I was recently asked what my ideal holiday would be (clearly I am not the only one eager to get past the C word and get on to holiday plans!). The perfect combination would be horse racing for the husband, and manzanilla sherry (my favourite tipple) for me.
As luck would have it, we can apparently combine both on the beach at Sanlucar de Barrameda in Andalucia. Every August, Spain’s most ancient horse races are held there, viewed by spectators with canas of manzanilla in hand.
My favourite manzanilla is manzanilla pasada. However, I find it hard to explain its appeal, perhaps because its aroma profile is a relative rarity.
So I have decided to analyse my most recent purchase, Barbadillo’s Pastora, a Manzanilla Pasada En Rama, 2017, in order to understand why this wine tastes (and appeals to me) as it does.
The wine is a bright golden straw colour, with pronounced aromas of toasted almonds, straw, more than a hint of marmite (yeastiness), herbs, brine, and a fruit character which I cannot pinpoint – somewhere between baked lemon and sharp cooking apple. It is dry, slightly bitter and very savoury, full bodied with 15% abv and a hint of tannic structure, but it is also very refreshing, so very well balanced. It has a long tangy finish – it is quite a character!
Barbadillo tell us on the bottle that the wine has pungent yeast, nut and chamomile flavours. The word “manzanilla” means chamomile in Spanish (amongst other things, including the lower part of a beard!), and chamomile is reputed to be an important USP for manzanilla wines.
It has also been stated that “manzanilla” means “small apples”. Linguists will beg to differ, but my fruit dilemma in the tasting note above is significant because manzanilla is also said to have a “peculiar and attractive crab-apple flavour” (A Dictionary of Wine, Andre Simon 1935). Is this therefore why I was somewhere between baked lemon and Bramley in my fruit description?
The yeasty character comes from the fact that manzanilla is a type of fino sherry in which a layer of flor, or yeast, has been allowed to form on top of the wine. This protects the wine from oxidative ageing, and allows toasty yeast aromas to develop. Manzanilla has to be aged in the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Andalucia which has a relatively mild climate. This means that unlike elsewhere, the flor remains intact all year round, and is relatively thick. Manzanilla is therefore the lightest of all sherries, and ultra dry.
The “brine”, or salinity, comes from the coastal location of the warehouses where manzanillas are stored, again, a unique feature of this type of fino sherry. A wine from the same palomino grapes aged inland will not have the same character.
The wine is also higher in acidity than other finos, and more refreshing, at least partly because the palomino grapes used are often picked when they are less ripe than for other finos.
As with all sherries, manzanillas are blended using the “solera” fractional blending system i.e. maturation in sherry “butts” or casks, such that some wine from each butt is removed at intervals, and replaced with younger wine from the previous “criadera”. However, manzanillas pass through roughly double the usual number of criaderas before release. This is said to increase exposure to oxygen each time which benefits the maturation of the wine – some say the more criaderas, the better.
Most manzanillas we encounter are very pale, young, fresh and light bodied. I love these too. However, my preferred pasada version has matured for longer such that the flor has died off. This means the wine has a chance to age oxidatively as well, so that it becomes full bodied, straw coloured, and develops the nutty character I described. It is the manzanilla equivalent of a dry fino amontillado.
The wine I tasted is very tangy and structured, with pronounced aromas. It is not subtle, but it is well balanced. This is presumably because it is En Rama, i.e. not filtered or treated. The benefit of this is that the full flavour profile has not been stripped out, as this wine demonstrates. The supposed down side is that the wine is relatively unstable. It will become less appealing if it sits on a wine shop shelf. En Rama sherries must therefore be consumed within a few months of bottling. Mine was bottled this year – and as we have only a few days of December left, I might as well get it drunk…..
So there you have it. But how to enjoy it? Barbadillo recommend drinking it with shellfish and “all things salty”. My preference is to sip and savour each drop as an aperitif.
As to glassware, my sherry lecturer Javier Hidalgo (his family’s famous manzanilla brand is La Gitana – he signed a copy of his book “Manzanilla” for me – see photo!) firmly told us to forget our tiny sherry glasses. Manzanilla is a wine, and deserves to be appreciated in a white wine glass (see top photo)! Serve lightly chilled so as not to mask the range of aromas. It is available from The Wine Shop in Winscombe in a handy 37.5cl bottle, so there are no excuses for not polishing it off promptly before it loses its freshness.
Maybe I will get to try some straight from the cask on an Andalucian beach in August 2018. In the meantime, time to get the nutcracker out so I can savour my manzanilla pasada with seasonal nuts.