Inocente and Tio Diego – Daring to be Different
Single vineyard, aged for much longer than the norm, fermented in cask. If I said any of these phrases to you about almost any wine, you’d probably start to wonder about the price tag. But in the case of Valdespino’s Inocente and Tio Diego you’d be pleasantly surprised. Coming in at only two or three pounds a bottle more than other mass market Finos and Amontillados, and available without too much searching, these are awesome value and offer you something truly different.
I’m writing about these two wines together because, whilst they’re not siblings, they’re definitely close cousins. They are both made from grapes from a single vineyard in the Macharnudo, one of the very finest pagos (vineyard districts) in the Marco de Jerez, renowned for its pure albariza soil. The wine is fermented in oak casks rather than stainless steel tanks. This is the traditional way of fermenting wine for sherry, and makes use of the indigenous yeasts rather than commercial cultures. But these days Inocente is the only Fino to be cask fermented. The two sherries are then aged in parallel soleras (hence the cousins rather than siblings analogy) for unusually long periods.
Inocente spends an average of more than seven years in its solera system which, again unusually, has 10 criaderas. Tio Diego spends an average of over 16 years in its solera, more than half of which is under flor – again unusual compared to most mass market Amontillados which spend a higher proportion of their ageing in the oxidative phase.
So with all this extra investment of time and materials, what’s the outcome when you taste them? Well here I’ll take them one by one.
Plenty of commentators rate Inocente as one of the very finest sherries and I’m inclined to agree. The extra ageing, and I assume the influence of the indigenous flor yeasts, give complexity and elegance. It also knocks off some of the sharp edges that you get in a younger Fino, and for this reason I often recommend Inocente as a Fino for ‘beginners’ – it lacks some of the punchiness that can be a bit of shock for people new to Fino.
On the nose the yeasty, bready notes from the flor are in abundance, but there are lovely honeyed and turkish delight aromas there too. Take a slurp and you’re rewarded with fresh, zingy fruit, plenty of bready flor and a little brininess. It’s fuller bodied than younger Finos, and overall its savoury, but subtle.
The last time I drank Inocente with food was at Bar Juanito – that Jerez institution in the old fish market – and it was the perfect match for tortillitas de camarones. Other shellfish, almonds and jamon would also be excellent with it. Serve it well chilled.
I’ll be honest, I really struggled to get into Tio Diego – Amontillado is undoubtedly one of my favourite sherries, along with Palo Cortado, and this was so different from the characteristics I expect from an Amontillado.
On the nose the aromas are primarily and strongly caramel, with a hint of brandy. This was in sharp contrast to the flavours when I tasted it: fresh, zesty and citrussy with very pronounced flor flavours to start, opening up to hazelnut and a bitter burnt caramel finish. It had a pronounced and unpleasant alcohol burn. I had been warned that it takes a couple of days after opening to reach its best, so I left it alone for the rest of the weekend and then returned to it afresh. This time almonds entered the flavour mix, and the alcohol burn of my first taste had gone. I also experimented with a variety of serving temperatures, and room temperature was by far the best.
I drank it with simple lomo a la plancha, and they were fantastic together.
Before doing this review, I was already a huge fan of Inocente – it’s complex, elegant and delicious – but a newcomer to Tio Diego. Tio Diego really put me through my paces before we agreed to be friends. Valdespino is daring to be different by upholding its traditional methods and I reckon the gamble pays off – these are two wines that really do offer us sherry lovers something different, and they don’t break the bank. Just remember to give Tio Diego a couple of days to loosen up before you dive in – he doesn’t make friends easily!