Diatomists at Cork & Cask Winter Fair – A New Name in Sherry

Diatomists is a completely new name in Sherry to me. I think I remember spotting some Sherry in unusually-shaped half bottle flutes on the shelf behind the counter in the Cork & Cask shop in Edinburgh, but Cork & Cask’s Winter Wine Fair was the first time I’d tasted them. Immediately on walking into the Fair, there on my right at Table 1 was Antonio Morenés Bertrán, Diatomists Sales Director and Founder, who by coincidence I had bumped into just that morning.

The name is unusual. What is a Diatomist, indeed what is a diatom? Diatoms are single cell algae that form complex patterns when they fossilize, and a diatomist is one who “masters the art of diatom arrangement”. Diatoms are the reason why the soils of wider Jerez are unique. They lock in sparse moisture providing essential water reserves for those very hot summers.

Jerez and the wider Sherry-producing regions have long focused on the Bodegas which make the wine. Labels like Equipo Navazos began to highlight the best vineyard sites in their exceptional fine Sherries, and a new wave of producer has followed in their footsteps, placing the vineyard and viticulture at the forefront. This has often gone hand-in-hand with producing a more modern style of Sherry. This style emphasises the individual terroirs of the region, and especially “fruit”, something that may previously have gone unremarked about the versatile Palomino grape variety.

Diatomists set out to emphasise the floral and fruit elements in all their styles. Wines are aged in barrel but created to preserve freshness. The emphasis on the terroir means that all the wines here are from a single vineyard (Pago). This, for all bottlings apart from the Pedro Ximénez (PX), is the Miraflores vineyard at Sanlúcar. The PX is, of course, from Montilla.

Manzanilla de Sanlúcar

From Miraflores Baja, this lower part of the pago is at around 50 masl or below. The grapes are 100% Palomino Fino, sourced from growers selected for the quality of their fruit. The solera, consisting 500-litre Spanish Chestnut barrels, is 30 years old and this individual wine has an average age of five years. The standard abv for Manzanilla, 15%, is present. This is conventionally farmed fruit, and the wine underwent a light filtration.

I bought a bottle at the shop after the Fair and drank it a couple of nights later. It is indeed a fruit-driven Manzanilla, smooth and perhaps less acidic than most, but it’s lack of austerity doesn’t mean it lacks the salinity we associate with the style. Being biologically aged (under flor) it has that salty tang and I’d identify it as Manzanilla for sure. It proved to be an excellent food wine, and a few centimetres left for the next day enhanced a paella no end. This retails for just £12.95 for 37.5cl, the rest of the range retailing for £17.95/half bottle. It may be the cheaper option but don’t let that put you off, because it’s very good and a little bit different. I think you’ll be intrigued by its sheer fruitiness.

Amontillado

This comes from what Antonio called his Singular Bota range. I can spare the marketing description because the wine speaks for itself. This is from a solera of over 100 years of age, and this wine is over 12 years old. It is fortified to 18% abv.

You do not get many dry Amontillado wines that are as obviously fruity as this. It’s a style I used to skip but this was one of my favourites of the five Diatomists wines I tasted. Dried apricots and toast, their notes say. I can’t disagree. Naturally with an Amontillado there’s a certain nuttiness as well, along with a nice lick of salinity. Freshness and depth combined.

Oloroso

This oloroso is also aged for 12 years, from a similarly old solera. This time the abv reaches 19%. Maybe I’m used to the enormous concentration of the Equipo Navazos Sherries, but this was quite easy to drink. I’m not saying it lacks concentration, just that the smoothness and fresh fruitiness are to the fore. It makes a nice contrast. It shows more citrus character than the Amontillado, but the depth comes from the silky texture on the tongue. The finish is more characteristically oloroso, with hazelnuts and vanilla pod coming through, plus a touch of caramel, but dry. Great length.

Medium

Here we have a style which many confirmed Sherry lovers might be unsure about on paper, but in this case, it works quite magnificently. It’s another wine with 19% abv and with 80 g/l of residual sugar, aged for 19 years. This time I’m getting walnuts, and a Proustian memory of my wife’s homemade Seville Orange marmalade (it’s almost that time of year too). That marmalade flavour on the palate is a mix of sweet (on the attack) and slightly bitter (on the finish). I was really won over. The big positive is that it isn’t too sweet and it’s not at all cloying. In fact, the balance is what makes it attractive to someone who probably hasn’t sipped a “Medium Sherry” since I was in my late teens (and that purely because it was alcohol). Now dare I buy one?

Pedro Ximénez

If the “Medium” does fall down my list it would only be because I will find it hard not to grab a PX, preferably before Christmas. Taken from a solera over 200 years old over in Montilla Moriles, this sweet PX has been aged for five years. Alcohol here is a natural 15% and there are 420 grams of residual sugar per litre. Again, I don’t normally buy PX. I find it goes pretty well on ice cream, but I can’t really afford £17.95 for a half bottle of sauce, and the amount one can often drink is limited to a thimble-full. This one is somehow different.

It has that concentrated raisin and fig nose and palate. It’s certainly very concentrated yet not cloying, which I usually find with PX. There are two reasons, I think. First, it’s not one of those full-on, pow in the nostrils, PXs. There’s a subtlety here. Secondly, there is acidity. How many times does a PX seem to be devoid of any acids whatsoever? I’d love to see a tech sheet and compare the acidity to others. The finish is lovely because the sweet raisins give way to spices, definitely nutmeg, possibly ginger, which was a pleasant surprise when fig and raisin are all you often expect to find.

These are Sherries well worth trying. I shall be looking to get another Manzanilla, and an Amontillado, plus a PX if I can stretch the budget without having to give up that Vin Santo I promised myself as another Christmas treat to go with the hidden Panforte stash. I was very impressed, and it’s great to see a new name in Artisan Sherry appearing on the shelves of independent retailers.

All styles are currently available at Cork & Cask, Edinburgh.

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
This entry was posted in Artisan Wines, Sherry, Spanish Wine, Wine, Wine Festivals, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops, Wine Tastings and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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