Viña Corrales

Fino en rama de parcela, pago balbaina alta

Peter Sisseck’s search for Spain’s ‘grand cru’ white

Peter Sisseck, of Dominio de Pingus fame, has initiated a new project in Marco de Jerez. His intention?

Spain’s Great Grand Cru White: specifically, a Fino.

Importantly, a Fino where the ageing process under flor does not over-write the origin character of the vineyard itself. Bodega artefact is a support act for Peter, not an end in itself.

Peter’s partner here is his long-term collaborator, Carlos Oriol, owner of Hacienda Monasterio and financial backer of the other projects which Peter has headed up. Carlos’s wife is from the Gonzalez Byass family, so they are certainly ‘in’ in Jerez. Peter and Carlos have long-believed Fino to be the potential grand-cru-equivalent white of Spain and have fantasised about having a project in Andalucia for nearly 25 years. In 2016, Carlos said, “If we are going to ever do it, let’s just get on with it now – why not?!”

“OK, let’s do it …” said Peter.

They proceeded to seek suitable vineyards to base the project on … but firstly, in ’17 they purchased Bodega San Francisco in Jerez, complete with an exceptional old soleraje of Fino. Then, in ’18, they bought two vineyards, one of which was from the same pago (Balbaina) that had historically fed the solera of Fino they’d just bought. They engaged an experienced capataz (cellar manager) and set about renovating the inherited soleras, working towards realising their own Fino.

Atop Pago Balbaina Baja (at 93m altitude on village land of Puerto de Santa Maria), they purchased 8 hectares of the ‘los Corrales’ vineyard. Corrales faces across a saddle valley to ‘los Cuadrados’ on the opposite hilltop, one of el Marco’s most famous addresses. In Corrales, they also inherited a hilltop cortijo (an old worker’s house) which will be restored, to become a vinification plant so that mostos can be handled on-site before going to the Jerez bodega for ageing. This was the historical practise in the best vineyards atop key pagos: fine, fresh, young wines were made where they were picked.

Corrales is cropped very low by current standards at 5 tonnes/ha, and is slowly being re-planted from ‘California’ to Palomino de Jerez (the cuttings come from a friend’s nearby old vineyard). Naturally low-yielding Palomino de Jerez has both higher acid and higher alcoholic degree, thus allowing ripe-but-fresh wine with minimal need of fortification. Balbaina Baja is a quite coastal pago, and its base wine is racy, fine, pure and nervous. The existing vines were planted in 1989 and face south-west: an interesting exposure combining warmth and freshness, open to the poniente coming in off the Atlantic.

Peter and Carlos have also purchased a parcela in Pago Macharnudo. For now, the story is all about Viña Corrales, but there will eventually be a second Fino from La Cruz, at between 53-70 metres, with a surface layer of heavy aglomerado (stone-clay-limestone) over tosca cerrada and barajuelas.

In late 2020 the first saca of Fino from the Viña Corrales parcela in Pago Balbaina Alta was released.

There’s to be a single annual saca annually thereafter, probably in march-april as the wine wakes up after winter. 

Peter Sisseck on el Marco

“With all these young people pushing the envelope I think this is the most exciting vineyard area in the world.”

One of Peter’s motivations in entering the wine world of el Marco lay in the fact that it has the world’s oldest continuous vineyard classifications. Even although the big company corruptors have done all they can to erase the signature of the land on its wines over the past 50 years, the pagos remain, known and named for many hundreds of years, if not respected much of late. And, Peter was totally fed up with the corruption and ignorance in his main place of work - Ribera del Deuro. Ribera (as with la Rioja) refuses to allow vineyard identity: “I could not get my stone-headed compatriots in Ribera to accept vineyard classifications, so I thought - fuck! - why don’t I go down to Jerez to revive this vineyard classification”.

As outlined, he then sought a very specific terroir to represent. The next step was using organics and biodynamics to renovate the soil, redeeming the vineyard’s identity from “this voodoo shit that we do”, referring to the chemically beaten up microbiology of soils afflicted by 20th century practises.

Peter’s strongest point is that, despite its deep heritage, the region is marred by the production of bland wines relying on and reverent of technology and processes, rather than seeking to reflect the land (here he points at the worst of Champagne as an obvious reference). Finos coming from specific pagos and from specific vineyard designations within them (parcelas) are wine’s oldest land classification. This is a heritage ripe for redemption.


 A new signature on old soleras of 10yo Fino

Bodega San Francisco is a beautiful boutique on the poniente side of Jerez (in Calle San Francisco), built around the turn of the 20th century. The capataz is an old, wise hand, Miguel Calvo. The bodega had been functioning as an Almacenista[1], with an established solera system of some 444 botas of Fino from Pago Balbaina and a small solera of Fino from Macharnudo. In renovating the solera towards Peter’s standards, a complex range of processes have been undertaken concurrently:

  • The solera barrels have been directly fed by young wine from the recent harvests, skipping the various criadera and pumping fresh and very high quality material into the ready wine.
  • A new Balbaina solera was established on the basis of 6 botas of material harvested in 2019, currently being statically aged.
  • A new solera of just 4 bota based in Macharnudo was established, which will house the Fino from parcela La Cruz (in partnership with an existing Macharnudo soleraje of 120 bota).
  • Some inherited wine will be fortified and sold off as (exceptionally good!) Amontillado to create room for young wine in the soleras.
  • Another bodega, Real Tesoro (owned by Valdespino) has been commissioned to distill Bodega San Francisco’s own fortifying spirit, from Peter’s own locally grown Palomino fruit. Without fortification by brandy from another appellation and distilled from exogenous varieties), Fino Viña Corrales will be authentic Jerezano GI at every level. This own terroir spirit will be holandas at around 70%, rather than highly rectified spirit, as Peter believes this will enhance the terroir imprint of Corrales on its Fino.
  • The next developmental stage (paralleling reformations in the vineyard) will be the purchase of three buildings adjoining Bodega San Francisco to facilitate in-house vinification (which currently takes place at Gonzalez Byass).

