Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bodegas Tradición: Only Aged Sherries

Just because a sherry bodega is relatively new does not mean it cannot produce some fine Aged Sherries. Case in point, Bodegas Tradición, which is located in the heart of the city of Jerez. Though the bodega is only 12 years old, they do not produce any sherries that are less than 20 years old. That math may seem a bit puzzling, but I will provide an explanation shortly.

Bodegas Tradición was established in 1998 by three members of old families from Jerez: Joaquin Rivero Valcare, Ignacio Lopez de Carrezosa, and Javier Domecq. They decided to buy a derelict bodega and extensively renovated it. Their objective was to create a boutique bodega that only sold Aged Sherries and special Brandy. Certainly a lofty ambition.

Joaquin is a wealthy real estate mogul, a billionaire, but possesses deep roots into the history of the sherry industry. One of the earliest sherry houses, founded around 1653, was Pedro Alonso Cabeza de Aranda y Zarco, which did business under the name Cabeza y Zarco for many years. They were eventually bought out by J.M. Rivero, an ancestor of Joaquin, who sold the sherry under the "CZ" brand. Though Bodegas J.M. Rivero ended around 1990, Joaquin has continued his family's long involvement in the sherry business.

Our tour and tasting at Bodegas Tradición was led by Ulrike Eisenbeutl, pictured above. She did an excellent job showing us around and telling us about the bodega. The bodega itself dates from the 19th Century, and is very typical of the architecture of that period. There are future plans to expand the facilities, so that it can hold more barrels and have a larger exhibition area. Currently, the bodega possesses about 1200 casks of Aged Sherry: VOS, VORS and Añada. It is also a very traditional bodega in that most practices are done by hand rather than machine. That is interesting as it is such a new bodega you would almost expect it to be fully modernized, but they obviously value tradition.

So how does a 12 year old bodega possess such aged sherries? They purchased the sherry from other bodegas, which is apparently a well established practice in the sherry industry. They only buy sherries that are at least 10-15 years old, and only from high-quality bodegas. Some bodegas that are shutting down will sell off their inventory, while other bodegas might sell off sherry barrels that they have only in very limited quantity, and which they can't really use any longer. That certainly sounds intriguing, but the true test is in the tasting. How do their aged sherries compare to those from other bodegas?

First though, a slight diversion. An unexpected find in the bodega is their incredible art gallery. The gallery contains the Joaquin Rivero Collection, a private collection of one of the owners with over 350 Spanish paintings from the 15th-19th centuries, by masters such as Zurbarán, Goya and Velázquez. There are lots of very impressive works, many with a religious bent. Despite the obvious monetary value of this collection, it is not ostentatious. That would be a theme at many of the bodegas, obvious signs of wealth yet never ostentatiously displayed.

One of the most compelling pictures I saw was The Capitulation of Granada by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, a prolific artist famous for painting historical scenes. This painting depicts the surrender of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold, by Abu 'abd-Allah Muhammad XII, also known as Boabdil, to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella which occurred in January 1492. There is so much intriguing detail in the picture and it depicts such a pivotal point in Spanish history.

After our tour of the bodega and art gallery, we got to taste several sherries (VORS Amontillado, VORS Palo Cortado, VORS Oloroso, and VOS Pedro Ximenez) and two brandies. Plus, I was fortunate to taste their 1975 Vintage Oloroso. My thoughts on these sherries?

The VORS Amontillado has an average age over 43 years, an alcohol content of 19.5%, and only 3000 bottles are issued each year. This was impressive and quite delicious, with lots of nutty notes, a salty backbone, and a very lengthy finish. Plenty of complexity, an alluring aroma, and a silky, smooth taste. Highly recommended.

The VORS Palo Cortado has an average age of about 35 years, an alcohol content of 19.5%, and only 2500 bottles are issued each year. The aroma of this sherry seduced my nose, a blend of subtle and intoxicating scents. When I tasted it, the flavors were initially explosive, a powerful punch of complex and sensual flavors. Salty nuts, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, some dried fruit and more. The finish seemed endless, and I certainly did not want the flavors to cease. An exceptional wine and another I highly recommend.

The VORS Oloroso has an average age of about 45 years, an alcohol content of 20%, and only 5000 bottles are issued each year. This is a more full-bodied, heavier sherry but still with plenty of complexity. The flavors are darker, with elements of nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit. It possesses a lengthy finish, though with a bitter hit at the end. A very good sherry which I also recommend.

The VOS Pedro Ximénez has an average age of about 22 years, an alcohol content of 15%, and only 4000 bottles are issued each year. This is a thick, viscous sherry, with intense raisiny notes and plenty of sweetness. Like most of the PX I would taste on this trip, it was too sweet for my preferences though others in the group seemed to enjoy it very much.

As for Añadas, vintage sherries, the bodega currently has four: 1970, 1975, 1991, and 1998, which were purchased from Bodegas Croft. I sampled the 1975 Oloroso, and it was a sublime sherry, a superb wine that defies description. Don't over think this sherry, just savor each taste. It is a killer sherry though at 150 Euros, it is a pricey yet justified due to its high quality and rarity. If you have the cash, this would be a worthy prize.

So, as to my earlier question: How do their aged sherries compare to those from other bodegas? Answer: Very well. They are comparable in quality to any other bodega I visited, and the Amontillado and Palo Cortado are some of the best I tasted. So Bodegas Tradición is doing the right thing, and are meeting their objective of producing high quality, aged sherries. So I recommend you seek out their sherries.

As a final note: In the tasting room, on the left hand wall, are four paintings on ceramic tiles. Though there is a plastic plaque describing the paintings, little is really made of them, and you might not even notice them as anything special. The paintings were done by an eight year-old, though he was not the relative of anyone from the bodega. But you probably know who he is, a young Pablo Picasso! Very intriguing scenery for tasting sherry.


markdemey said...

Thx for the update. Yesterday I tasted the Oloroso, Amontillado, Palo Cortado en PX at a tasting in Ghent, Belgium. A lovely, well informed and bright-eyed lady from Madrid guided us. Wonderful sherries, all of 'em, not cheap but worth the price. Dried fruits, nuts, spices, sweet but fresh, they had it all! Thumbs up for this estate. Hope to see theur Goyas and Velasqueses one day!

Unknown said...

How did I miss this, Richard? Wonderful! I visited Tradición a few years ago, and then had the pleasure of tasting them again last week. I will be mentioning them in the article I am writing as we speak for sherrywinesjerez.com.

Hope to see you soon!