April 2014

Every wine writer in the world has probably written a sentence like this five times during his or her career: “Sherry is the most misunderstood product of the vine.” And then goes on to explain again why Sherry matters, how it’s made, its unique properties and so on, fashioning again a plea for understanding. I’m not going to indulge in such folderol now because I’ve done it before, especially here, a post from December 1, 2011.

Bodegas Hidalgo, founded in 1792 and owned now by the sixth generation of the original family, is the last remaining family-operated business to produce and export its own unblended, single-solera Sherries. Hidalgo relies entirely on its estate vineyards, 500 acres of palomino fino grapes, in the chalk areas close to the sea. The family’s bodega is in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, entitling its fino Sherry to the Manzanilla designation. La Gitana Manzanilla (“the gypsy”), is Hidalgo’s flagship wine, product of a family solera established in the early 19th century, around the same time Manzanilla as a wine type came into existence.

The color of La Gitana Manzanilla is very pale gold with a tinge of greenish-silver; a hint of smoked almonds dominates the nose at first, as one expects, but then comes in a maritime element, with sea salt, salt marsh and a briny snap, followed by a touch of lemongrass and an echo of caramelized fennel. In the mouth, this manzanilla is very dry and bracing yet surprisingly viscous, announcing itself as a presence on the palate rather than a congeries of flavors; at bottom, though, a thoughtful earthy and autumnal character emerges: smoke from burning leaves, perhaps, dried moss, and a finishing note of almond skin bitterness. Mind you, all these ethereal qualities are assembled and displayed with utmost delicacy and elegance. 15 percent alcohol. Sipping this, I’m longing for a small plate of grilled octopus with roasted peppers or paper-thin slices of Serrano ham with fresh green olives. Excellent. I paid about $20 for a 500 milliliter bottle; average price in the U.S. is about $18. Either way, a Great Bargain.

Imported by Classical Wines, Seattle, Washington.

In the brave annals of vinous experimentation, the J Vineyards Misterra Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is one of the strangest. If you are a purist when it comes to pinot noir, the thought of blending other varieties with that grape seems a violation, a stain on the snowy tunic of a Vestal Virgin, like adding a dollop of syrah or cabernet franc to a Chambolle-Musigny. The J Misterra 2012 blends six percent pinotage and four percent pinot meunier to Russian River pinot noir. Pinotage, widely known as “the signature grape of South Africa,” was created in 1925 as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault by Abraham Izak Perold, the first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University. While the survival of the seedlings was in doubt, the grape eventually thrived and became the backbone of the South African wine industry, though I’m here to tell you that it’s an acquired taste. Pinot meunier is most familiar as a red grape grown mainly in Champagne as a blending element; it’s a natural for J Vineyards because of their excellent sparkling wine program.

So, what is this pinot + pinot + pinot like? Pinotage is a powerful influence, and even at only six percent tips Misterra 2012 toward the earthy, loamy, rustic camp. The color is medium ruby-magenta with a lighter transparent rim; the whole package is very spicy, deeply fruity and wildly floral, with notes of spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries with a trace of blueberries and, as a few minutes pass, tobacco and roasted coffee beans. Full-bodied and robust, fairly dense with dusty and graphite-laden tannins, this combines cloves, black cherries, bitter chocolate and rhubarb with spanking acidity and granitic minerality in a robust structure that’s more solid and shaggy than smooth and supple. Though it manifests myriad points of satisfaction, this is not what I want pinot noir to be. 14.3 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse, who previously worked for La Crema and fashioned excellent pinot noirs for that winery. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $50.

A sample for review. Image from vivino.com.

