Published on December 14th, 2023 | by Ruben0
Visiting Williams & Humbert
During my recent stay in the sherry region, I was keen to visit Williams & Humbert. I’ve been in touch with them for many years, especially since they started to produce some very interesting añada sherry and terroir-driven experiments. Somehow I never managed to pay them a visit though, so this was long overdue.
I already knew the huge brutalist concrete building with its two majestic wooden doors, yet I was surprised to see that once you step inside, you’re immediately surrounded by barrels on albero floor. Somehow I expected some kind of entrance hall or small counter. Anyway, the sheer size and the impressive roof are awesome. Walking forward, you reach the diagonal ‘street’ (half a kilometer long!) that connects all isles.
Williams & Humbert occupies the largest winery in Europe under a single roof. It measures over 70.000 m² and holds around 60.000 botas. When it was constructed, it doubled the capacity of the largest winery at that time, the bodega La Mezquita.
Compared to some other bodegas in Jerez, W&H has fairly recent warehouses, built in 1974. It is built with highly innovative, prefabricated concrete elements. The roof is made up of inverted umbrellas that collect water and guide it towards hollow pillars, which helps to keep the temperature low. Despite being very grey and perhaps a little boring on the outside, I think it looks much more interesting and elegant on the inside. There’s an interesting article about the architecture here, if you’re interested.
The building was constructed for Bodegas Internacionales, the backbone of the Rumasa holding. Later it was taken over by the Medina brothers, who were former bodega workers. The Medina family is still in charge of the company.
Williams & Humbert: sherry & brandy
During the tour a lot of familiar names appear: Dry Sack of course, Canasta, Fino Pando, as well as brandy like Gran Duque de Alba. Some of the brands are specific to the Philippines and other foreign markets where Williams & Humbert has a strong presence.
Like many bodegas these days, Williams & Humbert is highly involved in the cask seasoning business. Nowadays one third of the floor space in the bodega is occupied by new barrels that are seasoned with sherry wines for around 2 years. Then they are shipped to the whisky industry in Scotland, Ireland, Japan and other countries. A lot of casks lying around here are specifically tailored for The Macallan and other Edrington distilleries.
Añadas: vintage sherry archive
Other interesting things we came accross were the Fino Eco and a couple of barrels filled with malt whisky – an experiment to see how this matures in the climate of Jerez. Then of course there is the part of the bodega where the añada sherries are stored. In the last decade Williams & Humbert focused heavily on añada sherry, reviving a tradition to put aside casks of each harvest. Nowadays they have a whole range of vintage Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso.
In the back of the bodega there is also the añada archive, where they have a continous series of vintages dating back to the 1950s. Some of them even go back to the 1930s, but only in those years that a new family member was born. No other bodega can present such an impressive archive of historic wines.
At the end of the tour I was treated to a very generous line-up of wines. We started with an impressive flight of nince recent añada sherries. Here are concise notes of each wine.
Fino-style añada wines
- Finolis 2016
The Vino En Rama that cannot be named Fino as it only reached 14.6% (without fortification). You really feel the over-ripe grapes and short asoleo here. Beautiful sweet fruits in the background, but also a firm flor footprint. Straw, nutty hints, light bitterness but also fruity echoes. Even better than I remembered. Read my Finolis review for my original assessment.
- Pedro Ximénez Vino En Rama 2018
Bottled August 2022 and one of the very few Fino-style wines from Jerez made from PX grapes. A good sparring partner for Finolis, more or less the same age. Plenty of white stone fruits again, with citrus freshness. Less flor than Finolis, overall a bit rounder. Overall the difference between both wines was smaller than I expected.
- Fino 2017 Añina
Statically aged for almost 5 years, a single cask selection from a total of 14 casks. An experiment in which the grapes from different pagos where vinified separately within the same vintage. Fairly complex, you feel the same recipe as Finolis shining through, with a marked biological influence. A lot of finesse and this unique combination of mineral notes and fruity roundness.
- Fino 2017 Carrascal
Different pago, one year older too. Two botas from a total of 14 casks. Slightly more robust and voluminous than Añina (more inland vineyard), with some fatty hints. I prefer Añina but it’s lovely to have them side-by-side.
- Fino Ecológico 2015
The saca of June 2023 (I already tried a bottling from 2018). The first real eye-opener – simply an excellent Fino, very intense. Compared to Finolis, this is more towards a classic Fino style. Overall a lot of pungency and mineral notes, Mediterranean herbs, as well as a great lemon / chalk combo. Less of the over-ripe fruitiness.
Amontillado and Oloroso wines
After these biologically aged wines we moved over to the oxidative wines:
- Oloroso Ecológico 2015
Bottled July 2022, made with grapes from the pago Burujena (in Trebujena). Young and rather unique. There’s a lot of implied sweetness (toffee and caramelized nuts) and an unexpectedly low acidity, to me this is still a ‘work in progress’. Later a firm hint of vanilla comes out as well, with clear echoes of apple pie! Light mineral touches too. A very interesting stand-out wine, at least in this line-up.
- Oloroso En Rama 2012
From June 2023. Nice polished notes, mixed with classic dried fruits and mild spice. A lot more classic than the 2015.
- Oloroso En Rama 2003
Saca of June 2023. Wow, a second eye-opener! This is where it becomes highly Oloroso. Plenty of antique furniture, which I love. Also a lot of spices, light tobacco, refreshing herbal touches and a light touch of vanilla. I tried this back in 2016 already and it has definitely improved further since then.
- Amontillado En Rama 2001
Saca of November 2021. A Fino that was actively re-fortified after 10 years in order to get an Amontillado. High complexity, and a lot of elegance. There’s an intense acidity, balanced with toffee, salinity, mild drying spices, dried flowers and orange peels. Quite fascinating.
Old acquaintances of Williams & Humbert
We ended this magnificent line-up with a couple of old wines that we had before. They never disappoint.
- Amontillado Jalifa 30 Years VORS
A great wine that originated at the old bodega of José Medina in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. There’s Manzanilla in its DNA and it is simply a very, very good wine.
- Dry Sack Solera Especial 15 Years
Not to be overlooked! A very harmonious blend with a very balanced level of sweetness. An old Oloroso Abocado, if you like.
- Amontillado As You Like It VORS
One of my personal favourites of this house. Old Amontillado with a touch of PX, originally reserved for the owners of the bodega. Medium sweet sherry doesn’t get much better than this.
Visit Williams & Humbert yourself
Williams & Humbert offered a number of different tours and visits, including horse shows inside the bodega. Since Covid they stopped doing this, and it’s a little unclear what options are available now. Better check directly at email@example.com or +34 956 353 400.
You can find them on the Carretera Nacional IV, around km. 642 (close to the highway exit towards El Puerto).