09 December 2014

n.d.p. in andalusia: bodegas césar florido, chipiona

I think I know what was going through the Native Companion's mind when she booked us a hotel in Chipiona on our first visit to Andalusia. She likes the beach, and she probably assumed it would be nicer to be 'off the beaten path,' as it were, rather than directly in the sherry town of Sanlucar.

The problem with this reasoning, it turns out, is that Sanlucar, and indeed the whole region, is already rather 'off the beaten path.' If you try to get further out, you wind up conversing with cacti in a ghost town, which is how we spent much of our time in Chipiona. Alone on the beaches, alone on café terraces, alone in the halls of our creepy hotel, surrounded by oil paintings of freshly-killed chickens... The town's geographical proximity to Sanlucar belies its wildly divergent fate vis-à-vis wine production. Chipiona's sandy soils are known for the production of Moscatel, a fortified sweet wine, for which global demand hovers just above nil. Production has dwindled to the extent that Chipiona is now home to just two bodegas, only one of which, Bodegas César Florido, sells any wine for export.

The upswing to all this is that that bodega's current winemaker, César Florido, grandson of the founder, is among the most welcoming personalities in the region. He has a mayoral mien and an infectious enthusiasm for the winemaking tradition he helps to sustain. If he carries on like the fate of the town's wine heritage is on his shoulders, it's because in some sense it is.

The bodega began bottling its own production in 1988 under Florido's direction. Before it had been an almenecista since its founding in 1887. As the rest of Chipiona's bodegas folded, Florido's operation has expanded - the bodega possesses three despachos des vinos in town, and Florido proudly showed us a newly created tasting room, not yet open at that time.

We tasted an array of wines in various stages of completion. Since it was our first visit, I only realised in retrospect that César Florido is among the finest venenciadors I've ever witnessed. The word refers to instrinsically performative art of pouring sherry into a wine glass from a venencia - a spindly rod capped with a tall thimbly cup, used to retrieve wine from beneath a layer of flor with minimal disturbance. A venenciador whips it the venencia over his or her head and pours in a vertical bead into the mouth of the glass.

(I'm reminded of the practice of drinking wine from a porron, something I first discovered as an undergrad in Boston at Ken Orringer's restaurant Toro. I ruined so many shirts that way. What is it with the Spanish and performative pouring?)

Although his reputation is based largely on his unique Moscatels, Florido also produces a Fino and Manzanilla, both from albariza soils. The last stage of the Fino solera tasted from barrel was rich and curry-like, with a nose of dry straw. The same wine tasted from the 5th criadera - i.e. the almost-fresh juice - had a chalky, white peppery personality, along with mid-malo popcorn notes.

Interestingly, although Florido's bodega in Chipiona is, if anything, closer to the ocean than many Sanluquena bodegas, Florido's Fino has little of the beachy saline tang we associate with Manzanilla. Once filtered and bottled, there's little to differentiate it from a Jerez Fino.

The César Florido Manzanilla seems to retain more after bottling: a finished wine we tasted showed greater persistence, and a notably refined nose, with perfumy white florals. Florido also produces a very small amount of Fino Pasada En Rama, aged eight years, which shows promising finesse, with a silvery acid outlining flavours of crême anglaise and tiger nut.

Florido's Moscatels, to put it mildly, are not created equal. I find it's easiest to distinguish them by comparison to the non-Spanish winemaking traditions they most resemble. The Moscatel Dorado is made, Macvin-like, by fortifying briefly fermented juice, after which point the sweet wine is aged in solera. The Moscatel Especial is something of a hybrid form of the above, taking richness from the addition of arope, sort of a vino cotto. Lastly, the Moscatel Pasas is closer to a classic passito wine, made from partially dried grapes, fermented before fortification and aging in solera.

The Moscatels share a sticky, banana-nut-bread character, complicated by what I perceived as a light note of car exhaust... For muscats, they're rather unaromatic. I rather perversely preferred a dry, non-commercialised cuvée of unfiltered Moscatel Florido let us taste. It was fleshy, yet sandy somehow, with a hazy, dirty hue, and a strange tannicity.

Given that the popularity of sweet wines seems unlikely to come out of its half-century nosedive anytime soon, and given the perennial popularity, at least among somms I know, of off-dry wines, I'm surprised more producers of the world's Muscat variants don't make more off-dry cuvées. I would never argue for the extinction of a sweet wine style. But simplistic sweet wines, a category that includes entry-level Moscatels, possess no appeal whatsoever for me. A vin de meditation, after all, should give you something to think about; it should not feel like reading a bumper-sticker.

In between tasting from barrel and from finished bottles, Florido took us on a stroll of the town's nicer beachfront, which we hadn't yet managed to locate ourselves. The streets of Chipiona, or the streets of that part of Chipiona, seemed cleaner and better-lit than their counterparts in Sanlucar, where broad sections of beachfront recall The Walking Dead. I assume Chipiona is a nice place to retire if one's doctor advises against drinking sherry. As it is, though, we soon decided to spend the rest of the trip in Jerez. For Chipiona, alas, has but one César Florido.

Do not stay at the hotel we stayed at.

Bodegas César Florido
Calle Padre Lerchundi, 35
Tel: +34 956 37 02 22

Related Links:

N.D.P. in Andalusia: La Taberna der Guerrita, Sanlucar

No comments:

Post a Comment