Published on October 17th, 2013 | by Ruben5
Vintage sherry (Añada)
Vintage sherry or Jerez de Añada is extremely rare, so rare that a lot of introductions to sherry wines will simply tell you it doesn’t exist. Obviously the Solera system is essential to sherry and accounts for the vast majority of production, but vintages do exist. In fact before the invention and development of the solera principle in the second half of the 18th century, all sherry was bottled as a vintage, and the añada concept was still widely in use until the 20th century. It was then largely forgotten but recently there is a renewed interest in vintage sherry and the static development (without blending) in general.
Añadas don’t enter a solera, the casks are filled and then just sit there without being mixed with others casks or without being periodically refreshed with younger wine. Almost every bodega will have a few butts that are kept aside, or sometimes a small solera that is not (or very rarely) refreshed. The main purpose for this is to have a back-up: the wines inside these butts will age much quicker than a solera and this old wine can act as a high quality support for soleras that need a bit of tweaking. However until recently most bodegas didn’t market these wines.
Two large bodegas, who had been putting away a fraction of their butts for separate maturation, started to commercialize vintage sherry in the 1990’s: Gonzalez Byass and Williams & Humbert. Over the last few years, other bodegas have jumped on the wagon as well, Lustau, Tradicion and Hidalgo among others.
Wines that are intended to become añadas are usually produced from the fuller bodied musts. A slightly sweeter wine withstands the oak influence better, and enough alcohol needs to be present. They will always mature in the oxidative way (at least for most of their time), thus producing Oloroso, Amontillado, Palo Cortado or one of the sweet types. The alcoholic strength of old vintages is usually around 20-22°. Oxidative maturation will start at around 18° but with evaporation the wine will gradually become more concentrated. Usually they will be racked into successively smaller casks over time to balance the exposure to oxygen (and limit the merma, the angel’s share which is lost through evaporation).
When a capataz (cellarmaster) thinks an añada is almost ready for bottling, some of them will be sweetened, as such old wines can be really dry and oaky. The addition of a bit of Pedro Ximénez will round off the sharp corners and result in a nicely drinkable, balanced wine. If you see abocado on a label, this means smooth so the wine has been sweetened. Amoroso also indicates a sweetened Oloroso. The best examples are those that have matured further in the cask for a few months or years after the PX has been added. Sometimes the sweetening is done in a natural way, right at the beginning, by stopping the fermentation process before it is complete (the same way Port wine is produced). By stopping the fermentation, a lot of the natural sugars will remain in the most and the end result will be naturally sweet.
Gonzalez Byass has been selecting some 200 butts of sherry every year, from a total harvest of around 20.000 butts, that are kept aside as vintage casks. In 1994 they introduced their Vintage Collection to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first shipment of Tio Pepe. Since then, a different vintage has been selected and put on the market. All of them are wines that haven’t been fined nor filtered and that have been bottled by hand. Bottles in the Gonzalez Byass Vintage Collection are small pieces of art: they are ‘Jerezana’ style bottles, similar to those used around 1850. They have a handwritten label, they’re individually numbered and signed by the chairman of the company. They also come with a handwritten letter with information about the wine.
The first añadas released by Gonzalez Byass in 1994 were the Oloroso 1963 and Oloroso 1966. The year after, the Oloroso Añada 1964 was marketed. Since then, we’ve seen a list of other vintages: 1967, 1969, 1970, 1979. We’ve also seen 1978, 1979 and 1982 vintages that were Palo Cortado. The latest vintage has been the 1982 Añada, an Oloroso which is still available from the Gonzalez Byass website for around € 220. Depending on the vintage, between 500 and 3000 bottles will be available.
A special kind of multi-vintage was the Gonzalez Byass Millenium, a mixture of wines from every decade of the 20th Century (1902, 1917, 1923, 1935, 1946, 1957, 1962, 1977, 1983 and 1992). Only 2000 bottles were filled.
In 2014, the 1967, 1975, 1978, 1982, 1989 and 1994 vintages were made available as a limited edition (30 bottles each) for Selfridges in London. Some of these are re-releases of vintages that already appeared on the market before. The full set of six bottles was sold for £ 999.
In 2015 the Palo Cortado 1987 was presented, a limited release of 987 bottles.