Looking for a robust and rustic red wine to accompany your next hearty sausage pizza or cheeseburger heaped with bacon and grilled onions? Or perhaps you’re leaning toward grilled leg of lamb, studded with garlic and rosemary. Well, My Readers, search no more. The Garofoli Piancara 2010, Rosso Conero, from the Italian region of Le Marche (“mar-kay”), fills the bill, fits the shoe, punches the ticket. The company dates back to 1871, when Antonio Garofoli, budding entrepreneur, began making wine for pilgrims trekking to the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, which protects the house that is purportedly where the Blessed Mother lived with Joseph and raised her son. Because the house was flown by angels first to Croatia and then to Loreto, in 1920 Pope Benedict XV declared the Madonna of Loreto to be the patron saint of air travelers and pilots; this was a pope who definitely saw the potential of the airline industry. Interestingly, the principal image of veneration in the basilica is a black Madonna and Child, made of Lebanon cedar. Anyway, Antonio’s son, Gioacchino, founded the actual winery in 1901, and the 128-acre estate is now operated by the family’s fifth generation. While Garofoli primarily focuses on the white verdicchio grape (see yesterday’s Weekend Wine Notes), this red wine should not be neglected. Made completely from montepulciano grapes and aged a year in large Slavonian oak casks, the Garofoli Piancara 2010, Rosso Conero, offers a dark ruby color and pungent aromas of black plums and cherries with undertones of mulberries and blueberries, all quite ripe and spicy and slightly dusty with elements of graphite and briers. The wine is full-bodied and a little bumptious, a country boy with a good heart whose generosity is tempered by smacky slightly shaggy tannins and the sort of vibrant acidity that keeps you coming back for another sip. The structure is firm and supple, the finish dense with spice, minerals and tannin, yet the whole package goes down easily. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $16, representing Fine Value.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Unless you’re myopic or dogmatic, you know that great white wines are made in places other than Burgundy and Bordeaux, Alsace and Germany, California and Oregon. I’m speaking of Italy, which, while its many regions are capable of churning out seas of anonymous and innocuous white wines, is capable of producing not just attractive but terrific whites, largely from indigenous grapes. The eight wines I offer today rate Very Good+ or Excellent, and all represent good value, even those priced in the low and mid-$20s. We touch on Collio and Alto Adige and, farther south. Marche and Pulgia. In a departure from standard Weekend Wine Notes practice, I include a smidgeon of technical information, because though most of these wines were fashioned completely in stainless steel, a few demonstrate the quality that emerges from a deft combination of stainless steel with oak. I loved all of these wines, from the simplest to the most complicated; each provides pleasure and enjoyment in myriad ways, and they would all be wonderful will Spring and Summer fare. Enjoy!

These were samples for review.

Garofoli Macrina 2012, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, Marche (pronounced “mar-kay”). 100% verdicchio grapes. Very pale gold color; vibrant, savory, saline, crisp and dry; lilac and heather, lemon and lemon balm, notes of grapefruit peel, lemongrass and chalk; deliciously seductive, with silky medium body and supple texture; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of anise, lavender and limestone; surprising detail and dimension for the price. (All stainless steel.) Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $14, and a Freaking Great Value.

Elena Walch Selezione Pinot Bianco 2012, Alto Adige. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot bianco grapes. Pale gold color; lemon, pears, lemon curd, hints of lilac and honeysuckle; touch of spiced peach; very dry, an ethereal, almost powdery texture; super-attractive and very appealing. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.

La Battistina Gavi 2013, Gavi, Italy. 12% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Pale pale gold; a shimmering white wine, lovely with hints of green apples and lemons, almond blossom and spiced pears and a distinctive edge that balances slightly honeyed ripeness with dry salinity; juicy but spare, with bracing acidity that cuts a swath and a scintillating seashell/flint character. (Stainless steel.) Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $16.

