By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 20 March 2021
It has taken a pandemic for people to re-discover the best value wine in the world.
Sherry sales have surged during lockdown and even increased after Christmas into January, as restrictions continued. According to Waitrose’s recent report, their best-selling sherry style in this period has been Manzanilla - followed by Palo Cortado, Fino and Amontillado.
“We have found an increased interest in premium sherries and willingness to experiment and treat oneself in lockdown”, says Tim Holt of leading Manzanilla producer Barbadillo, the first to ship Manzanilla to the UK back in 1827. “Our sales in the UK are up 25% from last year”, he says.
“In the UK about 95% of sherry is normally drunk at home, not so affected by hospitality closures. In Spain, it is the opposite - we have suffered dramatic losses due to shutdown of bars, restaurants and lack of local spring fairs (las ferias) where copious amounts of Manzanilla and Fino are consumed”.
I can quite see why a bone-dry tangy refreshing Manzanilla has become the perfect drink to savour once you have just been released from video conferencing. With its salty sea breeze notes and pungent light nuttiness, this is a wine that can really transport you to the seashore where it is made.
Created in Sanlucar de Barrameda by the dramatic Atlantic coast on the estuary of river Guadalquivir just north of Cadiz, Manzanilla is the lightest sherry style you can buy – more delicate and less robust that Finos made in Jerez de la Frontera inland.
“Manzanilla’s name, first mentioned in 1806, means ‘little apple’ in Spanish, but it is also used to describe chamomile tea in Spain, which is believed to be where Manzanilla got its name as some believe the flavour is reminiscent of this type of tea”, says Holt.
Palomino grapes grown north-east of Jerez are picked, stalks kept intact, pressed with a well-aerated regime with no sulphur added, and then fermented with selected yeasts at 17 degrees C. During the next stage, with wines aged in partly-full oak vats, Manzanilla from Sanlucar starts to look different from Fino in nearby Jerez.
A strange flor layer starts to form on both Manzanilla and Fino’s surface – looking like cream cheese floating on the top of the wine in the vat – but thicker for Manzanilla. Crucially it protects the wine from oxidation (hence the pale colour) and affects the flavour of the wine. It is very sensitive to alcohol, so those that grow a flor layer destined for Manzanilla or Fino solera systems are only lightly fortified to 15% - the lowest sherry level.
In its position right by the estuary and Atlantic, Sanlucar is cooler in summer than Jerez, so thick flor grows all year on Manzanillas in Sanlucar. To promote this special flor, bodegas in Sanlucar are positioned to catch as much seabreeze as possible. Their elevated position and high roofs are like cathedrals, particularly Barbadillo’s La Arboledilla bodegas, designed to catch cool humid Poniente west winds from the Atlantic.
“Flor is a very delicate organism, but it grows thickest in the coolest windiest bodegas where we age our young wines to give them a big hit of flor in their youth”, says Holt.
“Wind regime is all important. If someone built a block of flats in front of one of our bodegas this would make more impact on flor growth than climate change”, says Holt.
In the solera, sherry’s special fractional blending system, the Manzanilla develops its special delicate taste under thick flor. At Barbadillo, winemaker Montse Molina likes to protect flor by only stacking barrels three-high in soleras to keep all levels cool - whereas in Jerez you find Fino soleras stacked higher with four to five barrels.
What you are left with is an exquisitely pale, bone dry wine with a breezy salty tang. There are two types of Manzanilla - those aged longer are Pasadas, when the veil of flor begins to fade from extra two years ageing giving rich nutty flavours – a delicious accompaniment to asparagus, artichokes, salty olives or seafood. But just remember that both Manzanilla styles should be treated like a dry white wine – chilled it in the fridge and kept there once opened.
MANZANILLA SOLEAR NV Barbadillo (15%) ***GREAT VALUE***
£5.95 hf bt The Wine Society; £10.99 bt Waitrose; Wine Line Scotland
Phenomenal value for a six year old wine. Pale saline, subtle camomile with yeast notes – smooth & tangy, bone dry palate with no over-riding acidity – just easy to drink. Delicious salty match with olives or smoked salmon.
MANZANILLA PASADA PASTRANA NV Hidalgo (15%)
£11.99 bt Majestic Wine; Waitrose; Villeneuve Wines
From Pastrana vineyard on the crest of a hill near the sea in the Miraflores vineyard zone, this is an aged Manzanilla with longer in American oak than Hidalgo’s standard manzanilla; vibrant freshness, orange peels, almonds and saline finish.
MANZANILLA PASADA ‘PASTORA’ EN RAMA NV Barbadillo (15%) ***STAR BUY***
£10.99 hf bt Fine Wine Co Musselburgh; Curious Liquids, Glasgow; Taurus Wines
Made from a continuation of Solear’s solera with extra two years when flor thins out to give a nutty oxidative note replicating the C19 style straight from the cask, En Rama. Camomile notes, richer intensity hinting at Amontillado character. Serve with cured meats, sushi or scallops.
MANZANILLA ‘I THINK’ EN RAMA 2020 Equipo Navazos (15%)
£11.95-£12.99 hf bt Drinkmonger; Virgin Wines
Youthful Manzanilla with tangy marine notes, green olive and bitter almond. From La Guita’s solera and winemaker Eduardo Ojeda’s personal selection of 60 casks with best flor yeasts from 12,000 at his disposal. Bottled straight from the cask at just over 4 years old.
MANZANILLA ORIGEN NV Callejuela (15%) ***STAR BUY***
£19.95 bt Drinkmonger
Delightful artisan Sanlucar bodega where founder El Banquito Francisco Blanco Martinez’ sons Pepe and Paco are taking Callejuela to a new level with winemaker Ramiro Ibanez – only using grapes from their own vineyards. Pale gold, herby, lemon, briney earthy notes with sea-breeze freshness and piquancy.
Join Rose’s 'Looking East' virtual wine tasting (Hungary, Slovakia, Romania & Greece) on Fridays 16 & 23 April in association with Corney & Barrow www.rosemurraybrown.com