On the Trail

Turning Sherry Dreams Into Reality

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Meet Alexander Russan, a humble guy from Santa Monica who fell in love with Sherry and decided to turn his dreams into his career.  The tales goes that Alex first discovered Sherry after tasting a California version of a Sherry style wine. He found it so fascinating that he went out and learned (tasted) as much as possible about Sherry and its home base, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Eventually, he achieved his dream to import Sherry to the US and now bottles his own label of Sherry as well as imports a small and well-curated selection of other Spanish fermentables. Since we have a retail presence here in Los Angeles, Alex’s home base, we get the opportunity to work with him pretty frequently.  We also went with him to Spain recently and collaborated on a K&L exclusive Sherry. He’s a fixture at our company dinners and tastings, and last night we brought Alex into the Hollywood store to show off his Spanish goodies to our customers. We had an incredible turnout of curious people coming to explore all that Spain has to offer.

The Sherry that Alex brings into the U.S. is called Alexander Jules and there are a few different expressions available here at K&L. Alexander Jules Manzanilla 5/41 En Rama is a blend of five barrels from a 41 barrel solera system from the Maruja stock at Bodega Juan Pinero in Sanlucar de Barrameda.  So what’s this all mean? Basically, a man named Juan Pinero bought an old bodega, thereby acquiring the bodega's old soleras to maintain and bottle. This particular manzanilla is an average of eight to nine years old. That’s pretty unheard of for this style of sherry, which typically has anywhere from three to five years of age.  In a bodega, the botas (barrels) at the bottom of the solera, closest to the floor, are aged in more humid conditions at cooler temperatures, creating a more heavily ‘flor’ impacted Sherry. The botas this manzanilla was selected from are on the top row of the solera, aging in less humidity and at somewhat higher temperatures, meaning the Sherry from this row has a lighter impact from ‘flor.’ He selected this manzanilla for just that reason, evidenced in its subtle and delicate flavors. It still maintains the classic salty, slightly tangy characteristics expected, but provides for a manzanilla even those averse to ‘flor’ can truly enjoy.

Alexander Jules Fino 4/65 En Rama is selected from four barrels of a 65 barrel solera system from the San Francisco Javier Bodega (also owned by Juan Pinero) in Jerez. This fino is selected from a solera system that is rarely used for bottling.  The solera started as a hobby by Sherry aficionado Angel Zamorano in 1940 and was later acquired by Juan Pinero.  If Alex selected his manzanilla barrels for subtlety, then he selected these fino barrels for the exact opposite reason; intensity. This fino is aged for an average of nine to ten years, more like an old school manzanilla pasada. Surface yeast, or “flor,” is a very important component to both fino and manzanilla. Most barrels are dominated by the common yeast strain saccharomyces beticus which provides the flavors you associate with ‘flor’. Alex noticed that some of the barrels here contain the much less common yeast strain saccharomyces montulienses, which produces higher amounts of acetaldehyde (the compound that gives fino its hallmark flavor). This abundance of “fino essence” makes for a more intense fino.  So Alex decided to bottle a fino from three montulienses dominated barrels and one beticus dominate barrel.  This fino is big, intense and complex. A fino for sniffing and contemplation. A fino difficult to put down. A fino certainly not for those averse to ‘flor.’

Along with Sherry, Alex also imports a number of regional wines from Spain into the country—expressions discovered from his many travels that are both unique and interesting when compared with the standard Spanish import portfolios. Just south west of Asturias, a varietal called Mencia dominates the vineyards of the D.O. Bierzo.  Mencia wines are very different than the leathery, tobacco and cherry driven wines of Rioja. Mencias burst with dark berry fruits, graphite minerality and peppery notes. Alex visited the region with no intention of importing Bierzo wines, but he happened upon the mother/son team of Akilia and the rest is history.  The grapes for this Mencia are always hand harvested, usually the earliest in the region, ensuring a earthier, more balanced bottle. The bottle is beautifully balanced with notes of violets, blackberries, fresh cracked pepper and slate, perfectly expressing the terroir of Bierzo.

During his travels in Asturia, Alex found Bodega Vidas. Bodega Vidas is owned by a young couple in Cangas del Narcea where they make wines from native Asturian varieties. This area’s climate is cool and wet, vines sit on dangerously steep slopes, and the soil is slate-based. All of these features make for very difficult working conditions, which is why Bodegas Vidas is one of only six wineries in the region. Albarin Blanco, genetically different from Albarino, is one of the Asturian varietals Bodega Vida is working on reviving. There are only 100 acres of this vine that exist, making it a true Asturian delicacy.  The “Siete Vidas” evokes a sense of terroir, making it possible to smell and taste the slate soils and cool climate. The palate is poignant and sharp with acidity. It is lean yet extremely textural. Notes of lemon, green apples, yellow fruits and an undeniable salinity precede a long finish of wet stone minerality. It is somewhat reminiscent of the dry, lean chenin blanc of the Loire Valley, or a crisp Chablis, but it’s definitely its own grape and truly different from anything else I’ve ever tasted. True drinkability, coupled with thought provoking power.

Alex regularly schedules tastings of his delectable imports here at the Hollywood store. Make sure you check back with us so that you don't miss his next appearance!

-Olivia Ragni