Li Veli Masseria Verdeca 2012, Valle d’Itria. 13% alc. 90% verdeca grapes, 10% fiano minutolo. Light gold color; roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince, cloves, camellia and bee’s-wax; hints of pear and peach; dried herb character with a bit of sea-grass, savory and saline; quite dry with a pronounced chalk-like minerality; lively and engaging. (Stainless steel). Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18

Elena Walch Kastelaz Pinot Bianco 2012, Alto Adige. 13.5% alc. 100% pinot bianco grapes. Pale gold color; deep, spicy, notes of candied grapefruit, with quince and ginger, hints of pear and lychee; chiming acidity arrows straight through the intensity of limestone transparency, bolstering spicy lemon and stone-fruit flavors; very dry, dynamic, a powerful presence. (Single vineyard grapes; 2.3 stainless steel, 1/3 new French oak.) Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $22.

Marco Felluga Molamatta Bianco 2011, Collio. 13.5% alc. Pinot biano 40%, tocai friulano 40%, ribola gialla 20%. Pale gold color; almond and almond blossom, lemon and grapefruit, a little earthy and fleshy, slightly honeyed with a touch of lanolin; deftly balanced, elegant, yet dense and almost chewy texture; quite dry, enlivened by brisk acidity, limestone and a hint of almond skin and grapefruit rind bitterness. Lovely personality. (The pinot bianco fermented and aged in oak, the rest in stainless steel.) Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $23.
Garofoli Podium 2011, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, Marche. 14.5% alc. 100 percent verdicchio grapes. Pale gold color; spiced peaches and yellow plums, hints of honey, jasmine and rosemary, with an echo of that herb’s pithy piney character; warmly spicy yet cool with limestone and flint minerality; moderately dense, satiny texture cut by resonant acidity and a crystalline mineral quality; long finish wreathing spice, limestone and stone-fruit flavors. The difference between this wine and its cousin mention above: estate vineyards, lower yields, 15 months on the lees in stainless steel tanks. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.

Marco Felluga Sauvignon Russiz Superiore 2012, Collio. 13.4% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Very pale gold; camellias and roasted lemons, slightly herbal and grassy — thyme, timothy, tarragon — with notes of lime peel and tangerine and a hint of bell pepper; lovely talc-like texture riven by vivid acidity and a vibrant limestone-flint element; very dry, with a fairly restrained, savory and austere finish. Now through 2016. (85% stainless steel/15% oak) Excellent. About $26.

“NV” stands for “non-vintage,” though on the face of it, that’s a ridiculous proposition. All grapes are harvested in a particular year; hence those dates on wine labels and the notion that some vintages are better than others so the wines from those years are more valuable. However, wine does not have to be made from grapes harvested all in the same year. The great example of this concept occurs in Champagne, the famed French region of prestigious bubbles, where something more than 80 percent of the product is non-vintage, though the term “multi-vintage” is really more useful. Champagne producers maintain stores of reserve wines to blend with the wine from the current vintage being used (generally about three years old) to ensure a consistent house style. Other wines employ the multi-vintage trope, including, surprisingly, Portugal’s Vinho Verde, “surprisingly” because Vinho Verde tends to be a fresh young wine intended for immediate consumption. In France, bottles plucked from roadside stands, service stations and highway convenience stores are often multi-vintage (or really “nonvintage”) and fairly anonymous; examples I have tried range from truly awful to not too bad.

Anyway, today we look at three “nonvintage” products that happen to be remarkably diverse.
The Calamares Vinho Verde nv, Portugal, offers a bright gold color and mild, almost subliminal effervescence. The blend of grapes is 40 percent arinto, 30 percent trajadura (also known as treixadura) and 30 percent loureiro. Enticingly fresh and clean, the wine delivers notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, green apple and lime peel in a saline, limestone-inflected setting; while it’s a wine of the moment, this Calamares is not ethereal, instead possessing gratifying body with an almost talc-like finish touched with candied grapefruit. Acidity is flagrantly crisp and flint-like. Nine percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $7, and do I have to tell you to buy it by the case to drink this Summer?

