As you may know, the predominant grape variety at the DO Jerez-Xérès-Sherry is Palomino. The other varieties recognized by the Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Council), i.e., Pedro Ximénez (PX) and Moscatel (sweet Muscat) represent a tiny percentage of the total.
However, there is a discreet winery that has been working with PX since 1729. They normally do not stand at the shelves at the wine shops, bars or restaurants, neither have the fame that some great wineries have. Nevertheless, their products –very rare- well worth the effort to look for them. This winery is Ximénez-Spínola.
I discovered them in Barcelona years ago by accident and kept my eye on them since then. I was marveled by their sweet PX and brandy (high quality – painfully tiny quantities). Later on, I discovered the rest of their products one by one.
I was intrigued to know how it was possible that such an interesting winery was not practically known or present at those wine fairs I used to visit, so I decided to visit them in Jerez. I fulfilled it this spring on my annual trip with my friend Manel to Jerez. Finally, I managed to pinpoint Ximénez-Spínola on the map!
The first thing I noticed was they are just a few kilometres from the city of Jerez. This is common in other wine regions, where the wineries are scattered around the landscape, but this is quite rare when we talk about sherry, as the wineries use to be inside one of these three towns: Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María or Sanlúcar de Barrameda (it is not exactly like this, as several wineries are scattered around the Zona de Producción, but this is a technicality that we will discuss in another post). Second, the predominant soil: albariza (a particular limestone-rich soil) which is typical not only in Jerez, but in the best wine yards worldwide. And third, the small size of the winery itself.
We didn’t arrange the trip well in advance, so we weren’t confident to have the chance to visit the winery that Monday. However, we were lucky. José Antonio Zarzana -the owner- is the 9th generation of this family-run winery. He kindly explained us about the history of the family and the winery. They started at 1729 under the company name Phelipe Zarzana Spinola y Cia and since then they have kept producing wines. At the moment, they own 12 hectares of vine dedicated solely to PX to produce sweet wine and brandy.
They dry the grapes under the sun -this is called soleo system– (they lose 70% of the weight in the process) to produce scarcely 7.000 bottles per year of PX.
Thanks to this process not only the sugars, but also the acids and mineral salts will develop a wine which is dense and luscious but not heavy to the palate. On the other hand, they rent a still to distil two brands of brandy (for every ton of PX grapes they only get 90 litres of brandy!)
The quality of their products is outstanding. According to the Consejo Regulador, they deserve the title of the Bodega with less production among all the wineries of the Marco!he area related to sherry).
We could resume their production as follows:
- Ximénez-Spínola “PX”: 7.000 bottles per year.
- Ximénez-Spínola “Liquor de Brandy”: 3.000 bottles per year.
- Ximénez-Spínola “Liquor de Brandy”:10.000 bottles per year. Great as well, lighter in style than the previous one.
- Ximénez-Spínola “Exceptional Harvest”: 21.000 bottles per year. A light sweet wine, just terrific with foie!
- Ximénez-Spínola “Old Harvest”: 8.000 bottles per year. A “medium dry” as a result of a blend of a sweet PX solera 1918 and a solera of PX 1964 (oxidative aging).
- Ximénez-Spínola Vinegar: : 600 bottles of 37.5 cl/barrel (9 barrels). Unfiltered, unclarified, very particular, low acidity (6º) and strong aroma of staves from sherry butts.
- And last, but not least, a special selection of three brandies aimed to match with the three fortalezas of the cigars (mild-medium-full bodied). I haven´t try them yet, but I will do as soon as they organize something in Barcelona.
In short, I consider that any connoisseur or advanced aficionado should have at least some of these wonderful sweet wines and brandies at the cellar. They are not easy to get due to the low production, but it worth the effort to get them.