From Mosto to Sobretablas

The sobretablas is young fortified wine ready to enter the soleras. The term literally means ‘under wood’, but it’s quite common for the new wine to be simply handled in stainless steel. Managing this young wine is a really important opportunity within Peter’s work in applying his (read Viña Corrales’) signature to Bodega San Francisco’s existing solera. Peter’s young wines are held in stainless rather than wood, as freshening the existing fino in the bodega and imprinting it with the vinous character of Corrales is critical at this renovative stage. The ripe fruit (picked at 13.5% with no soleo) is gently pressed and about 45% of the free run is taken. The young mosto is held cold for several days, then undergoes a spontaneous fermentation before desfangado (being taken off gross lees). It’s then fortified and held in tank until it’s time to be added to the youngest criadera where they age as sobretablas under a velo de flor with a vacio of 3 arrobas[2].

The yeast of Bodega San Francisco

Bodega San Francisco features some montuliensis (which produces high levels of acetaldehyde, and marks finos heavily with the artefact of biological ageing), but the dominant strain in the bodega’s flor is beticus, which marks the wines less, and allows the chalk to ring out clearly in these pungent, mature, saline finos. The pictures here were shot with my iPhone through the bunghole of two adjacent bota in the Pago Balbaina solera in Bodega San Francisco. The one above, the dark one, is beticus: and this barrel is redolent of chalk, brine and paddymelon, with an excellent chew, hold and release palate progression. Below, much paler, is a bota marked by the montuliensis: with lots of aldehyde, it’s funky, fat, wet and reductive, with pooey chalk, lashed with cheese rind (the wet back of an aged washed rind, oozing muck and orangey yeasty funk). This tastes blue and brassy, with orange and a great depth of heavy wet clayey chalk, soft and deep, gooey. Really characterful, but full-on! The wine released as Fino Viña Corrales is about 75% fine, freshness ease and length from bota under beticus, with the balance being high impact/big flavour funky montuliensis wine.

Tasting the scales – getting to know Pago Balbaina fino, from young to ready

  • 12 months old sobretablas, young Corrales wine without any ageing overlay as yet: apple cucumber, a sharp tang of yeast and a distinct camomile florality, with paddymelon skin. It’s beautifully mid-weight and quite spicy, gently soft and rich, with a mouth of ripe nashi and a touch of meyer lemon pith bitterness. It’s blue steel maritime with a lovely easy release.
  • Somewhat older wine at around 3 years is round and graceful, with the house trademark bitterness at the 3/4 point of palate before release.Even more mature bota have fino that’s starting to laminate, and the wine’s more linear with increasing definition and drive.
  • Fino direct from the solera (just bottled and tasted in November 2019): here comes the ozone and lantana, bitter melon, delicately smoked steel. There’s outstanding richness to the ¾ mark and then a classical bite, stick and release to end.
  • At the same time I tasted the 2018 trial bottling with 13 months in bottle (I had tasted this exact wine direct from cask as they were preparing to bottle it): apple, wax and cereal-flavoured wine with great lamination, like a wonderfully-made martini. Spice-chalk-yeast come together as another thing, an emergent property. There’s a dot of cabezuelas (spent floral yeast bitters) to finish, which releases into a memory of chalk deep down in the layers of one’s tongue.

“A wine aged between life and death”

Peter’s extremely neat rendition of how Finos grow in relation to flor – the wine lives between the velo de flor (live yeast) atop it, and the cabezuelas (spent yeast lees) underneath. The live yeast atop the barrel eats glycerol, acetic acid and alcohol, reducing volume in the mouth, rendering the wine’s bony skeletal edge (and imparting its floral scent). The dead yeast lees which sediment the floor of the barrel give back coating mouthfeel and texture. The cabezuelas are particularly deep in the Bodega San Francisco solera, adding heaps of mouthfeel and texture. Peter feels that these days the cabezuelas are disrespected and little understood, but represent the real wealth of fine old solerajes.

Fino en rama Viña Corrales

Peter plans an annual saca (removal of wine from barrel – sacar is to take) every spring, only taking about 80 litres per bota. From a one-off autumnal saca in October 2020, we are delighted to release Viña Corrales Fino en rama saca ii!

Lemon rind, dandelion, thyme balm, melon tendril, persimmon, straw, parmesan rind on the nose. The mouth’s flavoured with deep chalk, iodine, scents of a rockpool, with a hit of spice to finish - white pepper and anise. It’s gently graduated, the spice rolls beautifully, a hit of feijoa bitters is relieved by talcy tannin and acid twines in gently towards the end. It’s a wine of slow, profound reveal and resolve; there’s great clarity of purpose and journey, without force and it’s deceptively easy for a wine of considerable power.


[1]Angel Zamorano ran BSF as an almacenista from 1977-2006. Angel was known to curate botas with great care. Then Angel sold to construction developer Juan Piñero, who for a time ran his Fino, Camborio, out of the bodega, however inadequate care was taken during these years, until Miguel and Ramiro Ibañez took over its maintenance and restored quality and condition.

[2]Vacio or vacancy refers to the ullage volume: the more ullage, the more flor. An arroba is el Marco’s arcane language for measurement of liquid volume in bota. An arroba is a measure of 16.67 litres, which is the standard size of the gorgeous stainless steel jarras (jugs) commonly seen in the bodegas. The bota in BSF are of 36 arrobas, and typically contain 33 arrobas of liquid and have a vacio (ullage) of 3 arrobas. The annual evaporation from any given bota is around 1 arroba.