Hi everyone, and welcome to the latest in our monthly #TWSTaste events, where members from right across the UK come together to taste a pair of wines.
Here in St Evenage (or rather Stevenage, Hitchin, and Hertford respectively!) the regular crew of @laura, @Ewan and @martin_brown is looking forward to this evening’s proceedings, as ever, with the usual blend of style, education, wit, banter, bloopers, GIF-action and much more!
This time it’s Spain vs Italy …
While we’re waiting for the Manzanilla (and indeed ourselves!) to chill, here’s a wee bit of pre-amble to set the scene for both wines that you can browse while chewing on an almond or olive!
Subjective bit first: “sherry is a wonderful drink, offering the best value for money in any wine.” There, I’ve said it!
Here’s our guide to sherry, that you may want to take a gander at before we start, while we taste or indeed after the event. It tells you about the styles of sherry, and a little bit about the solera system too.
Our note says: Alegria is a wonderful manzanilla, pale, aromatic and pungent yet delicate, fine and whistle-clean. Like all manzanilla, it is aged in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the Atlantic coast where the protective flor yeast exerts a stronger influence on the wine, resulting in a pale colour and salty tang. The ideal partner for fish and shellfish, or simply an aperitif to stimulate the appetite.
Williams and Humbert, founded in 1877 by Sir Alexander Williams and Arthur Humbert, were originally located in the heart of Jerez but in 1994 purchased a large, modern bodega on the outskirts of the city. The building is the biggest wine cellar (belonging to a single grower) in Europe at 180,000 m2. While the winery & cellar is in Jerez, the ageing cellar for this particular wine is in Sanlucar de Barrameda.
These days the company is wholly owned by the Medina family and the two latest generations of Medinas work side by side to produce a range of sherries including the famous Dry Sack brand. They also maintain a keen interest in horses, which is traditionally an Andalucian passion, and visitors to the property are often treated to a display of equestrianism.
The wine is made like any dry sherry - the palomino grape juice is cold-stabilised, then fermented at 22˚C.
Then it’s filtered and fortified at 15˚C to reach 15% abv. It’s then put into a 6 level (or criadera) solera system in Sanlúcar de Barrameda as the microclimate there makes manzanilla even saltier and more pungent than fino sherry. (solera pic courtesy of sherrynotes.com)
The saca, or bottling, happens after 6 years ‘blending’ and that’s what you have in the bottle in front of you right now. Referring back to our notes, we say ‘the ideal partner for fish and shellfish, or simply an aperitif to stimulate the appetite.’ HOw are you
Langhe Nebbiolo, GD Vajra 2016
Aside: We had [shameless namedrop on its way] Jancis Robinson and her team in the house on Tuesday, and this was a favourite wine among many of the tasters.)
Our note says: Fresh from its triumph in our Wine Champions blind tastings earlier in the year, this is a delightful Italian nebbiolo in a great vintage for the grape. Its sweet-scented raspberry bouquet are a joy to linger over, while its fresh charming flavour shows the class of Vajra’s fruit from the Barolo commune of Novello.
The GD Vajra estate is found in Vergne, the highest village of Barolo in north-west Italy, where the vineyards sit at an altitude of up to 400 metres.
The estate is named after Giuseppe Domenico Vajra, who founded the estate in 1972, using vineyards that had been in the family since the 1920s, but which were only economically viable to farm once the Italian DOC system was introduced in the 1960s and Barolo’s worldwide popularity started to spike.
10 of the 40 hectares are planted with nebbiolo for Aldo’s Barolo, located in such prized vineyards as Bricco delle Viole, Fossati, La Volta and Coste di Vergne. Here the soil is rich in calcareous marl, with rocky outcrops, giving fragrant and particularly long-lived wines.
This is a truly diverse operation, ranging from semi-sweet sparkling wines to single-vineyard Barolo. Aldo adheres to old-style winemaking methods, such as ageing his Barolo in barrel for three and half years prior to bottling, though blends these with new techniques. He explains his approach, saying that ‘traditional wines are more elegant, with more delicate perfumes, leaner, somewhat difficult, but offering more pleasure at the table.’
Unlike the powerful wines of Serralunga or Monforte, Aldo’s wines have a Burgundian intensity and a purity of flavour that makes them stand out in Barolo.
This is, of course, a baby version of Barolo with no oak influence at all, showing off the amazing fruit quality that the Vajra family achieve. The grapes come from young vines in Vajra’s own vineyards in the communes of Barolo and Novello, enriched with grapes from the wonderful Roccabella vineyard in the commune of Sinio, planted on steep south-facing terraces. The vines are four to seven years old and will produce Barolo in several vintages time.
Fermentation lasted 15-18 days, at temperatures no higher than 29-30ºC with indigenous yeast strains and traditional daily punch downs. Malolactic fermentation followed and the wine was then aged for six months largely in stainless steel tanks, with a small portion in neutral wood, before bottling.
The whole family is involved with the company. The picture shows children Giuseppe, Francesca and Isidoro with parents Aldo and Milena. At The Society we are privileged to have a great relationship with all of our suppliers, but this is one of the special ones - a visit to the Vajra winery is literally a visit to their home, and you feel it. (That reminds me - I must go again!)