Friday, October 15, 2010

Bodegas Grupo Estevez: Music For the Flor

Most of us have heard stories about people playing music for their plants, which allegedly helps those plants grow better. You might even have heard that some wineries play music in their vineyards, to help the grapes grow better. But did you know that some wineries even play music in their wine cellars, to improve how their wines age?

The family-owned Bodegas Grupo Estevez was established in 1974, though its roots extend back to 1809. They produce a full line of sherries and other liquors, having purchased a couple other bodegas including Marques del Real Tesoro and A.R. Valdespino. Grupo Estevez obviously has some significant wealth behind it, clearly evident from their opulent decor, extensive art gallery and large horse farm.

It is a beautiful bodegas, and many of the decorations have a sherry theme. You could spend hours just admiring the beauty of these various rooms. They also own one of the largest collections of Pablo Picasso artwork, about 100 pieces, outside of the Picasso museum.

They also own over 70 pure Spanish breed horses, beautiful creatures, which are sometimes entered into competitions.

For the horses, there is also a collection of antique carriages.

Now let us return to the issue of music and wine cellars. While wandering through one of the bodegas, we heard instrumental music, more classic music but with a Spanish flair, in the background, and it was not for our benefit. The bodegas has been studying the genome of flor, the yeast which is so important to the development of sherry. A few years ago, they decided to start playing music in the bodegas, music specifically designed for the flor, hoping to enhance their sherry. They are the only bodegas in Jerez which is attempting this unique effort.

There are a few wine cellars around the world which are using music in their cellars. For example, the DeMorgenzon Winery in South Africa, plays baroque music in both their vineyards and cellars. Several other wineries, from France to Chile, are doing similar programs. Though there have been studies on the positive effects of music on growing plants, the supporting scientific evidence for music in the cellars is much less.

Wine is a living thing, so if music can affect plants, there is the possibility it can affect wine too, though I suspect its influence on wine might be more subtle. I think sherry has more potential for influence, due to the flor. Flor is a living organism, very sensitive to temperature, humidity and more. Why wouldn't it also be sensitive to vibrations, such as that made from music? It seems logical its sensitivities would extend to music too. Though obviously much more study and research is necessary to determine the actual effects.

What are your thoughts on playing music in wine cellars?

I don't know if the music is responsible or not, but they are producing some quite delicious sherries.

The La Guita Manzanilla brand extends back to 1908. The term "guita" is old Spanish slang for "money" and the bodegas founder used to ask his customers, "Do you have guita?" After a time, the customers began referring to the bodegas as "La Guita." The term "guita" also means "cord" and a piece of cord was eventually added to the bottle, further strengthening the brand name. It is also one of the first Manzanillas to have the date of production listed on the back label, so you can determine its freshness. I really enjoyed La Guita, as it reminded me of lush green apples grown undersea, adding a certain and subtle briny character to the sherry. Extremely tasty, this would be a great food wine, especially with seafood.

The Valdespino Bodegas may be the oldest sherry bodega in the region, and the family has been producing sherry for 600-700 years. Once Alfonso the Wise retook the Jerez region from the Moors, he awarded his loyal knights with land and vineyards. One of those loyal knights was Alonso Valdespino, and his descendants carried on in the wine business.

The Valdespino Inocente Fino is a single vineyard sherry, from the famed Macharnudo vineyard, and is also one of the few finos fermented in American oak rather than stainless steel. Plus, it is aged for about eight years, in a system of ten criaderas, before release. It is crisp and pungent with an almond taste, with more flavor than many other finos I have tasted. A strong recommendation.

The Valdespino Amontillado Tio Diego is also from the Macharnudo vineyard, is fermented in American oak, and has been aged for about sixteen years before release. It had a compelling aroma, and the complex taste was nutty with rich caramel, vanilla and spice, as well as lots of acidity. It also possessed a long and pleasing finish, another sherry I would strongly recommend. The Valdespino Amontillado Contrabandista is medium dry, and has about 5% Pedro Ximenez added to the Amontillado. It is made similar to the Tio Diego except for the addition of the PX. It was smoother and rounder, but with the same excellent flavors and lengthy finish. The sweetness is very mild, and which of these two sherries you like will just be a matter of preference. You can't go wrong with either one.

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