One of the most interesting evolutions in the wine business is the transformation in the styles and traditions of wines made in a particular region over time. These regional traditions are often so finely ingrained that it is hard to imagine other wines being produced that are outside these historical norms. The Douro region in Portugal, for example, made its name for centuries with its fortified wines. Today, about half the production now goes into regular non-fortified wines, with the shift occurring only recently, basically since the turn of the century. Often these changes are market-driven, but changes in drinking trends and regional traditions, and more recently, climate conditions, also play a role.
What is also exciting is when “visionary” winemakers challenge the status quo in a region by using a new combination of grape varietals, viticulture, winemaking techniques to create a new category of wine. Basically asking the question: what could this terroir give if we weren’t constrained by the rules and norms of a region? Often, these “new” categories can also involve a revival of an older style or tradition that had previously fallen into obscurity. Such is the case with the Bodega Luis Perez in Jerez de la Frontera in the Sherry region of Spain.
Luis Perez Rodriguez, a professor of oenology at Cadiz University and former chief winemaker at Domecq Sherry, started his winery in 2002 with the goal of making non-fortified Red and White wines from the Sherry region. More recently, Luis, along with his son, Willy Perez, launched a project to produce a series of Sherries made using an ancient technique of crafting Sherry without either fortification or traditional solera aging. Willy Perez is part of a group of young turks in the region, such as his friend Ramiro Ibanez of Cota 45, who are fascinated by the history of Jerez winemaking, including the terroir “maps” of the best parcels on different types of albariza. In fact, Willy and Ramiro are co-authoring a book detailing their extensive research into these subjects with an anticipated release in 2020.
On the wine side, the Perez’s work with Palomino Fino grown on albarizo (or chalk) soils to make a White Wine or "Vino de Pasto" called “El Muelle de Olaso”. This white is comprised of about 80% naturally fermented, stainless steel aged Palomino Fino and then about 20% of grapes sun dried for 6-8 hours and fermented in cask with some flor aging. Because flor aging translates to “freshness” on our palates, this portion of the wine depends on the balance of the vintage. If the vintage is naturally fresh then the flor interaction is less by leaving less headspace in the casks. Conversely, if it is a richer vintage then they will leave more headspace in the casks and increase the flor influence on the wine. In either case, the “El Muelle” Blanco has great intensity and zest with notes of preserved lemons and savory, chalky overtones from the soil. This wine is also part of a revival of what was popular to drink among the "people" of Jerez in the 18th and 19th centuries locally called "Vino de Pasto". The locals could not afford Sherry so they consumed young (less than a year old) unfortified Palomino Fino of the vintage.
On the red side, Luis initially started with planting international varietals (Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot) on traditionally white wine grape areas on marl and gypsum soils. Later, along with Luis’ son, Willy, they started an exciting project of recovering and planting a rare, ancient, indigenous varietal, Tintilla de Rota. This grape, actually genetically the same as the Graciano grape grown in Rioja as well as other regions, has a long, 500+-year history in the region, and was historically used to produce a fortified wine sort of like Ruby Port.
The Tintilla de Rota comes from a section of Jerez closest to the ocean from a vineyard called Pago de Balbaina. The proximity to the water brings about a cooling influence and a moderating of the ripeness. From these vineyards, there are two different Tintillas being produced, “El Triangulo” and “Tintilla”. El Triangulo is a fun spicy and bright berried red wine with a bit of a chalky velvet structure on the finish. The “Tintilla” is a special selection from several different parcels and different types of albariza. Tintilla is not a heavy red and its flavors are firmly in the cherry and blackberry zone with a touch of spice and a nice core of minerality. Neither of the wines are tannic but rather fresh and bright, with fine chalky tannins from the albariza.
On the Sherry side, in 2013, the family acquired the famous El Corregidor parcels within the Pago de Carrascal to begin a single-vineyard focused premium sherry project under Willy’s direction. The vineyard was planted to 40 year old Palomino Fino vines on a special albariza called “barajuela” where the chalky white marl is layered like a deck of cards. One of the critical pieces of this history of the winemaking of Jerez is that at times in history the wines were not fortified or solera aged. The alcohol levels we see in the fortified wines of today were in the past achieved naturally. A typical grower would make many passes through a vineyard during harvest. The early pass would be a green harvest where less ripe grapes would be used for brandy distillation. A second pass through when the grapes are ripe would be harvested to make structured white wine, such as the Perez’s “El Muelle” (this style was also very popular in the 19th century). Lastly, a final late harvest pass would be done to make Sherry (Finos and Olorosos) and some of these grapes would see periods of sun drying or asoleo to concentrate the sugars and gain higher alcohol levels depending on how they were intended to be used – shorter sun exposure for Fino and longer for Oloroso.
Many of the Finos made in this way were either single-vintage wines or blends of vintage aged wines into a Non-vintage bottling. From Bodegas Luis Perez we see these two examples of finos in La Barajuela and Caberrubia. La Barajuela is always a vintage dated Fino from the best fruit of El Corregidor on barajuela soils. Caberrubia is a blend of single vintages of La Barajuela, like a “greatest hits” album. At the beginning of the 19th century, one could find bottles released as “Seleccion de Anadas” or “a selection of years” for the non-vintage bottlings, and so Caberrubia pays tribute to that tradition. La Barajuela is a very powerful Fino and for its age shows remarkable citrus and fruit character along with savory notes of curry. Caberrubia bears some resemblance to its cousin La Barajuela but also much more sapidity from flor and albariza.
We will be focusing on the “table wines” from Tintilla de Rota and Palomino Fino, and on the Sherry parcel projects which will include various special releases over the years.