Tuesday, July 4, 2017

2016 Valdespino Ojo de Gallo Palomino Fino: A Sherry-Like Still Wine

Combine the Eye of the Hare with the Eye of the Rooster and produce vinous magic!

What legerdemain am I referring to? It involves a Spanish wine region, a desirable soil, a famed terroir, and a grape commonly used in producing fortified wine. They all combine to produce an intriguing still white wine, an uncommon practice but one which might pave the way for more producers to consider this possibility.

When I visited the Jerez region, one of my visits involved Grupo José Estévez, a Spanish wine company with roots back to 1809 when they aged Sherry and Brandy. For more background on this company, please check out my prior post about this visit, Bodegas Grupo Estevez: Music For the Flor. As an interesting aside, the Bodega plays music for the Sherry in their barrels, hoping to positively impact the flor. The Grupo owns several other bodegas, including Sherry producer Bodega Valdespino.

Bodega Valdespino may be the oldest sherry bodega in the region, and the family has been producing sherry for over 700 years, extending back to the 13th century. Once King Alonso the Wise retook the Jerez region from the Moors, he awarded his loyal knights with land and vineyards. One of those loyal knights was Alfonso Valdespino, and his descendants carried on in the wine business.

With its holdings, Grupo Estévez owns about 800 hectares of vineyard in the Marco de Jerez, with 256 hectares situated in the famed Macharnudo Pago, located about 5 kilometers northeast of Jerez. Sometimes called the "Montrachet of Jerez," this region has a high elevation, about 135 meters above sea level, and its soil is Albariza, pure chalk limestone, giving its wines a distinctive chalky character. Albariza is considered the best and most desirable type of soil in the Jerez region. Within the Macharnudo Pago, there is also a sub-area known as Macharnudo Alto ("High Macharnudo"), which is located at the highest elevation of that estate.

The main grape in this region is the Palomino Fino, which is used primarily to produce Sherry, from Manzanilla to Palo Cortado. It is known by a number of other names, including Ojo de Liebre ("eye of the Hare"). For more information on this intriguing grape, please check out my prior article, The Mystery of Palomino. As I noted in that article, Palomino Fino is sometimes used to make still wines, but that remains rare. So, when I recently found a new still wine, made from Palomino Fino, I was intrigued.

The 2016 Valdespino Ojo de Gallo Palomino Fino ($15.99), a Vino de la Tierra de Cadiz, began as an experiment, as Valdespino spent about five years vinifying Palomino Fino from various parcels in the Macharnudo Pago, trying to determine which parcel might produce the best still wine. Eventually, they decided that the Ojo de Gallo ("Eye of the Rooster") parcel, in the Macharnudo Alto, was the best. The Palomino Fino vines, cultivated organically, are about 20-25 years old, and harvesting is done by hand. Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts, and then it is aged for about 6 months on the fine lees.

The Ojo de Gallo, with a 12% ABV, has a nice golden color and the nose reminded me immediately of a Fino Sherry. On the palate, it also was reminiscent of Fino Sherry with a bright salinity, citrus flavors, a strong minerality backbone and savory notes. It was crisp and very dry, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. It was fresh, elegant and complex, an intriguing wine that certainly shows the potential for Palomino Fino in still wines. Highly recommended!

I picked up this wine at Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose and you too can find it there, at least until it sells out. 

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