On the Sherry Trail: Emilio Lustau Bodegas

Lustau – the name is one of the most prestigious of Jerez’s wineries, one that dates back to 1896 when a Don José Ruiz-Berdejo begun tending some vines on a small plot of land in the sandy soils of the ‘Sherry Triangle’, the area of land in-between the holy trinity of sherry towns: El Puerto de Santa María, Jerez de la Frontera, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Don José’s daughter fell in love with a Granadan called Emilio Lustau, and Emilio fell in love with José’s wine. The young Lustau took the reins of the company and embarked upon an expansion of the enterprise into new bodegas and new markets, turning the Lustau brand into a synonym for quality Xérès wines.

You enter the Lustau bodega through a small courtyard of climbing vines where the hint of the wine to come lingers on your nose. The slight hint transforms into a hit to the senses when you walk into an enormous wine-store where the aroma of Lustau’s most widely recognised fino –  La Ina – flows through the cool air. The cellar is enormous; a classic ‘cathedral style’ temple of wine with thousands of barrels piled up on top of each other. Everything about these buildings is designed to make the magic to happen, to allow the straw-coloured palomino grape to slowly produce the amber rainbow of yellow, orange and brown wines which fill bottles and stain lips: the windows of this cathedral allow the sea breeze to freshen the air, the clay floor stores up moisture to nurture the bacterial growth on the wines, and the pitched roof channels the heat upwards.

Within the barrels themselves something strange is occurring; on top of the young wine a layer of bacteria grows. This bacteria is called the flor – the flower in English – and it is this flor which gives a fino or manzanilla its strawy character and floral notes. Some barrels will have extra alcohol added to kill the flor mid-growth, producing oxidised wines called oloroso and amontillado; wines with a generally harsher character and deeper flavours and aromas. Darker, sweeter, and stronger, these wines have all been aged longer than the classic fino, taking on the woody colour and character of the ancient barrels, while others will have the sweeter Pedro Ximénez grape added, giving them a splash of fruit and colour.

The tasting begins with a Sanluqueño manzanilla; fresh and floral, a manzanilla is the exact same product as a fino, but the sea-side location of Sanlúcar de Barrameda gives this drink a distinct character: more body, less steeliness, manzanilla has my heart. We visit El Puerto de Santa María with Lustau’s Puerto Fino, a strong, salty fino – a very different drop to the Jerezano fino you find in most bars here. The classic La Ina is more intense, more mineraly: Jerez in a bottle. Then comes the head-spinning amontillados, olorosos, moscatels and pedros: the further we progress through the varieties the more the aromas sweeten, the colours darken, the bodies soften. Their twenty percent alcohol content makes them dangerous liaisons: my head is spinning, my pen scribbling, speech slurring. Oh, Don Nuño, you tricked me with your sugar! Outside a family celebrates: tapas, fino, sun, sonrisas – Jerez knows how to do al fresco and Lustau knows how to woo Jerez.

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