Uncover the depth and breadth of this celebrated Sherry house’s rich portfolio of wines
The wines of Jerez – or Sherry, as we know them in the US – have increasingly become the darlings of the modern wine world. These days, with the diversity of production methods, aging techniques, and styles, most sommeliers and wine trade would agree that Sherry is among the most underappreciated wines in the world.
One producer in particular has emerged as a leader in capturing the diversity of the region and its immense potential to create a full spectrum of wines to suit a wide range of cuisines and occasions, as well as push the entire Sherry industry forward in terms of innovation and quality: Bodegas Lustau.
Browsing a typical wine retailer in most U.S. markets, one would assume Sherry was limited to only a few styles, whether from Lustau or other producers. However, much like Sherry goes far beyond the dry, simple Fino or sweet Cream styles so often associated with the category, Lustau is so much more than the ubiquitous Los Arcos Amontillado that we see on store shelves and trendy restaurant menus. In fact, the Lustau SKUs that one can find in the U.S. constitute less than 25% of their collection. So what lies beyond these wines for the curious drinker?
In our recent story about the unique role of the Capataz in Sherry production, we spoke at length with Capataz Sergio Martínez and global ambassador Federico Sanchez-Pece of celebrated Sherry house Lustau to learn firsthand how this important figure both shapes and preserves the personality and legacy of the Bodega.
The intense work Sergio does over time, adapting himself and his team to every style of wine, tirelessly learning and understanding what each wine needs, connects him to the bodega in a profound way. Like raising children, he helps guide the evolution of Lustau’s brand identity, developing the many different styles of Sherry the bodega offers, and ensuring wine from the everyday Sherries that grace our midweek table to the rare and exceptional selections are represented within the portfolio.
In many ways, the Capataz is to thank for peeling back the layers of the region as well as the “terroir” within the bodega – which has an immense influence on the resulting style of wine – and using this deep understanding of their environment to craft and fulfill a vision for what kinds of wine to create in order to surprise and delight consumers. It’s a remarkable science, art, and magic at once.
“Lustau is proud to offer the widest and most selected range of Sherry wines, brandies, vinegars, and vermouths,” says Federico. “Over fifty different references make up our portfolio, crafted in the towns that have historically formed the Sherry triangle (Jerez, El Puerto, and Sanlúcar). We cover all of the Sherry styles, offering different expressions of each.”
Wine consumers are perhaps most familiar with the Solera Familiar – Lustau’s core collection, comprising every major style of wine made in the region. This is also the wine collection that embraces original Emilio Lustau commercial names such as Papirusa, Jarana, or Escuadrilla, all soleras founded in the 1950s that still bear the identity, personality, and essence of the first bottlings. But there are others.
To understand the breadth and depth of style within the Sherry category, it helps to take a look at the history of the global Sherry industry. During the second half of the 20th century, much of the Sherry business was focused primarily in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany. These countries consumed mainly sweet and value-driven wines and, understandably, many producers rode that wave. This in part led to a lack of understanding about the Sherry category among consumers. However, Lustau chose a different path, focusing primarily on high-end wines from different cities and producers.
“At that time, the United States was in the dark about Sherry,” says Federico. “Nevertheless, due to its socioeconomic conditions, it offered possibilities for this wine niche. Lustau placed faith in this possibility and, thanks to four decades of work in which we have developed an important commercial and educational program, today, the brand enjoys a leading position.”
As a result of this approach, Lustau has managed to secure a notable presence in the American market, despite being only a medium-sized Sherry house.
A Style for Everyone
Lustau has many different Sherry labels within their portfolio, the exploration of which makes the herculean task of the Capataz even more incredible. “Winemaking is always the result of human work in conjunction with nature, and Sherry is no exception,” says Federico. “The Mediterranean climate of southern Spain, the soils in our vineyards, the situation of our cellars, Sergio’s expertise…everything matters in order to achieve great wines. However, in the case of Sherry, there is a key moment during its production, and this is the aging. Lustau’s historic soleras are the main reason why today we have an incredible variety of styles.”
This variety allows for infinite discovery for consumers exploring the category, but also for Sergio and his team, as well as other Capataces looking to expand and promote the world of Sherry.
“The Lustau R&D department never stops working,” Federico continues. “Over the last decade we have launched new wines for the Almacenista range, the Single Casks, Vintages, Vermouths… On top of this we have put a lot of work into studying the yeasts or ‘flor’ that characterize our Finos and Manzanillas; developed new filtering, stabilization, and clarification processes that allow us to better respect the organoleptic qualities of our Sherries and to be vegan friendly.”