Williams & Humbert
Williams & Humbert has been putting aside one butt of every vintage since 1920, and in the past few decades they’ve put aside up to 50 butts each year. All of them come from the same vineyard: Alamo in the Balbaina area. Some of these wines have been made available through auctions and selected retailers, in a series called Historic Vintage Collection: Oloroso 1952, Palo Cortado 1955 (€ 715), Palo Cortado 1962, Oloroso 1965 (€ 600), Amontillado 1972, Oloroso 1982 (€ 140), Oloroso 2001 and Oloroso 2004. Maybe more. I’m not sure which vintages are available exactly, it’s very difficult to find information, let alone find a bottle available for sale.
Early 2015 this bodega recently presented the first vintage Fino, the Fino En Rama 2006. It is a single harvest wine, aged in a static maturation process. In 2016 Williams & Humbert released the Colección Añadas, a series of three Olorosos (2003 / 2009 / 2012), two Finos (2009 / 2012) and an Amontillado (2003), all vintage sherries. They were sold as a complete lot of 50 cl bottles and were extremely limited. New bottlings could appear in the future – it is clear that the bodega has a great interest in añada wines.
Vintage sherry from other bodegas
Lustau has a small list of vintage oloroso sherries (Añada 1989, Añada 1990 and Añada 1997 so far), all naturally sweet. They also have vintage brandy. Moreover they started bottling single cask sherry in limited amounts. This is not only wine from a specific vintage but also from one specific butt.
Bodegas Tradición have several vintage sherries: Oloroso 1970 and Oloroso 1975 that were taken over from the old Bodegas Croft when they were dismantled. Late 2014 they bottled a Palo Cortado 1975. They are also maturing 1982, 1987, 1991 and 1998 vintages. Most are Palo Cortado or Oloroso, but they have some Amontillado as well.
Garvey has an Oloroso añada 1989.
Hidalgo – La Gitana has an Oloroso añada 1986, a vintage sherry from 12 old barrels filled in 1986 from the El Cuadrado vineyard. The wine matured for 20 years in the San Francisco bodega and 2800 bottles were filled in 2007.
Since 2000, Valdespino has also been putting away casks for Añadas, one each year. In May 2016, two vintages (Macharnudo 2000 and 2001) were released on a very small scale, possibly a test case for more widely available releases.
Confusion and misleading information
Some producers are (sometimes deliberately?) highlighting other years on their labels, indications that can easily be mistaken for a vintage year. Alvaro Domecq’s 1730 series is a good example: the label states 1730 Amontillado but this refers to the foundation year of the bodega (in fact a different bodega, which started this wine…). In other cases, like the Alvear PX 1927, they mean the foundation date of the solera. Dios Baco’s Oxford 1970 is another example. Even though there’s usually fine print explaining the date, it’s confusing and I think the Consejo Regulador should regulate it better.
It gets even more complicated when you look at the Lustau Almacenista 1918 matured by Pilar Aranda y Latorre. It clearly says Añada 1918 at the top of the label and then solera matured by… as well as 1|39 which means it was blended from 39 barrels. This is frankly misleading: it’s either solera matured, or a vintage. The same goes for their Almacenista Oloroso Añada 1930 which says solera 1|1 – a single cask filled by Emilio Lustau himself and matured in the old bodegas in the Plaza del Cubo.
As a side note, don’t confuse vintage sherry with sherry from a dated bottling. En rama sherry can be labeled ‘Spring 2012’ for example, but this is a dated saca or bottling from a solera – it marks the end of the maturation process rather than the beginning.
Renewed interest in vintage sherry
Recently a couple of young winemakers are going back to the idea of vintage sherry. They underscore the idea that the solera concept is a fairly recent invention and not as traditional as we think. They also think the sherry region should focus more on terroir and expressing the unique characters of subsequent harvests by producing vintage sherry. Both ideas had been important until the 19th century but they were lost in favour of the consistency of a solera.
Ramiro Ibáñez produced a Manzanilla de Añada 2012 for Bodegas Callejuela. His friend Willy Pérez produced a Fino Barajuela 2013. Two promising winemakers (see this article for more information) that are in the forefront of the renewed interest in vintage sherry.