Imported by Vision Wine and Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. A sample for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut, nv, Champagne, France, is one of our favorite Champagnes, and I was surprised to see that I have never written about it on this blog. It’s a blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 35 percent chardonnay and 25 percent chardonnay, all from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. The base wine of the present manifestation is from 2010, with the addition of eight percent each from 2009 and 2008. The color is medium straw-gold; the all-important bubbles are myriad, prolific and dynamic. My purpose in purchasing this Champagne was to balance a scallop dish rich in butter and cream, and the clean, incisive acidity of the Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut and its scintillating limestone minerality did just that. (Plus, you know, it’s Champagne.) The bouquet offers notes of lemon, seashell, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and honeysuckle, all quite subdued, and threads of cloves and crystallized ginger; it’s fairly full in the mouth, but not heavy or obvious, leaning more toward a well-knit and elegant character enlivened by crispness and energetic effervescence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid about $60.

A Terry Theise Estate Selection, imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
Now comes the wine that inspired this post, the Steven Kent Winery “Evening Vinesong” Grenache nv, Livermore Valley. Produced in a minute quantity and available only to the winery’s Collector’s Circle, a bottle came into my hands via a generous benefactor. The wine is 100 percent grenache — previous editions were a blend — with 60 percent of the grapes grown in 2010 and 40 percent in 2011. Depending on the “year,” the wine ages 24 to 36 months in second-use and neutral French and American oak barrels. The production was 139 cases. The members of the Collector’s Circle who snatch a few bottles or a case of Evening Vinesong Grenache are lucky indeed; this is a beautiful and pure expression of the grenache grape, fruity, spicy, a little raspy and briery. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of red and black currants and cherries are highlighted by pert mulberry and winsome notes of anise, lavender, brambles and dried rosemary (with some of that herb’s pithy, piney quality). In the mouth, the wine is sapid and savory, deftly balanced and integrated; oak is a whisper here, and so is a hint of loam, both forming a background to the wine’s lithe suppleness and elegance. Red and blue fruit flavors are permeated by sandings of cloves and allspice, the whole enterprise ending with a fresh, wild note. I gave LL a glass of this when she came home from work one night; she took one sniff and one sip and said, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” There’s your review. Excellent. For information call (925) 243-6440 or visit stevenkent.com

We’re dining with a friend tonight at an excellent restaurant, and, as is my habit, I’ll take a bottle of wine from home. “But wait!” you say. “Doesn’t this restaurant have a wine list?” Indeed it does have a wine list, and a good one, but not a great or adventurous one. I’m happy to pay a corkage fee to bring a bottle in that gives me the opportunity to try it with a variety of foods and to take a few notes. “Brown-bagging,” as the procedure used to be called, is a time-honored tradition in eating out, and while restaurateurs may grumble, it’s a way of keeping patrons happy, especially high-ticket customers that own collections of lovely old vintage wines. (Full disclosure: I’m not one of those.)

Let’s face it, most restaurants don’t store large quantities of older wines because they don’t have the space and because the wines are expensive, and they don’t buy young wines with the potential to improve with “laying down” because they can’t afford to tie up capital while the wine is aging. Depending on the state or municipality, restaurant owners can institute rules about bringing in wine but not necessarily forbid the practice. In this state, for example, according to an opinion filed on June 14, 1977, by Tennessee assistant attorney general William C. Koch Jr., “the practice of ‘brown-bagging’ is legal under state law,” and “‘brown-bagging’ is permissible as a matter of state law in all parts of the State.”

If you want to take your favorite wine or a special wine to a restaurant, though, certain forms of etiquette apply. I mean, there’s no sense in antagonizing a restaurant owner or manager just to get your way. Look at it this way: A bottle of wine brought into a restaurant by a customer makes an interruption in the (one hopes thoughtful) synergy between the cuisine and the menu, unless that customer is very knowledgeable about the menu and the wine list. Act accordingly. Here are some aspects to consider:

1. Don’t take a wine that’s on the restaurant’s wine list. That’s just tacky. Most restaurants nowadays post their menus and wine lists online; check it first.

