In a region devoted to tradition, there is no more traditional bodega than Sherry’s most historic house, Valdespino.
Its earliest records date to the 14th century, but its origins are thought to date back to 1264, when the conquering knight Alonso Valdespino was rewarded with thirty hectares of land, including almost half of Jerez’s greatest vineyard terroir, Macharnudo.
It is Macharnduo that makes Valdespino the envy of every other sherry producer, and it is the source of most of its best wines. But it is Valdespino’s unwavering commitment to the demands and expense of traditional Jerez winemaking that makes its Sherries arguably the region’s purest and most intense.
Ironically, Valdespino’s reputation for uncompromising quality has only gotten stronger since 1999, when Grupo Estevez purchased the ancient house to be the crown jewel in its sherry business. Rather than backing away from Valdespino’s traditionalism, they recognized the pricelessness of the house’s old-school approach and its vast stocks of old wine—and have used their deep capital reserves to strengthen both. With its adherence to Sherry’s ancient traditions, Valdespino is today the standard-bearer for Sherry’s ultimate potential.
Estevez immediately hired renowned winemaker Eduardo Ojeda to be Valdespino’s technical director. The house’s ancient bodegas were so deteriorated they were deemed unsalvageable, and Eduardo’s first task was to move the entire 25,000 barrel solera to new facilities on the north end of Jerez.
Eduardo is a great believer that the soul of a Sherry comes from the biological memory of its barrels, and he took more than three years to complete the task. A team of ten coopers worked on restoring each barrel as the move progressed; to preserve the identity of the great Valdespino soleras.
The Macharnudo vineyard rises from a line of hills northwest of Jerez, and its upper parcel of vines is the highest in Sherry. Its limestone clay soils are born from a band of chalk that underlies the vineyard, and it is this chalk that limits yields and gives Macharnudo fruit its characteristic mineral intensity.
Four Valdespino wines derive from Macharnudo, and each one is marked by the terroir. Fino “Inocente,” Amontillado “Tio Diego,” Palo Cortado “C.P.” and Palo Cortado “Cardenal” are all uniquely magical interpretations of the site.
With Valdespino’s “Inocente,” Macharnudo produces Jerez’s most majestic Fino. The wine’s intensity defies description. While other Finos are fermented in tank, Inocente—like the great Finos of the past—is fermented in barrel with indigenous yeast. It then passes through its solera’s ten stages or criaderas (as opposed to the 2-3 criaderas employed for most other finos). The wine at bottling has an average age around 10 years—doubling or tripling the aging of most other Finos.
Throughout the extended aging, a cap of yeast, or "flor", both protects the nascent Inocente from oxygen, and it slowly sharpens and refines the wine. It is the archetype for traditional Fino sherry; in other words, it’s a wine as unmarked by oxidation as it is marked by flor. And it defies conventional wisdom in its ability to age for decades in bottle, developing further nuances.
For Amontillado “Tio Diego,” the wine is protected by flor for its first ten years in the solera but, as the flor begins to weaken, the wine begins to gently oxidize over an additional five years of aging. This extended aging under flor is unique, and yields an Amontillado whose oxidative character is much softer and more integrated than lesser amontillados. It is a wine of soaring complexity and depth, but with a silkiness that is nearly unique in the category.
Barrels with weak or no flor are culled from the Inoncente and Tio Diego soleras to produce the marvelous Palo Cortado “CP.” The “CP” refers to the original location of the solera on Calle Ponce. It is a wine that sherry author Peter Liem calls “rich, densely aromatic,” with an average age of about 25 years, and that distills many of the qualities of both previous wines in a single package.
The ultimate end point for Macharnudo is the very rare Palo Cortado “Cardenal.” A selection from the CP solera is used to feed the “Cardenal” solera for additional aging. With an average age of around 50 years at bottling, it is an incredibly rich wine, with clear oxidative notes. But it still has the steeliness and minerality that one sees in the young Inocente. It’s a singular expression of one of the world’s special vineyard sites.
Valdespino’s bodega in Sanlucar is the source for its prized Manzanilla “Deliciosa.” As you would expect from a classic Manzanilla, it is both lighter and more saline than Inocente, but it also intense and powerful in the Valdespino style.
The even more intense Oloroso “Don Gonzalo” is sourced from two vineyards, Carrascal and Macharnudo. The famous, luxuriously sweet Pedro Ximeniz “El Candado” comes from an old solera in San Lucar; its 8 to 9 years of aging gives it an uncommon balance and complexity. And Valdespino’s ethereal cream sherry, “Isabela,” comes from a century-old solera named “Viejo Cream,” and rises far above other wines in this category.
Valdespino’s greatest treasures are its VORS Sherries. While handily this can mean “Very Old Rare Sherry,” its Latin meaning is Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum, translated as “Great and Singular wine.”
These are wines that have been selected over the decades from Valdespino’s finest “regular” soleras for addition to longer-aging soleras. The aforementioned Palo Cortado “Cardenal” is one example, but the estate possesses other rarities that rank among Sherry’s greatest wines.
The Amontillado “Coliseo” combines the best of San Lucar and Jerez. It starts as a Manzanilla and ends with long solera-aging in Jerez, producing an Amontillado by which all others are judged.
The Oloroso “Su Majestad” and Pedro Ximeniz “Nino” are similar paradigms for their type, each offering otherworldly richness and intensity.
Finally, a rare Moscatel “Toneles” is only released occasionally, then only a few bottles at a time. Each ranks among the greatest wine experiences in the world.
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