Now this is an interesting wine. I was looking for a Spanish white and my local merchant, seeing the bottle of Arbois I was buying, suggested that if I liked oxidatively handled whites, I should give this one a try. I wanted to tell him that it wasn’t that I was a fan of Arbois – rather that I’d never tried it and so didn’t know what I thought of it. Likewise, I just wrote about a Niepoort wine the other week, and with so many producers out there, I try not to give any one too much love. However, this is somewhat unique and I’m glad I took him up on his offer.
I’ve done some digging, but just looking at the bottle it’s a bit difficult to discern what it is. We have two names on the label, Navazos and Niepoort. Equipo Navazos is a Spanish Sherry négociant, which in this case means they buy casks of Sherry and bottle them under their own label. I don’t know the Sherry side of the trade very well, but apparently they operate at the high end. Dirk Niepoort is a more familiar name from Portugal, both for Port and as a Douro Boy. Below the names reads “Vino Blanco” which is Spanish for white wine. Under that though it says “Engarrafado em 2010″ which means bottled in 2010, but not in Spanish, in Portuguese. Also, the wine is 13% ABV. So, we have a trans-Iberian bottle of wine, but not obviously fortified, with the names of a Spanish négociant of Sherry and a Portuguese maker of Port and still wines. Curiouser and curiouser.
What we have here, Navazos Niepoort Vino Blanco 2009 , as far as I can tell, is a bit of an experiment. And since I pledged to work through the grapes, region, producer, drink format, I’ll start with the grape, Palomino. It is a white grape of Spain, primarily known for its use in the production of Sherry. It’s known for doing well in warm to hot, dry climates, with high yields, low acidity, and generally low alcohol. It is used to make table wines, though none spring to mind, and few are on the international market. Where it’s been exported from Spain as a vine, it’s largely been used to make fortified wine, such as in South Australia. It should be noted though, that while I’ve started with the grape, apparently Navazos Niepoort started with musts, or grape juice. This is not uncommon – depending on the type of business they run, a négociant can buy in grapes, must, or wine in varying stages of readiness to drink. I’m speculating, but my guess at the partnership is that Navazos handled sourcing the must and then sales/distribution side of the equation, while Niepoort actually made the wine.
So region is tricky here, in that I’m not sure where this wine is made or strictly where it’s from, other than Spain. The notes say the must is sourced from “a historic albariza vineyard”, and then references the 2009 vintage in the Sherry District. Albariza is the white marl soil of the Jerez, and Sherry is essentially an Anglicization of Jerez, so we’re pretty safe placing this somewhere in the south of Spain, in the vicinity of Jerez de la Frontera. If you search for that city on Google Maps and zoom in a bit on satellite view, you can see the albariza as the white patches. While I wasn’t able to recall them both when I faced my fortified wine exam, there are two other soil types, tajón which is calcareous and barro which has more clay. The climate is warm to hot during the growing season, though mitigated by proximity to the ocean. Winters are mild but damp.
Producers – I wrote about Niepoort when I discussed his Douro wine last week, so it’s time for a bit about Equipo Navazos. As I mentioned, the company is a Sherry négociant with a numbered line of fortified wines running the complete range of Sherry, from Fino and Manzanilla to Amontillado and Pedro Ximénez. They’re quite dear, but from what I understand worth every penny. I know earlier I said that I didn’t know them as a company, but actually on a recent stop at a Spanish restaurant, I had a glass of sherry or two that were both numbered and expensive, and now having just checked the wine list of the restaurant, they in fact were their La Bota de Manzanilla No 22 and La Bota de Fino No 18 ‘Macharnudo Alto‘. I love the Internet – I hardly have to remember a thing when I’m online. That said, I also love writing this blog, because the chances of me remembering Equipo Navazos next time has exponentially increased.
Between producer and the actual wine in the glass, I’m going to insert a special section today on winemaking, because this wine warrants it. So Sherry is known today as a fortified wine. It’s made as a still wine, fortified up to between 15% and 22% ABV, stored in untopped barrels under a flor, or protective layer of surface yeast, and if they are aged, most are fractionally blended in a solera system over the course of years prior to bottling. Details of the above vary greatly depending on the style of Sherry. While it may seems odd to be outlining Sherry production for a wine which is not Sherry, according to the official notes, this wine is essentially a retro style of making Sherry. They cite a document from 1801 which suggest the addition of spirit for fortification was only required of wines that were not top quality. Therefore, the wine we have here is essentially Sherry of a style that can be traced back over 200 years. Palomino grapes/musts from albariza soil, fermented in oak with naturally occuring yeast, aged for ten months under flor, and then bottled without fermentation.
Right, so in the glass it’s a fairly pale but distinctly gold and clear. That is, slightly darker than the industry standard New World white wine shade. The nose has some apple, possibly bruised, and a bit of pear. There’s also some honeycomb – that is, not pure honey smell, but with a waxy edge. There’s a hint of varnish as well, which may be the oxidative handling. I’m not, however, getting any nuttiness. On the palate it’s rich and savoury, with more apple and a combination of toasted bread and salt – like someone left a pretzel in the oven for a bit too long. (I like both pretzels and salt, so I say that as a quality rather than a fault.) There is some lack of acidity, but I think I’ve been trained to this flavour profile by Sherry so as not to miss it. Jancis warms in the Palomino entry in OCW that it can produce “rather flabby, vapid table wines” but I think this is an exception to that. It is intensely flavourful and has a very good length. That said, I can imagine the flavour profile might not be to everyone’s liking, so it may not be the next big thing. However, if it is your thing, I recommend it as worth tracking down. It looks as though they’re already selling the 2010, their third go at this experiment, so I’m hoping it will continue for years to come.