Willy Ramiro Alvaro 2020 harvest_cropped

A big takeaway from a recent visit to Jerez was the existence of vintage variation in wines from the region. And nowhere was that more clearly illustrated than tasting La Barajuela 2017’s with Willy Perez, which have just arrived in the UK.

If proof was ever needed that Sherry can be a product of the vineyard and the season, as much as any other wine, the contrast between the 2016 and 2017 La Barajuela wines was it. Grapes for La Barajuela wines come from El Corregidor in Pago Carrascal Alto, and are named after the chalky laminar Tosca de Barajuelas albariza soils in the vineyard. The estate was owned by Sandeman, but was abandoned when the company moved to Portugal. Willy is recovering the vineyards at the top of the site, and planting new vines. Carrascal is the most inland of the historical pagos, and therefore less subject to the cooling Atlantic wind, it was traditionally the source of Oloroso.

2016 vs. the 2017 vintage

2016 had relatively fresh and even weather, with just a couple of warmer weeks completing ripening before harvest began. 2017 on the other hand was hot throughout, good rainfall in winter and spring caused the vines to forge ahead, and the harvest was the earliest on record. In Jerez vintage variation isn’t just about sunshine or rainfall, it also relates to two winds which blow across the region: the cool humid Poniente comes from the Atlantic; and the Levante, a hot dry wind from inland. And according to Juan Moreno, viticulturalist for Alejandro Muchada, one wind or the other can have a marked influence on a year. At Luis Perez it went as far as changing the type of wines which they produced in 2016 versus 2017. In 2016 they made a Fino La Barajuela, but from warmer 2017 they have bottled a Palma Cortada and a Palo Cortado. To understand why it’s worth taking a look at where the wine names and classifications originated from.

What’s in a name

The names Palma, Cortado and Raya were created in the 18th Century, at a time when the fruit was classified from a viticultural perspective – based on ripeness of the grapes when they came to the bodega and reassessed by taste after fermentation. Palmas were the least ripe, slightly green grapes with the lowest potential alcohol. As flor yeast cannot abide alcohol over 16%, these are most likely to age biologically to become a fino or amontillado style wine. Cortados were ripe grapes with higher potential alcohol, so biological ageing was unlikely, corresponding to an oloroso style. Rayas were over-ripe or later harvested grapes used for making wines traditionally called Jerezanos. The sugar concentration was such that they didn’t ferment to dry. This touch of residual sugar in the wines can lead to further reactions as the wine ages, giving lifted aromas and a savoury power to the wines. There is an element of chance here, as if the fermentation does complete these wines will become olorosos.

We’re familiar with winemakers harvesting at specific times to get particular aromas or flavours from their grapes. At Luis Perez they take this to another level – making repeated pickings across the same vineyard at different times and ripeness levels, so the fresher citrus fruit of the Palmas and the richer tones of the Rayas come not just from the same vineyard, but the same vines!

Exceptions to the rules

A Palma Cortada is a wine that although made from the greener grapes, was from a warmer year and would only age under flor for a couple of years. 2017, with elevated temperatures throughout the growing season, was a year that resulted in more concentrated saline Palma Cortadas. Palma Cortada La Barajuela 2017 is smoky and salty, complex with some fresh citrus pith, spice, dried fruit and a very long finish.

A Palo Cortado resulted from an assessment made by the almacenista (cellar master). Two to four years into the biological ageing of a wine they would identify a cask with more body and an oxidised character. These were marked – a chalk mark was placed across the palo linear mark – the palma was ‘cortado’ or cut in Spanish. Often grapes from certain warmer plots which were more mature at harvest had a tendency to become Palo Cortados. Cortado La Barrajuela 2017 is salty with roasted nuts and a very fine, ripe fruit finish. It’s fresh and drinkable and you don’t note the 16.5% alcohol.

When Willy Perez did a tasting with us in London last autumn he said “Sherry seems complicated but there are two important things: if you are near the ocean of not; if you pick your grapes green or riper”. I would say sherry can be quite complex, but don’t let that put you off. When you have a guide as skilled and animated as Willy Perez the journey is sure to be delicious and rewarding.

The Palma Cortada and Cortado La Barajuela 2017 has just landed, along with new wines: La Escribana a salty flor aged Vino de Pasto and Tintilla Carrascal a dark earthy Tintilla de Rota (aka Graciano). There’s more information on the producer page or drop us a line if you’d like to taste the wines.