Soluqua – whispers of old Sanlucar
Until recently, Bodegas Baron have been flying somewhat below the radar – a well respected old bodega in Sanlucar de Barrameda, which can trace its origins to 1630, but not making a song and dance about it. However in the last year they’ve had a bit of a marketing revolution, launching new products onto the market and revamping the packaging of existing products to make a bigger splash.
So 2014 was the first time I tasted Baron wines. The team had been in London whilst I was in Jerez, so it looked like I wouldn’t be able to visit. But then a chance meeting with their enologo, Manuel Torres Zarzana, changed things and only two days before we were due to leave we found ourselves on an impromptu visit to the bodega.
Now, bodega visits are usually pretty tranquil affairs – the bodegas are cool, quiet and laced with cobwebs, and rarely the scene of frenetic activity. Not so on the day we visited – it was all systems go. In a room off the central patio, the guests of Annie and Chelsea’s Ultimate Sherry Tour were cooking up a storm whilst popping in and out of the bodega (presumably for supplies and inspiration). In the bodega, we tagged along with a group of twelve wine enthusiasts from Peru, Chile and Argentina. It was pretty hectic for a Saturday lunchtime!
Our tour of the bodega was led by Juan Luis Rodriguez Carrasco (one of the family owners) and Manuel, and it was a Manzanilla-fest. We did taste a little Amontillado along the way, but the undisputed star of the Baron show is the Manzanilla. A good friend of mine describes drinking sherry as ‘tasting history’, and that’s what we did.
Tasting down the ages
We started with the sobretablas with great big chunks of flor floating in it, and worked our way through from this youngster to the very oldest Manzanilla of the house – all poured straight from the barrel.
After the sobretablas we tasted the second clase (the name for a criadera in Sanlucar) of Manzanilla from the newly released Micaela range. It was years old and exhilarating like a cool shower with lemon shower gel. It had a sharp salty finish that paired brilliantly with a hard, sharp mature manchego that our new South American friends had conveniently brought along. We then tasted the solera (7th clase) of Micaela which was 7 years old. It was still incredibly pale with a classic Manzanilla nose of saline, olives and acetaldehyde. A mouthful revealed a zingy combination of saline, mineral and citrus flavours.
Then we got to play with the older kids – Manzanilla Pasadas of 8, 9 and 12 years old, all of which were less zippy and much more complex than their younger siblings. The 8 year old was described as ‘the mother of them all’, and had a high level of dead flor swirling about in it. Juan Luis was adamant that this wine is an aphrodisiac, and perhaps it’s that promise that makes it a hit with the local restaurants he sells it to with only minimal filtration!
Our final tasting was of Baron’s oldest Manzanilla Pasada – Soluqua.
Soluqua – brand new but very old
Soluqua is the bodega’s new premium range of sherries, named for the ancient latin name for Sanlucar. The wines in this range have never appeared on the market before, as they used to be reserved for family consumption. Lucky for us, they’ve now decided to share. All the different sherries in the range have coordinating labels inspired by the traditional mudejar tiles seen around Sanlucar.
By the time we reached this barrel, I confess I was less than entirely sober. Very little spitting had been involved, and only a few nibbles of food had passed my lips. However, I knew enough to know this was serious stuff and very different to other Manzanillas Pasadas I’ve tasted. Thankfully I have now had the chance to taste it again twice, with the benefit of a rested palate – the most recent being today. The bottle I’ve tasted today was bottled on 27 August 2014, just three weeks before Manuel gave it to me as a gift at the Copa en Copa festival that forms part of Jerez’s Fiesta de la Vendimia. I’ve kept it a little longer than I probably should, but wanted to wait until I could really do it justice.
As you can see from the photo, it’s incredibly pale for a Manzanilla Pasada – much closer in colour to a young Manzanilla. The nose is a complex mix of slightly sweet almonds, white flowers, crusty bread and marmalade. On the palate the marmalade is really pronouced, especially the flavours of bitter candied orange peel. This is combined with flavours of crusty bread and salted butter, along with hints of blossom and almonds. It’s a soft and rounded Manzanilla with a very light body and texture. There’s an implied sweetness and none of the edge and zippiness of a younger version. However it still leaves the palate clean and fresh, and is decidedly moreish. What it loses in zing as it ages, it more than gains in complexity.
I haven’t come across Soluqua yet in the UK, but let’s hope it arrives on our shores soon. This is an utterly stunning wine with all the complexity of long age, whilst retaining a refreshing drinkability. Bodegas Baron have succeeded in launching a thoroughly modern Manzanilla with serious age and heritage; fresh and new, but with one foot most definitely in Sanlucar’s past. And what’s more, with those marmalade sandwich flavours, even Paddington Bear would approve.
Find out more about Bodegas Baron from their new website.