*A version of this article is published by the winetourismmag.com
In this pandemic season the nostalgie to exchange with wine people throw me back to my last trip to Jerez. As you might have guessed, I adore Spain, with endless cultural festivals, world-class gastronomy, and renowned wines, Spain is impressive 365 days a year.
Jerez is most famous for their Andalusian horses, flamenco, and, of course for its traditional sherry bodegas. Incorporate a bit of these three elements in your visit and you will be sure to have experienced the true essence of this magnificent Spanish city.
Last autumn I had the chance to participate at the Sherrymaster program. The 2019 Sherrymaster, hosted by Gonzalez Byass, was an extraordinary combination of theory and tastings; a fine exploration of the Jerez terroir. Masters of Wine, Master sommeliers, and wine professionals from around the world participated in this Sherrymaster Course during last September.
Even if sherry is not your particular favorite wine, it is very rare that one leaves Jerez without falling a little bit in love with this city. And once you visit a sherry winery and learned about the fascinating way it is made, your feelings for sherry wine will grow as well. Although these are not the best times for the demand of sherry wine and many wineries have seen their doors close in the past years, you will still be able to find a good number of wineries. I strongly recommend the Tio Pepe winery, you will be able to visit the monumental winery facility and taste its famous wines known all over the world.
The story of this legendary winery dates back to 1835 when Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel reached Jerez. That year he acquired a winery and began producing and exporting their wines. Gonzalez joined his agent in England, Robert Blake Byass, and Gonzalez-Byass was born. One interesting thing is that this company reminds family-owned. Sherry was first referred to in the 1st century BC by a Greek geographer called Strabo and has since been mentioned numerous times throughout history.
The fortified wines of the Sherry region are unique in many aspects, one of which is the triumvirate of grapes from which it is made, the Palomino, the Moscatel and the Pedro Ximénez provide the magic of a Denomination of Origin. The wine is made in the “Sherry Triangle” between Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the Province of Cádiz.
The area’s hot, dry climate and ocean breeze offers the perfect environment for the vineyards. However, within the geographical limits of the Sherry region other grapes can be found which are suitable for other types of wine. This is the case with the Tintilla de Rota. Despite being indigenous to the area, it is not approved in the Denominación de Origen Sherry as it is not one of the three authorised grapes mentioned above.
Tintilla De Rota The Hiddem Gem of Jerez
Tintilla de Rota is an autoctonous blue grape that is native to the sherry region: Rota is a coastal town between Sanlúcar and El Puerto, famous for the wine with the same name and for its US naval base and airport. This in fact is one of the reasons why so many vineyards had to disappear and why the wines are now so rare.
The low-yield vines produce small, round grapes with a very dark skin and a fairly high acidity. It is genetically identical to the Graciano grape. In Andalucía, Tintilla has been present for at least 500 years (that’s longer than the records in Rioja) and the wines were quite popular in the 19th and early 20th century, but given its low yields and currently its modest fame outside of the region, production is limited so it is notoriously hard to find.
The terroir of Rota revolves around sandy, poor soils (arenas). It makes the vines root very deeply, until they reach the clay underneath the sand. This is why Tintilla grapes in the sherry region have not been affected by Phylloxera.
Different types of wines can be produced from this grape of course, but traditionally Tintilla de Rota is started by harvesting the grapes late, and with a few days of soleo (drying the grapes in the sun). A wine alcohol is added to fortify the fermented must (thus producing a vino de licor) and it can be coloured and sweetened through the addition of arrope, a syrup made from must that is cooked and concentrated to around 20% of its original volume. It is then aged in barrels, often in a solera, similar to the production of sherry. Taste- wise this classic type of Tintilla de Rota is roughly in between a Ruby Port and a Pedro Ximénez wine, some examples being closer to the first and others closer to the latter.
Gonzalez Byass is recuperating forgotten traditions with the ageing and elaboration of Tintilla de Rota. The interest for this special and unique variety dates back to the beginnings of Gonzalez Byass. This variety first appeared in the Gonzalez Byass stock books in 1841 and as of 1851 was sold to the Royal Family, in the times of Isabel Il.
The Tintilla de Rota is produced in the Finca Moncloa estate found in Arcos de la Frontera, this project began in the 1970s with experiments with red and white grape varieties in the area. However, it was not until the 1990s, after seeing the excellent results of the first vinifications that the winery decided to invest in the area. In the year 2000, after extensive research and experimentation across the region, the Finca Moncloa estate was purchased.
Recently a few good table wines have appeared Tintilla wines that have not been fortified. You could even say the grape is making a (modest) comeback, in a different, more modern form. Tintilla de Rota may be extremely limited and difficult to find, but its profile is rather unique and deeply rooted in the Cádiz region, so make sure you try it if you have a chance!
This Tintilla de Rota is elaborated following the traditional method used by Gonzalez Byass in the 19th century and described by Manuel Maria Gonzalez in his book Jerez-Sherry-Xeres. The Tintilla bunches are selected when they are completely mature and then sun dried on grass esparto mats for a few days. The grapes are then de-stocked and fermented with their skins in stainless steel tanks for approximately 8 days until the alcohol reaches 5%. After racking off, the wine is pressed and fortified to 15% alcohol. The wine is left to rest in deposit at low temperature for 3 months and is then aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.
This wine shows a dark intense cherry colour with garnet hues. On the nose intense aromas of mature black fruits, spices and cocoa with balsamic notes and elegant aroma of oak. On the mouth the wine shows smooth and elegant tannins with an after-taste of black fruits, caramel, honey and fine notes of oak, the wine is full bodied and complex. Ideal with chocolate desserts and can also match perfectly with savoury foods especially blue cheeses.