Recently in London there has been a spate of particularly interesting tastings, apart from the more usual merchant and generic body events. The most palate striking for me was the Equipo Navazos tasting of sherries, which they showed alongside their sparkling wines from Jerez and still wines from Palomino.
These wines feel like a real privilege to taste. Perhaps because it took such passion, single-minded belief and dedication to get them bottled and out for us to enjoy. This team is pushing the boundaries of the grape, the region and the styles as far as it can, testing the limits and giving us a hell of a ride along the way.
And the region badly needs it. Eric Asimov in the New York Times recently wrote an article describing the dire state of the economy in sherry country and the tension at the bodegas as their market shrinks further with each year.
Make no mistake this is a niche market. Not only is sherry completely off most people's radar (though that is slowly changing with sherry bars like London's groundbreaking Bar Pepito which was swiftly followed by others), but the sherries that this team select are intellectual, complex and challenging. Sherry is one of the acquired tastes of life. If you get it, you are intoxicated and fall deeply in love.
There will always be more nuances to experience and an infinite number of variations possible. This is what Equipo Navazos are bringing to the market.
The 'I Think' Manzanilla en Ramas (2012 & 2010 bottlings) were introduced as a more inclusive style to showcase to a wider audience than the lucky few who tasted the previous La Bota releases. They are younger and much more easily understood by those who have been exposed to Tio Pepe en Rama and the Hidalgo en Rama in recent years. But still unfiltered and retaining an extraordinary complexity, buttery richness and a most delicate, almond stone bitterness on the finish.
Then the straight Manzanillas - La Bota 32 bottled in Octoberr 2011 from Sanchez Ayala which has been very slightly filtered and La Bota 8 bottled in October 2007. No 8 is from a single vineyard of the same name 'Las Canas'. How many times the word 'extraordinary' appears in my notes but always justified. Quite different to anything I've had before - 5 years in bottle and showing such power, freshness, complexity, an intricate tapestry of flavours.
Three Botas of Fino next: 35, 27, 18. They are all single vineyard wines from Valdespino - 'Macharnudo Alto'.
35 has not yet been released but was selected in the same way as 18 from the solera plus the first and second criaderas. This gives an added youthful vigour to the wines and perhaps more raciness.
The 27 in contrast was selected from a solera that the team felt was in 'full bloom' and demanded to be bottled to preserve the integrity of a ripe and perfectly mature solera. In some ways the opposite to much of what they have done before in terms of selecting single butts. Very interesting.
The Manzanilla Pasadas have another wonderful story of immense dedication to perfection. In 1986 a 15 butt solera was started with the aim of producing a great old manzanilla which could be added into a normal release to add some kick. It was never used but instead lovingly tended by the capatas at La Guita - Rafael Rivas. Left alone for up to two years at a time to disturb the remaining flor as little as possible and with tiny sacas removed (80 litres). It was then topped up with the very best La Guita solera. It was never released until Equipo Navazos came across it.
Nos. 39 & 40 have yet to be released but come from single barrels within this solera. 39 comes from a barrel singled out for its incredible profundity. I found it the most lacy and delicate of this group.
40 comes from the end barrel 'Bota Punta' of the row. It is accessed most often for samples but importantly only ever topped up with wine from the other 14 barrels in the solera therefore has the oldest wine. I thought this the roundest, most approachable of the 3, mouthwateringly fresh but with immediate ease and charm.
No. 30 is a very pretty pink gold colour, rich, creamy, nutty with wonderful acidity and piquancy. Its real average age is around 15 years!
The Amontillado No. 37 is from the same source as Amontillado No. 31 but from the immediately preceding criadera. Minute yet utterly distinctive shades of perfection. They are both from La Guita, an old solera moved out of the main bodega in 1980 in a re-shuffle and left to quietly age in other bodegas by the side of the road from Sanlucar to Jerez. The barrels are chalked up as “Manzanilla Pasada”, “Manzanilla Pasada Vieja” or “Manzanilla Pasada Viejísima".
Who would have believed they would find such a worshipping audience just a few years ago? These were the absolute stars of the show for me. Outstanding, heavenly wines, powerful, treacle, butterscotch, crema catalana. All kinds of things - they literally made me weak at the knees.
The Palo Cortados were everything you could imagine, such finesse and deeply expressive with hazlenuts and orange peel flavours. The 34 was selected after the team tasted several hundred butts of Almacenista García Jarana, most of them untouched for at least five or six years because no-one was drinking them. Finally 6 were chosen and aged further at Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla. The average age is 25 years.
I didn't taste the sweet wines but I really hope I get another chance. These are truly some of the most impressive and EXTRAORDINARY wines I have ever tasted. They are complicated but heart breakingly beautiful. Once tasted never ever forgotten.
The success of larger, more commercially conscious bodegas offering more accessible versions of these styles (still marginal though more mainstream in comparison) will only increase the exposure and demand for the more esoteric offerings from Equipo Navazos as more wine lovers hunt these elusive bottles down.
Movements start on the ground and need foot soldiers as well as visionaries. Thankfully we have both in this field.