had been prevalent all of the week before. The few birds that were put over were mostly shoulder height or below and being quite unaccustomed to shooting so low I found it difficult to fire at all with such open countryside and beaters beyond.
The mid-day break was a splendid affair with a white linen covered table spread with ‘tapas’ under the shade of a eucalyptus grove. Bottles of chilled Fino, Amontillado and Palo Cortado were poured, by liveried waiters, into large Riedel glasses to accompany ‘tortilla’, ‘jamon’, ‘chorizo’ and ‘manchego’ cheeese. A far cry from the sloe gin and sausages we are used to.
The next two drives were in the vineyards, and here the land was alive with wild rabbits and hares, as well as one great old wily grey fox. By now the cloud cover had burned away and the sun beat down overhead, making me, for one, wish I had drunk rather less sherry and rather more water during our break.
By three thirty we were glad of our return to the ‘Bonanza’ for lunch, and after copious amounts of water we were given our first introduction to the fabulous ‘Palmas’ sherries, which I now saw for the first time in bottle, each one in clear glass to show of the colour of the wine. More ‘tapas’ (inevitably) accompanied the ‘dos’, ‘tres’ and ‘cuatro’ Palmas sherries. I for one continued through lunch with the amazing ‘cuatro’ Palmas, one of the rarest old finos of all (labelled as Amontillado for ‘political’ reasons), and a fabulous wine with food.
Later that evening we visited the spectacular Gonzalez Byass bodegas. Renowned for the ‘La Concha’ bodega, built by Gustave Eiffel the year before the Paris tower, the ‘Apostoles’ bodega housing the famously dedicated casks, and of course the signature bodega with casks signed by kings, queens, prime ministers, artists, actors, footballers and all sorts of luminaries (although we were told that Jancis Robinson declined on her recent visist).
The highlight of our visit, however, was the opportunity to see where the ‘Palmas’ sherries had actuallybeen drawn from, and to taste the wines direct from casks, although these particular wines had not been selected for bottling. Among so many wines in such a vast number of casks it put into context the minute and painstaking selection that had been made to find the wines for this particular release.
These are truly great wines, truly very rare, and available in only very limited quantity.