«We are closed», – said the gatekeeper, when I tried to get in through the back door of the Bodegas Lustau. We were driving from Seville to Cadiz, passing through the sherry making region of Jerez, and you know me, I couldn’t miss the chance to try some sherry wine…
Luckily, a girl, appeared at the door. Marta, a sherry wine expert, was doing daily tours at Lustau. She explained that the last cellar tour has just been over,.. and don’t ask me how I could possibly convince her to let us in.
But let’s go back into history…
Bodegas Lustau. History
Bodegas Lustau was founded in 1896 by Jose Ruiz-Berdejo, a court clerk, who cultivated wine grapes, and made wines that he later sold to the major exporting companies. He was an ‘Amalcenista.’
Almacenistas are small artisans who can only produce and age sherry and sell it wholesale. They are not licensed to bottle and sell their wines under their own brands. (www.sherry.wine)
40 years later, under the management of his son-in-law Emilio Lustau Ortega, the company began exporting its own sherry wines. The acquisition by Luis Caballero (liquors and spirits producer) in 1990 marked the start of a new chapter in the history of the Lustau. It gave the company an important financial support and opened new opportunities to further expand its operations.
Lustau is the only winery that produces wines in each of the three cities in the Sherry Triangle. It has two vineyards in the Jerez region, growing Palomino grape, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez .
Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria mark the three corners of Spain’s famous Sherry Triangle.
What is Sherry Wine
Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown near the city of Jerez de la Frontiera in Andalusia, Spain. Most of the sherry wines are made of Palomino grape (Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado). These are dry sherry wines. Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez grapes are used to make sweet sherry wines.
How Sherry Wine is Made
The firs step of making sherry is to create the base wine. Grapes are harvested, crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks with temperature control. For dry sherries the base wine has to rich 11-12% of alcohol (sugar is fully transformed into alcohol). For sweet sherry wines, the fermentation is intentionally stopped to preserve some of the sugar by adding distilled grape spirit. The sherry base wine is now fortified up to 15-17% ABV and is transferred into oak barrels for aging.
Inside the Cathedral of Sherry
When you enter Lustau winery (a spacious 19th century warehouse covering a total area of 20,000 sq.m. in the heart of Jerez) you end up in a cathedral-like space with vaulted ceilings and rough ochre sandy clay soil. The sunlight beats down through the high open windows to the long rows of barrels. The air is perfumed with beautiful sweet aromas of summer flowers, wood and soaked apples. You feel like time has stopped here. It’s quiet and tranquil. Inside thousands of barrels, sherry sleeps under the blanket of flor.
The Solera System
Dynamic aging and fractional blending are what differentiate sherry wine from ordinary wine production. Solera system allows to produce wines of great quality, unique character and consistency from year to year. The barrels are usually stacked three rows high. The lowest level has the oldest wine, and it’s called Solera. The next level up is referred to as the 1stCriadera and it has middle-aged wine in it. The wine inside the 2ndCriadera is the youngest. Only 10% of wine can be extracted from Solera barrels at once, and it has to be replenished with wine taken from the level above. The top level is then refilled with the new year’s wine. So, sherry is always a blended wine, and there is no such thing as a vintage sherry. A good example of Solera-like system can be found in bread making, where portion of the dough is saved as a starter for the next batch. What happens inside those barrels is even more interesting and almost mysterious. Read on…
Biological and Oxidative Aging
There are three different types of sherry aging: biological, oxidative or mixed-type. In biological aging, natural yeast is the main working agent. Yeast settles on the surface of the wine creating a layer of flor (‘flower’ of yeast). Not only it helps to develop special flavors in wine, it performs two other important functions. First, the yeast consumes the residual sugars and glycerol making the wine incredibly dry. Second function of the flor layer is to protect wine from oxygen preserving freshness of the grape and enhancing its natural flavors. Only Palomino grape can be aged under the flor, and the resulting wines are either Fino (if aged anywhere within Sherry Wine Triangle) or Manzanilla (if aged in town of Sanlucar de Barrameda). These wines are usually very pale and dry, light and refreshing.