2. Don’t take a wine that insults the restaurant. If you’re eating at a fine dining establishment that features an award-winning menu and a great, imaginative wine list, leave your plonk chardonnay and Beaujolais-Villages at home.

3. Don’t take too many wines or burden your waiter with a table loaded with your wines, as if you’re promoting your own tasting. Two bottles should be the limit, unless you have made arrangements with the manager and, preferably, occupy a private room.

4. Buy a bottle from the restaurant’s list for every bottle you bring in. After all, the restaurant needs to make something from this transaction.

5. If you’re bringing in a rare old bottle, offer a glass to the sommelier and chef or owner. If it’s Mouton-Rothschild ’29 or the like — you should be so lucky — call the restaurant and inform the manager. Don’t spring a legendary wine on the restaurant as a surprise.

6. Pay the corkage fee willingly and graciously.

7. Tip for the bottle or bottles you brought in. The waiter or sommelier made an effort to accommodate you.

8. If there’s a little wine left in the bottle, leave it for the staff.

9. Don’t actually put the wine in a brown paper bag.

Image from worldmarket.com.

Before we get into the qualities that made me like the quite beautiful Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley — well, that sort of gives it away, doesn’t it? — let’s look at the interesting technical data, because for a wine that radiates purity and intensity of varietal purpose, it took considerable thought to make it that way. Cade Estate Winery was founded on Howell Mountain in 2005 by partners Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty — names with which to conjure, fiduciary-wise — and general manager John Conover. The most visible of the trio is Newsom, who was elected mayor of San Francisco in 2003 and 2007 and lieutenant governor of California in 2010 and whose business successes make me think that I just got off to the wrong start in life. First came the PlumpJack wine store in 1992, followed by PlumbJack Winery in Napa Valley and then a host of cafes, restaurants, resorts and retail outlets. Sheesh. And the guy is good-looking too.

Let’s turn, however, to Cade winemaker Danielle Cyrot, whose work I much admired when she was at St. Clement, and the regimen for this sauvignon blanc. In terms of grape origin, 39 percent of the grapes for this wine derived from Cade’s vineyard in Oakville; the rest came from growers in Oak Knoll, St. Helena, Calistoga and the Napa Valley AVA. Fermentation occurred in a combination of stainless steel tanks (71 percent), stainless steel drums (11 percent), French oak barrels (61. percent new and 11.8 percent used) and the remaining .1 percent in concrete eggs. That is, I will say, the most complicated fermentation process I have ever heard of. Oh, wait, of the portion that fermented in barrels, 80 percent of that was inoculated with yeast and 20 percent fermented on naturally-occurring yeasts. No malolactic (or secondary) fermentation occurred, leaving the wine with crisp acidity. The wine aged in tanks and barrels for five months. There’s a bit of a blend: 2.5 percent each semillon and viognier.

Did it actually require that much calibration to creative this wholly attractive sauvignon blanc? Whatever the case, this is a damned fine wine. The color is pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; fresh, enticing yet spare aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, pert gooseberry and earthy celery seed, peaches, tangerines and notes of lilac and lemon balm characterize the bouquet. In the mouth, this sauvignon blanc elegantly balances vibrant, finely honed acidity with cloud-like lushness and a scintillating crystalline limestone element, all supporting citrus flavors etched with a slight sunny, leafy, herbal quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. We drank the Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013 one night with chicken breasts first seared and then poached in white wine and the next night with a roasted tuna Nicoise. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $28, the upper limit of what I would recommend in these Wine of the Week posts.

A sample for review. The label image on the winery website has not caught up with the change to the 2013 vintage of this wine.

In the past three days, the friendly, if not incredulous, UPS and FedEx drivers have traveled numerous times to my threshold, delivering wines for review. Almost five cases in fact. A similar circumstance prevailed last week. That’s a lot of wine, and I’m sure you understand that there’s already an enormous amount of wine in the house.

