El Maestro Sierra
A Criadera of Fino Barrels at El Maestro Sierra
While there are many things that make El Maestro Sierra a most exceptional bodega in Jerez, none resonates more than the fact that they have been playing by their own rules and adhering to tradition in a region where the identities of small bodegas have been disavowed for years. Founded in 1832 by master carpenter Jose Antonio Sierra, El Maesto might be only 200 years old, but its comes with a story that exceeds the time limits. Currently maintained by Pilar Pla Pechovierto, who’s husband Antonio Borrego (a direct descendent of the Sierra family), passed away in 1976, El Maestro is the only bodega that’s female owned and operated. In Jerez, where the Bodegas are traditionally run by men, Doña Pilar became an anomaly, as did Ana Cabestrero, who left her family’s operation in Ribera del Duero to join the ranks of the cellar masters or Capataces in Jerez.
Located inland in Jerez de la Frontera, El Maestro resides at one of the region’s most highest elevations. Here, the bodega receives warm winds that blow in from El Puerto, which creates an ideal environment for the sustination of flor.
In possession of some of the oldest wines in Jerez, El Maestro once lay dormant for 50 years, not bottling their own wines until 1992. And though this was five years before the surrounding wineries could bottle their own sherries (because they were grandfathered in to bottle 5L quantities), like most other Bodegas, El Maestro sold off their vineyards 70 to 80 years ago, so that they could dedicate themselves to the aging of their sherries.
Old & Damaged Barrels Awaiting Repair at the Bodega
Founded by a cooper, who built barrels for the major Sherry houses in the beginning of the 19th century, El Maestro currently maintains a cooper on hand to repair their old barrels so that they do not have to employ new ones. With some of the oldest and largest barrels in use in DO Jerez, El Maestro has 2,000 liter barrels that were signed by the original cooper. With most barrels in Jerez built at 600 or 900 liters, the Consejo Regulador had to rewrite the laws, to allow for the usage of these most unusually sized barrels. With their Amontillado 1830 made from two barrels that were constructed with four-inch staves in 1830, its clear that “the magic of the substance is in these old barrels,” says Andre Tamers of De Maison Selections.
As the only winery in Jerez that hand-racks their wines (every four months) in lieu of employing a pneumatic pump, El Maestro employs such traditional tools as the jarra and canoa. Here, Cabestrero and Juan Vlavijo (who has worked as the Capataz of the bodega for over 50 years), first use the jarra to hold the wine that is syphoned from the barrel. Once collected, the wine is then dumped into the canoa, which resembles a canoe with a spout that then penetrates the layer of flor, encouraging a violent splashing that intensifies the micro oxygenation of the wine, just as the 1800’s. As this method increases the thickness of the flor it also provides the wine with a weighty richness.
Ana Cabestrero of El Maestro Sherry
Amontillado 1830 VORS–The wines here have spent a minimum of 50 years in the solera. With only two barrels, this is one of El Maestro’s treasures. With flor notes on the nose that are reminiscent of a wet, leafy floor, the acidity sings inside a cedar cigar box that keeps evolving, while the bells of acidity keep ringing.
Palo Cortado VORS–Aging in the solera for more than 70 years, the Palo Cortado offers aromas of rich, dark earth and subtle dried fig and date fruit, with a hint of white flowers on the nose. With acidity that hits mid palate, the flor here is less discernible; the wood notes are of the forest and the acidity soars at the finish.
Oloroso 1/14 VORS–The 14 butts of this wine have spent at least 50 years in the solera. With aromas of a penicillin-like flor ensconced in scents of a rich forest floor, the 1/14 shows salinity and acidity that cuts the viscosity mid-palate.
Oloroso 1/7 VORS–A time-stopper at any table, the Oloroso 1/7 consists of only 7 butts of wine that’s spent at least 50 years in the solera. At 24% alcohol, it’s thought that the 1/7 was made over 100 years ago, when “sherries were being produced to mimic brandies”. With aromas of spiced wood and ocean breeze, the 1/7 offers dried fruits, creamy hazelnut, and notes of moist tobacco leaf that kicks in mid-palate, and acidity that lingers LONG. With only 18 bottles in release, the Oloroso 1/7 is cerebral, sensual and complex–a wine that deserves its time.