Déjate seducir por el mundo del vino



17 May, 2023

Colin Harkness

Your correspondent can hardly keep the smile off his face – and this is over a week after our wonderful guided tour and tasting at Bodegas Argüeso, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Andalucia!

Not only were we honoured to be guided by the Head Wine Maker, Miguel Villa (who also fulfils the same role at sister Bodega Yuste) but we were also privileged to taste an exemplary range of sherries, often rare, including a brand new sherry style! Yes, unbelievable though it may sound, particularly to sherry aficionados, a new type of sherry has been discovered by the sister bodegas. So new, in fact, that its provisional name, ‘Raya Cortada’, has yet to be approved by the ruling Consejo Regulador of DO Jeres-Xeres-Sherry, one the oldest DOs in Spain.

Stepping out of the full glare of the sun, which on the day in question would prove to create, a not altogether welcomed record April temperature, into the relative cool of the typically high roofed old sherry bodega was a very pleasant relief. The more so to be greeted by the wide-open smile of the man himself, Miguel Villa. A winemaker at the top of his trade whose super-friendly attitude and warm welcome belies his high status in the world of Sherry. Miguel is a man of the people, highly skilled and knowledgeable but with no airs and graces, plus he has the passion so typical of those involved in the creation of wine!

I doubt that Miguel had been at the International Wine Tourism Conference (the IWINETC) in Cataluña 2016 where I’d Chaired the Panel Discussion, but it was clear that he was in accord with the first principle agreed upon that day. When a group arrives for a tour, first and foremost give them a drink! We were two only and we hadn’t arrived after a tortuous coach journey but were nevertheless greeted with a taste of an excellent wine. Not in fact a sherry, but in more than one way redolent of the nectar that is the famous drink of Andalucia.

Conde de Aldama Blanco, Vino de Crianza Biológica Bajo Velo de Flor, from Bodegas Yuste is a mouthful – in every sense! Also, in some ways it gave us an insight into how this tour would proceed as well as to the philosophy of the joint bodegas. This, ‘Under the Veil of Yeast’, wine is made in a similar fashion to sherry, but, unlike sherry, it is not fortified.

The Pedro Ximénez variety (brought in from nearby DO Montilla-Moriles) is fermented and aged biologically in barrel. It is a throwback to centuries ago when wine in this area was first made. The style has been revived over recent years and has proved so popular that the Consejo Regulador has reviewed its rules allowing it to carry the coveted DO label, despite it not having been fortified, as are all sherries.

It’s clear that Bodegas Yuste and Bodegas Argüese, founded respectively in the years 1740 and 1822, have a tradition and history stretching back hundreds of years yet are open to change, whilst keeping alive, so very well, as our tasting showed us, sherry making that we know and love.

I’m sure many readers have been hugely impressed with the skill (and accuracy!) of the venenciador who uses a venencia to extract a small amount of sherry from a bota, a cask, deftly pouring it into a sherry glass held a distance away in his/her other hand. In Sanlúcar de Barrameda the tool is known as a caña as it is made out of a local reed, rather than elsewhere where they are now, rather less romantically, made of stainless steel and PVC. Miguel is an expert as he proved with each of the barrels we pillaged!

Miguel’s original idea was to give us a vertical tasting – trying Manzanilla wines (the style for which Sanlúcar is famous) of varying ages, all extracted from the barrel. Argüeso insists on its Manzanillas having a minimum of four years barrel ageing before release. Thus, Argüeso’s La E was the first we tried, the youngest and freshest. Pale straw in colour, salty and so refreshing!

Next came the San Leon, Manzanilla again, but this time taking on a more golden colour after its 6 – 7 years in bota. The same salinity with a slight nuttiness, umami savoury style and fuller on the palate. Fresh still, but a more pensive wine.

Our next Manzanilla was a pasado style – an older Manzanilla whose 10 or so years crianza en barrica means it is slowly starting to lose its layer of yeast en route to becoming an Amontillado. A rich, deep gold, turning slightly tawny in colour, it is full on the palate with 15.5% Alc retaining some fresh salinity but with the addition of nutty flavour and aroma.


Then San Leon Reserva de la Familia is the oldest Manzanilla allowed to retain the name. Its 12 years in barrel has given it a browning colour, so rich and full on the palate with umami, saltiness, nuttiness and even some dark olives in there too. It’s a big drink, one that will pair with almonds dry fried with a little olive oil and salt, a range of olives, fresh bread dribbled with quality extra virgin olive oil as well as mojama, that traditional dried tuna and even with the more meaty jamón de Serrano.

Our next sherry, was the aforementioned ‘Raya Cortada’ making us two of the few who have ever tasted this phenomenal wine! This Oloroso wine had been fortified just over 4 years ago to 18% Alc. As all students of wine will know, yeast cannot live at such a high degree of alcohol, so the yeast at the time died off, as indeed it was mean to do. However, after those four years a barrel was opened, as is normal as part of the quality control, and to the shock of the bodeguero, who quickly summoned his colleagues, there was a thin layer of yeast, flor, that was covering the Oloroso. At this level of alcohol – impossible! Yet it was there for all to see – including so recently ourselves!

This was an absolute delight to taste, even just to look at. Tan coloured, lighter than we would expect an Oloroso to be, it looked perfect in the glass and was full, rich yet subtle too. In a way a little like a Palo Cortado in flavour but drier and a little like an Oloroso too – but different. It really was wonderful!

Our host, Miguel, called his professor from his wine student days once the phenomenon had been discovered and doubting it, though nevertheless believing his former student, the professor came to see and taste. Tests were done, examinations, records checked, notes made etc before they presented the new sherry to the DO and eventually it was accepted!

Amazing, but our tour had not finished yet!

During our time together I’d mentioned to Miguel that probably my favourite style of sherry is Amontillado. I like them all, but Amontillado just shades it (though there is now a new and very serious contender!). Miguel is of the same opinion and I am delighted I told him my thoughts because he directed us away from the exit for a final tasting – an Amontillado, yes, but something extremely special!

There are three botas secreted away in the depths of the bodega with the word ‘No’ chalked on them. ‘No’ meaning this is not for anybody to taste except the owners, the Head Winemaker and perhaps their guests! What an honour to taste this 100+ years old Amontillado. I really felt I should be on bended knee with cap doffed (as a Spanish King had once famously said, although about a different wine!).

Dark brown coloured, with an abv of 22%, it was full, rich and very dry on the palate, with nutty aromas and flavours aided and abetted by aged vanilla, dried raisons, almonds, walnuts, a salty acidity and that much coveted umami complexity. Spectacular!

A truly incredible tour and tasting!


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