Now is an exciting time for Sherry on several fronts. There seems to be a plethora of new quality conscious sherry businesses opening up in Jerez these days and the already established old guard are experiencing a sea change as an enthusiastic and younger generation take the reigns, unfettered by a ‘70s heyday hangover when the UK last fell in love with the region. A new determination for quality has coincided perfectly with an increased demand in London for tapas style foods with a flurry of excellent Sherry bars opening up as a result, Bar Pepito and Barrafina to name but two. To top it all off the recent comprehensive Sherry article by Luis Gutierrez in the Wine Advocate has seen a surge of interest as clients are rediscovering or realising for the first time what great value there is to be had in the world of Sherry.
Toro Albala is at the forefront of this new wave of enthusiasm. Not actually a new Bodega (they were established in 1844) and not even in Sherry’s true heartland between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria(they are situated in Montilla-Moriles some 200km to the east) but with their 100 point rating in the Wine Advocate, and several other excellent scores to boot, they have sparked a Sherry feeding frenzy that sees no signs of abating just yet. So when I was offered the chance to attend an 8 vintage vertical organised by the UK importer going back to 1911 and including the 100 point 1946, I certainly didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
It was a miserable, wet morning but I was immediately put in a positive frame of mind as I entered Vinoteca’s cosy private dining room to see samples of a deep amber liquid being poured into glasses around the table. Antonio Sorgato Godeau (the export manager) was already extolling the virtues of his wines and explaining the more technical aspects of production to the inquisitive few, his thick Spanish accent and broken English only adding to the anticipation of what was to come, but before I talk about the wines here is just a little background for you…..
Bodegas Toro Albala is located in Aguilar de la Frontera, 50km south of Cordoba in the heart of Montilla-Moriles. The core of the winery is situated within an old electricity plant (some say this is what gives the wines their energy!!) and there is an extensive tunnel system beneath that is ideal for the ageing and conserving of their various bottlings. Owner Antonio Sanchez is somewhat of an eccentric, and an avid collector as well as entrepreneur. His winery consists of two museums full of artwork as well as archaeological and wine artefacts. There is even a skeleton in shackles supposedly excavated from his extensive holdings. Unlike the poor skeleton however, Antonio Sanchez has managed to break free from the chains of the somewhat cloying, sickly sweet PXs that Montilla-Moriles has become known for and has created something altogether more exhilarating and worthy of seeking out.
2010 Toro Albala Don PX Dulce de Pasas
“2 years in stainless steel tanks before bottling. This is a lovely start to the tasting, it has a deep amber hue and gives an immediate hit of exotic fruit notes and soft juicy mango. It is high toned and lively but with a rich treacly core, oily texture and raisony depths. A grapey freshness pervades the palate to keep things interesting before finishing with a lovely hit of dates and prunes in the length. This has 400grams of sugar per litre so it is not for the faint hearted. Recommended with some quality blue cheese, perhaps the Spanish Cabrales.” 91pts BI
1983 Toro Albala Don PX Gran Reserva
“Bottled December 2012. Despite being barrel aged the ‘83 is totally opaque save for a thin deep brown rim. This is unbelievably impressive, so much intensity and depth yet also with zingy white pepper top notes. There are so many layers here I feel like I’m in the middle of a game of pass the parcel. An almost meaty quality to the palate partners with smooth dark chocolate, engine oil, dark wood, earth and brown sugar and finishes on a big textured and seductive crescendo.” 93pts BI
1976 Toro Albala Don PX Reserva Especial
“Bottled in 2009, there were only 11,000 bottles made of this opaque, almost impenetrable offering. The high toned white pepper notes of the ’83 are again in evidence but a little more integrated and taking on a spicier mouthfeel. There is an almost vegetal concentration here with rich brown sugar and more of that engine oil character so redolent of PX. Though still huge it is beginning to show touches of exotic fruits that helps to open it up on the palate combining with a salty tang to the finish from the addition of over 50 year old Amontillado. This is serious kit.” 94pts BI
1962 Toro Albala Don PX Reserva Especial
“It is amazing how each vintage tasted is so different yet brilliant in their own way. Bottled in 2011 this is drinking absolutely beautifully. High toned and vibrant, it reeks of expensive aftershave – tobacco, leather and earthy cocoa combines with espresso coffee and toffee notes. This all leads onto an open finish that brings soft muscovado sugar and warming alcohol to the party.” 95pts BI
1949 Toro Albala Don PX Reserva Especial
“Bottled in September 2008. The ’49 has a more elegant open knit vibe to it. The flavours have evolved from the intensity of youth into deliciously moreish notes of Demerara sugar and caramel that intermingle with exotic notes of soy, balsamic and cedar. The Amontillado added here is over 80 years old itself and the salty, savoury edge that it imparts is a delight. Dark chocolate liquid caramels are a good analogy here.” 99pts BI
1946 Toro Albala Don PX Convento Seleccion
“Hugely intense with immediate impressions of treacle tempered by warming dark wood notes. This is big in comparison to the other older vintages, bursting at the seams with exotic fruit notes of candied mango and orange peel infused with warm cinnamon and clove and all wrapped up in a thick chocolate duvet. Then almost out of the blue there appears a savoury touch that focuses the finish before being usurped by a big wave of velvety textured richness.” 99pts BI
1939 Toro Albala Don PX Reserva Especial
“In Franco’s first year as dictator of Spain Toro Albala produced a more delicate styled offering. Bottled in 1997 and apparently completely unfiltered the glass offered up aromas of hazelnuts, fudge and toffee in a gentle but defined manor. Texturally seamless the sweet aromas were joined by notes of espresso and melted Demerara sugar. A long balanced finish, smooth as you like but all expressed through an almost timid persona.” 93pts BI
1911 Toro Albala Don PX Reserva Especial
“This was a quite unbelievable treat considering only 106 bottles were ever produced and about half of those were kept for the family. There is apparently the odd bottle around in the market today but they are probably listed for sale alongside sets of hens teeth and unicorn horns, so if you see any snap them up. Bottled in 2003 this has a totally different feel to any of the others. First up were notes of moist dessicated coconutfollowed by an arboreal character that brought to mind tropical rainforests and early morning dew. The medium bodied palate offered more delicate chocolate appeal as well as a pleasant hit of liquorice and a little black pepper in the mix. A fascinating glass of history and a fitting end to a fascinating tasting.” 94pts BI
Many thanks to Michael, Antonio and the organisers of this great tasting.
Viva the Sherry Renaissance!
*Title quote spoken by Maggie Smith as Joyce Chilvers in Alan Bennett’s A Private Function