I have been enjoying two tasty bottles of fino over the past week. One is marketed by a very well known (arguably the best known in the US), large shipper of sherries and the other is from a small, but significant producer with some prized real estate in one of the region's best vineyards.
Lustau Almacenista Fino del Puerto Obregon
Lustau started out as a family owned bodega in the late 1800's. They then became a reliable blender of sherry, or almacenista (a sherry blender, who historically was not allowed to commercially bottle their own soleras; in sherry country you are either a shipper - no matter how small, or an almacenista selling to shippers). In 1990 Lustau was bought and became a shipper. The company established the idea of marketing special bottles of some of their favorite almacenistas' best soleras. This is one such bottle, from José Luis Gonzales' fino solera of 143 barrels. It has an 18K golden hue, which leads to some classic aromas and flavors of salt, browning apples, and walnuts. This bottle is no slouch, a deal at $20.
Valdespino "Ynocente" Fino Macharnudo
From both a sourcing and production standpoint, this sherry is very unique. The grapes hail solely from the Macharnudo vineyard, which is viewed to be amongst the best for palomino grapes in Jerez. The fermentation, typically carried out in the region in 50,000 liter stainless steel tanks these days, takes place in used American oak barrels of 500 liter capacity. Then the wine is aged seven years prior to being bottled. The color here is significantly paler than the Lustau. Its aromas are very fine, there is a purity to the fruit and less of a flor dominated quality. Flor, of course, is that cottony layer of yeast growth growth which simultaneously prevents fino from oxidizing while lending a nutty character. Perhaps theirs is a thinner layer than usual, which allows the fruit to stand out more? Having recently reviewed the Jura issue of The Art of Eating, I do recall a producer saying that his layer of flor is the thickness of a playing card, whereas in Jerez it can be up to 1 centimeter thick. Flor aside, this bottling, from sometime in 2008, is great. If you have had the Equipo Navazos No.15, then this is the same bodega which provides them with some "botas" (butts, or barrels) of fino sherry from the very same vineyard. Off the strength of this particular bottle, I think I may prefer Valdespino Valdespino to Equipo Navazos Valdespino. I'll let you decide that one for yourselves, however I would encourage you to find a half bottle of this wine, which at roughly $18 is very much worth the tariff.
Given the quality of the Macharnudo vineyard, as well as the recent excitement created by labels such as Equipo Navazos and some boutique bodegas, one cannot help but wonder if the sherry triangle will start moving in the direction that Burgundy, and more recently Champagne, has. That is to say, a greater choice of estate bottled wines, from specific vineyards, produced by dedicated farmers and artisans. This question may be built upon a false presumption or poor understanding of the reality on the ground in Jerez/Sanlucar/El Puerto de Santa María, but nonetheless I'm going to risk looking misinformed and pose it to anyone with any background, perspective, or opinion on the matter.