It’s easy to understand why so much vinous product is being sent to me now. The weather is perfect, neither frigid nor torrid, so wine will not be ruined during its passage, typically from the West Coast or the Northeast. I’m certain that wine reviewers exist who receive more wine than I do, but I’ll admit that the amount of wine currently stacking up chez Koeppel is overwhelming. I know, I know, unsympathetic readers are muttering, “Oh, gee, poor guy, having to drink all that free wine,” as if I actually consume the contents of every bottle and as if every wine delivered to my door is a Grand Cru Burgundy, First Growth Bordeaux or vintage Champagne. (Full disclosure: It never is.)

The idea, of course, is to taste the wine, not scarf it down, though I tend to save the best or most interesting wines for dinner. The sordid truth is most of the wine gets tasted in the kitchen, in a fairly rigid swirl-sniff-sip/spit-swallow-spit ritual and the rest of the product gets poured — oh, the horror! — into the sink. That’s the way it’s done, folks.

How do I decide what wines go through the process? As with most matters in life, there’s a hierarchy. Here, then, is an outline of how the wines I taste and write about are arranged on the priority scale. Pay heed.

1. The wines I give most attention to are those that are sent after a winery or importer’s representative or marketing person sends me an email asking if I would be interested in tasting such and such wines and may they send them to me. It helps that the wines in question embody great quality or reputation or have an intriguing geographical, historical or personal background or story. (I don’t need the whole story in that email.)

2.Second in priority are wines that arrive, whether after inquiry or not, from wineries or producers with whom I have a long record of tasting and writing about their wines.

3. Third in line are wines that arrive unheralded but that seem promising in terms of their history, heritage, geographical significance or grape make-up or that fit into whatever my present wine-tasting mode is. Yes, friends, it’s a crap-shoot.

4. Finally, down here, is the slough of plonk that makes me wonder if people who send out wine ever read this blog.

Will every wine I receive be reviewed on BTYH? Nosiree, the world does not hold enough time and space for me to accomplish that feat. In fact, I encourage people who submit wines for my perusal to remember that just as newspapers do not review all the books they are sent, so do wine writers not review all the wines delivered to their doors. Book reviewers plead eyesight; we plead the health of our livers.

I’ll admit that it’s gratifying to open a wine sent anonymously, as it were, and discover true greatness or, alternatively, true decent quaffability. In an ideal world, though, I’d like prior notice.

The immediately appealing factor about the Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is that it bears no burden of exaggeration. Made completely in stainless steel and seemingly equal parts savory, saline and spicy, this pale-gold wine offers notable balance and integration of all elements. Don’t mistake it, though, for being mild-mannered or wimpy; plenty of crisp acidity and citrus fruit keeps this wine refreshing, lively and energetic. Hints of lemongrass, cloves, lime peel, quince and ginger permeate a background of roasted lemon and tangerine; crystalline limestone minerality lends shimmer and litheness to the structure, which supports bracing lemon and peach flavors that open to an intriguing edge of sunny leafiness and a ping of currant. The finish brings in more spice and a faint line of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. The Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 will be terrific this Summer as aperitif or with grilled shrimp, chicken salad, cold fried chicken, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts sliced off, please) and other patio and picnic fare. Founded in the early 1980s, the winery is now operated by the second generation of the MacDonnell family, brothers Ryan and Miles MacDonnell. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

Some people have jobs that just make you say, “Awww, man, no fair …!” I’m thinking in this case of Nicolas Palazzi (image at right), whose family owns Bordeaux properties in Cotes de Bourg, Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves — his mother is French, his father Italian — but whose heart lies in the world of spirits. Palazzi’s work is to haunt old cellars in Europe and search out barrels of spirits or fortified wines that have been quietly aging for generations, bottle them in small quantities and hand-sell them all over the globe. I previously wrote about his Paul-Marie et Fils Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux Fut #3 (here) and his Paul-Marie et Fils “devant la porte” Grande Champagne Cognac (here). A more recent foray took him into the realms of Spanish brandy and rum, bottled under the Navazos-Palazzi label, indicating a joint venture between Palazzi and Equipo Navazos. An interesting story itself, Equipo Navazos began as a group of sherry-loving friends that searched for ancient hidden treasures in the region’s cellars and bottled what they selected in limited editions, beginning in 2005, for a small circle of connoisseurs, collectors and writers. In 2007, a company was formed to market the sherries to the public, still keeping quantities at the artisan level.

