The story of Equipo Navazos and their La Bota sherries is an unusual one, in that originally there was absolutely no commercial ambition behind the endeavor. This was simply an effort by two sherry-loving friends to get their hands on some extraordinary amontillado that they discovered while tasting at bodegas.
As the story goes, Jesús Barquín, sherry expert and professor of criminology at the University of Granada, and Eduardo Ojeda, technical director of Grupo Estévez which includes sherry houses La Guita and the prestigious and very traditional Valdespino, took a field trip to the Sánchez Ayala sherry house in Sanlúcar. There, they came across 65 butts (sherry barrels) of amontillado that, despite their average age of over 30 years – the last 20 of which had been spent without "refreshing" or adding new sherry to the solera to preserve the flor - displayed an incredibly fresh profile with elegant, steely notes revealing definitive manzanilla origins.
Barquín and Ojenda loved the amontillado so much that they were determined to get their hands on them. So they began to assemble a group of fellow sherry lovers to help them gather funds to purchase the amontillado that so impressed them. In so doing, the two instigated what would become a hallmark of Equipo Navazos: selecting their favorite butts from a superlative solera. The first bottling by the "team" was La Bota de Amontillado, or "cask of amontillado," a reference to Poe’s famous tale.
Since that first "La Bota" bottling in 2005, they’ve continued this same selection and buying process, using their intimate knowledge of the sherry region and particularly exceptional soleras to work with a select group of producers who not only operate in the most rigorous way, but who also allow Equipo Navazos freedom in their selections.
At first, the La Bota bottlings were given only to their friends – or "members" of what was essentially a private wine club.They really weren’t meant for the market, but word spread quickly among the "wine geek" ranks (Rare sherry from exceptional soleras in outstanding houses? Popular?), and in 2007 the wines became commercially available.
Both Jesús Barquín and Eduardo Ojeda want the La Bota sherries to highlight the treasures to be found in the sherry region, and so their names do not appear on the website or on the bottles.
Despite this, much relies on their individual palates. The solera system is intended to institute consistency. Barquín and Ojeda seek out individuality. They focus in on certain butts that show great intensity and finesse. If there’s a consistent thread, it’s one of intensity, depth, detail and elegance. Finding old wines is one thing; rendering them with such finesse is truly impressive.
The Equipo Navazos (or "Navazos team") is very serious about its sherry. They have sharp palates. They make astute selections. And they give specific instructions for the enjoyment of those selections."Proper" white wine stemware is recommended – by all means avoid the copita or traditional, small sherry glass, they assert. And when was the last time you read a description of two different optimal serving temperatures on a wine web site? "It performs best," they say of their La Bota de Fino Number 7 Macharnudo Alto,"at temperatures ranging from 9-10 degrees Celsius, where it shows a lighter and fresher profile, to 14-15 degrees Celsius, where it fully displays its complex and rich aromatic range."
Their limited releases have covered the major sherry styles (focusing on fino, fino montilla, manzanilla, manzanilla pasada and amontillado; they’ve also done oloroso, palo cortado and Pedro Ximénez), plus a cream sherry and two brandies. Production is tiny: releases range from 250 to 5,000 bottles. Equipo Navazos has also recently collaborated with Sergi Colet in Penedès on two traditional-method sparkling wines made under the Colet-Navazos label, as well as with Dirk Niepoort on a series of terroir-driven, flor-aged white wines that aren’t fortified. These Niepoort-Navazos wines shine the spotlight on the individuality of the chalky albariza soils in the region and hark back to the original non-fortified and single-vintage wines that ruled Sanlúcar, giving birth to finos and manzanillas over 200 years ago.
Many La Bota releases come from within the same solera of a particular bodega, though different butts may be selected. Equipo Navazos includes the saca date, indicating when the wine was drawn, which allows the drinker to see the evolution of the bottlings as they age. While popular opinion is that fino and manzanilla sherries degenerate within a year or even six months of bottling, Equipo Navazos feel that their La Bota sherries (and other well-made sherries) actually improve with age. The La Bota lineup proves their point: the wines clearly improve for at least four years after release and possibly (probably) later –quantities are so tiny, and older bottles are so, so scarce on the market, we just haven’t been fortunate enough to taste anything more than four years after the saca (…yet).
One factor that likely contributes to both La Bota’s aging potential as well as to the compounded complexity, nuance and richness is that the wines are either left unfiltered, or they’re only lightly filtered. This is in contrast to nearly every other sherry on the market, which are typically always fined and aggressively filtered. True to form, La Bota’s always seem to show a texture and a level of complexity that’s seldom, if ever, encountered elsewhere. Particularly when it comes to the finos and manzanillas, La Bota’s are nearly always darker than what we associate with these categories, and they have a palpable intensity that isn’t present in the majority of their peers. In addition to their strict butt selection, one has to believe that this lack of fining/filtering contributes to the wines’ overall quality.
You’ll also find special designations like "Bota Punta" and "Bota No" on La Bota labels. In the case of the Bota Punta, this is a designation for a barrel in the end row of a solera that acquires singular – and often incredible – characteristics. It’s effectively exempt from extractions and blending because it’s so uniquely outstanding. "Bota No" indicates that the particular butt had "No" written on it – also to keep it from being drawn from and blended with other butts in the solera, thereby preserving its unique characteristics, its intensity and singularity which only grow as it continues not to be drawn from during periodic extractions or "sacas."
While vineyards don’t assume the level of importance in Sherry that they do in other parts of the wine world, they do figure in to Equipo Navazos’ lineup. The grape from a particular vineyard possess a distinctive potential that can be exploited at the bodega by the cellar master to create a certain style of wine. In Sherry, it’s not only the vineyard, but the bodega, too, that is considered to have its own unique sense of "terroir," which imparts its own signature through the development of the flor. As a case in point: If you were to take a butt from Sanlúcar and put it in Jerez, the butt would lose its manzanilla characteristics and take on Jerez fino characteristics. That’s how profound the influence is.
While other sherry houses have made appearances, the majority of Equipo Navazos’ releases have come from five specific houses - all of which operate their bodegas with the strictest standards of traditional sherry production, have soleras containing very old and rare wines, and which allow Equipo Navazos free reign in their selections. These five are: Miguel Sánchez Ayala S.A. (in Sanlúcar de Barrameda), La Guita (in Sanlúcar de Barrameda), Rey Fernando de Castilla (Jerez de la Frontera), Pérez Barquero (Montilla) and Valdespino (Jerez de la Fronterra).
As for the vineyards, La Bota’s finos (with the exception of their fino amontillado from Montilla) are sourced from the Macharnudo Alto vineyard. This is the same vineyard that goes into Valdespino’s fino Inocente and amontillado Tio Diego, and it’s prized for its altitude and the purity of its chalky soils. Manzanillas from Sánchez Ayala (including, at this writing, numbers 4, 8, 16 and 22) come from the Las Canas vineyard in the Pago Balbaína, which, due to its proximity to the coastline (and surely other as-yet unidentified reasons), produces exceptionally delicate musts.