By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 24 July 2022

An exciting style of wine is emerging in Spain’s oldest wine region, based on a grape which has for years been considered just a reliable workhorse for the sherry industry.

Palomino Fino has often been written off as a dull, neutral and unexceptional grape in Jerez which is ideal as a neutral base for sherry, but as a table wine it is nothing more than just simple ‘vino de pasto’ for local drinking.

Now thanks to a group of forward-thinking producers, there has been a revival of interest in unfortified Palominos offering us a glimpse into its complexity with some of Spain’s most fascinating white wines emerging from this region today.

“The style is not new”, explained Jesus Barquin of Equipo Navazos.  “In early C18 the best Palomino Fino wines from top ‘albariza’ chalk soils in Jerez and Sanlucar were unfortified; at that time fortification was infrequent and vineyard classifications were revered”.

“What is new today is a renewed focus on terroir and revival of interest in the vineyard which was lost in the region’s industrialisation”, says Barquin.  “By choosing the best grapes from the best vineyards this allows Palomino to show its purity and typicity – and the vineyard character with linearity, sapidity, sense of freshness and concentration in the wine”.

This quiet revolution of terroir-focused unfortified Palominos first began in 2008 when Equipo Navazos put their first unfortified wine, Navazos Niepoort, onto the market inspired and encouraged by Douro wine producer Dirk Niepoort.  Navazos subsequently introduced unfortified Palominos under La Bota de Florpower and OVNI labels; now 40% of their wines are unfortified which is still unusual in this region.

Today about 20 producers in Jerez and Sanlucar make unfortified Palominos.  Many bodegas like Luis Perez, Cota 45, Vinificate and Primitivo Collantes are small, but not all – Barbadillo is Sanlucar’s largest bodegas.  With an important change in the law for Jerez and Sanlucar coming into force later this year, with fortification in the sherry region no longer mandatory, this may inspire others as this new trend develops.

As our tasting showed – there is an interesting diversity amongst these new unfortified Palominos.  Some table wines are made with the influence of ‘flor’ yeast which develops in Jerez, Sanlucar and Puerto, giving Fino and Manzanillo its characteristic nutty yeasty character.  Others focus on biodynamic grapes, zero sulphur, natural methods, amphora ageing or using sundried grapes – and this terroir revolution is spreading into neighbouring Montilla-Moriles DO where Pedro Ximenez is grown.

“The door is open for experimentation, but it is important to remember that it is not the process or even the influence of flor which prevails here, it is the terroir”, says Barquin.  “Now we will see more focus and research on the vineyard which has been lost in the last few decades in Jerez”.

SABALO ECOLOGICA ORGANIC 2020 Barbadillo (13%)
£18.20 The Sourcing Table
Citrus, apples and herby notes, prominent sweet fruitiness with vibrant acid and fresh salty dry finish. Grapes from Tosca Cerrada type of albariza soil near Sanlucar, wild yeast fermented, four months on lees and no flor character; the fruitiest, most approachable style in the tasting.

EL MUELLE DE OLASO 2021 Luis Perez (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£16.20 The Sourcing Table
Slightly nutty aromas with rich peachy fruits, mouthwatering salty minerality, rich texture and savoury finish; stylish focused unusual cool-fermented Palomino from Barajuela albariza with 20% sundried grapes fermented in seasoned oak in the blend.

LA BOTA DE FLORPOWER ‘107’ 2020 Equipo Navazos (11%)
£25 Drinkmonger; Fine Wine Musselburgh; Alliance Wine
Old vine Palomino from Sanlucar’s Miraflores La Baja vineyard, fermented in 600 litre Jerez casks, aged under flor for 8 months; quite dominant flor notes of hazelnuts and yeast on nose, palate is fresh with complex layers of fruits, vibrant juicy acidity and dry saline finish.

£22 Drinkmonger; Fine Wine Musselburgh; Alliance Wine
The wine which started the revolution.  Oak aged for 8 months in 600 litre sherry butts with 4-5 months under flor; yeasty nutty and chalk dust nose, very citric, juicy, zesty palate with very long dry finish and minerally undertones; intense as aperitif, this style works best with charcuterie or shellfish.

SOCAIRE 2019 Primitivo Collantes (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£28 Fion Wines
Palomino from intensely chalky Tajon albariza soil from Finca Matalan near Cadiz; wild fermented and aged 2 years in old fino barrels, topped up to avoid flor developing.  Light toasty honeyed notes, sweet hay undertones, fleshy fruits, mouthwateringly juicy limey acidity and fine saline finish.

AMORRO BLANCO Vinificate (12%)
£18 Fion Wines
Bright yellow slightly hazy appearance, palate is delightfully light with rounded creamy melon, honey and bruised apple notes and tart lemon rind undertones, juicy acidity and dry finish; from 30-45 year old Palomino vines in Marquesado vineyard in Chiclana, wild yeast fermented, aged in fibre glass.

LA HACIENDA DE DONA FRANCISCA 2018 Callejuela (12.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£22 Fion Wines
Palomino from Tosca Cerrada type of soil in Hornillo vineyard near Sanlucar, wild fermented in old 500 litre barrel with 6 months under flor.  This is how Manzanilla was traditionally made 200 years ago. Bright yellow, floral toasty honeyed developed nose with slightly doughy flor notes, very citric, juicy acidity, rich intense texture and refreshing bitterness to finish.

Join Rose’s Sherry & Spanish Charcuterie at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh on Wednesday 9 November www.rosemurraybrown.com

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