Trendsetting and tradition – a visit to Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla
This small boutique bodega in the heart of Jerez makes some pretty awesome wines. A relatively young producer – the bodega began only a few decades ago, but the founder’s family’s involvement in the business goes back to 1837. The bodega’s commitment to quality over quantity bucked the trend of other makers at the time, and that quality depended on traditional rather than industrial processes.
It started life in a small bodega on Calle Jardinillo, purchased from the brandy and sherry giant Domecq.
The bodega produces two ranges of sherries: Classic and Antique. It also produces Reserva and Gran Reserva brandies. They’re not into doing things quickly or cheaply, so every sherry and brandy spends longer in the barrel than the regulator requires, and production is in small batches. Wines are only minimally filtered, with no clarification agents. This is the old traditional way to make sherry, but was pretty unusual at the time the bodega began.
Rey Fernando de Castilla was also the first bodega to use clear bottles for its sherries – to show the fantastic colour and richness of its wines. The Antique range is hand bottled on site.
We tasted the full range of Antique sherries and Solera Gran Reserva brandy. As the only two visitors, we had a pretty bespoke tour and lots of time to ask questions. There are no gimmicks or visitor centres here, just incredibly knowledgeable and passionate people making great wine!
Most of our tasting was straight from the barrel in the bodega, which is also a bit different. Only the fino was served in the tasting room, but I’ll come to that later!
Antique Amontillado was nutty with a hint of toffee on the nose. It was fabulous in the mouth – dry and nutty with none of the sweetness of its smell. A little citrus, a little savouriness and a lot of punch. Fernando our guide suggested it could even hold its own against a mild chicken curry. I’ll be trying that when I get home!
The Oloroso was complex and rounded both to smell and taste, and again had lots of lovely roasted hazelnut flavour. Less punchy, more gentle on the palate and yet robust enough to stand up to some rich, meaty food pairings.
And then, and then…. The wine that bodega owners and staff used to keep for themselves. The rib-eye steak of the sherry world: the Palo Cortado.
Wow! Just wow! Now I admit I’m a Palo Cortado fan, but this really is the cat’s pyjamas. Best described for simplicity as half way between an amontillado and an oloroso, but a creature altogether deliciously different.
Complex salted caramel and nuts on the nose and a fabulously dry, rounded and complex flavour: tangy and citrussy like the Amontillado but with more depth and a long long finish. Sensational.
Finally we tasted the Pedro Ximenez which had the usual black treacliness of a PX but more subtlety and less jaw-aching sweetness than many. As Fernando aptly put it
“it’s really not that sweet … for something with a 90% sugar content!”
A short dawdle across the lovely patio took us to the brandy bodega.
Here we tried the Solera Gran Reserva brandy at three stages in its evolution – at the end the Holanda process which prepares the grape alcohol to be made into brandy, at 20 years of maturation and at the end of its time in the barrel (40 years). Most Jerez brandies are made in old PX barrels, which imparts a characteristic sweetness. But here they use new American Oak barrels, so there is no hint of a previous resident in the flavour. Consequently the brandies are much more similar to Cognac and Armagnac than to most Brandy de Jerez.
We finished our visit in the tasting room with another trendsetting traditional wine – Antique Fino. The bodega’s founder wanted to produce a fino the old way: longer in the barrel with little or no filtration before bottling. At the time, the trend was for super pale, crystal clear fino. Of course now many bodegas produce ‘en Rama’ finos which are similar in style to this one.
The Antique Fino is much darker in colour than a typical fino (comparison shot below) and has a much stronger, yeastier smell.
Filtration removes many of the flor particles, so this minimally filtered fino retains much more of the flor’s characteristics. To taste, it is savoury with a strong hint of crusty bread. A finish of buttered toast left me wanting more.
UK readers: as well as being available in a number of good independent wine shops, Rey Fernando de Castilla sherries are available online from Virgin Wines and Simply Wines Direct.