It is a labor of love that is understandable – even poetic – to anyone who has discovered the magic of Sherry.
Spreading the Magic
The market is often frustratingly crowded for wine and other beverages. How does the world of Sherry emerge as an exciting and versatile category for the regular wine enthusiast who may not look to fortified wines as an option for their everyday dinner table? As with most aspects of the wine journey, it starts with education. And, the team at Lustau is eager to walk hand-in-hand with wine lovers to help them discover this beguiling beverage.
“Much of our work consists of education. A simple journey of discovery, the best glass to drink it from, the right temperature, the conservation of the different styles of Sherry, what food to accompany them with, what cocktails to make with it… endless things!” shares Federico. “We carry out this work through tastings, pairings, etc. and through our social networks. Education is foundational to the growth of our category. We aim to engage the consumers and are grateful for the growing interest of the global professional community as well.”
To further their goals of educating and engaging both trade and consumers, Lustau created the Certified Sherry Wine Specialist (CSWS) credential, a professional-level certification program that is backed and approved by the Sherry Regulatory Council (or Consejo Regulador) and offered online by the Wine Scholar Guild.
Uncovering the Gems of Jerez
Lustau has always believed in the United States as a key market for Sherry appreciation, simply by virtue of the diversity within the country itself. “In such a big market, there is room for everything!” says Federico. “There is room for our different ranges. The Solera Familiar, our core range offering each of the Sherry styles in its purest way, often gives way to acceptance of specialties such as our Almacenista and 30-year-old VORS ranges, where consumers can find true jewels suitable for the best Sherry lovers.”
For example, Lustau’s much-lauded, award-winning Emperatriz Eugenia, aged in Jerez since the foundation of its Solera by Emilio Lustau himself to commemorate a visit from Eugenia de Montijo, the last Empress of France, may not be found at your corner liquor store, but it’s a stunning expression of a Very Rare Oloroso worth seeking out. With a little bit of research, we were able to locate a few online retailers who sell and ship this gem nationwide as well as deliver locally.
Lustau is perhaps best known among enthusiasts for their revolutionary Almacenista range. Almacenistas are independent producers who craft small lots of high-quality Sherry, which are then sold to large commercial Sherry houses. In 1981, Lustau saw the potential of these boutique wines to stand on their own, creating a wildly new category in the world of Sherry. Lustau began hand-selecting and bottling these artisanal wines. Instead of simply blending them into the Lustau portfolio, they labeled each one with the Almacenista that produced them, giving these traditionally anonymous stewards of quality Sherry wines the respect and recognition they deserved. Representing the full spectrum of different Sherry styles, the Alamcenista range is an exciting hallmark of Lustau’s vision and reputation not only within the world of Sherry, but Spanish winemaking as a whole.
Lastly, one cannot forget Lustau’s selection of rare and premium Sherries, including their Añadas and 30-year VORS collections. Lustau launched their Añadas – or vintage – series in 1989 with a vision of crafting the finest terroir-driven wines produced from carefully-selected plots of Palomino growing in their Montegilillo vineyard in Jerez Superior. Grapes are picked late in the season and undergo partial fermentation that is halted with the addition of alcohol to fortify the wine and preserve the natural sugars in the grape. The wine is aged oxidatively in casks previously used for Oloroso Sherries and bottled at its absolute best. Offering extreme concentration, complexity, and expression, not to mention the strongest connection to time spent in cask, these wines are scarcely available – generally less than a couple of thousand bottles per vintage are produced.
Like the world of still wines, there are infinite environmental factors and winemaking tools at each Sherry producer’s fingertips to create an exciting, kaleidoscopic spectrum of wines to suit each personal preference, mood, paired cuisine, and budget. The specific meso- and micro-climates within the three Sherry regions have created remarkable diversity among Lustau’s vineyards, which impact each wine in distinct ways.
In fact, Lustau invites Sherry enthusiasts to explore the nuances of this terroir with their 3 En Rama Collection, a trio of wines, each representing one of the three towns in the Sherry Triangle produced “En Rama,” meaning bottled straight from the cask without filtering or further manipulation. Lustau is the only winery in the region that showcases the diversity of meso- and micro-climates within the Sherry triangle with a collection of these three, biologically-aged wines, encouraging the consumer to discover how each town affects the development of “flor.” The result? A deeper, richer understanding and of the environment in which the wines are produced and aged.
“Lustau wines unite tradition with innovation, the vineyard with the winery…” muses Federico. “Our wines are balanced and versatile, smooth and friendly… and very gastronomic. It’s an outstanding Sherry journey.”