Wine of the Year #1: Joe's Pick
Valdespino Fino "Inocente"
Ageworthy, Single-Vineyard, World-Class Sherry
Even for the educated and passionate wine-drinking public, sherry has been essentially ignored, misunderstood, mocked and just about entirely forgotten.
It's time to change that.
The situation is troubling because sherry is one of the most unique and compelling vinous expressions on the planet.
The silver lining is that, because it's been so drastically forgotten, today the wine is also illogically, bizarrely, incomprehensibly cheap.
My Wine of the Year, Valdespino's Fino Inocente, exemplifies this: a single-vineyard sherry from one the region's absolute best vineyards and best bodegas. It has an average age of ten years - whereas most finos are only three to five
Starting with the single-vineyard status: It's a rare thing in sherry country, where most wines are blends. Inocente comes exclusively from Macharnudo Alto, the highest altitude vineyard in the region at 140 meters above sea level. The renown of the vineyard has not only to do with the altitude, but also with the purity and balance of its chalk soils.
|The Macharnudo Alto is one of Jerez's greatest sites.|
Valdespino is a house where no corners are cut and where quality is pursued to the utmost. They are the last bodega, for example, that still ferments in oak barrels (everyone else ferments in large quantities in more economical steel tanks). You can read more about the house in our profile.
This is all to say that Inocente is really special stuff. Cult sherry group La Bota selects its fino from Valdespino's Inocente solera. It's also worth mentioning that Valdespino's technical director is Eduardo Ojeda. Along with Jesús Barquín, he's the force behind La Bota. He's considered one of the sharpest intellects - and palates - in sherry.
During my visit to Jerez this year, I got to taste Inocente down the ten criaderas finally reaching the oldest wines in the solera. It was fascinating to experience the clear signature that emerged as the wine grew more refined and concentrated with age. Inocente shows a very unique, distinctly chalk-imbued power married to lovely elegance. There are clear saline notes and a citrusy acidity that courses through the sherry along with almond aromas and flavors.
The special four-pack pricing today is an informed slap in the face to the idea that finos don’t age: Ojeda himself, when he shows the wine, prefers bottles with at least four years of bottle age. Stuff a few in the cellar. An Inocente tasted recently from an 08 bottling proved the wisdom of aging the wine.
This is a dry, super-fine yet powerful, wickedly complex wine that I think (and this is not in the least bit hyperbolic) can easily match and overwhelm, in any qualitative manner you could dream up, bottles of wine two, three, four and five times the price.
This situation underlines the observation that one of the GREAT wine regions of the world is in a dire state. My trip through sherry was both compelling and disconcerting. The wines were amazing, but the state of affairs was frightening. Case in point: I asked where Munive, one of the most historically renowned vineyards, was and discovered it had been gutted and turned into a golf course. We're talking about the equivalent of Clos de la Roche disappearing!
One has to worry whether the four-decade-long slump that the region is currently in will leave the landscape forever changed. Choosing Valdespino's Fino Inocente for my Wine of the Year has as much to do with the wine's quality - which is very, very high - as it does with trying to help revive interest in a region that very much merits and needs to be rediscovered.
If you need pairing or serving suggestions, the Inocente is a wonderful aperitif and pairs stunningly with delicate seafood dishes. I also think one of its more "hidden talents" is the way it pairs with certain Japanese foods where the umami quotient challenges most wines.
Take a four-pack and explore the wine over time. I truly believe this is an ideal introduction to what one of the world's great wine regions has to offer.
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