Anyone who has visited a wine cellar knows well the thrill when the winemaker whips out that glass tube called a pipette and pulls a long, smooth draw of visceral wine from the barrel. When visiting the Sherry cellars of the greater Jerez region you quickly find that things are done a bit differently. For starters, there is no pipette and instead there is what’s called a “venencia”.
The venencia consists of a narrow steel cup on the end of a flexible shaft that’s nearly one meter long. For the last 60 years, the shafts have been made of rubber covered spring steel or now, PVC, but it used to be the case that they used a whale’s whisker to make the shaft of the implement. To pull out the Sherry, they drop the venencia in through the bunghole on the top of barrel with a plunk that sounds like when you toss a pebble in a pond. This is to break through the cap of yeasts on the top of the liquid called the “flor” but not disrupt its protective cover. They then quickly pull out the cup and pour it in to glasses from above height head.
It is not the easiest of motions to master and no matter how perfect the pour, a bit of Sherry usually dribbles on the floor. They hold annual contests for the best “venenciador” in the world as the act can be done with a great deal of grace and panache. But, everything about this is so emblematic that you’ll find several fountains around the area with over-sized venencias sprouting up from the middle of them.
The name is generally thought to come from the Castilian word, “avenencia” which means agreement as the cups were often used to pull samples from the barrels for merchants to taste and then come to an agreement on the price and quantity that they wanted to buy.
It needs to be noted that in Sanlúcar where they make mostly Manzanilla and Amontillado (instead of Fino and Oloroso) they don’t use the classic venencia as much and favor one made out of a bamboo shaft. Nobody seems to have an opinion as to one being better than the other other than stating that that’s the way it’s always been done as shown by the fact you can even see Greek mosaics that have people pulling wine with small cups attached to a shaft several thousand years ago.
Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR
Terroir Sense Fronteres - Guix Vermell 2017
Crisp red cherry fruit, touch of spice, flecks of pepper, baking spice, compacted, wet earth. Delicate on the palate, stays fresh, surprising high wealth of tannins, long finish.
100% Grenache · 13% · 250EUR
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%