Jerez: The Soul of an Enigma – Part V: Emilio Lustau

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There is a tendency amongst Jerez’s sherry producers to craft wines in a broad array of styles, with most bodegas maintaining large portfolios of wines. Lustau has perhaps the broadest range of sherries produced under a single label, and is Jerez’ jack of all trades. I tasted 13 different sherries all produced under the Lustau label, and this was only a portion of their entire portfolio of 30. Some of these wines sell only a few hundred bottles a year.

As anyone with experience bringing new wine drinkers into the fold of sherry can attest to, the range of styles and complexity of the methods of production make sherry difficult to appreciate for many new to intermediate drinkers. Add to that bodegas with huge lineups and it is asking a lot of consumers to understand what they are getting into when they pick up a bottle of sherry off the shelf. It would serve the industry well for bodegas to streamline their offerings into a more easily digestible format.

That said, Lustau is one of the more consistent bodegas in Jerez, with all of their wines meeting a basic quality threshold. Furthermore, Lustau has been instrumental in saving some of the small sherry producers from extinction with their Almacenista series, which buys up soleras from small producers and bottles them under the Lustau label. While the company claims that they wish to do this in order to give recognition to what the small guys are doing, it is also clear to me that in the context of falling sales and consolidation that this series was also a business decision. Lustau distinguishes itself from most of the other giants by keeping the name of the original producer on the bottle and highlighting the fact that the wine came from such a source by labeling these wines differently from their main lineup. This is a respectable process for a bodega that already has a strong brand and theoretically has little need to create such a series of wines.

Lustau, which was founded in 1896, has also been setting aside vintage dated sherries since 1985 and now has a substantial library of these wines. With the regulator poised to introduce an official designation for vintage dated sherry in the near future, surely these wines will gain more recognition in time. The current vintage dated sherry on the market from Lustau is from 1990, the year when Lustau was taken over by Grupo Caballero.

Since then Lustau has grown into one of the larger bodegas in town with 15,000 casks and an annual production of 1 million bottles. Currently the company owns vineyards in Jerez (the chalky soils of Vina Montegilillo) and Sanlucar (the sandy soils of Vina Las Cruces). Lustau also contracts with various growers to augment the harvest from their own vineyards.

After touring through Lustau’s vast and cathedral-like cellar I was treated to a taste of a broad range of their products.

Lustau Solera Reserva “Papirusa” Light Manzanilla: A fruitier and less aggressive nose, with grape and citrus notes. This has a subtle yeast profile compared to other Manzanillas. The palate was clean and nutty. Overall, this is very drinkable and well made – but note that freshness is everything for Manzanilla and Fino sherry. Avoid anything older than 6 months. Very Good+. 15% ABV.

Lustau Solera Reserva “Puerto Fino”: Nuttier and more yeast driven aromatics than the previous wine. This is big and a little more aggressive than what I like – but if you like your fino to be fuller bodied, this is a good wine to go for. Very Good+. 15% ABV.

Lustau Solera Reserve “Jarana” Light Fino: The light fino is true to its name and has more delicacy than the previous wine. The aromatics are more focused on citrus components and the palate is tart and acidic. This will be outstanding paired with rich seafood. Very Good+. 15% ABV.

Lustau Almacenista Manzanilla Amontillada 1/21 (Manuel Cuevas Jurado): Pouring a very rich dark brown, the nose is rich but clean and filled with classic notes of nuts and brown sugar. I thought this wine had great character on the palate and a light and elegant mouthful coupled with a dense and full flavour profile. This is also an interesting wine because no Criaderas are directly used in its production. Jurado draws the final product from his Manzanilla Soleras and then puts it into a second solera which he then ages into the Amontillado, creating a kind of double-solera system. This was one of the best wines in the lineup and shows the potential of the Almacenista line of products. Excellent. 17.5% ABV.

Lustau Solera Reserva “Los Arcos” Dry Amontillado: Traditionally light brown coloured, this wine has a nut-driven nose but lacks the expressivity of the previous Almacenista Amontillado. The palate is heavier and richer than the above wine, with nuts, caramel and brown sugar. A moderate finish, and again, not quite of the same length and concentration as above. Very Good+. 18.5% ABV.

Lustau Almacenista Palo Cortado 1/50 (Vides): Pours a golden brown and offers a fresh, lively and delicate nose. I found the palate very bold up front, but the wine ultimately settles into a nice clean texture. Similar flavour profile to the two Amontillados above, but with a substantial finish. Very Good+ to Excellent. 19% ABV.

Lustau Solera Reserva Dry Oloroso Don Nuno: We are now moving into the dark brown territory of sherry and accordingly much denser and richer wines. When I tasted this the nose was not very expressive, but the body was absolutely mouth-filling, with quite a bit of richness and a very dry, but only medium-length, finish. I enjoyed the texture, but was ultimately a little dissatisfied with the balance of the wine. Very Good+ to Excellent. 20% ABV.

Lustau Solera Gran Reserva Very Rare Oloroso “Emperatriz Eugenia”: As above, the nose was not as expressive as I would like. I also found this both less intense and less structurally put together than the Don Nuno. However, it was also more elegant and clean. Short finish right now. Very Good+. 20% ABV.

Lustau Rich Oloroso “Anada 1990” Vintage: This vintage dated sherry was surprisingly aromatically light for an Oloroso, with nice cherry fruit aromatics. The lightness of the nose belies the sweetness and intensity of the wine underneath, however, which was both fruity and very clean. This has good strong acid, nice balance and a complex mid-palate and finish. However, the residual sugar will throw those who prefer the very dry styles. Very Good+ to Excellent. 20% ABV.

Lustau East Indian Solera: A cream style sherry with 85% Oloroso and 15% Pedro Ximenez. The addition of the PX jumps the nose into darker fruits, raisins and spice cake. The Oloroso, however, reduces the insane extract that you often encounter with pure Pedro Ximenez. This is essentially Christmas cake in a glass, but it is perfect for those looking for a good quality dessert wine with strong acid. Very Good to Very Good+. 20% ABV.

Lustau Solera Reserva “Emilin” Moscatel: Made with 7 year aged Muscat, the nose is bright and expressive, but also has the classic oxidative character of traditional sherry. The palate is rich and grapey, but the aging brings that grapeyness more into the territory of raisins. Unique but not as cool as it should be. Very Good+. 17% ABV.

Lustau Solera Reserva “San Emilio” Pedro Ximenez: Classic fig and date driven nose and palate. This is classic PX, but compared to the others I had on my trip it is decidedly uninteresting and nowhere near as deep or as balanced as the best. Very Good+. 17% ABV.

Senor Lustau Solera Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez: The nose is dominated by dark fruits. This has very fine length and structure for a 35 euro brandy, but is nothing exciting. Very Good+. 40%€ ABV.

Lustau will also be releasing four VORS sherries in the near future that I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to taste.

On reflection I found all of the wines to be solid, though not the most exciting sherries being produced today. However, most of Lustau’s line offers excellent value and an introduction to the full range of styles available in the region. Lustau is an excellent good value introduction to sherry compared to such producers as Gonzalez Byass or Harveys, which for all intents and purposes should be avoided.

Note: Many of these wines are available in BC at the BCLDB stores or at Kitsilano Wine Cellars. Salt Tasting Room also pours a good range of Lustau products.

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