Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bodegas Sánchez Romate: Flamenco, Momo & Moscatel

To enflame your passions, you should see a flamenco dance, a specialty of the Andalucia region of Spain. Our group visited El Lagá del Tío Parrilla, a small flamenco venue in Jerez, and you can see the small stage at the back of the picture, where five chairs are placed. This is an intimate venue, a place more for locals than tourists, and which also exudes much authenticity.

Flamenco relates a story and the music, lyrics and dance moves contribute to depicting various emotions and moods. There is little, if any, formal choreography so each dancer improvises, following the rhythm of the music. Each time you watch a show, you are likely to see something different. There is some familiarity as well, common stories that are related so comprehension is easier for those who understand flamenco.

There were five performers, including a singer, guitar player, and three dancers. All of them were very talented, and the show was quite compelling. It was a bit more raw than the previous flamenco show I saw, more authentic. Fortunately, seated near me was Borja Leal and Jaime de Jodar of Bodegas Sánchez Romate, which we were scheduled to visit the next morning. Though I have seen flamenco before, I still don't understand all of its nuances. Borja though explained numerous matters about the dancing and music, enhancing my enjoyment of the evening.

This dancer was amazing, as well as quite beautiful. She was obviously the more skilled dancer, and had superb control. It was a great pleasure to see her on the stage, and she is clearly a woman of deep passions. If you are in Jerez, then you definitely should visit El Lagá del Tío Parrilla for a Flamenco night.

While at El Lagá, Borja and Jaime presented their wines and spirits, including sherries, brandy and gin, to accompany our dinner. Though I'll discuss most of those drinks later, I did want to highlight a still wine, the Momo. The wine is named after the winemaker, Momo Elena, and is made from old Palomino grapes. This was an easy drinking, fruity and delicious wine with some floral notes and a touch of character. A perfect summer wine, or something to accompany seafood. It also costs less than $10, making it an excellent value wine. I had plenty to drink that night, as it was hard to resist all of the delicious wines.

The next morning, we toured the Bodegas Sánchez Romate, meeting back up with Jaime (on the left) and Borja (on the right). The Bodegas was established in 1781 by Don Juan Sanchez de la Torre, a well known businessman and philanthropist. The Romate family would join the company some time later through marriage. In 1954, the company was sold to five friends, and their families still own it. It is one of the few large sherry bodegas that is still family owned and controlled.

Sánchez Romate does not provide public tours, but can arrange private ones with special guests. Borja and Jaime were excellent guides, personable and knowledgeable, plus it probably helped that we bonded a bit during the flamenco night. The bodegas are a combination of tradition and modernity, and the quality of their products shows they are doing things quite well.

They obtain their Palomino from their own vineyards in Jerez but import their Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel from Montilla-Moriles. We first tasted some of their Fino from the barrel, which is aged for five years before release, and it was very good, with a bit of nuttiness to it. We moved onto the Sacristia, where their oldest and best wines are stored. The barrels are generally about 120 years old, and their cooper checks the barrels each day for any problems. As I have mentioned before, the barrels are vital to sherry production so each bodegas carefully tends to them.

The Bodegas has an Old & Plus Wines line, which is similar to VOS and VORS sherries, though some of the sherries are so old that no one knows their exact age. Plus, these sherries were once only for the bodega families, and not public consumption. Thus, they are special sherries, and that was evident once we tasted them.

The Amontillado is at least 30 years old and Borja mentioned that he drinks some of it each day with lunch. I was very impressed with it, enjoying the intense nutty, butterscotch flavors and savoring the lengthy finish. The Oloroso, which is at least 25 years old, had even more intense and concentrated flavors, rich in nuts, caramel, vanilla and spice, with a very long and pleasing finish. Both were excellent and I would highly recommend both.

One of the most unique sherries we tasted was their Moscatel Ambrosia, a very limited production sweet sherry. It had an intriguing aroma, reminiscent of wines made from Muscat and its taste was similar as well. It was not overly sweet, and its complex melange of tastes was very interesting. I really liked this better than most of the Pedro Ximemez wines I had tasted. Moscatel seems to be used rather infrequently in the sherry region, with Pedro Ximenez being the primary choice for sweet sherries. But, I think more Moscatels are warranted, especially considering how intriguing they can taste.

A highlight of our tour of the bodegas was getting the opportunity to sign a barrel. During our bodega visits, we saw many signed barrels, including some by famous celebrities, from Winston Churchill to Lana Turner. The signatures remain for many years, giving you a touch of immortality. So our group of wine writers is now immortalized on a sherry cask for future generations to see. Not that anyone might care, but I think it is very cool.

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