Filling the Cup at Bodegas Romate

15 May 2017
by Tim Ginty
Tim Ginty is a freelance writer and English teacher based in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia. His blog, Lives and Times, is a fusion of writing on wine, travel, history, and society.

Jacarandas, Palms, and orange trees lines the streets of Jerez de la Frontera – where sherry wines are born and where Cardenal Mendoza brandy is raised. Stroll down the leafy Calle Porvera, with its purple carpet of little jacaranda flowers under your feet, and you will eventually find your way to Bodegas Romate,  a rabbit warren of wine cellars normally closed off from the city noise outside its white, pink and purple bougainvillea lined walls. Inside, the magic of the brandy works away, a drink which sits here in silence for decades before being sent out to be enjoyed in some fifty countries of the world.

Cardenal Mendoza Brandy de Jerez

To appreciate Romate’s brandies – Cardenal Mendoza, Carta Real, and the NPU – you must understand their sherries too, as these brandies are given their slightly sweet sabor, their flavour, through maturation in old Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso wine barrels for the entirety of their lifetime. But before being holed away in these cavernous cellars, the Pedro Ximénez grape is left out in the sun to shrivel up like a sultana, naturally raising its sugar concentration to Taylor Swift-like sweetness levels. Squash these Andalusian sun-dried grapes and put the juice into a barrel of American oak for five years or so and the end result will be a viscous, silky smooth wine perfect for drizzling over ice-creams and ideal for infusing brandies with the deeper flavours, colours, and aromas which make Brandy de Jerez unlike any other. Even more unique is to try these sherries and brandies straight from their source, having the spectrum of colours poured into your glass from the barrel via something they call a venencia, a curved pole which is charged into the barrel to bring out a couple glasses worth of liquid to be poured into your waiting cup. You might say to your wine pourer, your veneciador they call them, as did the old poet Omar Khayyam;

Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring

Your Winter Garment of Repentance fling:

The Bird of Time has but a little way

To fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing!

But while time may be on the wing, at Bodegas Romate they are in no rush. The only ingredients in Cardenal Mendoza brandy are distilled Airen grapes, and time, a lot of time. Pot stills are used in the distillation process, and the final product is transferred to the Pedro Ximénez-soaked barrels, where it will rest for at least fifteen years before being bottled. This is fifteen long years of infusion, evaporation and concentration through a solera system of maturation; meaning that the brandy passes through eight different crianza barrels – the barrels of nurturing, you might call them – before reaching the final solera ground-level barrel from which the brandy will be bottled. The end result of this laborious process makes the energy expended and time consumed well worth it: from the barrels will pour a mahogany brown, slightly sweet brandy unique to Jerez and Jerez alone. It is a potent drink which you ought to treat delicately when first being acquainted. As with whisky, you’d be advised to smell it from a safe distance and accommodate your tongue to the forty percent alcohol content by taking a tiny first and second sip before letting it roll liberally in to enjoy the nuances that come from decades of maturation.

Do this and you will appreciate the aromas of plums and the flavours of raisins, the punch of the alcohol softened by the lingering sweetness of the Pedro Ximénez grape. Do this and you will be want to know what the twice-as-old Carta Real is like, and, naturally, you will lust for the grand-daddy of them all, the fifty-year-old Non Plus Ultra, a deep-dark brown drop so sweetened by the Pedro and so mellowed by the ages that its potent forty-five percent alcohol content is hidden from the senses as it rolls on around your salivating mouth. 

Bodegas Romate Cardenal Mendoza

Do this and you will long for Jerez even if you have never been there before; you will want to stroll through its citrus air and under its pink and purple pastels, you will miss the floral vino scents that waft from the enormous bodega windows that wall the streets, and you will remember the al fresco evening tapas meals spent with friends, family and lovers, all of it you will remember with a simple sip of a sherry or a glass of brandy.