By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 8 July 2017
If you like your summer picnic wines very dry, pungent, lightly nutty with a touch of salty sea breeze, pack a half bottle of Manzanilla amongst the baguettes to take to the beach.
Manzanilla is the lightest sherry style you can buy. Created right by the dramatic Atlantic coast in the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda, on the estuary of river Guadalquivir just north of Cadiz [Sanlucar beach pictured right]. This style of fino sherry is more delicate and less robust than the finos made in the town of Jerez de la Frontera inland.
The reason is due to the growth of the famous ‘flor’ which imparts a distinctive taste on the wine. ‘Flor’ is a thin layer of Saccharomyces yeasts which grows on the surface of wines in this part of the world. This ‘flor’ grows thicker and more abundantly in Sanlucar on the coast, which is cooler and more humid than Jerez.
After the Palomino Fino grape is picked, pressed and fermented, the wines are left in partly full oak vats. It is then that this strange flor layer starts to form on the wine’s surface - looking a bit like a layer of cream cheese floating on the vat. Crucially, it protects the wine from oxidation and affects the flavour of the wine. Flor is very sensitive to alcohol, so those that grow a thick layer are destined for Finos or Manzanillas ‘solera’ ageing systems and are only lightly fortified – just to 15% - the lowest sherry level.
In the ‘solera’ (sherry’s famous fractional blending system pictured right), the Manzanilla develops its special taste. Interestingly due to the thick flor, a Manzanilla ‘solera’ has more criaderas (tiers of vats with young at the top to old at the bottom) than any other sherry style. Typically you find 9 to 15 criaderas in Sanlucar, compared to 3 to 7 inland in Jerez.
What you are left with is a very pale, very dry wine with a distinct salty taste. There are several types of Manzanilla – those aged longer are known as ‘Pasada’ – when the veil of flor begins to fade giving the wine a nuttier taste.
The name Manzanilla means ‘little apple’ in Spanish, but it is also used to describe chamomile tea in Spain – and this is believed to be where the Manzanilla wine gets its name as some believe the flavour is reminiscent of this type of tea.
If you want to taste two types of authentic Manzanilla, head to the best Spanish wine bar and shop in Scotland: Goya23 in Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Here you can pick up a bottle or sit in with a platter of charcuterie to enjoy mature nutty La Goya Pasada (£7.95 hf bt) or the fine refined vibrant Callejuela ‘Fina’ Manzanilla (£20 bt).
Goya23’s Spanish-born owner Roberto Rodrigo sells wonderful Iberico 3 year old reserve jamon (ham) made from the famous black pigs fed on acorns, which works particularly well with the Manzanilla Pasada style. His Pelotin green olives (marinated in Manzanilla) work brilliantly well as tapas with a glass of the younger Callejuela Manzanilla. Rodrigo also suggests pairing his Manzanilla’s with bitter foods like artichokes or food with unami like mushrooms.
Just remember to treat your Manzanilla just like a bottle of white table wine. Pop it in the fridge to chill and keep it there once opened.
LA GUITA MANZANILLA NV Bodegas Hijos de Rainera Perez Maron
(£8.99-£11.75 bt www.ministryofdrinks.co.uk; www.greatwesternwine.co.uk)
Distinct appley aroma, almondy flavours and a mouthwatering salty tang – the name Guita comes from the Spanish slang for money. The winery owner always used to ask his customers if they had ‘guita’ to pay for this wines, so his winery became known as La Guita: 15%
LA GITANA MANZANILLA NV Bodegas Hidalgo
(£8.99/£11.99 bt Majestic Wine; £10.99 Waitrose; currently £6 bt Sainsbury’s; £7.90 for 50 cl bt www.thedrinkshop.com)
Hidalgo have been based in the same winery in Sanlucar since 1792 – very close to the sea – and unusually own many of their own vineyards. With a distinctive gypsy girl on its label – this bottle certainly stands out on the shelf. This was the lightest in our tasting – very pale, pungently dry, almondy with a fresh crisp finish: 15%
ALEGRIA MANZANILLA NV Williams & Humbert
(£5.50 hf bt Oddbins; £8.50 bt The Wine Society)
A touch richer in colour with an elegant and nutty character and a distinct whiff of hay; quite herby and briny too. A much awarded Manzanilla from the respected old Williams & Humbert firm (who now own the biggest wine cellar in Europe at 180.000m2.
LA GOYA MANZANILLA NV Bodegas Delgado Zuleta STAR BUY
(£7.95 hf bt Goya23, Edinburgh www.goya23.co.uk)
Very distinct salty aromas, a touch herby, dough notes with a hint of sweet raisins, finishing dry and refined. This is an older more mature ‘madura’ Pasada version made in a ‘solera’ of ten criaderas – thought to be about 7 years old: 15%
PASTRANA MANZANILLA PASADA NV Bodegas Hidalgo STAR BUY
(£11.95 bt The Wine Society; Waitrose; Majestic Wine)
If you like your Manzanilla with more texture, richer, fuller with a hint of sourdough and nuts. This very appealing aged Manzanilla comes from the Pastrana vineyard in Miraflores region – serve this instead of your staple white wine alongside richer shellfish or grilled fish: 15%
Join Rose’s Champagne Masterclass in Edinburgh on Thursday 24 August : £40 www.rosemurraybrown.com