“We don’t know which one is best?” as the words of the song go! Well, to put two world class wines in the same bracket as washing detergents is obviously unfair, but a while ago a small disagreement broke out among Equipo Navazos-loving friends about the relative merits of two of the Equipo Navazos Amontillados (numbered 31 and 61). As I was absent at the dinner where they tried to resolve these differences I was kindly sent samples of each in order to add my opinion. Of course they have ended up sitting here for a month whilst I’ve been either travelling, or neglecting my duty, but now I can tell you what I think. Of course, I’m sure some of you will think it’s a bit geeky arguing the toss between a pair like these, and some people will rightly think themselves lucky if they have either of the two in their racks. But it does give me another opportunity to extol the virtues of Equipo Navazos, not that they require my help.
The wines were brought up to room temperature this morning, although my dining room is not very warm right now after this morning’s frost. I decided to taste the wines in two different glasses. I usually drink wines like this from a Riedel Sangiovese/Riesling glass, the most versatile in the range (I’ve used it for Champagne as well on many occasions). This time I thought it would be fun, and possibly instructive, to try out a Zalto Universal as well.
The Wines’ Origins
Both La Bota 31 de Amontillado “Bota No” and La Bota 61 de Amontillado “Bota No” emanate from the same source, the cellars of La Guita, on the Jerez road just outside Sanlúcar, to where these butts were moved in 1980. The solera labelled 1/10 contains, in the view of the EN team, the most balanced and elegant wine. It goes without saying that it is also of a high average age, and the “Bota No” designation does, of course, denote that it is drawn from especially distinctive barrels which have not been refreshed, in order to preserve those distinctive qualities, a by-product of which is a raising of that average age of the wine inside them.
- La Bota 31: Four butts selected (just under 900 litres, making around 1,700 to 1,800 50cl bottles)
- Saca of October 2011
- Alcohol – 20%
- La Bota 61: slightly more bottled here, 1,000 litres (making 2,000 50cl bottles)
- Saca of August 2015
- Alcohol – 20%
There were no EN bottlings from this solera between these two releases.
Tasting (details from the Riedels)
La Bota 31 – It’s hard to believe that this wine, poured from a small sample bottle, could fill a small room so quickly with its profound bouquet. The nose is both saline and nutty. After a few moments you begin to get spice (cinnamon), and something akin to dark brown sugar.
The palate is dry, but there’s a glycerin texture. It’s smooth as a result, although there’s also a tangy, nutty, acidity. The salinity on the nose is there on the palate, but it isn’t intrusive. The wine has real depth, almost as if you are looking down a dark well. You do get a sense of the age of this wine. The complexity is astounding, and at the time of release the 31 got glowing references, many writers suggesting it was clearly the best EN Amontillado release so far.
I understand that at the dinner the 31 was a touch cloudy initially, which was caused by the sediment it had thrown. There was no such issue with the wine I was sent.
La Bota 61 – Around four years later EN revisited the same solera. The wines look almost identical. If I can see a difference (and to be frank I’m fed up trying to distinguish them), the 61 looks to be a tiny bit darker, although they are both a lovely burnished brown, glinting in the winter sunlight. The nose has a less deep tone, a touch more lifted, although it’s no less pronounced. Quite figgy, and that higher tone shows a little iodine in the background.
The palate is dry. The acidity for me is more pronounced and there’s much less of that glycerin smoothness. I’m also getting a touch of orange citrus. There’s a more youthful freshness to it, although I’ve no idea why that should be. Yup, that salinity comes through here, and also more of what seems almost like wood tannin than with the 31. I’m not sure why. Although it doesn’t intrude for my palate, I can see why some might think it makes this wine the more angular of the two – it surely does.
Boy this is difficult. These wines retail for about 50€ for a half-litre bottle (but be warned, you can pay quite a lot more), and at that price I assume that few people will have the chance to measure them up side-by-side. They are both great wines, and I don’t use the word lightly. As they grow in the glass they do become more distinctive of each other, or at least perhaps the palate becomes attuned to their differences.
I’m going to be honest here and say that I made things over complicated for myself by going for the two glass trick. The Riedel seems to emphasise the deeper notes of the wine, making it seem more concentrated but also seeming to narrow the profile a little. The Zalto loses some of that concentration, but as the aromas leave the glass you don’t lose the precision. The results in each glass are so different that it becomes as much a test of the glasses as much as the wine, but I can’t go back…and that’s why I’ve only reproduced my tasting notes from the Riedels.
On which glass to choose, my conservative side suggests that most people will prefer the Riedel Sangiovese/Riesling glass, and indeed a larger Riedel bowl would surely work too. My more rebellious side was intrigued by the difference the Zalto made (whether because of its wider brim or the more angular shape of the bowl). The wines almost tasted lighter, or perhaps more fleet of foot is a better way of putting it.
As for my assistance in the debate, I’m not really going to help move it along a great deal. For me, the 31 is a wine I’d sip in the chair in front of a log fire (not that I have one). I wonder whether the 61 would be the better suited to food? I don’t just mean hard cheeses, which both might satisfy. I mean something like that Amontillado favourite, lobster. If I had the chance to try it with something like the lovely partridge I had at The Glasshouse in Kew a week ago, I’d jump at it as well.
But if I had a 50€ note in my pocket? Probably the 31. Age before beauty, always! Although now I’m not so sure…