They go by such names as no9 and no20 but the La Bota limited Sherry bottlings are anything but simple. They’re five-star, says Maggie Rosen
Some people love a particular wine so much, they will go to extremes to find it. Others want to help create it themselves. This is what happened when a group of Sherry-mad friends – consumers and wine professionals – knowing that the best Jerez has to offer is more than the sum of its parts, decided to find the very best parts, then blend and bottle them themselves.
Their story started in 2005. Always on the lookout for something interesting to taste, the friends happened upon some butts of unsold Amontillado at Bodega Sánchez Ayala in Sanlúcar de Barrameda that they couldn’t pass up. (Bodegas often have butts of Sherry not yet ready for commercial use, or whose small volume makes it commercially unviable.)
Six hundred bottles later, the group – until then an informal bunch of 40 Sherry lovers from around the world, including Eduardo Ojeda, technical director of Grupo Estévez (owner of Bodega Valdespino and La Guita Sherry) – had acquired the first in what has become an ongoing series of limited bottlings dubbed the ‘La Bota de…’ project.
‘When we started this crazy adventure, we didn’t have a goal other than to enjoy ourselves,’ says Dr Jesús Barquín, director of the University of Granada’s criminology division and a wine writer. ‘All we knew was that there’s a lot of amazing, high quality wine that never makes it to the public. We think it deserves to be shared.’
They formed a company called Equipo Navazos to manage the administrative and logistical aspects of bottling, labelling and distribution. Fans have since spread from the initial band of friends to include a few top wine merchants and restaurants, but the wines are still hand sold.
The Sherries are drawn from several bodegas, and represent a variety of styles – from Manzanillas and Finos to Palo Cortados, Olorosos, Pedro Ximénezes, Creams and even a brandy (see box, p84). To date there are 27 bottlings – 24 numbered Sherries (some still unreleased), and three un-numbered special editions: vintage wines, not Sherries, made from scratch rather than selected from barrels.
One is Casa del Inca, a sun-shrivelled, unfortified Pedro Ximénez blend of the 2005, 2006 and 2008 vintages. It is made by Pérez Barquero in Montilla-Moriles exclusively for Equipo member and distributor Ramón Coalla.
The other wines, the 2008 and 2009 Navazos-Niepoort – table wines from the Palomino grape – are a joint venture with Dirk Niepoort of Portugal’s Douro Valley. Unsurprisingly, he has taken things in a whole new direction, coaxing into this low-sugar, low-acid Sherry variety an element he feels is under-represented.
‘Champagne and Jerez have similarly great terroirs based on chalk, but with different problems,’ he says. ‘Champagne is too cold, and Jerez too warm. In Champagne they solve this with bubbles and adding sugar. In Sherry, it’s done through the flor (a benevolent yeast that forms on the surface of the maturing wine) which is a fantastic catalyst for the fewchalk.’
Niepoort had dreamed of taking advantage of the calcareous albariza soils to make a table wine from Palomino grapes: these wines are fermented quickly and naturally in wood (with no cultured yeasts) and kept for five months on flor, then bottled as soon as possible.
‘I was afraid the wine would taste good for the first three weeks and then oxidise,’ Niepoort admitted. ‘But it seems to get better and more complex as it ages.’
He compares its maturation and taste profile with Savennières, but finer and lighter; neither quite like a Jurançon, nor really a Sherry, but still reminiscent of it. ‘This is the advantage of Palomino being an otherwise useless grape,’ he said. ‘It really is an expression of the terroir.’
Once the bottles for each La Bota release are spoken for, there are no more. So if a similar style is drawn from the same bodega, it will be from a different solera and have a different bottling number. The maximum production is about 4,500 bottles of standard size, yet No5, La Bota de Amontillado NPI yielded just 200 375ml bottles.
‘Each La Bota selection is a jewel; a way of relishing the inheritance hidden in the bodegas of Jerez,’ says Josep Roca, co-owner of El Celler de Can Roca, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Girona, Spain, and a member of the group. ‘It’s a luxury to have access to such amazing wines, which show the world something so exceptional and unique.’
His favourite is No10, La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín in Sanlúcar de Barrameda – the bodega that makes La Guita. ‘It has the most perfect balance of power, elegance, dryness and harmony I’ve ever tasted in a white wine.’ Roca calls the friends behind the La Bota project ‘romantics, who, thanks to their knowledge are the best ambassadors Jerez has had in the last 50 years’.
Its founders are adamant that the La Bota project is not elitist, and while none have yet quit their day jobs, they insist it must continue to be sustainable and self-funding, which means attracting a wider audience. ‘Right now these Sherries are for the selective, the curious,’ said Roca. ‘It’s about showing off the grandeur of Jerez by putting it in a bottle.’
Written by Maggie Rosen