After biological aging is done, sherry-maker may choose to continue with oxidative aging (without flor). This is how Amontillado sherry is made. If the flor dies earlier than expected, the wine goes through oxidative aging and becomes Palo Cortado.
Oxidative aging gives completely different characteristics to the wine. Wines become rich, textured, and deeper in color. One of the major sherry wines made with oxidative aging is Oloroso. It’s also made from Palomino grape like those above, except there is no flor and the wine is exposed to air through the porous walls of the oak barrels. With time the wine becomes darker and stronger and develops somewhat nutty flavors.
Sweet sherries undergo only oxidative aging, but they are made of different grapes, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel. The grapes are harvested late, so the sugar concentration is the highest. They are then sun-dried into almost raisins, fermented, fortified and aged using oxidative aging process.
Wine Tasting Experience at Bodegas Lustau
It was my first tasting experience of sherry wines, so I began with Solera Familiar Range, that included all types of sherry wines from the lightest Fino and Mansanilla to the more full-bodied wines like Oloroso and Palo Cortado, not to mention sweet selections like Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez.
100% Palomino, 4 years of aging in the Solera system, 15% ABV
Very pale in color, delicate, but sturdy on the palate, with notes of salty almonds and green apple. ‘Jarana’ means party, so you know when to drink it. Serve chilled and pair it with sushi, fried fish and roasted chicken. Fino and oysters is my all time favorite pairing.
100% Palomino, 5 years of aging in the Solera system, 15% ABV
Very pale and very dry Fino. It is produced only in the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the salty air of the Atlantic ocean has a great impact on the vineyards contributing to the wine’s freshness, flavor fragrance and lighter style. Manzanilla sherry is a perfect dry aperitif. It will be great paired with oysters and fish dishes.
100% Palomino, 12 years of aging in the Solera system (biological and oxidative combined), 18,5% ABV
Deeper-colored fino, which has developed nutty and smoky wood aromas, toasty caramel and vanilla notes. Very versatile wine in terms of pairing. Goes really well with tuna, salmon, mushroom risotto, artichokes, green asparagus, any other vegetable dishes and even soups.
Oloroso Don Nuño
100% Palomino, 12 years of aging in the Solera system (no flor), 19% ABV
Deep golden color, powerful and dry, it develops intense aromas of chocolate, roasted chestnuts and a touch of vanilla. It is best paired with game dishes, stews and other hearty red meat dishes. Otherwise, serve it at the end of the meal with hard mature cheeses.
Pedro Ximénez San Emilio
100% Pedro Ximénez (sun-dried into raisins), 12 years of aging in the Solera system, 17% ABV
Mahogany in color, intensely sweet and concentrated. PX has the flavors of dry fruit like figs and dates, and a very long finish. Pour it over vanilla ice cream or have it with your favorite dessert or blue cheese.
100% Moscatel, 8 years of aging in the Solera system, 17% ABV
Very sweet and syrupy with distinct floral and citric flavors and refreshing natural acidity. Great with Pavlova-like egg-based desserts and fruit cakes.
Besides Solera Familiar Range, Bodega Lustau is famous for its Almacenista selection, and Specialty range sherry wines. Among them is Lustau East India Solera PX, which aging process mimics that of some 17th century wines developed during transatlantic journeys.
I’d like to thank Caballero family and Luis Enrique Caballero personally, as well as our guide and sherry wine expert Marta Rodriguez for letting us in into the sanctum of their sherry wine production and showing us the most unique sherry wines Lustau has to offer.
Now, it’s time to try some sherry!
FYI, International Sherry week is here (October 8-14th 2018), and there are a lot of events happening all over the country. Check out www.sherry.wine for sherry wine seminars and tastings in your area.
Learn more about sherry wine production and Bodegas Lustau at their Sherry University.