Today, I look at each of these three collaborative products — two brandies and the rum — tasted from small samples provided by Palazzi.
First is the younger of the two brandies, a six and a half year old single-cask brandy found in the cellars at the Rey Fernando de Castilla bodega in Jerez de la Frontera. For the initial three years of its life, this spirit rested in multiple-use sherry casks; the next three and a half years were spent in 600-liter casks that had formerly been used for fino sherry. Made from 100 percent airen grapes, it is bottled unfiltered and at full proof, 41.1 percent alcohol, and no additives were employed. The color is pale but radiant gold with green highlights. This is a very young, powerful, impetuous and fiery brandy, yet it manages to be ultimately well-balanced and harmonious. Notes of spiced pear with hints of banana and bay leaf dominate a bouquet that brings up touches of toasted wheat, candied orange peel and some astringent little white flower. Profound acidity grips the palate and keeps this brandy vibrant; the texture is lithe and sinewy, and the overall impression is of blond wood, bitter orange, fruitcake, walnut shell and a tinge of toffee. It stays with you. Production was 720 half-bottles. Excellent. About $80 a half-bottle.
The “Montilla” is a single cask brandy that’s at least 50 years old. Palazzi and his partners found it at Bodega Perez Barquero in Cordoba. It spent its whole life in what is apparently an oloroso sherry cask. Like its stablemate mentioned above, it was bottled unfiltered, at full proof (40.1 percent alcohol) and receives no additives like caramel coloring. It is also made from 100 percent airen grapes. The color is medium gold-amber; the bouquet offers hints of cloves and allspice and a plethora of woody and woodsy notes: dried porcini, walnut shell, moss, smoke from a leaf fire, pencil shavings, all opening to toffee, maple syrup, pine and old leather; and far in the distance, a subliminal touch of woodland flower. This is a deep, multi-dimensional brandy that when it first flows across the tongue feels infinitely smooth and mellow, but boy does it have an afterburn as it goes down. The last elements that I pointed out in the bouquet — the toffee, maple syrup, pine and old leather — define the flavor profile but add depths of fruitcake and plum pudding and an intriguing steely mineral quality. Again, 720 half-bottles was the production. Excellent. About $115 per half-bottle.
A bit of mystery surrounds the Ron Navazos-Palazzi. Because of a non-disclosure agreement, Nicolas Palazzi can reveal only that the rum originates from an island at the southern end of the Antilles and that it is made from molasses. This rum aged five years in former bourbon casks at the distillery and then was shipped to Jerez, where the bodega emptied it into old oloroso sherry casks and aged it for 15 more years. It was kept around because the bodega simply did not know what to do with it. The alcohol content is 51 percent, translating to 102 proof. Navazos-Palazzi will produce 1,500 bottles a year for four years; the present example represents the first release. The color is medium amber with gold highlights; not surprisingly, there’s a lot of wood here, but the rum, at least initially, feels clean and bright. You have to imagine a combination of sherry and rum, with sherry’s dryness, spareness and elegance and rum’s hint of sweet fruit. Still, to reiterate, there’s a lot of wood here; this is dense, almost viscous, powerful, dominated by leather and loam, with faint notes of maple syrup, dark molasses and toffee, allspice and sandalwood; a wayward whiff of mango. Unique, perhaps an anomaly. Excellent (sort of). About $165 for a standard 750ml bottle. As Palazzi told me, “Yes, we don’t really give things away,” but what price does one put on such a rarefied product? For thoughtful sipping after dinner, not for your daiquiri or Dark and Stormy.

Next Page »