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Tasting sherry with Jesus Barquin of Equipo Navazos

On Friday afternoon, Jesús Barquín of the boutique sherry company Equipo Navazos flew in from Brisbane, Australia, where he’d been traveling, to give a sherry seminar to about 70 sommeliers, wine professionals and wine buyers. The seminar started for him at what would have been 6 a.m. Brisbane time. Tough assignment, but Barquin’s passion for one of the world’s great forgotten wines carried him through the afternoon and into the evening.

A criminologist at the University of Granada in southern Spain and author, with Peter Liem, of “Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla: A Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucía,” Barquín got into sherry purely as a wine lover at first. Then some eight years ago he and his co-conspirator in Equipo Navazos, Eduardo Ojeda, who now works for one of the big sherry bodegas, discovered a cask of remarkable amontillado languishing in a bodega. By pooling the resources of their small wine club — writers, sommeliers, importers and wine lovers -- they bought it and and bottled La Bota de Amontillado just for themselves.

That, it turned out, was the first of more than 50 successive small bottlings of marvelous old sherries from various bodegas in Andalucía’s Sherry Triangle. Now they are not only curating their collection of sherries, they’ve also begun collaborating with vintners from other regions in a series of projects.

To ease into the sherry tasting at the restaurant Scopa Italian Roots in Venice, Barquín poured a Cava they’re making with a producer in Penedès (Catalonia, Spain), with a small dosage of sherry. The bone-dry 2009 Colet-Navazos Extra Brut is aged under flor and dosaged with sherry rather than the typical sweetened wine. Aged 30 months in bottle, with a mousse of fine bubbles, and notes of toast and hazelnuts, it is exceptionally elegant for a Cava.

Together with the dynamic Port producer Dirk Niepoort, they are making a white wine called Navazos Niepoort, which is essentially an unfortified sherry aged under flor with only 12.5% alcohol. It has an appealing bitterness and beautiful texture, and finishes with the taste of almond. The 2011 is their fourth vintage. Says Barquin, “this is the way fino was made 200 years ago.”

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Another unique wine is Equipo Navazos’ 2010 Florpower (release #44). This, too, is unfortified Palomino Fino from Sanlúcar vineyards aged under flor for three of its four years, partly in casks. The last two years are spent in larger stainless steel tanks, which means the effect of the flor is much less.

Every one of the sherries that followed were stunning examples, bottled straight from the cask, just as they are, with only the lightest of filtration. “We are all for complexity and intensity,” explains Barquín, “and at the same time, we like to keep a certain delicacy.” What’s interesting in the “La Bota de Navazos Fino en Rama” from Jerez de la Frontera is that you don’t feel the 15% alcohol. It’s a fino of astonishing depth, cool and warming at the same time.

But my favorite had to be the Manzanilla Pasada #50 Bota Punta. To understand sherry’s solera system, you practically need to be a mathematician. But every wine lover can appreciate the beauty and complexity of this Manzanilla. With every sip, you find new aromas and tastes. It’s like spending the evening with a fascinating raconteur. You want to listen to the wine.

Fino #45, aged over 20 years, and sourced from the oldest fino solera at Pérez Barquero’s Bodega Los Amigos, has a marvelous weight and depth — and what Barquín calls “an incipient amontillado character.” This and the Manzanilla Pasada are both wonderful with food as I discovered at the Bazaar by José Andrés later that night.

In all, Barquín poured nine different sherries. We sipped. We savored. We tried to understand the character of these marvelous wines from a region that once commanded some of the highest prices in the wine world. After tasting these sherries, that fact no longer seems so far fetched. And it’s why sommeliers and mixologists are embracing these utterly unique wines, spurring sherry’s renaissance, according to Talia Baiocchi, whose book “Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret” will be published by Ten Speed Press in mid-October.

Sherry is definitely having a moment. Alexander Stuempfig of European Cellars, who organized the tasting, says that in all his years in the wine business, he’s never had the response he got for this sherry tasting and seminar.

Follow @sirenevirbila for more on food and wine.


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