There are many ways to make wine, but there is only one that is able to overcome time so that it is the soil, the vineyard and the grape that transcends. Subsequently the Solera ageing process begins.
OXIDATIVE AGEING VS BIOLOGICAL AGEING
It is clear that ageing is one of the most important factors in determining the quality of a wine. If done correctly, it will provide new sensory characteristics, achieving greater complexity and character in the final result. Oenologically, there are two main types of ageing: oxidative ageing, which, as its name suggests, takes place in the presence of oxygen, and biological ageing, in the absence of oxygen. There is a third way that mixes both for a very defined type of wine (amontillados and palo cortados, for example).
STATIC AGEING VS DYNAMIC AGEING
In the same way, another type of classification can also be established depending on the mobility of the wine during its presence in the barrel. Thus, we can speak of static ageing, in which the wine of a given vintage remains in the same barrel for the time stipulated by the winemaker, or, on the other hand, there is the Criadera and Solera system, which is dynamic. In this system, wines with different degrees of ageing are blended in order to maintain certain characteristics in the wine for whole decades, as it results from combining all the vintages since the foundation of the ‘soleraje’, as it is called.
CRIADERA AND SOLERA SYSTEM
This is a model in which the barrels (or butts in the case of sherries) are arranged in rows, each of which has a specific ageing group. The bottled wine is taken from the row of barrels closest to the ground, called ‘solera’; an operation known as ‘saca’. The amount of wine removed is restored with the same amount from the first criadera above. The task of replenishing the barrels with wine from the next row up is called ‘rocío’. The wine taken from the first criadera is replenished with wine from the second criadera and so on, until the youngest criadera is reached, where the base or ‘sobretablas’ wine from the latest vintage is employed to top it up.
In short, each year, an amount of wine is removed from the oldest barrels, the solera, and the stack is refilled with the most recent wine, so that the old wine can teach the young one. The final product will always be a blend of wines from every vintage, each with its own particularities and history. The vintages are blended to achieve a wine with a unique personality that requires special care in the winemaking process.
Although it is not fully documented, the Criadera and Solera system started to be used in the Sanlúcar de Barrameda area at the end of the eighteenth century and was later adopted throughout the Marco de Jerez as a unique and genuine ageing model for the traditional wines of Andalusia. It is listed as a National Heritage because it is the only type of ageing originating from Spain.
EL RETABLO, A DRY RED WINE WITH SOLERA
This method of making wine is unprecedented in the production of dry red wines. It is an ancient artisanal practice traditionally reserved for Spanish producers in the South. To date, as far as we know, the only red wine made this way is our El Retablo, which we make since 2009. This wine is unique in its style, as it is aged in Criaderas and Soleras. The ‘soleraje’ began in 2009. It is therefore a wine that, far from being influenced by the vicissitudes of a particular vintage, conveys the essence of the terroir over time. We call it ‘The Inaccessible’ because of its exclusivity and inimitability. Only a select few have access each year to the mystery that is revealed in the nearly 500 bottles that are bottled of this exclusive wine. Its vinification is completely manual and the grapes are cared for in an extreme way so that each vintage contributes its wisdom to an eternal wine.
This fabulous 100% Tempranillo red wine owes its name to the beautiful sixteenth-century Baroque composition that adorns the altar of the chapel of the church owned by the winery. This beautiful work illustrates the life and miracles of St. Andrew and was carved by the renowned Maestro de Ventosilla. The delicacy and talent that the artist put into creating his work have guided our winemaker in making this wine with as much mystery as the fortified wines of Jerez.
Just as this altarpiece gathers the most outstanding parts of the life of St. Andrew in different tables, our El Retablo, of which only about 500 bottles are produced, is a story in wine that represents a journey through the various experiences of our winery. They are from vintages that are totally different from an oenological viewpoint, but that come together to generate a revealing whole. It is fascinating how, in both cases, wood is the connecting theme that reflects the whole life of a saint in the case of the altarpiece and the oenological life of the winery through its wine on the other. It is a material where part of history has been carved.
Like a work of art, El Retablo is an unreproducible wine.